There's a little under two months of blissful convention free days between Mechacon in early August and Anime Weekend Atlanta in late September. During those two months, I didn't take a vacation- I focused on working on 7" Kara Chapter 5 and illustrations for Gizmo Granny. It was nice to be able to focus on these much neglected longterm progress, especially since I've felt that my at-con customers don't follow up after conventions by actually checking out my Tumblr or this blog. My analytics support this hunch, and the fact that customers will email me about commissions after I've tried emailing them (often getting a bounce back stating the message was undeliverable), and have posted the finished piece to Tumblr. It's frustrating to know that customers often only purchase from me because I offer the cheapest commissions, not because they feel an affinity towards my work, and it's annoying to invest in business cards that are just going to lie forgotten at the bottom of a bag once the convention is over. Working on these longer projects helps me recenter and remember my real goals- the eventual release of Kara as a webcomic and three volume book set, and more freelance illustration work, neither of which are served when my time is consumed either attending conventions or preparing for conventions.
Of course, Anime Weekend Atlanta did require some prep, especially since Mechacon depleted my stock of sassy feminist buttons, stickers, and mini watercolors. During quiet evenings when I'd finished painting for the day, I'd reward myself with assembling new buttons, focusing not on the upcoming convention, but more on the process of crafting. Reprinting and cutting stickers was much the same, something I did shortly after Mechacon was over to fill time, rather than in a last minute rush. Once I reached a stopping point with both Kara and Gizmo Granny, I began pressing, sewing, and assembling more Sailor Scout ribbon badges, and nearly last minute I painted a new, relatively small batch of mini watercolors.
In the weeks before the convention, Alex, our con assistant, scoped out the other artists in then alley. A continued complaint is that AWA doesn't directly link artists on their Artist Alley page, which means Alex must Google everyone who sounds interesting. Because some names are extremely common (basically anything with 'kawaii' involved in the name), we weren't always 100% who our alley mates would be. In the future, I'd really like to see AWA make the effort to link their artists.
It took awhile for AWA to release their alley map, and they did so on their forums rather than the actual site itself. I, and many other attendees, don't really check the forums regularly, so I only knew about this release because I'd recently added the AWA Artist Alley Facebook page to my friends list. I do not know if this was announced on the AWA Artist Alley Twitter (which I also follow).
A couple days before the convention, the AWA Artist Alley Facebook page (link) also announced a minor change for picking up registration. Attendees had to have a legal ID for all badges they were picking up, as well as confirmation emails for all badges purchased. This was not emailed to Artist Alley participants, nor was it added to the official site. The AWA Artist Alley Facebook page didn't invite participating artists to add them on Facebook, the only way I knew it existed is because I saw the account posting to the Artist Alley International Network Facebook group. This is a problematic way to announce important changes, and seemed to trip up a lot of artists.
Heidi was set to arrive the Wednesday before Anime Weekend Atlanta, and we planned to leave Thursday morning to make the trip, with the intention of picking up our badges and setting up our tables, a system that worked well last year. I did my table demo on Tuesday evening, and introduced a minor change to the layout- side 'wings' made of wire mesh panels that I hoped would solve my drift issue. This addition gave me more room to display commissions, prints, and mini watercolors, and did not take up much table space.
This year, AWA Artist Alley badge pick up required proof of registration (payment confirmation) and a photo ID for each person's badge. This news was announced on the AWA Artist Alley's Facebook page, rather than through email. and many artists may have been unprepared for this change.
ThursdayOn Thursday Artist Alley setup was from 5:00pm-9:00pm, and after a timezone shift and four plus hours of driving, we arrived around 7:30. We beelined for the Artist Alley, since that's where artist badge pickup has been located for the past few years, and were informed that we needed to go to the room main registration line was in, and pick up our badges from the Special Registration line.
|Heidi stepped out of line to snap this photo. People kept pushing through the line to get across the room, even though the Special Registration line was on the side of the room where nothing else was happening.|
Although the line wasn't particularly long, we waited in line over 50 minutes due to a variety of problems- artists who weren't prepared with payment confirmation and required photo IDs, staffers who didn't have necessary permissions to work the software on their tablets, and had to wait for a staffer who DID have permission to proceed, people constantly cutting the line, staffers allowing line jumpers to derail the line with countless questions, rather than pointing them to the information booths located across the lobby. By the time we did get our badges, we had very little time left (about 30 minutes) to get setup, and I could only get my tablecloth and wire cubes up before we were shoo'd out of the room. Our table spaces, A09 and A10, were located towards the front of the alley, but not directly in front of the doors, and we hoped this would get us a lot of foot traffic.
