I recently had my very first convention experience, both as an artist band as an attendee. I started out with nothing less than having a table in the Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con (2012), one of the bigger conventions out there and I must say it was an exhilarating blast. I also had the good fortune of being stationed right between Awesome Horse Studios and William O’Conner, which made the con experience all the more enjoyable.
There is a lot to keep in mind when having a table at a convention. Despite this only being my first time, I still figured I would offer up some of the lessons I learned while preparing for and attending the convention. May they be of help to you.
1. Do your homework.
You are going to save yourself time and worry if you spend time reading up on the convention you are attending before hand. Figure out arrival times, transportation, rules, tax rules – and make sure you start reading up on this in good time.
2. Bring your portfolio.
If you are going as an artist (or art student for that matter) you should do yourself a favour andbring your portfolio. If you do not already have one, put together a portfolio of your 9-12 BEST pieces and remember less is more. Each additional piece you add to your portfolio can/will weaken it. Don’t put in life drawing pieces of your student work or random sketches. Put in your personal and ONLY your BEST work. Don’t put original works in your portfolio. Instead have all your pieces printed in the same format and with the same alignment on each print, so people don’t have to turn your book around because some pieces are vertical and others horizontal. Make sure it is a high print quality. It gives a better presentation. Make sure to put your contact information on the first page of your portfolio.
3. Selling Prints.
If you have a table at the convention, you should bring some prints to sell. If it is your first time going, don’t bring a ton of prints. Pick out your four very best pieces and print 5-10 of each. If you want to do yourself a favour, sign them before leaving for the convention. Every single person I sold prints to wanted them signed. You can save yourself some hassle by doing it ahead of time. Another thing you may consider selling is postcards. Packages with 3-5 postcards seem to sell better than singles. If you have single postcards, people are likely to think they are free handouts.
As for print sizes 8.5″x11″ (A4 for the Europeans) and 11″x14″ (A3 for the Europeans) are pretty standard and a good choice. It also makes it easy for potential customers to find frames that fit them.
4. Packaging and presentation matters.
Consider how you package your prints. A good presentation is more inviting. Get cellophane sleeves and backing board, consider self promoting with a sticker on the corner of the cellophane sleeve. Anything you can do to make it look more professional, inviting and well thought out. If you are selling postcards, make sure to package them nicely too. I had mine packaged at NYCC and most of mine sold, whereas other artists I spoke to had people think theirs were for free, as they weren’t packaged.
Pricing is always up to the individual, but if you need some guidelines here is what I sold my prints and cards for. It seems pretty in tune with what other people at the con were selling theirs for as well:
- Small print (8.5″x11″) – $10 (Three for $25)
- Large Print (11″x17″) – $20
- Three pack of postcards – $5
- Small sheet of 6 small stickers – $1
- Original pieces – between $100 – $250 depending on size. (Drawings, with frame)
Make sure to have clear pricing on the items that are for sale. Printed pricing looks a little better than handwritten.
6. Don’t worry. Be Happy!
Going to a convention for the first time can be overwhelming and concerning, especially if you’re not a social butterfly because there are a lot of people there. Try to relax though, smile and be welcoming and you should do just fine. Don’t miss out on chances to make connections and friends with other artists, say hello, compliment their work and try to get a conversation going. It usually pays of, not just in having more fun at the convention but also in having friends in the future. If people recall you as being a nice person, they’re all the more likely to want to talk to you again another time, or even hire you for work!
7. Business Cards / Freebies.
Don’t forget to bring business cards! The amount you need is of course dependent on the convention which you are attending but 500 seemed to be a good amount of New York Comic Con. Consider having freebies to give away at your table other than business cards. I had bookmarks, Noah Bradley had a beautiful brochure that resembled a mini portfolio with his artwork. Marc Scheff, Cynthia Sheppard and William O’Connor all had beautiful postcards with their artwork on.
8. Consider sketching on the spot.
Again this of course depends on the convention you will be attending but at NYCC my table-mate Betsy was doing watercolor sketches on the spot for people for $25 a pop and it was really, really popular. If you are good at putting together a decent sketch in a short amount of time, consider doing this. Betsy sold her pencil sketches for $10 and watercolor for $25 and people were more than happy to pay for it, some even said they’d pay more.
9. Original Art.
Again, depending on the convention you may want to bring a couple of originals. New York Comic Con is much more focused on prints than originals, but a few artists did have luck selling their originals. If you do bring originals don’t undercut yourself. Make sure you charge a fair price worth the amount of time and effort you put into your piece.
10. Items you absolutely MUST bring to a convention:
- Hand Sanitizer: You are going to be shaking hands with a lot of people and each one of them have shook hands with a lot of people. For your own sake and others, bring hand sanitizer.
- Cough Drops: You are going to be speaking a lot, make sure to keep your throat soothed.
- Water: Conventions often have long lines at food/drink stands. Do yourself a favour and bring water.
- Tissues: They always come in handy.
- Tape: It also comes in handy and will make immidiate display problem solving so much easier for you.
- Pen: You are definitely going to need a pen, either for signing or just taking notes.
- Scissors: Always handy!
- Paper: To take notes on or make notes of.
- Painkillers: Just in case you get a headache. You don’t want it to ruin your day.
- Bandaid: You never know when you might need it!