Advice For Anime Con Artist Alley Types

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bigbigtruck's avatar
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.


- 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.

- 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*)



- 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.

Good luck!!

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!!

TJ and Amal Stamp by adrawer4ever
<Epic Page Count: 121 of a projected 275 (as of 5/8/09)
Sorry, I am currently too busy for commissions.
© 2009 - 2021 bigbigtruck
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Shembre's avatar
Thanks for writing this! :D
UnknownSaint111's avatar
Man I didnt think you had a lot of things to do while sitting down lol
animerocks4's avatar
Great advice, thank you so much for sharing!
Rmblee's avatar
Do you really bump into people that are that rude at artist alley? D: 
(Referring to the people that are "assholes") cause I never thought people were that rude, especially in front of the artist >_<
paiganism's avatar
i remember having a group of cosplayers angry that i had put a picture of asami (from the new avatar show) up since they shipped korra and some people do get really weirdly rude. most people just...touch things and then walk away, which can get frustrating, but it's normal. 

i did have one girl set her bag on a bunch of my more delicate hand made items once, and when i asked her to move it to a blank part of the table she acted like i was being completely outrageous. D:

this is a really late response and...i know i'm not the journal artist but i thought i'd throw in my two sense, hopefully you don't mind! 
Rmblee's avatar
I don't mind at all, in fact I really value and appreciate your input! Very helpful to know :) sorry to hear that the girl with the bag and the group of cosplayers were so rude to you though >_< thanks for the info c:
bigbigtruck's avatar
Very rarely. The parents thing is rather common, though -- or friends/spouses cutting each other down in front of you. It's pretty awkward :|
IllustratorLam's avatar
Thanks for this! Some really good tips here...
Bunnygirle26's avatar
This was a huge help. :)
espakor's avatar
Also countersink some holes on your table and bolt your cash lockbox down. They may take the box but not with the table!
amufig101's avatar
wow, this is great! I will definitely show my friends.
AwkwardApartment's avatar
I was wondering, what would be a good number of prints to take? Like how many individual drawings and how many copies of each? Awesome guide By the way :)
bigbigtruck's avatar
I still haven't figured this one out! Some cons, I sell out of one print and sell none of another; some cons I sell no prints at all; some cons, I sell 3 of each. It's probably a good bet to bring 10 or 15 of each print. It's probably too much, but better to have too much than too little.
AwkwardApartment's avatar
Thanks for the advice! :)
procrazedfan's avatar
How does one go about pricing range. I know as a buisness rule you don't want to overcharge, and you don't want to undercharge
bigbigtruck's avatar
I usually base mine off a rough estimate of $20/hour, so a piece that would take me 30 minutes I charge $10 for.

I REALLY lowball at conventions, though. Partly to help sales, partly because it's more rushed work than usual and detail gets sacrificed.
procrazedfan's avatar
Cool, and how many commissions should you plan for if you are staying a weekend?
bigbigtruck's avatar
It depends on my pace, how long the AA is open, what sort of commissions I'm doing (pencil, color, etc.) that sort of thing. I usually plan on drawing for 8 to 10 hours a day, and try not to take more commissions than I know I can finish in that day.
Tunaque's avatar
Very useful, thanks!
twilightyami's avatar
Wow. Thank you so much, this is totally helpful. Granted I'm looking into, hopefully, getting a AA table at a convention in like 2yrs. But I'll totally be prepared now. :D
FrozenBleedingStake's avatar
It won't let me view the says I don't have the rights to view it...
bigbigtruck's avatar
Oop, you're right - I locked my Livejournal a couple years ago. I'll repost the content of that entry in this journal.
FrozenBleedingStake's avatar
Awesome, thanks a bunch!! I just did my first AA and got sooo many new ideas, but I wanted to check out other suggestions and I saw your post. I just did a google search for AA tips and your journal came up. ^-^ Thanks for posting the tips!! (and reposting lol)
chaobreeder16's avatar
Really lied this blog link very helpful was also reminded to bring a nice scented room spray at my next few cons, when my mum comes to find me she near passes out with the con funk. I sell badges and buttons mainly which have gone walkies in the past however recently I have started to pin them down to jumpers and just roll out the jumper or hoodie at the end of the con it saves time setting and packing up too.

I have actually got some very scary hardcore fans approach me during slow periods when I have been on my own totally freaky and being a young female I kind of feel a bit intimidated by this, such a scary feeling can just smile and nod. I have found though that those I share a table with are very friendly however and usually in my experience dont mind watching things while on food or bathroom breaks.
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