Making the Jump to Artist Alley

Hello everyone!

I was at Sakura Con 2009 this year. I've been going to that convention for four years now and every year I have been there as a fan. As I am sure many of you know conventions are wondrous occasions where we as fans can all gather and share our common interest. There is NEVER a dull moment at a convention, especially if you are there with the intent of making all you can out of it. There is the always-money-devouring exhibitors’ hall, gaming rooms, panels, rock band contests, singing competitions, cosplay, concerts, autograph signing, and finally Artist Alley, which brings me to my point. Though every year I have been at this con as a fan, this year I was also there with the distinct honor to be a part of the Artist Alley. What a HUGE difference that made!

Die-hard fans may be at conventions the full 72 hours non-stop and for that I am truly amazed, but in regards to us mere mortals, there is probably a hotel room, maybe a pillow and the desire to sleep every once and a while. This was true for me. So let me give you the numbers first. With 6 hours of sleep a night I would arrive early in the morning to start setting up my booth. I worked 35 hours in three days. There are only 25 tables for the Artists and the convention boasts 17,000 in attendance (per the badge numbers I saw).

I have been working on my art and my style for 5 years now, I am a graphic designer by trade but I have always been interested in illustration. Making the jump from fan attending a convention to artist working a convention is one of the main goals I have been striving towards since I first started drawing. Last weekend was a dream-come-true for me! I wouldn't trade it for anything. However, not ever being in an artist alley at a large convention before I found out some important lessons that I’ll share with you now:

1. You are there to work.

It was the most difficult thing that I really had to grasp this weekend. You will miss things like the Anime Music Video competition, opening ceremonies, even closing ceremonies. You can maybe sneak into the exhibitors’ hall for a little bit and buy some DVDs or figures but that’s about it besides bathroom breaks. Every minute you are away from your table, you aren’t selling. You might have a friend there with you that can cover your booth for you but if you aren’t there then that means the artist isn’t there. One of the main selling points you’ll have is that the customer can meet the artist.

2. Make friends with your neighbors.

Once the reality sets in that you are going to be at the same place for just about the whole con then look to your left and your right. These are the people that are going to be sitting with you the whole time! Get to know them! Immediately you have something in common, you are both artists. I got to know the girl sitting next to me pretty well and we had a lot of fun. Her art work was great and we traded Photoshop tricks as well as artistic tips. As the con goes on you'll become closer to even the artists not around you. Take a moment and realize this, art is subjective and everyone is going to have different tastes, therefore don't look at the other artists as competition but as fellow companions.

3. Customer Service is Key.

Putting yourself out there as an artist and saying to the world, "this is what I can do, judge me" is one of the scariest things there is for an artist. With that said you can be the best artist ever and you still won't sell anything if you don't put on a smile and open yourself up to people. I saw other artists fail because they set their art out in front of them and then started reading a book. Let’s say you see a piece you like but you are on the fence about whether or not you are going to buy it. You look at the picture and you think, “hmm, I wonder how he/she did that”. You look up to talk to the artist and ask a question but instead the artist is ignoring you reading a book looking bored like they don’t want to be there. This is not a good atmosphere to be in as a customer or an artist.

4. Balance will make a comfortable environment.

It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I really picked up on this lesson. Like in lesson 3, being attentive to your customers will help your sales but being too attentive can scare them away. Even though you may be extremely nervous to have someone looking at your art, judging what you made, don’t watch them looking at your stuff. Let them enjoy your work on their own time. Keep their actions in your peripheral view and if you see them slow down or look like they are finished then give them your attention again. Perhaps they have a question or need more information. A great way to break the ice is say, “if you find something you like let me know”, or “if you have any questions I’ll be right here” or even quote them your prices “all prints are $5 or you can get 5 prints for $20”. If they are interested they will point something out, otherwise they will probably smile and move along.

5. Don’t argue with your customer, ever.

If I haven’t made myself clear yet, ART IS SUBJECTIVE! Some people aren’t going to like your work. It’s ok. Let’s say, someone came up and said one of your pieces was too skinny and that she was anorexic. Ok, don’t argue with them. You aren’t going to change their mind about it. Just smile and shake it off. The worst thing that can happen is that people will look up and see you in an argument and then someone who might like the piece will skip your table and you will lose a sale.

6. You aren’t the best artist in the alley.

Even if you are the best artist in the alley don’t think like that. If you go to the convention with the attitude that if you sell one picture that you made or get one commission then you will leave so much happier than if you set minimums like, “I have to sell all my prints”.

These are the six lessons that I learned at my first big con artist alley experience. If you’ve been an artist at a convention before I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too! For me, even though I might have missed a lot of the convention’s events, it was the best Sakura Con I’ve been to. I can’t speak for everyone in the alley but I left feeling accomplished and that my little hobby drawing comic books and anime characters actually means something. I feel like a worthy artist/illustrator and it really was the experience of artist alley that gave it to me. To all the artists out there in the Otaku, I encourage you, when you feel ready, sign up for artist alley at your local convention. Put yourself out there and if you follow these six lessons you’ll have a great time!

The Space Cowboy