Last weekend I exhibited at Denver Pop Culture Con (formerly Denver Comic Con). This was my first time exhibiting at a convention. I wanted to write this blog for the artist thinking about tabling at their first convention. I learned a lot, but I whittled it down to these five things:
Plan, plan, plan!
A lot of planning goes into exhibiting at an Artists’ Alley. Here are a few things to consider:
What is your budget?
What do you want your set up to look like and how will you get it there?
What will you be selling?
How will you get all your art done on time?
How will you collect payment?
How will you deal with things breaking?
Will you print merch at home or hand it off to a printer?
How will you price your products?
Will you take commissions or not?
Will you have a table mate? (hint: You’ll want one!)
If it’s out of town, how will you get your stuff there?
That’s just a preliminary list. Depending on what show you’re doing more questions may arise, but hopefully this is a good starting point.
Adapt, adapt, adapt!
All that being said, no matter how much you plan there will be surprises. For me, the biggest and most stressful surprise was that I only sold one item the entire first day of the convention. Not great. So after I was done panicking, my wife and I decided to figure out what we could change for the next day. We ended up changing how we were displaying some of the art, and I started taking commissions, which I was not planning on doing. I also went and looked at other people’s tables and saw that some of my pricing was too high, so we brought those down.
My prints never ended up selling well, but my commissions took off and by the end of the show I had covered the cost of my merchandise, which was encouraging and a relief.
It’s impossible to anticipate what will sell and what won’t sell, but it is definitely possible to adapt. If things aren’t working, there is nothing in the rulebook that says you have to be doing the same thing every day of the convention. Change things up, experiment. Not only will this be good for the convention you are at, but it will also be useful for figuring out things for your next convention.
Make the art that you want to make
So as I mentioned, my prints didn’t sell, but my commissions did. After the show I came to the realization that when preparing for the show, I was trying to anticipate what the customers would buy as opposed to making art that I simply enjoyed making. This manifested at the convention in a few ways. First, all the prints I made were devoid of any passion. They felt stiff and lacked energy. When you enjoy the work you’re doing, it’s noticeable. Yes, this is a business, but don’t worry as much about trying to guess what other people will like, and worry more about making the art you want to make. Do you! Second, I was really encouraged when my commissions started selling. That was more along the lines of the kind of art I wanted to make. Less focus on the digital, really simple, loose, ink and paper drawings. What I enjoyed doing was what ended up selling, can you imagine that?! Third, it’s okay to scrap an idea. I obviously now have a large amount of prints sitting at home. Yes, i’ll try to sell those where I can. But they won’t be my focus. I’m going to start making what I want to make and consider the cost of the prints an initiation fee.
Short answer is this: You do you!
Get to know your neighbors
Everyone will tell you that conventions are great places to network. And that’s true, they are. But I think networking can oftentimes be disingenuous. It comes off looking like you’re trying to get something out of someone. Instead, aim to make genuine friendships. The best moments of my day were when I had some free time to just chat with the folks around me. They were sincerely excited that I was doing my first convention. And I just wanted to get to know them. I didn’t want anything out of them and they didn’t want anything out of me. Interacting with the people around you can make even an extremely stressful day a little bit brighter.
Have realistic expectations
In an ideal world, you would go to your first convention, everyone would love all your work, you would sell out of everything, you would make thousands of dollars and you would get hired on the spot. Unfortunately that world does not exist. I’m going to be really candid with my numbers, just to give you some perspective. My expenses were about $1200 and I brought in $435 at the convention. Doesn’t sound awesome does it? There are a few things to note though. First of all, I’m a nobody. There weren’t people there looking for me. No one there would have heard of me outside of friends that came and saw me. Also because it’s my first convention, there are a lot more costs. I had to buy all the things for my set up. This is a one time cost (besides future adjustments to your table set up). Also, like I said before, I sold nothing on Friday. This caused me to panic and adjust pricing. I definitely could have charged more for my commissions. Also, I learned what sells and what doesn’t. And a bulk of my budget was my prints...which didn’t sell. But that means at the next convention I won’t have to pay for prints at all. So even though I came out at a loss at this one, my expenses will be significantly lower at my next con. I think a realistic goal is to try to “make table” for your first convention. That means that you cover the cost of your table/booth. Anything on top of that is icing on the cake! As you do more conventions, your name will get out there more, and you will be able to figure out what works and what doesn’t, which will hopefully equate to more sales!
The 3 Point Perspective podcast talks about conventions and art shows.
That does it! Hope that helps! Feel free to reach out at anytime if you have any questions!
P.S. I’m definitely going to do more conventions. I’m planning on my next one being Colorado Springs Comic Con!