These are fun and challenging. I want to repaint the Causeway Stone… It’s horrible.
These are fun and challenging. I want to repaint the Causeway Stone… It’s horrible.
In Part 1, I talked about the various types of convention-goers I’ve noticed so far. It’s by no means conclusive, but it can be a small guide to how to open up a line of communication with someone who is approaching or passing your booth/table. Also keep in mind that this is simply how I felt comfortable chatting with people, and your level of comfort will vary.
I’ve never been the type who felt at ease trying to start a conversation with every living soul who passed by. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, it just didn’t feel like me. I spent the first hour or so of Spectrum watching the various types of convention-goers and deciding how best to bring them over. It didn’t take very long to notice some trends, and to come up with some opening “lines” that didn’t sound too “used care salesman.” I was pretty nervous at this point, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to easily talk to mass amounts of people without getting all bijiggity.
I made sure to smile at anyone who looked over my way, as an opening welcoming gesture. From there, I noted their reaction. If they moved on quickly or gave a small smile and looked away, I basically left them alone. Now, I’m not sure if that is the right thing to do, but I put myself in their place and felt I wouldn’t want to be harassed if I showed no interest in a table or booth. Everyone is different, though, so that could obviously vary.
If they gave a good smile or nodded my way, and were close enough that I wasn’t yelling at them, I would ask how they were doing. You generally get “good”, “fine”, “ok” as replies. Again, if they gave a short reply and moved on, I let them go. If they responded positively to my question, and veered toward me, it was a good sign that they were open to conversation and more open to looking at and possibly purchasing some of my prints.
I like to ask people questions about themselves, because it puts people at ease and because I’m curious about everybody! Generally, my questions started with asking if this was their first time at Spectrum. You’d be amazed at how many people have been to all of them so far! I joked with them that now they have to go to all of them so they can be that one guy who has all of his Spectrum badges in 20 years. You hear that, Spectrum?! KEEP IT GOING!
I also asked if they were an artist or a fan or both. I got a pretty even mix of all three, and with those who were artists, there was an automatic subject to talk about: our art.
My favorite convention-goers were the artists who were interested but unsure about whether they should ever have a table or show their work. I loved it if they had their sketchbook or a portfolio with them! I know not everyone is like me, so you may not be as interested in these types of guests as I was, but they were a lot of fun to talk to. Once they realized I wanted to talk to them, they had a million questions about the industry, what it’s like to have a table, how I got “so good”, etc. I put “so good” in quotes because, like any artist, I never judge myself as “good enough”. But it was fun talking to those who believed in me more than I believe in myself, if that makes sense! I spent lots and lots of time talking to the Dabblers. It was fun encouraging them to pursue their dream so that they could someday be sitting where I was. It feels good to build others up.
If the individual stated they weren’t an artist but a fan, I loved hearing who they were there to see, if they had specific favorite artists, or hearing what brought them in. Was it dragons? Knights? Magic the Gathering? Let me tell you, the M:tG autograph gatherers are extremely interesting and fun to talk to. They are like bounty hunters on a mission. They will hung you down if you’re a M:tG artist! A few of them said they look forward to hunting ME down for my autograph on Magic cards in the future, and that made me feel really good.
You may think that engaging in conversations would be a waste of time, but there were a few people who didn’t show much interest in buying a print, but after talking for a bit, they chose one to take home. A couple of them came back later and purchased something. I also believe that chatting with people shows that you’re approachable, and others who may be shy or intimidated will see that they, too, could approach you when you’re available.
The challenge was when I was in conversation with one person, and others walked up appearing to be interested in chatting too. I tried to bring them into the conversation as well, and if not, the very least I could do was make eye contact and smile in a way that assured them I am eager to talk to them as well. Sometimes they didn’t get a chance and would walk away, sometimes they’d stick around, and sometimes they would return later when I wasn’t busy.
The bottom line is that as artists, and especially as introverts, it can be easy to lose ourselves in a sketchbook or to sit down and hope someone comes up to buy our prints. Unfortunately, this won’t work out well at all, in my experience as both a convention-goer and now as having had a table. I know I’m not an expert since I’ve only exhibited once so far, but this is also coming from talking to numerous other artists. If you hide behind your sketchbook, people won’t want to bother you and they’re more likely to pass you by. Think about what it’s like to be on that side of the table, are you going to interrupt an artist that looks like he or she is working? I know I’m not!
I hope this post has helped in some way, and if not, well… here is a sketch I did that I may or may not take to finish! Yes, the bottom corner says ‘dead guy’.
Some artist buddies I procrastinate in Hangouts with started a materials study challenge. The list of materials we’re going to study can be found at the bottom of this post. Join usssssss.
Here is my first materials study, Dirt and Sandstone:
What the hell is this all about?!
We’re doing studies of various materials, from a list put together by Dylan and Crystal. The gist is that you go down the list, or pick materials at random, it’s your choice, and search the interwebs for reference images of said material. Then, you spend 15-20 or so minutes creating your unique ball of crap. Try not to spend more than 30 minutes on one, but the overall point is to really look at what you’re studying, and really pay attention to how to recreate the effect of that material.
