Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Convention Facts I've Learned the Hard Way

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When I first decided to write this post, it was after Sukoshicon LAW and Dashcon.  Heidi and I put our heads together to try and suss out how we could've spotted these problem cons from a distance, and came to the horrifying conclusion that from the website, a good convention and a bad convention often look the same.  Sometimes a fellow artist will be kind enough to tip you off before you spend money on a table, but there's been many times I was 'warned away' AT the convention by another artist who glibly claimed they could've just told me not to come if I'd only thought to ask them (I usually put out all calls on Twitter and Tumblr).  If spotting bad cons is difficult for people as experienced in conventions as Heidi and I, it must be extremely frustrating for artists just starting their journey.  Since I'm unable to give any sort of hard and fast rules for spotting a bad convention, I thought I'd share some generalities that seem to be true for me.

My definition of a 'bad convention':

  • Low foot traffic in hallways and artist alley
  • Disinterested or rude staff
  • Inability to make more than $500 in sales entire weekend (for conventions I travel to, and need to book a hotel room for)
  • Audience at particular con doesn't seem to be interested in actually BUYING anything from the artists, but continue to mill around the alley.

Of course, sometimes it's the artists fault, and not the convention's.  Furry Weekend Atlanta (link) seemed like it was a good convention to table at for the other artists, but because I was simply dabbling in the fandom, it was a bad convention for me.  Lack of preparation can make ANY con a bad con, but quick thinking may serve to turn it around.

My definition of a 'good con':
  • Audience seems to be in a good mood, receptive to what's sold in the alley.
  • Audience is enjoying the convention itself.
  • Staff is receptive and helpful.
  • Sales are brisk

  • Any first year con that requires travel is probably going to be a loss.
  • Any one day con that requires travel will probably cost me more money than I'll make.
  • Any con open for only two days will probably be a loss for me.
  • Given how far I have to travel, indie cons that I can't drive to aren't worth attending for me, as I can't make back the costs, and the chances of meeting an editor who can utilize my work is low on the East Coast at this time.
  • In general, I tend to do well at anime cons, especially cons that are at least 3 days in length, have been around for more than 5 years, and are half the size of Otakon.
  • For cons I have to travel to, if I make under $500 at the table, I can't afford to return.
  • Presenting panels costs me sales, so its important to find conventions that are willing to offer some form of compensation to help me offset the costs.
  • Conventions in economically recessed states tends to be really poor conventions for me, as the crowd doesn't have money to spend.
  • Conventions in states that already have a lot of conventions tend to be a bad choice for me (Ohio, lookin' at you.)
  • Conventions with Artist Alley heads that are unresponsive to email and take a long time to release the alley list TEND to present later problems to the artists, such as tables being smaller than advertised, the alley isn't actually locked at night, staff may not patrol the alley to make sure things are running smoothly.
  • I tend to sell poorly at large conventions like Otakon given the cost of table, attendence, and travel.
  • I tend to sell very poorly at superhero-centric events.
  • Although my work is entirely kid friendly and I have a children's comic on the table, I have difficulty attracting parents at conventions, but no difficulty attracting children.  Unfortunately, the parents don't seem to be interested in purchasing any of my work for their children, nor do they seem to be interested in even flipping through the book.  This holds true for all three major event types- indie, superhero, and anime.
  • Because events like MoCCA-Fest and SPX have grown so large, I no longer see job opportunities after atttending such events, as there's little opportunity to interact with people as the crowd and crush are so large.
  • If I share a table with someone, no matter how large the table or how different our work, both of us tend to see about half the sales we normally would.
  • While I enjoy presenting panels, I currently do not see an increase in meaningful sales at conventions I present at.  I need to find a better way to include a snippet of relevent self promotion into our panels.
  • At conventions I attend alone, I tend to be creeped on.  I need to find a better way to quickly shut these people down and send them on their way, as they tend to ruin sales for me.
  • Promoting future conventions is good for me, utilizing hashtags well has earned me sales I might not have otherwise had.
  • Convention appearances and panels produced do not necessarily equate to an increase of followers on any social network I have, as many attendees do not associate convention me with the possibility of there being a freelance me as well.  Need to work harder to change this perception.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Panel Presentation: Introduction to the Artist Alley

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Heidi and I presented three panels at Mechacon 2014 this year:  Watercolor 101, Introduction to Alcohol Based Markers, and Introduction to the Artist Alley.  I have videos for Watercolor and Artist Alley, but my camcorder unfortunately died before our Alcohol Based Marker presentation.

