I have put quite a few conventions under my belt and I wanted to share some things I’ve learned behind the scenes to selling art at conventions. Be prepared, this is a long post but each section is titled so you can jump to your most informative section that relates to your search.
Do I like doing conventions? Yes and no. You meet a lot of really interesting people at the conventions and some people that are just downright rude and you feel they are only there to tell you how much they dislike your art. You need a thick skin with a few of these people.
However, more good than bad usually comes from the art conventions but rest assured, before the show really gets going there is a lot of preparations and sometimes a lot of sitting being bored while waiting for the crowd.
Once the show is over, you still aren’t done and there are a few legalities you want to get covered, no fear, they are pretty easy to take care of.
Preparation for your art show
While many vendors are preparing the layout for their booth, getting their toys, trinkets and dodads going, you have your own preparation to do, and often, the more prepared you are, the better you will do at the show, given your art is at a level it needs to be and you are marketing to the right crowd and the show isn’t just a flop. We will get into this soon enough.
Getting your table secured.
When it comes to getting your table secured, as you progress in shows, you will find that the organization is usually pretty chaotic, there will be road bumps every step of the way and many are completely out of control. I’ve had friends that have bought booths and the table wasn’t there when they showed up. I’ve seen wrong table being sold, switched and moved. Most of the time it’s part of the show setup that they messed up on. Keep your cool and the show is usually willing to help you out and if you end up in a bad location, they will often help reimburse you or discount your next show.
Luckily I haven’t had anything too horrible happen but I have been supplied the wrong table before and it was half the size I ordered. After I talked to the staff, they helped me find a table that was twice the size I ordered and it even helped me pull more sales due to the size. That brings us up too the next section.
What table size and location do you want?
This one is going to be subjective. Everyone will have their own opinion on this due to the luck they have had in different locations. There is no right and wrong way to go about this so I can only share my personal opinion about this one. You’ll find many agree with me on this, but some may not share the same opinion simply because sales have worked out differently for them.
The corner booth
The corner booth is always nice. You are located right on the end cap of isle so any time someone goes around the corner, they have to see you and your booth. This is often the most ideal location to be because they are always high traffic and high visibility. I have had the most luck on the corner booth due to the traffic levels but they also come with a cost, often costing double or triple the amount of isle booths dependent upon the show.
The center aisle
These are the most common booth types. You are located somewhere within the center of the isle. These booths can do well but you have competition every direction you look. At some shows I’m right next to clothing vendors who bought an artist location because they weren’t as expensive. Some shows allow this and personally I can’t stand it. Vendors should be in vendor locations, but my point is, from one direction, you couldn’t even see my booth because their displays went from the wall to the center of the isle. Though I made back my costs, these types aren’t ideal as I’ve had people out looking for me that couldn’t even find me.
If you are next to another artist, this works just fine because then you are competitions for people that have a taste for your art, or their art. There aren’t many people who share the type of art I do so my competition, though surrounded by artists, is usually very low. I fall into a very niche market which you would assume limits my audience, but quite the opposite, extends it dramatically. If I’m at a comic con, everyone is competitions to sell their wolverine or Spiderman print and I am selling monsters and wizards. It really brings a very particular audience right to my booth because it’s so different. Most artists have bright and colorful booths and mine is usually a dark red and black. I’ll get into this more soon.
The dual booth
This is probably my favorite tactic for selling my art. Many conventions will allow you to buy two tables side by side. If this option is available, it’s what I’ve been doing lately as it makes my booth look very large. When you have a large booth, people who don’t know your art automatically assume you must be important and therefore they will usually come over to at least look. Then your art and your charm can kick in. If you have a conversation with people and are kind, they are usually more inclined to purchase from you. Nobody wants to talk to a cold artist who is only into themselves.
I want to stress, don’t be kind just to get a sale. Anyone who approaches my booth, if I ask how they are doing, I generally mean it. If you want people to truly support your art, you have to learn to make friends. There have been people who approach my booth that I now share stories on Snapchat and Instagram with. There are people who will promote my work for me without me asking. There are those who will send people my way for graphic design because they know I do that because we have had conversations. There are people who will buy my new work purely to help fund me to make new art because they like to see it.
Make friends, not just sales.
Now you know what kind of booth you want, it’s time to contact the person in charge of the show and purchase your booth. Sometimes the purchase is only done through their website and you get the organizer after you’ve paid, sometimes you have to email the organizer to set up the sale. Each convention does it their own way so just read up on it on their website.
To find a show, ask around the art communities and there is usually an abundance of shows. As if anyone has had luck at any of them and if they recommend you doing some. You can also look on your cities website to see their event calendar. If they have the event in the city, it is usually scheduled there and it will link to the conventions website.
Getting your prints going
Now we’ve reached out and got the booth ordered, you need a product to sell, for most artists, these are usually prints. For conventions, you usually don’t need very expensive prints as people understand that conventions can be expensive for artists. Start small and work up.
My first show I did I hadn’t yet done much research. I ordered my prints and had UV gloss, a thick paper, and all the bells and whistles. My small order of prints cost me over $1,000 to get going and I still had all the other costs of the show on top of that. The next show I used a local printer, the prints weren’t as high as quality but nobody even cared. As my shows progressed, I raised the quality of my paper just because I look selling quality work. I try to raise it a bit on every rerun. You have to match the quality to your budget or it won’t be worth doing a show. Let your stock accumulate a bit for each show instead of trying to go all in unless you know you will sell large amounts.
If you go with a local printer, you can often set up a press check to see how the first print comes out and if you need to adjust the file or not. Perhaps it is printing way too dark. Yes, it will cost to get a new run on the printer but it’s usually still better than printing 100 prints that won’t sell.
