Part 2: Artist Alley Essentials for Under $30- Basics

So now that you've got all these supplies, what's the next step?  I recommend setting up a demo table, so you can get acquainted with your supplies and determine how to best display your merchandise for sale.  Although I have a 6' demo table for this sort of thing, your basic dining room table also works to give you a rough idea of what you have to work with.  For this post, I used my mother's oblong dining room table while I was visiting for Christmas.

Basics Covered in this Post:
  • Tablecloth
  • Cashbox
  • Sales Notepad
  • Sharpie
  • Sticky Notes
  • Small Containers
  • Binder Clips
  • Plastic Shoebox

Preparing Your Setup

In order to get an idea of what I have to work with, I decided to lay everything out on the table.

Before jumping in to your demo table, you should probably take some measurements so you know how it'll compare against your convention table.  While most conventions advertise a 6' table, your table may be short (I've had 5' 5" tables, as well as weird 6'x1.5' banquet tables, with no prior notice from the convention) or even longer (8' is becoming common) than expected.

The table I'm working with is a bit shorter than 6', and a lot wider than the usual convention table.

It should be noted that the tablecloth in this post isn't mine, and shouldn't be included in the $30 Artist Alley setup haul from Dollar Tree.  I don't have a problem utilizing it, however, as most households have at least something similar- an old, clean sheet for example, that can be borrowed to use as a table cover.  Most conventions don't provide tablecloths, and the tables they do provide may be battered and worn, so it's best to have one handy.  If you don't have a tablecloth you can use, you can hit up a fabric store like JoAnn's and purchase 3 yards of a solid color broadcloth or a monochromatic quilting cotton.  If you'd like to go even cheaper, Walmart might just fill your needs.

You can purchase a plaincolor, already hemmed tablecloth.  This is the same cloth that's on the table in the above photo, and for the price, it's pretty low quality.  I'd skip out on this.

Some Walmarts have reintroduced their fabric section.  While small, you can probably find a bolt of cloth that represents your merchandise and fits your budget.

Walmart also occasionally puts their fabrics on sale for $1.00 a yard.

While the selection is pretty mediocre, you can find something to fit your short term needs while you save up to invest in something better.

You can also go extremely cheap, and get a paper tablecloth.

Which is probably ok in a pinch, but will be all torn up by the end of the con.

Although this tablerunner isn't exactly a tablecloth, it's a great way to spruce up a less than stellar tablecloth.  It can also be utilized as a banner, either across the tablefront or above the table.  Painting a banner is relatively easy, and I can go into that in a later post.


This coupon holder makes a great, easy to carry cashbox.  Although this one is fairly small, it's just the right size to keep your cash organized. 

I used a Sharpie from the Dollar Tree (another great convention basic) to write on the included sticker labels $1, $5, $10, $20, and Convention Spending.

This little cashbox doesn't lock, and should not be left unattended at your table.  It's small enough to be very portable, easily slipping into a large pants pocket, purse, or backpack, which can work either for or against you.  If you don't keep an eye on it, it can easily 'walk' away from you, but it's small size means there's no excuse not to bring it with you when you leave the table.

Sales Log

A saleslog is an important part of your convention arsenal.  No matter whether you're a convention newbie, or a seasoned convention pro, keeping track of your inventory and knowing what sells and what doesn't will help you keep up with your business.

This little notebook is simple but perfect for recording sales- it's top-spiral bound so it'll stay open on your page, it's lined to keep your orders neat, and it's cheap.

If you've never set up an inventory notebook before, it's pretty simple.  You begin by writing the name of the convention at the top of the page in large letters.  If you'd like, you can write down your starting stock before each convention in the notebook (I actually keep it on post it notes included with the different items).  Then you create a subheading for the day of sales, and record what sold, and what it sold for as it sells.  At the end of the sales day, tally your sales, and write that total beneath.  After the convention is over, total your daily totals, and record your final total.

Keeping track of your expenditures is important- you don't want to lose money doing conventions- so you should also keep track of your hotel, transportation, table, food, and production costs.

Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are a convention basic I think every artist should have on hand.  Not only are they useful for quickly pricing items, but they can be used to take notes, write down information for customers, or write down lunch and coffee orders.

These Dollar Tree sticky notes are a little small, but you get four of them for $1, and they're a decent size for creating labels.

The only real issue is that the adhesive is a little too strong, and the paper curls when you remove a single sheet from the pad.

Small Containers

These small containers are a great way to keep small items neatly organized.  These can be used to hold your charms, to keep your jumprings and cellphone lanyards, to hold pushpins.  You get eight of these little containers for a dollar.

Binder Clips

I use binder clips (and rare earth magnets) to clip my mini watercolors to my wire mesh cages, but they can also be used to keep your commission paper neat and tidy behind the scenes or to clip your banner to your tablefront.  They're handy to have around, and can be used in a variety of ways.

Plastic Shoebox

A plastic shoebox is a great way to organize your table supplies, and makes it easier to cart things into the convention itself.  Packed correctly, a plastic container like this can hold a lot of your things and keep them handy behind the table, but you'll need to tape the top before heading out, as the lids on these don't close securely.

So that about covers the basics.  In my next post, I'll go over Display.


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