Category: convention preparation

[VLOG] Print Shop Prep!

Here’s a quick peek recorded live of the print shop prep for my next convention! I haven’t done a convention in a couple of years since I took the time to create a new body of work, but getting back into prep has been like riding a bike!

Some advice on buying and saving money:

BAGS & BACKING – You can get backing made out of spare matboard for cheaper than the white boards. The Clearbags branded bags are also cheaper and have a tiny URL for the bag company on the adhesive strip.

PRINTING & INK – I bought my Epson printer at Staples where they let me trade in an older printer for a $50 discount. They’ll also let you trade in used ink cartridges which earn you store credit vouchers. The Staples brand paper is also much cheaper than Epson branded paper and has more weight to it!

The Epson Artisan 1430 I have lets me print up to 13×19 inches, which is a nice size! Anything larger I will have printed at http://www.iprintfromhome.com. Tell them Angela Sasser sent you to earn some referral bucks!

(CORRECTION: They DO have gloss photo paper at Staples, but it never seems to be in stock at mine and I prefer matte or semi-gloss for printing my art, regardless.)

MAT CUTTER – The Logan Compact Mat Cutter can be found in many of the hobby stores in the US like Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Joanns, etc. where you’re generally able to use a 40% off coupon on them!

(NOTE: I have a master list of my favorite suppliers with reviews of each online here.)

SUPPLIES:

Epson Artisan 1430

Staples Premium Matte Photo Paper

Avery Full Sheet Labels

Logan Compact Mat Cutter

Paper Cutter

SUPPLIERS:

Bags & Backing

Custom Playmat Printing

Dice Bags

Convention Report: SpartanCon 2014

It’s been about a year and more since I worked a convention!  To be quite honest with you guys, I was feeling really burnt out by them.  They never seemed to be worth the physical effort and preparation put into them.  Sales were bad, morale was down, and they were absolutely no fun for me anymore.

I wrote a post a long time ago about my thoughts on whether conventions are worthwhile and I have been thinking a lot about how I could improve my convention experience.  
For one, (and this is huge) it helped to have a positive table partner along.  In the past, I’ve worked with a table buddy who had good intentions, but who was usually bored and focused only on the money-making aspect of the venture, which is an attitude that became quite toxic for me over time.  Unfortunately, you can’t expect to become a millionaire at a convention and doing so is the fastest way to burnout.
My new table partner with a more positive attitude aka. my significant other, Kevin, also gave me some great tips on selling learned from his years in retail.  Nobody likes to feel like they’re being sold to.  If you can casually chat people up, learn their interests, and find something that would help improve their lives, selling is easy.  Even if they don’t have interest aligned with yours, then you still have had a good conversation!
Positivity is key!

Another area of improvement for me this con was my display.  I used to throw everything but the kitchen sink onto my table, from masks to prints, in an effort to appeal to anybody.  My display greatly lacked brand consistency, which I suspect left most folks unable to remember my specialty.  Was it masks? Art Nouveau?  Original fantasy characters?  Who could say?  There wasn’t a consistent theme across my products.
Simplifying things helped greatly, especially when describing to customers what exactly it is I do.  It was much easier to say “I work in fantasy art and book covers” than “I work in fantasy, book covers, masks, Art Nouveau, and oh yeah I do this other thing too!”.
More is less!  My new simplified display.
As for SpartanCon, it was a great test run for me so that I could try new tactics and a new display with renewed enthusiasm!  It felt wonderful to be less concerned about money and more focused on just having a good conversation with fellow kindred spirits in geekery.  SpartanCon fills a gap within our driving distance for cons that aren’t anime-focused, as it features not just anime, but horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, which has a wider cross-section with the kind of art I do.
Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the venue to find that SpartanCon didn’t take place at just any public library, but a beautiful three level building with a gallery and a fantastic setting of skylights and books!  The staff were all well organized and setup went very smoothly.  Foot traffic was decent the entire event and we were surprised to sell enough at this one-day, first year event to make back gas, lunch, and more.  Something that rarely happens at first year events!  

Other Lessons Learned:

– I tried out a tip jar, which I thought was a silly idea.  Imagine my surprise when I ended up with a $1.10 tip!  It’s not a lot, but something unexpected happened.  As a con-goer mentioned to me, they tipped me because they didn’t have a lot of money, but still wanted to support me somehow, thus they tipped what they could afford just to support me in making art.  That gesture of kindness itself was uplifting moreso than the actual tip!
– I also tried out a new tactic for enticing con-goers to sign-up for my mailing list by hosting a giveaway for one of my books.  I came away with half a page of e-mails, so I’d say this was a success!

