I was recently asked for some Artist Alley tips, and it made me realize two things: one, that I've been going to cons for 13 years and working Artist Alleys for 8 (good god), and two, that I had a huge guide typed up already. I'd been meaning to post this for a while - so I dug up that ancient draft, refined it, and put it over here: Massive Artist Alley Advice Post</b>
ETA Thu, July 7, 2011 - My LJ is locked, so I'm reposting the content here.
STUFF TO BRING:
- Large water bottle or thermos - Keep this with you and refill it often. You'll be talking ALL WEEKEND, so keep dehydration at bay. (Be sure someone can watch your table during pee breaks.)
- Cell phone - You won't be able to hear your phone ring over the noise of the alley, but text messaging is a godsend at cons. Make sure your phone is set to Vibrate, and keep it close to you.
- Healthy snacks that keep - I recommend apples, almonds, dried fruit, rice crackers, veggie chips, and granola. Energy bars are OK for a quick boost, but they get old fast (and are often loaded with sugar).
- Hand sanitizer - Aside from killing germs, an alcohol-based sanitizer gel is great for getting ink, marker, and graphite off your hands.
- Rags - for wiping your hands (see above), cleaning up any spills, etc.
- Ibuprofen/aspirin - Headaches and hand-aches are likely. Even if you don't need painkillers, chances are one of your neighbors will.
- Eye drops - The air in convention centers tends to be very dry, so I always wind up with red eyes by the end of the day. Your mileage may vary.
AT YOUR TABLE:
- CHANGE - A lot of folks hit up the ATM and arrive at the con with nothing smaller than a $20. You WILL be making change. A lot. All weekend. I recommend getting at least $50 in $5s and $1s before the con. If you're selling small premade merch, bump that up to $100 in change.
- Cash box or deposit bag - If you're selling a lot of merch (especially if you anticipate receiving a lot of small bills), I recommend a lockable cash box.
- A seat pillow - Many artist alleys use non-padded folding metal chairs. 'Nuff said.
- Scissors. Masking tape. Duct tape. Scotch tape. A ruler. You will end up needing at least two of these.
- Some sort of organized/storage device or case, preferably with wheels, for art supplies and merch. Something like a Fat Max folding toolkit or a modular rolling suitcase is ideal.
- Obviously, extra art supplies. For markers, I recommend heavy redundancy on blacks, greys, and all flesh tones, especially mid-range browns and tans.
- Dress in layers or bring a lightweight jacket. It'll be freezing when the artist alley is empty, and stuffy when it's full.
- Nibs and ink. Traditional tools are wonderful, but an artist alley is no place for a bottle of permanent, easily spilled India ink.
- A portable tv/dvd player. (This includes laptops used as such.) At best, it'll be extra weight and annoyance; at worst, you'll get a crowd of people looking at YouTube videos and not your art (or your neighbors' art).
- Heavy luggage without wheels oh god my back augh
Be courteous to your neighbor, keep the volume reasonable on games and music, don't slag on other artists, etc. Um, what else.
- If you have nudity or adult material in your portfolio, label it so that folks who wish to avoid it can do so. Most cons have a strict policy on adult material in the AA, but it's also good manners.
- Two words: business cards! Good for folks who stop by, good for exchanging with fellow artists, good to have in general.
- It's also fun to do trades with other artists at the end of the con. Bookmarks for buttons, etc. Makes for a nice memento, and you get to know your neighbors too.
- Caffeine, sugar rushes, and sing-alongs are fun, but please take a moment to notice whether your behavior is affecting your neighbors. Obnoxious boisterousness can drive customers away - not just from your table, but from those around you.
- Eventually you will get someone ranting and truly angry at you because you don't have enough Zutara, or because your style is too Japanese, or not Japanese enough, or because your guys tend to be too willowy or too beefy, or your women's boobs are too big or too small, or because your work simply doesn't cater to their tastes. Don't take it personally; these people are just being assholes. Smile and nod (or ignore them) till they go away. (Not to be confused with someone offering criticism/tips to improve the technical aspects of your art!)
- Eventually you will get someone ranting and truly angry with you for charging what your work is worth (or charging for artwork at all). Again, just being assholes. They'll go away when they realize it's not getting them anything.