Here is an example of an awesome group of studies done by Markella Stavropoulou:
You can follow all of the studies done by our little ragtag group of artists here.
What are you waiting for? Do your studies and share them! I’d like to see what you come up with!
Alright, I mentioned in my last blog post that I would talk about how I brought people to my table with more than just my display. Your display can only get you so far. It brought people to my table, but more often than not all it did was get their attention for a second. Beyond that, it’s up to the artist behind the table to bring them over. For an artist just starting out, this can be pretty scary, especially if you’re an Introvert. Keep in mind that nearly half of the population are introverts, and introverts aren’t comfortable walking up to a booth or table and striking up conversation with a stranger.
I am an introvert. I’m not good at small talk, I can’t blather on about chit-chat topics like the weather. Strike up a conversation about deep philosophical topics, and I’ll talk your ear off, but “hey-how-are-you” will end in a long awkward pause in the chatter. I don’t know much about what it’s like to be an extroverted artist, so hopefully all of you social butterflies can find some value in my posts, too!
So, having realized this about myself, I then reminded myself of what it was like to be on that side of the table, back before I had my own. I certainly was not the type of spectator who would walk up to any artist and ask questions, especially an artist I admire. I still quiver at the thought of opening a line of conversation with Dan Dos Santos or Greg Manchess. Believe it or not, I’m easily intimidated!
Now, I understand that I am still a veritable nobody in this industry and I do not remotely view myself as being on the same level as, say, Donato Giancola. However, the simple fact that I have a table displaying my art conveys a level of confidence to viewers that I may not necessarily have. The person attending the convention as a spectator doesn’t know if I’m a professional working artist, and every single one seemed to assume that I was. That can be intimidating for those who are artists themselves looking to get into the industry.
The first thing I did was observe for a bit. I noticed a few different types of spectators:
The Wanderer – This convention-goer generally sticks to the center of the thoroughfare, gazing over all of the art they can see from a distance, and usually does not approach a table unless something they are specifically interested in catches their eye. They are the most challenging to wrangle in, and I haven’t found a good way to pull them over to my table yet.
The Browser – They love to flip pages. Sketchbooks, portfolios, and art books are their favorite. They can look down at the book, flip pages, and move on.
The Dabbler – The Dabbler is highly interested in every kind of art, especially the kind they would love to produce themselves. You generally catch them stopping and staring at a piece for a minute or two, and if they like an artist’s work, they might slow down around your table and make quick, fleeting eye contact. Be ready to engage them, they’re extremely interesting, at least to me! They are doodlers, sketchers, self-proclaimed “dabblers”, and high school students. They want to create art, and are curious about how to get where you are, behind that table, selling your wares.
The Chatterer – Chatterers do just what their name implies. They’ll talk your ear off! Extremely personable and excited to be where they are, they love to talk to any and everybody. They can be really fun to talk with if you’re a fan of chatting!
The Treasure Hunter – These guys and gals are cool. They fascinate me. They look for whatever it is that they particularly like, and revel in the “Find” of a piece of art that they can take home with them. They will be carrying a plastic bag bursting at the seams, full of obscure and little known work they bought from artists all over the convention. If you’re also a Treasure Hunter, they’re pretty fun to talk to. They love showing off their treasures.
The Collector – Similar to the Treasure Hunter, these attendees will usually have a few prints they’ve picked up, but those prints will generally have a theme going. All from their favorite artist, or M:tG cards, or a type of creature, etc. If you have what they love, they might stop by.
This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but this is a good jumping off point for my next part: How to bring them over.
Before I delve into the canned questions and comments I whipped up for myself, I’ll talk about how to know when and who to open up a line of conversation with, and the results you may experience. Look for that in the next blog post!
It can be pretty damn intimidating making the decision to set up your own table at your very first convention. Trust me, I am well aware! I was terrified.
But let me back up a bit. I attended Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2 in 2013 and immediately fell in love. It is focused completely on Fantasy and Sci-Fi art, with a bit of Pop Culture and Pop Art sprinkled in, making it easily my favorite convention to attend. And really, it’s not so much a “convention” in the typical sense, as it isn’t geared toward sell Sell SELL as much as “regular” conventions. It has more of a connect-with-the-community feel, in my opinion. I think that’s why I love it so much.
Earlier this year, as I was browsing the site for the upcoming show, I noticed something new: Artist Alley. This is the first year SFAL has had an Artist Alley, and the tables were extremely affordable ($100 early registration, $200 last minute). They SOLD OUT shortly after I made the dive and purchased my space.
I honestly felt I was not remotely ready to have my own table at a convention or show, but what better way to motivate yourself to BE ready, than to have a deadline, a goal, and a sink-or-swim situation? That’s how I work best, after all. Pressure, stress, sink-or-swim. I could tell myself forever and ever that “someday I’ll have enough work to show”, or I could set up the situation to where I had damn well better create more work or else my table will look dismal and sad.