This post includes the video for our Introduction to the Artist Alley presentation (recorded using my little camcorder while we presented, edited by Joseph for us), the presentation itself, and a download for the handout I wrote and Heidi designed.  This presentation is in two parts- a slideshow presentation to cover basic information and an open Q&A.  The video includes both, but I've also included the slideshow because we ran through the information to fit in our 1 hour presentation time slot.  Then handout is a checklist to help artists prepare.

If you enjoyed this presentation, please consider sharing it on your social networks, and if you'd like us to present at a convention near you, please consider writing to the convention and showing them our stuff!

Video


Presentation


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Panel Presentation: Introduction to Alcohol Based Markers

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Heidi and I presented three panels at Mechacon 2014 this year:  Watercolor 101, Introduction to Alcohol Based Markers, and Introduction to the Artist Alley.  I have videos for Watercolor and Artist Alley, but my camcorder unfortunately died before our Alcohol Based Marker presentation.

This post includes the presentation for Introduction to Alcohol Based Markers and a download link for the handout I wrote and Heidi designed.  This presentation is in two parts- a slideshow presentation to cover basic information and a demo portion to address questions, but we don't have video for this presentation. Then handout goes into greater detail regarding basics- brands, paperweights, and inks, and can be used as a basic shopping list if you're just getting started.

If you enjoyed this presentation, please consider sharing it on your social networks, and if you'd like us to present at a convention near you, please consider writing to the convention and showing them our stuff!

Presentation


Friday, September 12, 2014

Panel Presentation: Watercolor 101

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Heidi and I presented three panels at Mechacon 2014 this year:  Watercolor 101, Introduction to Alcohol Based Markers, and Introduction to the Artist Alley.  I have videos for Watercolor and Artist Alley, but my camcorder unfortunately died before our Alcohol Based Marker presentation.

This post includes the video for Watercolor 101 (recorded using my little camcorder while we presented, edited by Joseph for us), the presentation itself, and a download for the handout I wrote and Heidi designed.  This presentation is in two parts- a slideshow presentation to cover basic information and a demo portion to address questions.  The video includes both, but I've also included the slideshow because we ran through the information to fit in our 1 hour presentation time slot.  Then handout goes into greater detail regarding basics- brands, paperweights, and brushes, and can be used as a basic shopping list if you're just getting started.

If you enjoyed this presentation, please consider sharing it on your social networks, and if you'd like us to present at a convention near you, please consider writing to the convention and showing them our stuff!

Video




Slide Show





Download Link For Handout

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mechacon 2014 Convention Recap

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INTRODUCTION


Most artists who sell in artist alleys have a favorite con.  A honey hole that's always treated them well, an audience that's particularly receptive to their work. While I found almost all of the South East of the US to be my convention stomping grounds, Mechacon has always been dear to my heart from an artist alleys standpoint.

This year, Heidi and I wanted to up our convention game, and we wrote to Mechacon staff about producing panels for them.  After significant back and forth, we finally reached a compromise and settled on three panels- An Introduction to Watercolor Panel, an Introduction to Alcohol Based Markers panel, and an Introduction to the Artist Alley Panel.  I'll be uploading all three panels to Slideshare soon, and I managed to tape the presentations for Watercolor and Artist Alley, which Joseph Coco has generously edited.  We also created carefully curated handouts for our audience, and Heidi was generous to get them printed, expenses paid out of her pocket.  I'll be sharing these shortly after this recap goes up.

Although I generally don't do fanart prints, I did do a print of the Inner Senshi, since I'm excited about not only the new series, Sailor Moon Crystal, but Viz's plans to redub and release the original series (I'm way more excited about this, actually).  I had hoped that this would increase my sales, since the profit margin on prints is pretty large, and it is a series I'm pretty passionate about, so I hoped it would give me an opportunity to talk to customers about something we both loved.

This year, I also introduced a new large glitter button line, my Sassy Buttons, with each phrase inspired by my experiences as a woman in comics.  I was a little worry about negative blowback from some customers, but I hoped the positive reaction would offset that.
And of course, I made new mini watercolors for this convention, including a BUNCH of really cute Studio Ghibli ATCs. (photos)

I also had copies of 7" Kara volume 1 (which was new to Mechacon, but not new to Louisiana, as I debuted it to my home audience at LouisiANIME), and copies of Hana Doki Kira. 
And I FINALLY got around to getting a properly sized 6' horizontal banner for the top of my display, with design help from Joseph.  I ordered it from BuildASign and Joseph helped me set the grommets.