|Sorry for the blurry. This is my outfit/booth shot for Friday. This was taken fairly early in the day.|
This meant we finished setup Friday morning. Friday morning setup was from 9-12, with the alley opening at 12. Our hotel, while a 'convention hotel', was about a 10 minute drive away, but Heidi and I were both ok with this, as there was plenty of free parking at both the convention center and our hotel, and the Marriot was very nice. We arrived around 10 and finished setting up with time to spare. Heidi and I used this free time to walk around the alley, a rare treat for me. I also had an opportunity to meet the wonderful Kristen Bailey in person, and purchase a few of her adorable prints.
Ribbit, the Artist Alley coordinator for Anime Weekend Atlanta, did an excellent this job selecting artists of all types for the Alley. This year, the majority of 3D artists (plush artists, jewelers, hatmakers, ect) were located around the perimeter of the alley (allowing them more space for setup behind), and the 2D artists were given the interior. The quality of the art this year was very impressive, with extremely stiff competition, but most of the artists offered prints of digital art. I hoped this would put me at an advantage, since my focus is traditional- traditional mini watercolors, a comic painted traditionally, and traditionally drawn at-con sketches. To no one's surprise, there was a lot of Sailor Moon fanart this year, as people are excited about Crystal's debut as well as Viz's redub of the original series.
Friday was pretty slow this year, I sold $15 dollars less on Friday this year than I did less. This may not sound like a big deal, but this convention year I'm averaging $700 per con I decide to keep, as opposed to last year's $500. I've introduced several higher end products- 7" Kara Volume 1 ($15 without sketch,$20 with), Hana Doki Kira ($20), the Sassy Glitter Buttons ($4 at AWA), and the outer Senshi Scouts ($5 per button, $20 for any five), as well as a few smaller impulse items that are cheaper for me to produce (stickers). I'd also restocked my mini watercolor supply with some Smash Brothers favorites- Peach, Ness, Isabelle, Samus, and Megaman. Low sales Friday didn't bode well for breaking $700, let alone my private goal of finally breaking the 1k barrier.
Alex arrived at AWA around 6ish, and I killed time between sales by doodling Sailor Moon fanart. By closing time, I think everyone behind our two tables was ready to go get some dinner and relax for the evening.
General Shots of the Room and Crowd
Photos taken by Alex for this blogpost.
|These narrow alleys between booths led to massive crowd control issues on Saturday and Sunday.|
At many anime conventions, Saturday is the day when most sales are made. Unfortunately for the artists in the alley, Saturday was the first day we sampled the events in the Main Events Hall. The two ballrooms were only seperated by a thin artifical wall (not even closed entirely), and this meant the noise level in the Artist Alley was panic attack inducing at worst, annoying at best. I have a heriditary inner ear deformity, and the constant background bass not only made it very difficult to conduct sales, but caused lasting ear pain (I was still suffering from it when I flew out for San Francisco on Wednesday, which made flying extremely painful). Although reported constantly throughout the weekend by artists and attendees alike, staffers in the Artist Alley had very little control over the noise level in Main Events.
Sales on Saturday were mostly $5 sketches, and since I'd upped the detail level on the $5 sketches to look more traditionally chibi, each sketch took longer than they should have. The struggle to complete these more detailed sketches in the same short timeframe has inspired me to break my chibi sketches into two tiers- the $5 chibies with the very simplified features and dots for eyes, and a $10 chibi with the more detailed features. Hopefully this will save my hand without breaking the bank.
Although we did have a lot of passersby, most of the attendees weren't quite ready to pull out their wallets so early in the Alley. Another problem I had was the fact that although children were VERY interested in my table (all kid friendly, by the way), their parents were very interested in not spending money on their kids, which is unfortunately a common problem for me. This year, I had three different children throw fits over wanting something from my table, which shows me the market is there, I just have to convince the parents. It might have been easier to do if the noise level were normal, but unfortunately screaming at customers over constant bass isn't a good way to make a sale.
The noise level did more than affect my eardrums, it definitely hindered even regular transactions, drowning out my generally soft spoken customers. I had to ask many to repeat themselves several times to compensate, which was embarassing for both of us. Audial pollution also caused Heidi to have a series of panic attacks during alley hours and kept Alex so distracted it was easier to send her away from the table than it was to keep track of both our things.
Three great things happened on Saturday that made a long day much more tolerable.
