Artist Alley and Panel/Workshop advice

Hey folks, I’ve just come back home from Kaizokucon yesterday after a successful weekend of selling at their Artists Alley. For Cork’s first dedicated sci-fi and anime convention, it set off to a solid start. Here’s to Kaizokucon 2015!

Which brings me to finally write something that should be of use to up-and-coming artists, as well as those out of the loop – how to actually get a table at Artist’s Alley/host a panel or workshop at a convention. After writing my points, I’ve somehow aimed this article towards artists who are selling their wares over a weekend. Though hosting a panel or workshop might overlap with running an information table of your merch/services too, so this ought to be useful!

How do I…?

I’ve gotten a few enquiries about applying to alleys and workshops at various conventions throughout Ireland, but sadly at a moment where it’s too late to grab a table on time, host a panel or workshop, or where to get books and materials printed and assembled. It’s down to a few factors that could be made easier with a little organisation.

  • Conventions – to their success or detriment, as often their biggest focus is on the venue itself – depend on advertising, and even that is often limited to their outreach or budget over a very long period of time. This includes social media, to word of mouth, to flyers and banners in dedicated stores/venues. Take a flyer. Pop the website address into a Draft text on your phone.
  • Alternatively, if you’re not an artist, but know someone who can make decent jewellery/art and wants to get their work out, or someone with a unique niche talent they’d like to teach others or raise awareness of, let them know about the convention(s)!
  • Please please please PLEASE make the effort to Google-fu the convention’s Facebook page, Twitter or website and follow them for important updates. You’ll find out ahead of time when they open registration for Artists Alley and submit your queries early.
  • If they require payment for a table, get that money together in advance (if you can) and pay it off asap. Don’t leave it to wait too long.
  • Do NOT attempt the ‘back door’ method of asking a mate within convention staff or another artist to let you in. Tables for artists – and timeslots for panellists/workshops – are often limited and assigned to those chosen on the quality of their work. (If the rules state so, many cons do allow a second person at the table to assist the artist, or simply share.) Stay on the ball and enter on your own merits, and on time.
  • If you don’t get in, ask to be put on a waiting list in the event that a creator cannot make it to the convention and that table is re-assigned. If you absolutely don’t get in, try for the next upcoming con in the year.

This process often takes place months in advance of the actual convention, and there’s little point in enquiring if there’s alley tables still free, say, three weeks before the event. Diligence is the key. If you’re also asked to host a panel, prepare for it too!

Where do I…?

If you have a comic idea and want to sell it, be sure to finish it first(!), make sure the art fits into a particular page size template of the size you want it as (versus leaving it to the printer to paste it in, judging on alignment) before popping it off to the printer. Get your quote and make sure your art has the proper bleed for the final product, which depends on the printing company. If you’re selling prints, learn about high resolution imagery (my prints are painted at 300dpi at large thousand-pixel dimensions), how to convert it to CYMK and then into a pdf for quality prints, using a free PDF convertor or via programs such as Adobe Bridge. If you’re making badges through a specialist company, be sure to fetch any templates they have online and fit your art in there, etc.

It’s different strokes for different folks. Again, ask around and seek out methods and ways of making your work look its best. As an example, I’ve used the following software and companies to produce my stuff.

  • Paint Tool Sai (full licence 5400 yen, current rate €37/$52/£31) for illustration work
  • Adobe Photoshop for scanning and editing comic pages, Adobe Bridge for PDF output of both prints and comic files
  • Finn & Fish was the first graphic novel that was printed by Gemini International, which has given them other comic projects to print since!
  • My art prints and business cards come from Reads‘ print store
  • My badges came from Awesome Merchandise who are based in the UK, but it’s easier if you order stuff well in advance

Likewise, if there’s a print shop you know that guarantees quality results – and a high turnover at a good price – recommend them to people!

Now what do I…?

So you got a table. Congratulations! For you have no time to rest on your laurels now.

In the lead up to the convention, you’ve (hopefully) made products and bundling everything up for the big weekend. What about the weekend itself? In addition to staying in contact with the Alley art director (who should be keeping you updated about any changes, if there’s silence DO email them in time):

  • Carry change! In a metal box with a key! And hide it! I recommend a money float of about €10 to €20 in large coins and small notes to begin with. Do not attempt to break large notes like €50 too early in the weekend, as there’s every guarantee you will be offered one.
  • Unless the convention says you don’t need to, bring a large white tablecloth for your table, for presentation reasons. Also to hide the sight of your legs and suitcase full of merch from poking out to visitors.
  • Stay focused and happy! If you’re sitting in a moody, silent slump behind your table, no one will want to approach you for commissions or your wares if you look apprehensive about being there. A sad fact of life is that conventions are where you become less artist and more business person. Engage with folks who are actively looking at your stuff. Ask how the convention is going for them. Compliment their cosplay if they’re wearing one. Chat with them briefly. It’s 90% reeling in customers, 10% passing of money. (Though, if you are sketching, stop every so often to keep up banter with people who are at your table. If you look too busy, they’ll leave quickly.) It’s hard work but it pays off, regardless of your personality type.
  • If there are customers who are explicitly bothering you, obstructing your table from other buyers, and who have no concept of social cues – unfortunately, they do exist at every convention and can only be tolerated so much – make it clear that you are busy, or get help in advance from other artists to bail you out of there/distract you. You can’t leave your table, but the nuisance can, and should.
  • Make friends with other artists there. They are also trying to earn enough to cover their production/travel/food expenses, so you’re not in a contest. If they have good access to a better printer, or a great method of pricing commissions, ask and learn from them.
  • Remember to have a food break and accept the offer of free water/drinks from staff (who should be doing this regularly, as a dealer’s hall gets stuffy and hot VERY quickly. If there’s no sign of this happening, mention this to the art director early).

I’ll finish this with a wish for you all: may your first/next experience in a dealer’s hall be mostly stress free, and full of happy customers.

Update (May 2014): There are also variable factors, such as the amount in your money float (you could carry more change for bigger conventions) and also the issue of being a female creator dealing with unwanted guests – again, if pests can’t take the hint, fetch staff members asap.