Friday, May 30, 2014

Late April- May 2014 Sketchdump

I'm pretty dang fond of that fake watercolor in the sketchbook technique aren't I?  It's a lot of fun though!  If you guys are interested, I could easily show you here, but it's a bit shameful to do a tutorial on it, because it is ridiculously easy, and a great way to practice value studies.

Oh hey look, it's some concept for Chapter 5 of 7" Kara.  I wonder who these nerds are.

And a baby Naomi.

More chapter 5 concept. 

I was feeling cranky, so I drew some cranky Kara's. 

Cute mod girl from reference.

More chapter 5 concept.

More chapter 5 concept.

Cutie clothes for Kara.  She'll get to wear them someday.

Style Tests:

From top left: Aoi Haru Ride, Samurai Champloo, Rainbow Brite, Sailor Moon, Blind Springs, Amanda Lafrenais.

Strangely Katie (Princess Princess), One Piece, Harvest Moon, Shiagenori Soejima (Persona series), Ghibli's B style

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fiskers Rotary Cutter Review

Back when I was an impressionable undergrad, I was taught that professional artists don't use scissors to trim their artwork, but Xacto blades against metal rulers. 

Although I practiced often, I always struggled to pull a straight line.  Even with a brand new blade, my line would wobble and nick into the paper beyond my cutting edge, leaving me to try and recut. 

My attempts to maneuver an Xacto blade through heavy paper always bordered on informerical awful.  Onlookers could easily assume that I was playing up my ineptitude, but they'd be wrong.  I  am just patently awful with an Xacto blade, and while I've never cut myself, my wrist would scream for hours later at the strain and pressure required to score paper.

Recently, I ordered a quilter's rotary cutter, hoping to ease some of my paper trimming frustration.  I went with Fiskers, because it's a brand I recognize, and I ordered it from, because hey, I have some bitcoins.  I ended up using it tonight to trim a commission, and was so excited by how well it cut that I had to share it with you guys.

 This is the rotary cutter with the blade retracted.  The blade can be advanced by pushing the orange knob forward, and retracted again by pushing the side orange button.

 Here's my rotary cutter with the blade extended.

 Using a rotary cutter doesn't negate the need for a nice straight edge, nor the need for a cutting mat, but it does mean I can cut heavy paper with far less pressure.

Really, really easy.  You can't see it, but my other hand isn't holding the camera, but the straight edge (actually, a lie.  I'm not cutting in this shot, just demonstrating how you need to angle the rotary cutter's blade against your straight edge for a clean cut).

Does this mean I'll never need to use an Xacto blade again?  Of course not, this thing is huge.  It does mean I won't have to use an Xacto blade to slice a large sheet of heavy paper though.  It also means I can probably easily trim garage print books to size, a feat my guillotine paper cutter cannot accomplish without hacking up the books. 

Want your own?  You can get it at DickBlick!

Need further convincing?  Check out this video!

Found this review helpful?  Want to show your thanks?  There's two fantastic ways that ensure that I do more art supply reviews.  The first is to order something from the Natto-shop, my fabulous little webstore full of things I've made.  There's comics (like Volume 1 of 7" Kara, my children's comic), charms, buttons, and more. The money earned from sales goes to paying my rent, putting food on my table, and even buying art supplies.  This method has three benefits- you get something neat, I can buy a new toy to test, and you get to read the review!  The other way is much more direct, you can donate money to my Paypal account.  All donations go ONLY to buying art supplies to review.   The link for that is in the sidebar.  If you'd like, you can even recommend a product in the comments of your donation.

Monday, May 26, 2014

MTAC Artist Interviews

For the first time, Joseph Coco accompanied me to an anime convention and conducted some artist interviews while there.  Since MTAC was such a busy convention, I needed Joseph's help much of the one day he was able to attend, but he was able to conduct a couple interviews and take a lot of booth photos, which you can see in my MTAC Recap.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Watercolor Commission to Celebrate a Young Family

Here's another commission from awhile back that  never saw the light of posting!  I did this one for Joseph, as a Christmas present from him to his brother's new family.  It's watercolor on Blick's Studio watercolor paper, which is a decent, affordable (140lb) watercolor paper with a very light tooth.