Photos of Demo Setup




The new banner required a little reconfiguring of the setup to accommodate its size, but I'm pretty pleased with it.  I believe its really important to have a large, colorful banner that's easily visible from across a room.

 I wanted to find a new way to display my ATC watercolors that allowed them to stand out against the setup.   I found these burlap covered canvases at Michaels and added a little glitter tape to make them better fit my overall aesthetic.


I decided to introduce a new display element to my setup- select example commissions were framed in Ikea frames to give customers an idea of how nice they look when framed.  I'd hoped this would better appeal to the side of my demographic that actually has money- the parents.  I've found with this past convention year that many of my customers only choose to buy from me because I offer the cheapest rates, so I want to move away from this impulse buy market.




Of course, with all these new things, I needed to make sure I had a setup that worked.  It took some finagling and some rethinking, but I finally landed on a mesh cube solution that worked with my banner and my wares.

NEW MERCHANDISE FOR MECHACON

Since Mechacon is my hometown con, I always try to introduce new products.  This year, I had a set of 12 sassy feminist buttons, a Sailor Moon inner senshi print, and copies of Hana Doki Kira.

Each of these suckers takes so long to make, but they're so worth it.


Mini Watercolors Done for Mechacon






















THE TRIP


I've mentioned in past Mechacon reviews that the trip to New Orleans is a long one.  While it isn't as long a drive as it was from Savannah (we flew that time, but I've made the drive to visit family in Luling), we detoured through Alabama to pick up Alex, our table assistant.  Heidi and I spent the night in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, and left for New Orleans Thursday afternoon.

This year, we missed out on Mechacon's con block (my fault! I was trying to book our room with Bitcons, and unfortunately con rates don't apply, so I waited too long), and the rooms in the Hilton were just too expensive without the discount.  We ended up booking a room at The Ambassador, a hotel a couple blocks away from the Hilton, which cost $125 a night, with valet parking at $30 a day. While it's always very nice to stay at the con hotel (mini breaks back to the hotel room to use the bathroom/eat/rest a second make a huge difference), there was no way Heidi and I could break even paying the Hilton's nightly rate in addition to paying for parking (also $30 a day, even if you were staying in the hotel).  In the future, we're definitely going to make it a point to get that con block rate ($125 a night as opposed to around $300 a night).

Something I recently learned from someone who frequently staffs conventions is that if a convention doesn't fill it's room block, they have to pay the hotel additional money.  I wish conventions made this well known, because Heidi and I used to avoid the room block because it tends to be full of noisy, late night partyin' con goers.  If we knew that making sure that block got filled would help the con keep costs low, we'd make it a point to always book in the con block.  Just an FYI to you guys who table in the artist alley and don't want to be kept up late at night- the con block actually serves a purpose besides segregating loud con kids.

THURSDAY

On Thursday evening, we opted to pick up our registration and save ourselves some hassle Friday morning, although we couldn't set up in the Artist Alley.  When picking up the con booklet, I saw something really exciting:

Perfect Square helped sponsor Mechacon this year! 

When I excitedly told the staffer who gave me the program guide that I'd actually done a spread for the book, she was 100% not in the least impressed.  Oh well, *I* thought it was really cool, and a good way to start the weekend.

FRIDAY


Friday morning we set our alarm clocks early so we could be at the Hilton for Artist Alley setup. I knew my new setup would take awhile (as always, lots of tiny things to put up and out)
This year, Mechacon was held the weekend after Otakon.  Heidi and I theorized that perhaps some of the people who missed out on the Otakon lotto, who were prepared and set to attend another convention at that time in August, decided to give Mechacon  shot.  This year, we definitely saw a lot of huge print only setups, which is unusual for Mechacon.  There also seemed to be fewer craft artists in the Artist Alley this year, which is disappointing.  I really like artist alleys that mix crafters with 2d artists, I find that the mix ensures that customers check out all of the alley, and that their interest stays fresh.