Final Thoughts

SpartanCon was a promising event that I hope to see more of!  I learned valuable lessons about how to present myself as a professional and met some wonderful enthusiastic authors and fans.  I hope the event will be returning next year.  The atmosphere is friendly and if the first year traffic is any indication, it’s only going to get better from here on out!

Crunch Time! – Dragon*Con and Illuxcon

It’s that time of year again where conventions are creeping around the corner!  This means everything ever is due for me, from paintings to paperwork, which is why I’ve been so quiet around these parts of late.

On Dragon*Con

I regret to inform you all that I will not have a table this year!  I will, however, have a gallery panel in the Art Show where you can still see my paintings and masks and a section in the print shop where you can buy books, prints, and postcards.

Here’s a preview of my gallery panel for this year’s show:

On the left – Limited edition wrapped canvas prints.
On the right – Leather masks and jewelry.

I’m going to miss the hustle and bustle, but I just needed a break this year from the convention madness!  I’ve been enjoying the ‘down’ time from cons this year by spending that time painting and creating all new works instead.  Check out my latest works in progress over at WiPnation for a sneaky peek of what I’ve been doing in the meantime.

I still plan to attend Dragon*Con (or hover just outside of it) for a day to meet friends and say hello, so I’m sure I’ll see some of you there again!

On Illuxcon

The week after Dragon*Con I’ll be flying out to Pennsylvania for my first time ever to attend Illuxcon!  For those who have never heard of it, it’s a convention dedicated to bringing together artists and collectors in the scifi-fantasy industry.  If the exhibitors list is any indication, there are going to be so many great folks in attendance and so much for me to learn!

I’m also one of the lucky ones to acquire a Showcase table, which I’ll be manning Friday night at the con.  I’d love it if you stopped by and said hello, if you’ll be in attendance too!  I’ve never been to this type of non-fandom con before and I’m looking forward to reporting back here about my experience there for everyone else who might be curious about it.

Now, time to get busy and make some magic!  There are prints to be bagged and tagged and paintings that need finishing.  I foresee a lot of coffee and sugars in my future…
Are you going to either of these cons?  What has been your favorite convention this year thus far?  Share in comments!

Are Conventions Worth Selling At?

This question has been on my mind a lot lately.  Especially considering that I have chosen to take this year off from conventions, with the exception of Illuxcon in September.  After all the money, blood, sweat, tears, and coffee, are cons worth your while to sell at?  Here is what I have learned after 10+ years of doing conventions as a hobbyist and 4 years as a professional artist:

The Pros


1.  Staying in Touch with Fans and Building Your Reputation

This is the number one reason anyone thinks to attend conventions not as a fan, but as an artist.  You get valuable face time with people who might like your art and start getting your name out there on the tongues of people, which is an especially good move if you are the kind of artist who plans to make their income selling art directly to their fanbase.

Face to face selling is also far more effective since your fans can get to know you as a person so they have more of a reason to buy your art. Sounds weird, but having a personal connection to a REAL living person can be very powerful!  Meeting someone in person allows us to want to emotionally support them even more than if they were a faceless artist online whose art we merely consume without consideration for the human behind them.

2.  Marketing Yourself
The other main reason we as artists choose to attend cons is to meet with the folks that can put us in touch with jobs.  Art directors, game developers, publishers, etc.  You’ll probably never meet these awesome folks who lead you to professional opportunities unless you go to conventions!  The downside, these folks may not be at smaller cons so you’ll have to attend the larger ones which may not be local to you. True, you can still email in a portfolio, but I consider face to face interactions to be more memorable/powerful.

3.  Meeting Kindred Spirits
After spending months in the quiet darkness of the art cave, getting out into the world again and talking to people who are just as geeky and passionate as you are can be such a gift!

4.  Valuable Selling and Setup Experience
Every artist needs this!  You need to know the joys of being juried into a show, meeting the deadlines of setup and application, the proper way to set up your display, etc.  Most of all, you need the ever-important skill of dealing with people.  A lot of us spend a lot of time alone without knowing how to market ourselves with confidence.  This is an especially handy skill for when you want to start showing your portfolio to the folks that can get you jobs opportunities beyond selling to your fanbase.

The Cons


1.  Selling Too Early
Notice how I didn’t put ‘Making Money’ as one of the Pros of conventions?  It’s my belief that most people who try to sell at conventions (including myself!) start selling too early.  True, it’s good to start building a reputation, but if you start doing that before your art is at a professional level, you start building the wrong kind of reputation. Chances are if you start selling too early, you won’t have an established artistic identity or direction to your artistic vision.  People will get to know your art by the lower quality and lower prices we all have when we first start out as green, wide-eyed wanderers in this grand art world.