When I opened up commissions, it was with the hope that these would be the sort of commissions I primarily filled.  I really enjoy drawing kids, and I especially love drawing families.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Marker Render Commission

Here's a commission I got from the fantastic Brian Daniel (of Tomorrow Jones!) way back around Christmas.  While rendering it, I actually recorded the process, but I still haven't edited the footage (bwamp bwamp).  Rather than holding back the piece any longer, I thought I'd go ahead and post it, and hopefully one day I can upload the edited footage.

Brian wanted a commission of Pippi Longstockings, specifically Pippi during her South Pacific days.  Having been a fan of Pippi as a kid, this was a real pleasure to work on, especially since it gave me an excuse to draw a ginger with lots of cute freckles.

Although I don't post a lot of marker work to the blog anymore (especially not a large piece like this one), I love using markers for illustration, especially Copics.  Since you guys can't see it (yet, hopefully), I inked this piece with Kaimai Sol K, which is Copic-proof when it's fully dried.  I inked it with a Winsor Newton series 7 00 brush.  After I carefully erased all the pencils, I went over the illustration with a Copic Wide in B000 to provide a unifying layer of color.  Afterwards, it was business as usual (a copout, I know, but I fully intend to post the video!), until it came to the mist from the waterfall, which is a combination of splattered white ink and dabbed white gouache.

I've mentioned this before, but I'd originally considered rendering 7" Kara in Copic marker, and even did a page test.  Unfortunately, with the way I render, a page would have to be completed in one sitting, which is very difficult with a longform comic.  I'd love to do a one shot in Copic at some point in the future, however.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

River City Comic Expo Con Recap

When Heidi first pitched River City Comic Expo to me after her trip to ICE, I was intrigued.  A charity convention held in a mall?  That could either be horrible or fantastic.  At $30 a table, and within driving distance, I thought it'd be worth a shot.

It's this sort of thinking that's lead me to believe that maybe my ability to choose conventions is questionable. Perhaps if more information had been made available at the onset, I would've known to veto River City Comic Expo as a convention to attend.

I'll argue that my rational wasn't totally off base.  When I was told 'mall', I thought it would be an actual mall, not a stripmall.  I assumed it'd be a bustling Saturday mall, full of teenagers with a little extra money to burn on fast food and impulse buys.  I thought there'd be parents there and I thought there'd be plenty of foot traffic.  I assumed the conventions organizer would have the artists and exhibitors best interests in mind, rather than prioritizing the charity of his choice over our ability to make costs.  I really need to stop making stupid assumptions.

Saturday was a gross, rainy day, so there wasn't a lot of 'killin' time' foot traffic either.  Not this mall would attract much of the loitering crowd, and without a food court, there's nothing to attract teenagers either.  We were informed, however, that this venue was free to the con, which didn't really inspire much enthusiasm on our part.   How about charging us a little more, but having a decent venue?

River City Comic Con, in Louisville, Kentucky, was located in one of the deadest inside strip malls I've ever seen.  We shared proximity with a Family Dollar, a Thrift Mart, a dying cinema, a poorly maintained library branch, an H&R Block, and a Jazzercise studio, and a good half of these locations were closed for Saturday.  We were in the main thoroughfare, a dark hallway that didn't attract any attention, and there was no exterior signage to hint that a convention of any sort was going on.  While inside the library using the bathroom, I saw one very boring sign advertising River City Comic Expo on the back wall with no through traffic, but I saw no other advertising while at various other locations in the city.  Nothing in coffee shops.  Nothing in restaurants.  What few people came by exclaimed that they didn't even know an event was taking place in the Mid City Mall beforehand.

The 'convention' was just one long alley of tables, and the meeting room inside the library.

I faced this unadorned library wall the entire convention.  Maybe they could've solicited comic pages to borrow in preparation for the con, to help get people interested in the event.

Though the library was open and saw a few families, they were in the borrowing, not buying mindset.

Panels were located in the branch library's single meeting room, and rather hand out a schedule or have a signboard of events, the loudmouthed organizer just announced everything.  This happened several times throughout the convention- he demanded our attention, talked over our sales, and even encouraged artists to ditch their tables to attend these panels.  I found this to be extremely disrespectful.