- Eventually you will get someone who comes by solely to insult you and your work. Again: asshole; will go away.
- About once per con, I meet sociopathic/emotionally abusive parents accompanying their kid(s). I... still haven't figured out how to deal with that.
- Hentai/yaoi - if you're cool with drawing adult material, let people know discreetly, and be clear about your limits, if any. (For example, I won't draw loli/shota, so that's noted on my sign.) Check ID if they look anywhere near 18. It's con rules AND likely state law as well.
- If it comes down to it, nothing beats a clear, polite, "I'm sorry, I'm not sure if I feel comfortable drawing that."
- All that said: 99% of the folks who stop by your table will be cool. What's more, you are going to meet and befriend some amazing people over the con weekend. Some you'll only see at cons, some you'll keep in touch with for years, some you might fall in love with and marry (*cough*)
DISPLAYING YOUR WORK
- GO VERTICAL. Be sure at least a couple of your pieces (or your studio banner) can be seen above the crowd. Try hanging your best pieces at eye level.
- A lot of artists have been using modular wire racks similar to this, and I must say they are super-handy (if heavy). Instead of building all the boxes, string together flat panes to form a display rack. Target offers these at about $20~$25 per unit - one unit is about enough for one artist, unless you have a whole lot of stuff to display. (They also make for a good place to stash art supplies/stock.)
- Unless it's an emergency, don't abandon your table halfway through the con. It looks flaky and unprofessional, and it's rather rude to those who tried and couldn't get a table.
- What people want changes from one con to the next; I've never been good at gauging it. One thing that has been consistent, however, is that humor is a big draw. If you've got funny work, put it up!
- Envelopes/sleeves - if you can afford it (or find the correct size), try and provide your customers with something to keep the commission or print in to protect it from damage.
- Try timing yourself at home. Get a good feel for how long it takes you to complete a sketch, an ink piece, and a color piece. Tack on about half again that much time when you're working at a con - you'll be handling other stuff while still working, and will be interrupted.
- A good rule of thumb for estimating price: [Estimated hours of work] x [Average hourly rate for entry-level/mid range designer/illustrator in your area]. I tend to lowball, since I'm working super-fast, and that sacrifices some detail and accuracy.
- Some artists take payment upfront; some on completion. Both have their advantages and drawbacks. This is up to you.
- Display your prices (or price range) clearly as part of your table display. Often people are too shy to ask about prices, or are on a budget.
- If you have a handheld device with internet access, Google Image Search is handy for reference, especially if you've been commissioned to do fanart. A lot of folks forget to bring reference images.
- REGISTER EARLY. The larger the con, the faster tables will sell out. If a con has announced that artist alley registration begins at a specific time on a specific day, it's a sign you should jump on that ASAP - even if it means hitting f5 till 12:01 AM.
- Double-check the form(s) before sending. Be sure all your paperwork is in order. Check with your bank to make sure your table reservation check has cleared. Keep a duplicate of your (completed) reg form, and bring it with you to the con. If you receive e-mail confirmation, print that out and bring it too.
- Often, trying to get clear information (or any information) from a con's Artist Alley department is an exercise in futility, (And is slightly less fun than beating your head against a brick wall.) There are a few cons where this is not the case, but mostly... be prepared for frustration, confusion, and silence until the Friday morning of the con.
This is very dumb and I don't know why it happens, but it does.
- Your busiest times will *probably* be Saturday 2pm-close and Sunday afternoon. Friday tends to be slow, as most congoers are still at school or work, or are hitting up the Dealer's Room first.
- I strongly recommend against working an artist alley table by yourself, or without a friend to help out occasionally. Flying completely solo = no breaks for bathroom or food. And it's a little lonely, to boot.
- if the artist alley is open late Saturday night, try sticking around. You'll probably meet some fun and interesting people. One thing I really enjoyed during AFest was getting together with some neighbors during AA downtime (read: cosplay & dance), ordering Chinese delivery, and sitting around chatting and chowing down. Good times.
- Don't forget to eat well, take your vitamins, and get plenty of rest!
- For other questions, The Convention Artists' Community is a good resource.
ETA: There are some great tips in the comments, too. How could I have forgotten to mention - bring bags for trash, paper, and bottle/can recycling!!
THIS IS THE STORY
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Sorry, I am currently too busy for commissions.