One might argue that fans enjoy seeing you grow as an artist.  I’m sure they do, but wouldn’t you rather impress people right out of the gate?  Starting too early can also lead to demoralization when you aren’t making the kind of sales to justify your expenses because everybody else is levels higher than you, skillwise.  If you’re not sure if you’re ready, ask your friends or art professionals you know whether they think you are at the point you need to be to take the risks of selling…because there are a lot of risks and a very high chance of burning yourself out when money is involved!

2.  Demoralization
Chances are that 99% of you are going to lose money when you first start selling at cons (especially if you start too early).  If you’re lucky, you’ll break even.  There are countless expenses involved, including, but not limited to, gas, hotel, travel, inventory, food, art show fees, table fees, etc.  While most of these expenses are tax deductible, it can really put a dent in your wallet and leave you with a hollow sense of failure after all the effort you put in.

And we haven’t even talked about the sleepless nights spent prepping your inventory, making travel arrangements, setting up displays, eating badly, descending deeper into the anti-social art cave due to all the prep work you have to do, breaking down displays…the list goes on and on and on and on.

3.  Time Consuming Distractions
On top of the dangerous levels of demoralization, conventions have a way of sucking up our lives.  By the time you’re done with one convention it’s time to start prepping work for the next one!  It’s all about sell, sell, selling and sometimes you get so fixated on selling that you forget to make new work.  A year (or two) later, you might realize you have the exact same work you’re showing to fans and art directors and you’re not advancing, artistically, because you’ve spent all this time making a short term dime instead of preparing for long term opportunities, like that portfolio you keep ignoring so you can SELL, SELL, SELL at conventions.

Bottom line is you need to balance conventions with creating new relevant work for your portfolio or you might find yourself stuck in a fruitless loop of selling.

4.  No More Fun Times
After a few cons of selling, you realize that you aren’t able to go to all the late night parties or stalk all the Jack Sparrows for your photo album or Pin the Tail on the Anthro.  You’ve got a table to man and unless you have backup, you’re going to be stuck there for 80% of the con.  You’ll probably need to be there relatively early too.  Some of us can handle partying AND selling, but that’s a recipe for a health nightmare!

Worse yet, you stop having fun at cons, altogether, because they are nothing more than selling opportunities for you rather than a place to be passionate about what you love with other people.  Sure, there’s nothing wrong with making money, but attending only to sell can sometimes sap the soul out of the whole experience, especially if you don’t sell well and end up demoralizing yourself instead.  I would personally rather be in the studio painting something for my portfolio that I can be excited about rather than selling at a convention I’m not really interested in. (Which is the exact reason for my break away from conventions this year)

Other Thoughts on Conventions

On Anime Cons – A great place to cut your teeth as a hobbyist  to get some basic setup and selling experience.  Also wonderful for experiencing pure unadulterated fan enthusiasm!  However, they’re generally not viewed as very professional and it’s hard to maintain serious prices in most artist alleys, where people are generally at a novice level, and therefore charge far less than you would see at other shows.  The younger attendee crowd for these cons are generally looking for cute cheap things to take home instead of expensive pieces of art. (These are all generalizations, of course. If you can sell well at any con, I encourage you to go for it!)
On Small Cons –  These can be small fun events to network with people, but usually aren’t so good for selling.  This also includes cons which are just starting up.  Be prepared to not make any money when you hear that a con is just getting started.  If you’re unsure, ask a show director (ie. the art show director) about how many years the con has been active and what the average attendance rating is like.  I usually like to sell at cons with 1000 or more attendees, unless the theme of the con is one which suits my art or my tastes, then I will take a chance on it because it might be enjoyable to network there for me.
On Professional Cons – By ‘professional’, I’m talking about cons like Illuxcon and Spectrum Fantastic Art Live which are focused purely on art and artists.  I have never attended a con like this and I’m looking forward to learning how they might serve different needs than your standard fanbase convention.  I suspect it’s going to be a whole new engaging experience where I grow my skills in networking and as an artist, rather than hone my skills as an entrepreneur.  I plan to report back later after I attend Illuxcon this year.