Last year, I was between someone who sold folded paper flowers and two girls who sold tiny top hats, and business for me was pretty busy.  Between these two, my commissions and watercolors seemed novel and exciting.  Unfortunately, Mechacon wasn't as well mixed this year.
I was pretty much setup and ready to go by the time the alley opened Friday, but neither of the tables next to me were setup, nor had the artists even arrived.  I had a pretty great spot though- I was the table on the corner next to the table that faced the entrance.  This meant, if nobody put stuff on the floor on the side of their table (which isn't their space anyway), the stuff I displayed on that edge would be visible immediately upon entering the door.  I tried to use this opportunity to my benefit, that corner got my Sailor Scout print, Sailor Scout Ribbon badges, and the poster I made to promote 7" Kara.   The fact that neither of my table neighbors had arrived concerned me a bit- deadspots are bad news, and a deadspot RIGHT by the front door doesn't reflect well on the alley.

This year, the tables in the alley were much more tightly packed than last year, which made getting setup a bit difficult, and it definitely meant that multiple artists were attempting to exist in the space of one artist in every corner section.  Cramming tables and artists together this way makes it difficult for artists to stay organized behind the table, and is probably a fire hazard.



I soon found out that the guest artist, Amelie Belcher, would be setting up in that primo corner spot.  Amelia has been a Mechacon staple for a long time, and my first impression of her was also my first year attending Mechacon as an artist.  At that time, she had five tables displaying all her prints, and it was pretty intimidating for a newcomer.

When Amelie did arrive, it was after the Artist Alley had been open a couple hours.  Although I personally like to arrive early for setup, there's definitely been times when that option was just out of my hands, so I know how stressful it is setting up while the artist alley floor is open.   As she set up, she half complained about Mechacon not giving her another table, saying it worked out in her benefit, since it meant she wouldn't have room to take commissions.  I quietly breathed a sigh of relief- commissions are a HUGE part of my sales, and knowing what a staple Amelie is at Mechacon, I wasn't sure I could compete.  My concern grew againwhen Amelie began setting up her stuff, since she had these MASSIVE foam core poster displays that also wrapped around the sides of her table.  Amelie and I have extremely different sales styles, she tends to lean on the 'barker' end of the spectrum, whereas I may be a bit TOO quiet and reserved.  Many of my customers are shy people, so I try to let them just casually browse.  I don't mind making small talk with customers, but when the commissions have backed up, it's very difficult to concentrate on both, so I only really encourage small talk while the convention is slow.  My biggest concern about tabling next to Amelie (noise level), wasn't an issue on Friday, as she had her significant other watch her table for her, and he seemed like a very low key guy.  Unfortunately for me, she offered pony prints, and I took a hit on pony commissions all day Friday.  In addition, by having her foamcore setup on the floor on the side of her table, people assumed my table was a continuation of hers, even though our styles are extremely different. 

A bit later, around 1, my other table neighbor arrived.  Her table had a pipe setup that wobbled a fair amount all weekend, despite being clamped to the back of the table, and she sold mostly prints in a variety of sizes and printranges.  One of her biggest sellers were mini prints- about 4"x6".  She seemed to have every character one could think of, either on the table or behind the table. She seemed to make pretty steady sales all weekend, and I learned about 'drift'.

Drift is when you have an eyecatching item on the edge or end of your table that ends up leading your customer to the next table.  My drift item was the Sailor Scout ribbon badges, so over the course of the weekend, I ended up rearranging things and moving those to the center of the table.  If Mechacon didn't have the artist alley tables butting up against each other, and instead left some room between tables, this 'drift' wouldn't be such an issue.  Another possible way to stop drift would be to make one's table more boothlike, enclosing the edges with mesh cubes up to the front of the table.

Friday sales were pretty slow, although not dead, and only picked up around the time when Heidi and I needed to leave for our first panel (Introduction to Watercolor) at 6.  This year, Mechacon kept the artist alley open until 11p.m., which meant artists were faced with the choice to either pack it all down early in order to eat dinner, or tough it out until 11 and hit one of the two places still open after the alley closed.  After our panel, we had an hour at the table before the next panel, Introduction to Alcohol Markers started, which was barely enough time to catch our breathes, let alone enough time to grab something to eat.  By the time we finished our panels around 10:30, we were pretty tired, and we still had to go back to the Artist Alley to break down for the evening and try to find some dinner.
Although we had notified convention staff in advance that we would be needing a table in order to present tables at our demonstrations, there were no tables available, and we had to do our demonstrations on the floor.  This was pretty uncomfortable, as I was wearing a knee length dress that gaped on top, something I wouldn't've worn had I known I would've been doing demos on the floor.  We did request a table for future presentations for that weekend, a request that was not fulfilled.