The convention opened to the public at 10:00, and setup for artists opened at 9:00.  Heidi and I were surprised to see that we had 8' tables, we were expecting the standard 6'x2'.  While I was happy for the extra space, my 3 yard tablecloth was almost not long enough, and it was a bit of a fun challenge figuring out a new layout to take advantage of this extra room.  Unfortunately, I think the layout I went with still needs tweaking as customers checking out my watercolors were out of my peripheral vision while I sketched, meaning I may have lost some sales.

A table this large would be ideal for at-con watercolors, I could have an entire station dedicated to their production.  This wasn't even a GOOD utilization of space, there's lots of room behind the wire cubes.  I even had room behind me.  The store behind me was closed the entire con.
Heidi's lovely setup.  Check out those sweet art deco hand lettered signs.  Photo courtesy of Heidi Black, and used with permission.

Photo taken by Heidi Black and used with permission.

It seemed that the focus of this little convention was steampunk- most of the tables at the 'front' of the con (the only tables that received decent lighting from the large windows)  were steampunk, about five tables in a row.  Scattered through the rest of the 'convention' were more steampunk tables.  There was also a focus on steampunk for a few of the panels.  While I have nothing against steampunkers in general, I find that the sort of art I offer doesn't appeal to them in the least.  I generally sell much better to anime kids, which this convention didn't really attract.  The majority of tables were held by artists with more mainstream American comics styles, or by vendors reselling stock sold at a markup.  I'm really not a fan of mixed vendor conventions like this, as a lot of customers can't really tell the difference between tables full of resold merchandise and tables with original stock.

Photo taken by Heidi Black and used with permission.  I sorta like the Sterilite shelves the guy next to us used to display his merchandise.  As you can see, I'm wasting a lot of space with my mesh shelves in this configuration.

Photo taken by Heidi Black and used with permission.

Heidi told me that River City Comics Expo had advertised on the radio, and I can't confirm or deny this.  I will say that other than their Facebook page and their late-to-the-scene, difficult to navigate website, I didn't see any information about River City Comic Expo.  I had such a hard time finding information about this convention that I never bothered to add it to my sidebar convention list, lest I put the wrong information.  If this event is to continue, it definitely needs better publicity and possibly a volunteer outreach team to man social media.  The organizers need to consider what actually attracts attendees to conventions, rather than assuming that Louisville has a large enough population of dedicated indie comic fans to support a convention.  While I appreciate that the proceeds from this convention were donated to charity, I feel like this event was held at the expense of the artists attending.  Some of us had to travel some distance to be at that convention, and no matter how good the cause, it's not worth it to me to lose money to a poorly advertised, shoddily run convention.

In the future, I really need to nix one day conventions that are further than an hour away.  One day cons just aren't big enough to attract much of a crowd, and its very difficult for me to feel motivated to make sales when the ceiling is so low.

With these complaints in mind, I was surprised that anything sold.  By 6 o'clock, closing time, I'd sold two 7" Kara books and several $5 sketches, although I was by no means booked solid the entire day.  With conventions like these, its important that the artists support each other, and I feel like most of my sales were to other artists.  Unfortunately, we're all so broke that it's not like anyone is making any money.

At Con Sketches

What I Learned:

I believe it's the convention organizer's obligation to make sure the con is promoted and attended well enough that the artists have the opportunity to recoup their costs.  I realize this review may sound a bit harsh and that I may sound a bit bitter.  As I continue to do conventions, I realize how low a priority the artists often are.  At an event of this size, we ARE the convention, and I still felt like we weren't any sort of a priority.  I didn't see any promotional art for this convention, nothing that would attract a younger audience.  The images selected for the website weren't particularly exciting, nor did they really showcase what the artists had to offer.  Although several artists were selling original comics and sketches, it didn't seem like anyone was really making any money.  At a convention of this size, the only way it'd be worthwhile is if it were local- less than an hour drive total.

It would be nice if a convention took its artists seriously enough to offer a guarantee- you'll make your table costs back or they'll refund the difference.  This would require conventions making the artist alley a point of pride and actually advertising it, but a convention that offered this would have the artists' undying loyalty.  I do understand that a convention like this would have to be juried.

