Tristan and I finally had the opportunity to table this year at San Diego Comic Fest. We purposefully chose a smaller show, but as it turns out, the event was actually founded by former San Diego Comic-Con organizers. The event prided itself on being a friendlier, more intimate version of Comic-Con, before Hollywood and other media outlets took over. It was a very fun, well attended and well organized event!

Krystle on day 2 with our preferred table layout!

Krystle on day 2 with our preferred table layout!

While we were only able to attend 2 days out of 4, we learned so much! Whether it was making connections with other artists and likeminded creators or having engaging conversations with the public, it was an experience we won’t soon forget! On that note, we’ve gotta give a shoutout to our awesome booth neighbors, PenPaperFlava and Drah Hard – they really helped us learn the ropes and gave so much encouragement throughout the event! They are incredibly kind and talented people and you should all go check out their stuff, too!

Being a part of an Artist Alley is a massive undertaking – and quite possibly one of the scariest things you can do as an illustrator. It’s way more than just sitting at a table and showing off a few choice pieces of work; it’s baring a very personal part of yourself to the public, building a reputation and creating a brand for yourself as a creator. We chose to actually sit down and write a blog about this topic in hopes that maybe we could help other first-timers in the artist alley, not as pro’s but as fellow newbies. Definitely let us know if this helps ease any anxieties or answer any questions you might have. We plan to do as many of these as possible!

Tristan after setting up the first time - you can see we made some changes!

Tristan after setting up the first time – you can see we made some changes!

THE TABLE

A big thing to take into consideration while researching your first show is the table cost; in our case, we made sure to pick something that was a ‘lower risk’ investment. (i.e., something smaller and local – avoiding hotel fees and travel expenses alleviates stress and is recommended if at all possible.) Do NOT spend hundreds of dollars on your first table – we can’t stress this enough! Your goal is always to make your table back, if nothing else. In addition to table fees, you’ll have to account for certain start-up costs; these might include racks/wire cubes/pvc pipes for displays, bags and boards for prints, business cards, business and seller’s licenses, or credit card readers, just to give some examples. It’s completely up to you how much you’ll end up purchasing for your first show – just be sure to keep your receipts and track your spending on a spreadsheet!

As tempting as it might be to front the money and buy lots of ‘table stuff’ to start, your first exhibit should be SIMPLE and just reflect your artistic capabilities. Few – if any – start off with tables that look 100% polished and it can be easy to get caught up in details that don’t really matter. We say this because when you look online for table ideas, you’ll find hundreds of images of (what appear to be) perfectly manicured displays with professionally made graphics, signs and banners; but comparing your first time table to these booths isn’t practical or fair. It’s much more economical to buy and stockpile materials as you go; ensuring you get the correct things based on your own personal experiences, merchandise, and the sorts of shows you may frequent. Always be cognizant of how much space you have to work with (both in front, behind and around) and don’t be afraid to bring measuring tape and ask the staff if you have questions about height restrictions or other zoning rules. The more information you have written down, the easier it will be to buy display materials and create/change layouts over time.

PRICING AND SIGNAGE

Just because you're unknown or 'new' doesn't mean you have to 'discount' your work.

Just because you’re unknown or ‘new’ doesn’t mean you have to discount your work.

While it goes without saying, it’s ideal to go to several conventions before embarking on the Artist Alley journey. As an attendee, you should really be setting side some ‘educational panel’ time and thoroughly wander the exhibit halls, not just to buy things, but to observe. Pay close what items are drawing in people and how much other artists are charging. This information will be key to coming up with realistic price points for your own merchandise.

That being said, it’s a lot easier than it sounds – and there’s are definitely some rules of etiquette. Never charge substantially less than the other artists on the floor to draw people in; being a new face on the scene does not mean you have to sell things at drastically low prices or give things away for free. You’d also be paying a huge disservice to your neighbors who are pricing things according to the time, material costs, and expertise that went into making their work. After all – that’s what you should be doing, too!

Did the prints you’re selling take you over 50 hours of pain-staking blood, sweat, and tears to produce? Factor that into the cost! Did you invest in a super fancy 6-color printer or get giclee prints at a shop? Factor that into your costs! Did you go through several prototypes to get those keychains looking right? Factor that into your costs! Underselling art is all too common, so be as fair and honest as you can be with yourself at how much went into the prints and/or merchandise you’re wanting to sell – and how much people are willing to pay. You’ve got to find that sweet spot between too low and too high where you’re still making profit (and not just pennies for the hour.) It’ll take some time and effort to figure out, so keep records of what works and what doesn’t.

Looking back, we should have had signage that was a bit bigger. And more of it.

Looking back, we should have had signage that was a bit bigger. And more of it.

Something that came in handy for us was printing a few different signs with different price points. Before the exhibition floor opened, we did a quick walkthrough and tried to factor in common price points we were seeing from our neighbors, as well as our own time, money, and effort spent on making said items and prints. We settled on what we thought was fair and put out the pre-printed signage we made. We also wrote the pricing down again on a stickie, which we placed on the back of our booth as a reminder. This actually really, really helped since the signage was turned away from us and we couldn’t peak at it. LOL. You’d be surprised what you can forget when you’re chatting up the crowds!

Looking back, I wish we had signing that was more visible – and more of it. Realistically, no matter how much signage you put up, at least one person will ask what your products cost. Even so, I still think we could have done better. We know now that there absolutely has to be predominate pricing up top – and that individual stickers are probably a good idea, too. Verbalizing combo deals is important, also, if you decide to go that route. If you let your customers know you’re offering a volume discount or two-fer deal, they might just get something else. Be flexible, too – for example, if your customer knows there’s a two-fer on prints, but wants one poster and bookmark, it’s probably a good idea to work out a special for them. After all, it’s really not haggling if they want to buy multiple things from you. It’s an act of good will that might just make them come back with some of their convention friends!

TO BE CONTINUED!