We didn't finish our panels until around 10:30, and had to quickly hurry back to the Artist Alley to pack up.  We finally left Mechacon around 11:30, and tried to find somewhere to eat, which only left expensive options.

Friday Sketch Commissions















SATURDAY
It was difficult getting up Saturday morning. 

Saturday definitely felt like it was a bit of a struggle to make sales, since any time people were interested, I'd quickly lose them to the table next to me.  In the future, I may have to rethink my overall display to minimize drift. 

Halfway through Saturday, Amelie was notified that she could move to the dealer's room, leaving the spot next to me open.  Heidi jumped on the chance and moved on over, which was a huge improvement for me, since that meant we could easily gossip behind the table.

 My mom assisted me most of Saturday, and Alex helped out at Heidi's table, which isn't ideal as my mom can be pretty distracting, and I struggled to keep up with sketch commissions.  We had our Artist Alley panel at 6 pm, and although Heidi kept saying we could take as long as necessary to present, I tried to keep the presentation under 2 hours, since we still had to finish our day in the Artist Alley.


You can see that the girl next to me has her setup extended to the sides to minimize drift from her table to mine, and in the future, I'll probably extend my setup to do the same, which would give me more room to display my art.

Saturday Sketch Commissions







SUNDAY

Sunday was the only day we didn't have to worry about presenting a panel, so there was a little bit less pressure.  We ended up rolling in a little late, so we had to hit the ground running.



Sunday Sketch Commissions









Mail in Sketch Commissions

Due to a combination of it being so humid both in New Orleans and in our hotel room, and the fact that we were presenting panels until late most evenings, I stopped offering at-con watercolors after Friday and only offered them as mail-in commissions.  I think I'm going to make this the standard, doing watercolors until 4 AM after a long day at a con is killer.












Cost Breakdown

Hotel: $500 total, split between Heidi and I ($250)
Transportation: Heidi's mom kindly let us borrow her CRV for the weekend, $160 split between Heidi and I ($80)
Parking: $30 each day, $130 total shared between Heidi and I ($65)
Table: $100 (including 1 badge, which is becoming unusual, as most conventions now include 2 badges)
Badge for Alex: $40
Food: Mostly covered by my mother, Heidi and I spent about $40 on under-the-table snacks

Total: $575

Total Sales: $740


CONCLUSION

Mechacon has become what Heidi and I consider a 'heritage con', a convention we try to attend every year.  Unfortunately for us, downtown New Orleans is an expensive location to hold a convetion- you have to consider parking (usually $30 a day, NOT included in your room rate), hotel (if you miss the con rate, it can start at $200 a night), and food (while there is fast food in the area, its not really within quick walking distance of the Hilton, so you either have to send your assistant or retrieve your car.  Food options within walking distance tend to be pricy).  We're fortunate in that my mom shows her support by not only assisting behind the table, but making sure we get at least two meals a day, and without her help, Mechacon would be a lot more difficult. 

Every year we do Mechacon, our sales increase- from under $300 my first year, to breaking $500 my second, to topping $700 my third.  I had hoped to break $1000 at my hometown convention this year, but there were several limiting factors that affected my chances.  I can only hope that with better planning next year, Heidi and I will continue to improve our Mechacon experience.

This year, I was able to see a lot of old friends, although the stresses of juggling sales, finishing sketches, and presenting panels didn't leave me as much time to socialize as I would have liked.  We also saw a lot of setups that were very unusual for Mechacon, what Heidi and I call 'print Walmart', which are huge pipe displays covered in prints.  Usually Mechacon has an excellent mix of crafters and 2D artists, but we saw far fewer crafters in the Alley this year.  I really enjoy a mixed alley as it means customers are much more likely to check out all the tables, and are less likely to mentally glaze over after the 5th table selling nothing but fanart prints.  Our theory is that since Mechacon and Otakon were quite close this year, people who didn't make it into Otakon found another convention that still had available tables, and just brought their game to New Orleans.  While its disappointing to see Mechacon move towards a fanart print heavy alley, the only things I can do about that is encourage crafters to apply to the alley and continue to try and improve my own work.

Since Mechacon was such a busy con for me this year, and I spent so much of my time trying to get sketches completed while dealing with behind-the-table distractions, I wasn't able to get many photos of the alley during peak hours, which is a shame.

I also managed to film a couple of our panels this year, and I'm working on a postt that includes the videos, the slides, AND the handouts we made for the presentations, for you guys who couldn't make Mechacon this year.



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