Unfortunately, River City Comic Expo's priority was The Fund for the Eyes, and rather than raising funds for this cause through admission, it was the artists who paid.  While I appreciate that this convention was organized without compensation, I also know that at MANY anime conventions, the AA staff is volunteer as well, and many of these alleys are more profitable for the artists in attendance.  In addition, I know that at many anime cons, the panelling is ALSO volunteer (or comped admission/comped table cost), and is a bit more exciting than the offerings at River City Comic Con.  A convention like this, with the right publicity and outreach, could attract a respectable little crowd.

I think that reaching out to local high schools with the promise of comic-craft panels (I believe a couple were offered) might help bring in a younger crowd with their parents.  While many artists may write off such a crowd, I've always had good experiences with them.  A crowd like this is eager and enthusiastic, excited about comics and full of questions.  Even if sales stayed the same, a crowd like this would make the convention much more lively, and they'd be sure to tell their friends if they had a good time.  If River City Comic Con had affiliated closely with another convention or nerdy organization, they could've joined forces and shared an audience (for example, Mechacon has joined forces with the local 501st chapter, bringing in a lot of Star Wars fans who might not otherwise attend). By requesting that artists donate a piece of original art to the charity auction to help offset table costs, River City Comic Expo would've had a unique auction with a special draw- items that wouldn't be for sale anywhere else.  Even asking The Fund for the Eyes to spread the word that River City Comics Expo was a charity convention in their benefit may have brought in attendees eager to help support a cause near and dear to their heart.

This convention may have warmed the hearts of local artists, but as a travelling artist, I wasn't around to see the benefit.  An ending ceremony where the convention organizer presented a check to a representative from Fund for the Eyes would have been a lovely way to end a long day, and would've made some of us feel like maybe our sacrifice was worth it.

The Numbers

Total Sold: $96


My share of hotel: $80
Gas: $50
Table: $30
Food: Friday dinner- $30, Saturday breakfast- $10 (smoothie and mocha), Saturday dinner $40, Sunday breakfast $30 (covered myself and Heidi)

Total: $260



  • Donated venue was dark, dated, and didn't attract any foot traffic
  • Convention organizer announced panels every hour, was loud and demanded attention, extremely distracting
  • Panels were not posted in an accessible place
  • Terrible sales to rival Interventioncon, only people really buying were other artists
  • Vendor (resale) tables were mixed with artist tables
  • Convention only lasted one day, not enough time to recoup sales
  • Not enough publicity to draw people to the location, people passing through said they didn't even know this event was going on
  • Was too long of a drive for me to attempt to make it in one day, so I booked a hotel room.  This added to the costs.
  • No food venue near enough to justify Heidi or I leaving the table to make the trek, so we didn't eat until dinner and then ended up spending a lot of money.
  • Outside of other artists, the crowd it did attract wasn't the sort of crowd my work has ever really sold to.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

MTAC Convention Recap

Ah!  After this recap is written, I'll be all caught up on my con recaps, at least, until River City Comic Expo this upcoming weekend.  Then I'll probably fall behind again.

MTAC (Middle Tennessee Anime Convention), April 18th-20th was the last convention in my 2014 Spring convention marathon, and possibly my most anticipated convention for the year.  MTAC would be my first Tennessee convention, an opportunity for me to meet locals and work to develop a fanbase in my new home turf.   Registration opened up in February, and I made sure to get my application in fast, since I desperately wanted an opportunity to table at the largest anime con in Tennessee (seriously!).  I bit my nails until they announced their acceptance list in mid-March, and gleefully made plans with Heidi (my con partner who also applied for MTAC and thankfully got in the Artist Alley as well) for her impending stay at my domicile for the duration of the convention.

I will admit that the long waiting period following submission and acceptance caused me some anxiety and made me question how MTAC would proceed.  This long waiting period interfered with my application to other conventions, since MTAC was my first priority and I'd have to cancel any conflicting plans.  When the list was released on the site, not only did the names not link to the artist's websites (a feature I find super helpful in checking out new artists at conventions I plan on attending) but they misspelled Nattosoup and didn't include a convention map.  I found this frustrating and a bit unprofessional, and my queries emailed to Marcus Moore, the AA coordinator, went without response.  Instead I started directing my questions to the MTAC Twitter, often getting the answers I needed, but occasionally being directed to email Moore.