So that’s what I did. And honestly, the pressure of knowing I needed to have more and better work to put out in front of the general public caused a decent leap in my skills as an artist. So… bonus! I created about 2 paintings a week of original characters, proving to myself that I was indeed ready for this move.
Then came the preparation aside from the creation of the art. Booth setup! I created a Pinterest board where I could hoard all of the blogs and articles about setting up a successful booth I could find. Interestingly, there isn’t a whole lot out there, or at least it wasn’t easy to find. Artists: Pin your posts!
I looked around my house for items I could use to set up my own table, and was pleased to find that everything I needed for display, at least for my first table, was right here at home. I used black wire shelving we already had on hand. This was decently effective, and until I need something more robust, they will be used again in the future.
The prints I had done were from OfficeMax. I was very impressed with the quality and recommend starting simple like this until you’re ready to offer giclee and archival quality prints. There’s nothing wrong with a brand new artist selling prints from OfficeMax when you’re starting out. No one even noticed the difference.
Next, I ordered new business cards and some postcards of my favorite paintings. I intended to sell these for $1 each, but instead chose to hand them out for free. I had also created a postcard specifically to give to Art Directors, and this is what landed me my first professional freelance illustration job for a major trading card game company (can’t wait to talk about that more!). I would say the postcards were extremely effective. Note: Jon Schindehette suggested leaving space on your postcard or business card for ADs to be able to jot notes on them. I’ll be doing this in the future.
The back actually does have a lot of white space, so maybe I won’t need to change it in the future… huh.
For my business card display, I stole an idea off of Pinterest that involved taking a paperback book and folding each page in half, and then trimming the front and back covers to size. I stuck the business cards between the pages and placed it on my table. People loved that idea! So, it’s cool to find interesting ways to display your business cards, it can generate conversation, and people are more likely to take a card than if they’re just in a pile.
I also splurged and bought a banner and retractable stand from Staples. It was also super successful and getting attention and the quality was really high. You definitely want to have your art above eye level and down, having things to see at every level. Having a vertical banner helped people to find me from a distance.
I ended up rearranging things, and placing prints flat on the table for people to peruse, but this was the basic set up. I felt it was decent for a first timer. I was super lucky because the girl behind me had a huge wooden foldable display, and it was painted black on the back, so it sort of framed my table perfectly. In the future, I’m considering getting one of those photographer’s backdrops with black fabric. I like having the “wall” behind me.
So, with all of this set up and a few prints to sell, I felt I was ready. In a future blog post (soon), I will talk about how I brought people over to my table with a bit of conversation and some canned questions!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Feel free to ask questions!
I just attended the Artist as Brand workshop put on by Greg Spalenka and it was pretty freakin’ sweet. One of the biggest things he talked about regarding putting yourself out there and connecting with other artists and fans was a blog. I have always wanted to have one, but could never think of what to draw. I don’t know why, but for some reason yesterday, as he spoke about the importance of a website and blog, a ton of blog topics started slamming into my brain. I wrote them all down, and then I searched Google for more interesting blog topics. By the time I put my pen down, I had 4 pages of blog topics! So, I want to get my blog started and have a purpose for it.
This year was the first time I had my own table at a convention or show. I started out with an Artist Alley table at Spectrum, and it was not only extremely fun, it connected me with a ton of people who were aspiring, struggling, or interested artists. I heard a lot of “I wish…” or “I would love to…” or “I dabble…” and I wanted to push those people down into a chair and convince them they absolutely CAN if they truly want to join the ranks of what they view as unreachable Artists. The idea that I was one of those artists that they felt were in the place they wanted to be was amazing to me. Who am I? I’m a new artists in this industry, having just landed my first professional illustration gig with a trading card company!
I want to connect even further with those fledgling artists. I won’t use the term “young artist” because while some of those artists were quite young, a few of them still in high school, a large number of them were adults with full time jobs. Age has nothing to do with where you are as an artist.
Here’s a secret I have discovered over the last few years of my journey to become a freelance illustrator: Nobody is ever good enough. No artist ever starts out immediately awesome, getting hired off the bat by the big hitters like Blizzard and Wizards of the Coast.
What do professional athletes do in order to be picked up by their respective League? They train. Well, as it turns out, artists have to train too! This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a formal art education, either. You can actually construct your own education based on your interests and where you want your art to take you, by ferreting out the artists you like and learning from them. There are countless tutorials, numerous workshops, and literally hundreds (if not more) artists willing to show you the way.
In future blog posts, I intend to share some of the many resources available to any artist, regardless of skill level, who are seeking to improve their art. Whether it be to get hired as a freelancer or to improve as an industry professional, these workshops, tutorials, and how-to’s can probably help you. The bottom line is this: YOU have to do it. YOU have to put in the work. YOU have to carve out the time in your busy schedule to put pen to paper or brush to canvas or stylus to tablet. And you can, if you believe you can.