Final Thoughts

All in all, conventions are a wonderful, but exhausting experience!  I personally recommend that up and coming artists work on their skills first before putting too much time into the experience of selling at these events.  A sad fact of the industry is that people aren’t going to be looking for you by name when you first start out.  That kind of recognition comes from long, hard years spent building your reputation and your skills. (10 years on average, according to the pros I’ve talked to!)
Definitely attend them and enjoy conventions BEFORE you end up chained to a table!  Enjoy the atmosphere and learn the scene.  The most important thing conventions allow us to do is to get in touch with that nexus of passionate people who can lead us to a deeper appreciation of our beloved genres and stories, while also giving us valuable learning experiences.  Good luck and remember to drink plenty of water!

Creative Background Noise

Work, work, work.  With my largest con of the year coming up, it’s been nonstop rush time for me!  It occurred to me that I always have interesting background noise going to help keep me rolling into the wee hours of the night.  Most of it is just interesting enough that I have something to occupy my mind, but not so distracting that I can’t work at the same time.  Here are just a few things I’ve been listening to in random order:

Documentaries (Most available on Netflix)

  • I Shouldn’t Be Alive – Stories of survival with fascinating lessons about what it takes to stay alive.
  • Medicine Men Go Wild – Continuing my survival obsession of late.  A pair of medical grad students, who are identical twins, go on a world tour to learn about different medical techniques and what they can teach modern doctors.
  • Deadly Women – Featuring multiple stories about female murderers.
  • Fatal Attractions – Examining the psychology of individuals who choose to keep exotic animals in their homes.

(Um yeah. Just goes to show you my morbid array of interests, most of which fuel my inspiration as a writer, moreso than my visual interests as an artist.)

Random Funny Podcasts

  • Spill.com – Hilarious reviews and discussions of all the latest movies.
  • Zero Punctuation – Humorous video game reviews by the fast-talking game critic, Yahtzee.
  • Extra Credits – A podcast on the art and relevancy of video games which discusses the industry and its challenges, at large.

Music for the Muse

  • Niyaz – Really atmospheric middle-eastern group with an entrancing female vocalist
  • Two Steps from Hell – EPIC orchestral group with a variety of lovely vocals. Makes whatever you’re working on while listening that much more EPIC.
  • Bat for Lashes – Recently discovered this group! Very trippy, trance sounding stuff that’s great to zone out and work to.
  • Mass Effect Remixes – This action RPG had some really fantastic music. This particular group created some wonderful orchestral remixes and produced some catchy tunes that were also unused in the game, but are still fun to listen to. “Shepard of the Galaxy” is a particularly amazing track!

That’s been my DragonCon Rush listening list!  What are you listening to while you work? Feel free to share!  I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting background noise.

DragonCon 2012 To-Do List

This year is going to be my biggest year yet at DragonCon!  I’ll have a table in the artist alley, a large gallery bay, and a 3D display table in addition to all the rest!  This will also be my first year giving a panel on the basics of leather mask-making (Saturday at 7pm during the con).  I thought it would be a good exercise to share my tentative to-do list for this year’s con just to give everyone an idea of the hecticness.

–  Shoot and edit videos of segments for the mask-making demo.
–  Finish “War Prince” and “Lotus Dancer” paintings.
–  Craft 6 leather masks to add to the displays.
–  Create head displays for masks (touch up ones from last year that are damaged).
–  Double mat 10 art cards and embellish each mat with a themed drawing.
–  Order canvas prints of centerpieces.
–  Order bookmarks (order vinyl sleeves and tassles for bookmarks).
–  Make prints for the print shop and table (what a time to break in a new printer!)
–  Make sure I have enough bags and backing for all the prints.
–  Program barcodes for products at my table. Train with the new scanner between now and Dragoncon.
–  Compile portfolio for black and white interior artwork and full color character art for tabletop game companies.
–  Sign up for portfolio reviews. Still need to research which companies are represented at DragonCon and what kind of art they’re looking for.
–  Make some kind of freebie for any interested AD’s. A sketchbook? Bookmarks? Mini Calendar? Brochure? Not sure yet…

Have a sneak peek of my art gallery panel layout, for the curious:
I almost always lose my layout during setup so it’s nice to have a backup
here on the blog just in case I lose it.

To be honest, I’ve never pursued portfolio reviews at DragonCon before. It’s always been too intimidating and I never felt like I had enough of the right kinds of pieces.  Now, I feel I have a better idea  of what I am trying to be hired for and better work, to boot.  We’ll see, though!  I suspect I will be in for a cold splash of reality, but it’s one I hope that will help me to improve my presentation, overall! I’m also going to experiment with presenting my portfolio on an ipad. Yay for hand-me-down electronics!

So let the mad rush begin! May the coffee flow free and the chocolate be plentiful!