When MTAC finally released a map of the convention, I was extremely concerned by the layout.  Tables were located in unsecured halls, which can mean bad news on a variety of levels.  A secured room means the artist doesn't need to break down their setup entirely each day, and can leave a lot of stock behind the table, since it will remain unmolested until the next morning.  A separate, artist-alley only room also means that foot traffic in the alley are mainly interested customers (or potential customers), and not people on their way to other events.  This may result in less overall traffic, but it's usually higher quality traffic.  Something even more concerning was that the tables weren't labelled on this map, and some of the locations were just awful.

With these factors in mind, Heidi and I bought thought the $125 we individually paid per table was a bit high, but hoped we could make up for that in sales.

Before the con: Mini Watercolors

Wednesday and Thursday:

On Wednesday evening, Heidi arrived in Nashville after a five-and-a-half hour drive from Ohio.  We worked on art and caught up.

On Thursday, we made a trip to my local Office Max on West End to make prints and produce mini books.  Heidi helped me assemble a mini book of 2013-2014's mini watercolors.  Although the staff were given very clear directions on how to print things, the guy didn't listen at all, and we were sent away so he could complete our orders.  We were somewhat disappointed with the results at pick-up, but opted to make the best of it rather than file a complaint.

Demo Setup:


On Friday, we made the 40 minute drive to Murfreesboro and arrived an hour before the convention fully opened to the public.  This should have been plenty of time to get set up, but we discovered to our dismay that the tables were actually 1.5'x6'- weird half size tables.  We were informed that the convention had run out of full size tables.   When we asked staff about this, we were informed that MTAC ran out of their normal size tables, so they opted to give the artists, who had paid $125 for their tables, the smaller size tables.  This was done without any prior notification to the artists, and it was extremely unprofessional on their part.  I suppose they assumed nobody would say anything about it, or maybe they even assumed we wouldn't notice.  We definitely noticed.

This is most definitely NOT a full size table.
On Wednesday evening, I did a shorthand demo-setup to make sure everything would fit on the 6'x3' table I was expecting.  I planned my setup carefully based on my experience at past cons.  When setting up on this half size table for MTAC, I had trouble even getting my wire cubes to fit on the table, which made setting up take longer than usual.  I was still arranging items long after customers had filed in.  Even when I managed to finish setting up, the cubes were somewhat unsteady on the crummy table MTAC had provided.  In addition to being shortchanged on tablesize, I had less than the standard amount of space behind my table because the wall protruded where they placed my table.  Rather than about 4' of space behind the table, I had 2' of space, which made it pretty cramped.  It was tight enough that I didn't have room to take at-con watercolor commissions, opting instead to work on them each night at home.

Given that our tables were in an unsecured hall and were half the size of normal artist alley tables, I have to wonder- where was that $125 going exactly?

On Friday, the hall Heidi and I were located in was the exit from the Dealer's Room, and we saw a lot more business than we expected.  The fact that MTAC was on Easter weekend had caused me some concern, but Good Friday sales were great.  Kids were out of school and eager to spend money before returning to school, and I sold plenty sketch commissions on Friday.  Although MTAC seemed fairly crowded, it seemed like the staff had a handle on crowd control, and we looked forward to a weekend of brisk sales.

At closing on Friday, I was so wiped out that I didn't want to do a full break-down of my setup, so I took the risky route- I packed everything down beneath the table and only took my most valuable things.

Friday Commissions:


On Saturday, Joseph decided to accompany us and utilize his Press Badge to interview artists.  Saturday's drive to Murfreesboro was a little harder, as both of us had stayed up to work on commissions.  I think we arrived as the convention proper opened, and hurried to get our tables set up.  Heidi had sold out of prints on Friday, so Joseph made a run to the nearby OfficeMax (and after Chuy's for lunch) while we stayed and made sales.

On Saturday, the staff and fire marshall decided to make our hall the ENTRANCE for the Dealer's Room, which meant there was a non-stop line for the duration of Saturday.  The crowd was so bad that attendees in line for the Dealer's Room were forced to stand with their backs on the wall, on the opposite side as our tables.  The entire time, a staff member yelled instructions to the attendees, which I suppose was necessary, but it was extremely annoying and disrupted business constantly.  Attendees were also not allowed down the hallway to view the artists located there at various times because staff members weren't informed that artists were tabling down that hallway.  I spoke with one of the staff volunteers about allowing attendees to leave the line to check out our tables, and while that helped somewhat, the line was still a major issue all day Saturday.

