What do I absolutely need to get started?
- Kitty- $20 in ones, $20 in 5's, $50 in 10's, $60 in 20's is the bare minimum of liquid cash to keep in reserve. I usually have $50 in ones, $50 in fives, $50 in tens, $100 in twenties. While you can use a lockbox, those are easy to break into, so I carry my cash in a coupon book like this.
- Sample merch
- A display that gets your art up off the table, so people can see it
- Good attitude
Part 1: Overview
Part 2: Essentials
Part 3: Display
Part 4: Signage
Part 5: Decoration
Where did you get this (display):
- Metal Grids- You can get metal grids year round on Amazon. I really like the Honey Can Do grids, and own four sets- two for Nashville, two for Louisiana. You can also find grids at Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath and Beyond during August or 'back to school', but your options may be picked over.
- Extra Connectors- I ordered some from Amazon that were supposed to work with my type of grids, but they are too large. Order with care. You may find yourself buying another set of grids, just to be sure the connectors work.
- Tablecloth- You can begin with a 3 yard length of cloth from any fabric store, including Walmarts with a fabric section. I used the same piece for years, and finally opted to upgrade with an eyelit lace panel (to hide my table front), which was generously sewn on by my mother one Mechacon.
- Signs- These are custom made by me, and feature the main character of my comic, 7" Kara. These were designed to provide not only pricing information, but a talking point and a commission option. They were printed on a toner printer, cut out, laminated, and cut again. I have also used hand lettered chalkboard signs (boards were purchased ready to go at Walmart, and I used chalkboard markers), and hand drawn signs in acrylic sign holders like these.
- Cake Stands- I purchased my cake stands through Amazon.
- Sign holders- I purchased my sign holders through Amazon.
- Decorative clothes pins- I purchased these from Michaels in the party section.
- Magnets (Bucky balls)- These were a gift, and acquired through Think Geek. Bucky Balls are no longer sold, so look for neodynium magnets. Be careful- they are EXTREMELY strong.
- Banners- I order my banners through U Make Banners, and set the grommets myself. You can read about my banner experiences here.
- Small bags- I recommend small, cute favor bags, like any of these
- Large plastic bags- I used to order mine from Uline, and will be searching for a new source once I run out of my current stock.
Where did you get this (merch)
- Wooden charms- We currently use Ponoko to order our custom made laser cut wooden charms. We find that wooden charms are more affordable than acrylic charms, and tend to sell better with my original art on them. Joseph kindly wrote a tutorial on how to use this laser cutting service that you can read here.
- Books printed- 7" Kara books are printed through CreateSpace at this time, although I am eagerly exploring other options. Mini comics are printed at home, using my Dell 1760NW toner printer , assembled with this bone folder and this long arm stapler.
- Stickers- I print my own stickers at home, and have recently purchased a Cricut Explore Air to help with the cutting. I print my stickers using this toner based printer.
- Sticker Paper- I use this photo sticker paper, and am really pleased with the results.
- Business cards- I order my 'Tumblr' business cards from Overnight Prints, and my professional cards from Moo.
- Postcards- I order my Inky Fingers postcards from Overnight Prints.
- Mini prints- I use a combination of whatever has a deal on Slickdeals- so I've used Shutterfly, Snapfish, Amazon's printing services, and in a pinch, Walgreens.
- Bookmarks- I print and laminate mine at home, using a Swingline laminator like those here
How do you:
Take credit cards- I use Square at my table, although there are other options available. You can use my first time user code here: https://squareup.com/i/2E3339F1
Apply for a table- Convention table applications have gotten incredibly competitive. There are several types of shows you can apply for, and most shows fall into one of three categories:
First Come, First Serve: You apply, if they have space, you pay for the table and you're done. Incredibly hard to get into these days- even if you camp the site, poorly designed and maintained sites will crash due to large amounts of traffic. Mechacon's artist alley functions under this standard.
Juried: You apply and provide your portfolio, convention staff decides whether you're a good fit. MTAC's alley functions under this standard.
Lotto: You apply, and once the application period has ended, creators are randomly selected. SPX functions under this standard.
Creating a convention portfolio (necessary for juried shows):
I recommend creating a separate convention portfolio to display your wares.
Things to include:
Commission examples (if you take commissions)
Examples of prints (if you sell prints)
Photos of your comics and interior pages (if you sell comics or minis)
Please only include the types of items you intend to sell- anything less is deceptive.
My convention portfolio
Make everything- I have given up most hobbies- I don't drink, play video games, party, or cosplay. Drawing is literally just about everything I do with my time.
You can't be laissez faire about conventions- they're just too competitive. You really need to bring your best work, and give it your best shot, even if your art isn't the best. Customers can tell when you care about something, so as long as you honestly love it, you should do fine.
I work from home, and generally like to spend the three weeks before the show prepping new materials. The majority of my table is handmade (painted, drawn, assembled), so it takes me a lot of time to make merchandise, and my margins are pretty terrible compared to print artists.
I draw every single day of the year, rain or shine, sick or health, so a lot of my original art becomes mini prints, or art that I offer for sale.
Take commissions- I have a post specifically on offering commissions that ran recently, so please check my archive for that.
Watercolor- Check out my Watercolor Basics section for tutorials on how to watercolor.
I did a con, and I didn't make nearly as much money as you do. What gives?
Conventions take time, patience, flexibility. I've done conventions for over seven years, and have only started to make a profit at anime conventions in the past four. For indie comic cons, I'm still fortunate if I can make my travel costs back. I've recently started exploring other options, including kids events, school visits, and craft shows, but it's been a long, tedious process.
How do you make a living at this?
I 'make a living' offering freelance (which is hit or miss, sometimes I'm busy, sometimes I'm scrounging), monetizing this blog with ads, running a Patreon to offset costs, running a Youtube channel, and doing conventions, and for the past two years, all of those stats have been in a slump. So I'm currently working on new ways to make ends meet doing what I love.
I don't do enough conventions, and do not have the desire to do enough conventions, to make a living wage ($25,000 a year here in the South). I would prefer to focus on making comic content, and conventions greatly disrupt that.
How much should I invest in my first show?
As little as you can get away with. Don't try to compete with established artists on their own turf- by making a small minimal investment, you're more flexible and can find what works for you.
Examples of My Current Display:
More on tabling in the Artist Alley:
Artist Alley 101:
For questions not answered here, please visit How to be a Con Artist and read our archives. If you can't find what you're looking for after searching, please send us an ask.
This post was made possible due to the generosity of my Patrons on Patreon. For more convention-content, please join my community of artnerds.