Yes, this is from personal experience. I now try to press check every run if possible.
Checking in and setting up
Now your booth is purchased, you have your prints, now it’s pre-show. Once you are signed up and have your contact, you will usually be a part of a mass email that covers dock times, load-in and load-out, and everything in between. When load-in day comes you have the option of showing up and getting everything set up and going the day before the show. This is necessary if you have a lot to setup, if not, you can often wait to set up a few hours before on the show day. I always setup on load-in day if it’s a big show, if it’s a small show, I often just show up on show day a couple hours early.
When you show up, there usually isn’t much direction as to where to go until you actually enter the show floor and you will see tons of people moving things around, once you see that, you know you are in the right place. Look around and you will find information stations and next to that is where you will receive a show badge as well as a tax form. DO NOT LOSE YOUR TAX FORM. At this time, you don’t have to do anything with it but you must have it. I will cover this shortly.
Depending on your table size and if you have a drape behind you, you can go find your table and setup. I have a makeshift pipe setup that my art hangs from. It’s a paid in the ass to move around and I will be getting a portable one soon as well as a vinyl banner to drop from it that I can cycle out. I also have a standee banner as well. These aren’t necessary but I do recommend some time of branding elements, even if this is just tapping af few prints together and hanging it behind you. That was my first display and I still reuse it often as it seems to do the best. You will need some sort of backdrop or people will overlook your booth. Most people walk the center of the aisle and if it’s just a person behind a table, they often won’t approach you. Many people will be following your art and have no idea what you look like. They might be walking past their favorite artist without even realizing it.
Selling art or selling out, the happy medium
You will here many people talk about if you just draw Spiderman and Batman then you are selling out. That’s a debate that will go on until the end of time so I will just cover my experiences here.
If you are at a convention such as Comic Con, then you will need a few pieces with Spiderman and Batman, but you can also know that you will only sell those if your image really calls to someone as your competition is nearly every other artists in there. I actually don’t have a single Spiderman or Batman in my collection but I do have a front runner that I use to attract people to my booth. It’s my piece titled: Heisenbat. It’s a mashup between Batman and Breaking Bad. It used to bring huge amounts of people to my booth but now Breaking Bad has lost it’s popularity do to the show ending, it doesn’t pull as many people but it’s good to have something to pull people over.
If you get them to your booth your chances of a sale go up dramatically. Get them over, invite them to look through your portfolio, and strike up a meaningful conversation. There are a lot of people who just browse and no matter what you say, they won’t care. Be kind, sometimes they do, they just don’t want to feel pressured to buy and they will return later. Some people love that you talked to them and they will return because they liked your work but you were one of the few people who struck up a conversation so they thought of you first.
If you aren’t making any sales at shows, be honest with yourself. Is it because your work just isn’t up to a sellable level? If this is the case, I recommend taking about a year and focus on drawing. Learn and progress as much as possible for the show next year and try again.
If your work is up to a sellable level but you aren’t making any sales, perhaps your offers aren’t attractive enough. Try different attention getters. Perhaps your work is overpriced. Perhaps it is underpriced.
If your work is overpriced, walk around and see what other artists are selling at. Is it a buy two get one free? Maybe your price is on part but the print quality is too low. Perhaps if you are underpriced people aren’t seeing any value in your work. Yes, the perception of value drives a lot of people to buy more than the art itself. You have to identify the different people in the market and use the right tactics. In time, this identification process begins to come naturally.
Be available commissions
Now we are getting to some real value in the conventions. If you are comfortable with your work, you can offer daily commissions. People will order some work and come back in an hour to pick up their custom one of a kind drawing. Get cash up front or many won’t return.
If you aren’t comfortable for quickly done commissions, perhaps you take a few each day on the people with multiple day passes and offer them to come pick it up the next day.
Then there is my favorite type. People order the commission from me, I draw it and mail it to them later. The price reflect the shipping costs so I don’t have to take the money out of the cost to create the piece in the first place. Most of my commissions run on the higher side but they are usually drawn in more detail that the one or day sketches.
Commissions are where I make the majority of my money when it comes to conventions and my fans like them because they get a one-of-a-kind piece, even if it’s a digital piece. I don’t make any copies of the piece so it still has the one-of-a-kind value to it.
Do not overlook the value of offering commissions at conventions. I was once commissioned to do a very large scale piece in detail by a university. This made up over a third of what I made at the convention. The show was an okay show but this one commission made the show very worth it and then some.
Ah taxes, we are now back to this. Remember that tax form I mentioned not to lose? Well, this is where it comes in at. When you have added in all the costs you’ve made from credit cards and cash, yes, cash too, you have to pay taxes on it.
When collecting credit cards, PayPal and Square have very good options for processing credit cards and it will actually keep a total of each day within the app so you know at glance how much you’ve made from that. Simply write that down and then add up your cash as well and add that to the total cost.
Whether or not you add in the amount you’ll make from commission you will want to talk to your local tax adviser, it’s dependent upon how you sold the piece and what you are offering. Sometimes you have to claim it, sometimes it’s counted under a labor and you pay an income tax instead of a sales tax. I advice you get professional advice on that part.
Once you have your totals down, there will be a section that you write that in on the form, then there will be some direction on how to pull the taxable amount from that. Write that down too and you have the total tax you have to pay on your sales. How you just get your check, add the stub with the tax amount on it, and send it to the tax address they supplied you with. You usually have about 15 days to get the check out.
I know this has been a very long article about selling art at conventions and many other topics but I hope I have covered some topics that have helped or given you some guidance on where to get some more help on the subject. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below and if you feel this article can help someone you know, please feel free to share it.
If you are looking for prints for my art, please see my INPRNT store here. If you want a custom one-of-a-kind commission or some commercial art, please contact me at this link here.