Even with this problem sales on Saturday were booming, and commissions moved fast.  I had a backlog the entire day, with several watercolor commissions to work on Saturday night.

On Saturday, we also met Emily, the AA coordinator for Hama-con, a convention Heidi and I will be attending in June.  She seemed like a fantastic person and I really look forward to Hama as a result!

Saturday Commissions:


I stayed up late on Saturday night working on commissions, and continued to work on a couple of leftover sketches during the drive to Murfreesboro.

The Dealer's Room line situation was even worse on Sunday, with even more noise and even more mis-informed staff preventing attendees from checking out the artist alley.  Sales were much slower on Sunday, although attendance hadn't waned, and I'm going to chalk this up to bad staffing, poor organization, awful locations, and just general Sunday sales.  Even with these issues, I saw some sales, and even had to turn away quite a few $5 sketch commissions who weren't interested in upgrading to mail-in status (+$2).

Sunday At-Con Commissions:

I was so busy on Sunday that I missed taking photos of most of my at-con sketches.

Booth and Convention Photos

Mail in Commissions:

What I learned:

Due to the layout of the convention, the only time I ever left my table was to venture ten feet over to get water from the fountain.  Even when we weren't seeing much in sales, the hall itself was crowded with attendees eager to enter the Dealer's Room.  Despite wait times upwards of 3 hours at some points during the weekend, many attendees braved that line SEVERAL TIMES (by their own eager admission) to get another shot at the Dealer's Room.  I'm not sure what on earth they were selling to attract that sort of attention, when Heidi and I passed through during sign-in on Friday, I saw nothing I hadn't seen at a dozen other anime conventions.

Even with the massive problems, MTAC was an extremely profitable convention for me.  My overhead was low:

Table- $125 for 1.5'x6' of space
Coffee $10 (Friday and Sunday, on Saturday I brought a thermos)
Lunch Saturday- $7 (skipped lunch on Friday and Saturday, ate snacks at table instead)
Dinner Friday- $15 (Thai take out on way home)
Dinner Saturday- $5 (pizza, order in)
Gas- comped by Heidi since she stayed with me

Total Cost: $162

When I say I sold well, I mean I broke $800 the entire weekend, which is my highest sales record yet.  I ran out of several sticker designs, and one bookmark design, and spent the majority of the weekend drawing.  I sold several mail-in watercolor commissions, and possibly could have pushed more sales if I hadn't spent so much time with my head down, drawing.  I had to turn several sketch commissions away, simply because I didn't have time to fulfill them at the convention.  I sold out of mini-watercolor books (I only had five copies, and I sold them for $5 each because they were misprinted on a lower weight paper than I had specified), and probably could have sold more if I'd printed them.  I sold a few copies of 7" Kara, and had several people read it, which is extremely unusual for me at an anime con.

Of course, MTAC had some massive problems which were glaringly apparent even to someone who couldn't leave her artist table.  Our tables were undersized for what we paid, locations were spotty and liable to change without notice all weekend, the halls our tables were in weren't locked, crowd control was horrific, staff communication was equally bad, the Artist Alley head didn't reply to emails prior to the con or during the con, it took way too long for MTAC to decide on the 30 artists who would be in the Artist Alley (for a con of it's size, and considering how supportive Nashville fans are, they could've increased that number easily), Murfreesboro is a 40 minute drive out of Nashville proper, making it a not-really-Nashville convention (in prior years, it was in the convention center, but that change isn't MTAC's fault), and the artists were treated very much like an after thought.  If I lived outside of Nashville, it'd be a coin toss as to whether I attended MTAC again, because while I loved interacting with Nashville's fantastic, supportive anime community, there were a lot of things about MTAC that made me upset.

Despite MTAC's problems, I really loved doing a Nashville convention.  The attendees were AMAZING, and made it one of my best conventions either.  I would love to do more Nashville events, and it seems like the Nashville geek community would be happy to have me, since I gained 10 followers on my Tumblr after MTAC.  This has really encouraged me to attempt to dig in and make Nashville a more long-term home, and I hope to explore other sales opportunities while I live here.