1. A dad who'd written to me almost a year ago asking about if AWA was a good fit for his young teen daughter came by with his daughter a friend to say hi. I really appreciated them swinging by, it's really nice to know that I was able to help out, and it seemed like all three were having a good time.
2. I got to meet Shirley (http://talesofthebigbadwolf.com/), @superplumgirl on Twitter
Saturday around lunchtime and we chatted about AWA, Momocon, and Hana Doki Kira.3. Later Shirley brought by Stephanie, an ACTUAL READER OF MY BLOG, and I totally had a moment and almost cried on her.
|One of my customers caught me inking some Sailor Scout sketches and liked the style, and commissioned me to do inked sketches of his roleplay characters.|
|I need to start bringing a pack of 11"x17" Bristol, because doing group shots on 8.5"x11" is pretty difficult.|
|We did a little reorganizing mid-Saturday, and I look REALLY tired in this photo.|
As with every con, it was difficult waking up Sunday morning, as I stayed up late completing commissions (mostly sketch, but one exciting ink and Copic marker commission) the night before.
Sunday sales tend to be impulse buys- the people who've circled the Artist Alley all weekend are finally ready to spend the bulk of their money and people who've spent the con doing everything BUT the artist alley are finally ready to check it out tend to descend on my offer of $5 sketches with frightening force. Although the force wasn't QUITE so overwhelming this year, I did have to turn down a lot of $5 sketches for customers who weren't willing to pay the additional $2 it takes to ship it, or bump up their sketch to a 2 characters for $10 version (which includes free shipping). It always hurts to turn down sales, but I try not to make promises I can't keep.
Sunday's noise level was almost as high as Saturday's, as Shonen Knife played in the afternoon. Generally, I like Shonen Knife, and I probably would've attended the concert at AWA, had I not been there to work. Unfortunately, what we heard in the Artist Alley was a garbled, filtered version of the (probably amazing) concert, which made conducting sales stressful and difficult.
Sunday Pack Up
Normally I can't get shots of this, but between Alex and I, we managed to get a few. For those of you who've not yet tabled (or never tabled), here's a behind the scenes peek at how the magic packs down.
Mail In Commissions:
- Artist Alley Table and Badge: $144
- Additional Badge for Alex (AWA no longer provides two badges per table, FYI) $65 Thursday night for weekend pass
- Hotel Room per night: $44.25
- Food: $5 x 4 (coffee), $10 lunch (x 2), $25 (x 3) dinner = $115
- Transportation: $30 each way
Money Spent in Artist Alley:
Around $100, it was a great alley this year for buying.
- Stickers (consistently throughout the weekend) 1.00 for 2 (I must've lost my mind, I usually charge more and they sell well at the higher price)
- Sassy Buttons $4.00 each (another area in which I lost my mind, I usually charge $5)
- Sailor Scout Bows, $5.00 each or any 5 for $20
- $5 sketches
Verdict:This year felt like a hard sales year, despite making more money than last year at both Mechacon and AWA. Although my new chibi style definitely moves commissions, it takes too long and is worth $10, not $5. At my next convention, GMX, I plan to break that into two tiers- the more simplified style at $5, and the more detailed style at $10. I hope this helps me get through commissions faster. Although the artists in the alley were all excellent, many of us felt that sales were slow, and crowd control was terrible. Much of the crowd in the room weren't actually there to check out the alley, but killing time or buying food from the food truck vendors in the back.
Much like Mechacon, I REALLY like Anime Weekend Atlanta as a convention, and I'd like to continue tabling. Right now AWA is going through some growing pains (it's going from a mid-sized con to a large con, the South's first and currently only), and I really enjoy being in an alley full of hardworking, skilled artists. The sneaky price increase for tables
This year, it was harder to convince people to actually come over and buy, both due to alley location (way too close to the front) and due to the noise levels. I wasn't happy that AWA raised its prices for attendees and artists, and the fact that the registration wait was 2 hours doesn't help sales. Although I'm not giving up on AWA, I'm also hoping to add Momocon to my convention roster, as I've heard great things about it.
AWA is definitely a convention that requires artists to step up their game. The struggle doesn't end after you've been accepted into this juried alley, if you don't bring innovative, creative wares to your table, it's easy to get lost in such a talented crowd.
The crowd this year seemed young and broke, which is a theme for cons this year (at least, with me), and I'm really hoping that we as artists aren't going to have to break in this next wave of anime kids. I think I'll put some energy into renewing the love in older fans, rather than trying to sweet talk pennies out of the fists of preteens.