How to Pitch Yourself to Local Shops (fantasy illustrator)

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I’ve been asked by a few people how I got stores to invite me to attend in-store events such as the pre-release for Dragons of Tarkir. I am not a Magic: the Gathering artist… yet. How did I get noticed by local stores?

This post will talk about how I specifically made this happen, but the methods can be applied for many different types of artists. My hope is that you can get yourself in front of a local fanbase, which is the beginning of really taking control of your own art career!

1. Identify stores with products or art that is similar to your own.

First things first (I’m the realest). What type of art do you produce? For me, it was really easy to find which stores may be interested in my art, because I am a Fantasy RPG artist. My paintings already seem to fit well in games such as Magic: the Gathering, Lord of the Rings LCG, Pathfinder RPG, and Game of Thrones LCG. Knowing this, I located stores in my area (a radius of approximately 2 hours) that hold events that cater to games such as these. Friday Night Magic, Sunday D&D, Thursday Night Commander, etc. It does help that I have clients such as Fantasy Flight Games and Paizo, though, but that is just another bonus selling point. Figure out your specific bonus selling points!

2. Prepare your pitch.

These stores are running a business. While a few of them will be interested in supporting local artists (these gems are amazing to find, by the way, much love to store owners who want to showcase local talent.), most of them are going to be more interested in what your presence in their store will do for them. In my case, I sell playmats that tabletop gamers are interested in and I am open to sketch commissions. Custom ACEO sketch cards are a great low-dollar item you can offer to fans and gamers to decorate their card boxes or to be used as tokens in-game.

Before you go to the location, gather up your merchandise and do not forget business cards! At the very least, you can ask if you can leave behind a few cards, and customers may contact you for commissions. Take 1 or 2 of each item you want to offer into the store with you, but have more in the car! If they want to carry your merchandise, it’ll help if you have plenty on offer.

Knowing that many gamers are eager to pick up original art to show off during tournaments, you can talk to the owner/manager of the store about the possibility of advertising your appearance in conjunction with a tournament or expansion release date to draw in more players. Once you’ve had one successful in-store event, players generally ask the store employees when you’ll be returning!

Another thing I do as an incentive for the store is offer my merchandise at a discount for them to sell at retail. That way, everyone makes a cut of the profit. Some stores will go for this, especially if they want to support a local artist, and some will pass up the deal because my prices will generally be higher than, say, StarCityGames.com or another mass producer of playmats. That’s fine. Maybe they’ll do consignment. Or maybe they’re only interested in having you come by for appearances. Decide what you’re comfortable with, and be flexible!

Me upon introducing myself:

3. Ask yourself all of these questions, and have answers ready:

How much are you selling your item for at retail? How much are you willing to mark it down for retailers? For what percentage are you willing to sell it on consignment?

Generally, I mark off about 10% for retailers for consignment, and up to 20% for retail (meaning, they buy the item outright, and sell it for whatever they think it will sell). Keep in mind that, while you won’t make as much cash off of a transaction when dealing with the retailers, you are getting your products in front of the public in ways you may not have been able to before. The in-store appearances are where you’ll make the best cash!

4. Be presentable.

This seems like common sense, but I’m going to include it anyway. When I make the rounds to introduce myself to new store managers/owners, and especially when I show up for an in-store appearance, I make sure I’m at the top of my game. Not only does a kick ass outfit and on-point hair and makeup look nice, it makes me feel more confident! So, take the time to make yourself look amazing, and you’ll feel amazing.

5. Follow up!

One of the best things you can do, especially if you left the store with a lot of maybes, is to follow up with either an email or a phone call. I tend to lean toward email for myself, because I’m better with the written word than the spoken. I can review what I’m going to say, as well as have a record of the conversation afterward.

Remind them of who you are, who you spoke with at the store, and what you discussed. Let them know of your availability. Assert yourself, politely, on the assumption that of course they want you to attend an in-store event!

6. Extra Credit!

Another way to get “in” with local shops is to become a frequent flyer. Go to the location, play their games or interact with the employees. Be friendly and develop a (friendly, professional) relationship. Networking is key, and it will get you everywhere you want to go. I have an entire blog post about networking planned, so check back for that!

I hope this has helped you, and remember to be creative in your approach. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out what will benefit everyone involved. Do you have any suggestions that should be included in this post, or any creative ideas for what works for you? Post them in the comments!

In another post, I’ll talk about how to have a successful event and what kind of merchandise I’ve learned moves well!

 

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Making Things Happen

I’m pretty excited to let you all in on what’s been happening over the last week.

First and foremost, I’m scheduled for an in-store appearance to sell and sign playmats of my own creation, as well as do sketch cards and playmat sketches! How fun is that!?

I am also stoked to announce that so far, I have nailed down 2 stores that are going to carry my playmats for sale or consignment, and am in talks with 3 more stores to do the same! Top Tier Board Games in Hattiesburg, MS, and Wyatt’s Comics and Cards in Hammond, LA, will both be retail shops at which you can purchase my playmats!

So, some of you may want to know how this happened, and I’m super happy to tell you so YOU can do the same!

How it all started is sort of interesting. As you may know by now, I was juried into the Art Show for GenCon 2015, and will have a 4 panel booth. When I applied, I guess I didn’t honestly believe I’d get in. I mean, the talent that I’ll be listed amongst is out of this world. At some point shortly after confirming and paying for my booth, I realized I needed more… something… to really fit in with the GenCon crowd.

I decided I really wanted to sell playmats. So, I designed and painted Nadezhda:

Nadezhda Polzin_WEB

I then contacted Drew Baker, whom I met at IlluxCon and corresponded with in the One Fantastic Week Facebook group, to have Nadezhda and the Succubus printed on playmats. His price is reasonable and though he may be a bit pricier than some of the ‘big name’ playmat printers, his personal service and concern for my work more than makes up for it. He’s amazing. As an artist, he has an eye for what may need attention to make your playmats the best they could be.

The playmats were beautiful! My counterpart then took them along when he went to Friday Night Magic and sold three of them. I didn’t even have three mats printed yet! So, I ordered more mats. Having seen how quickly people took interest in the mats, my counterpart then made a list of all the gaming stores in the area, up to about an hour and a half away, and we made the rounds. We spoke with about 6 stores the first day, and 2 were very interested. One of those was Top Tier, and as you can see, that has panned out well!

It was surprisingly easy, even for this introverted recluse, to talk to the stores about carrying my mats. I would walk in, introduce myself and my work, and ask if the store would be interested in carrying my mats for sale or consignment. In the future, I’ll first ask if a manager or the owner is in, as most retail employees won’t have any sort of say or power in whether the store can carry your merchandise, so that’s something to keep in mind.

It’s motivating to see the excitement and interest from people who sell stuff like this daily. They know what the customers like, and they like my stuff!

Moral of the story is… maybe don’t wait for things to happen to you, make things happen for yourself! Getting hired on by art directors and working freelance is AWESOME and I love it, but I’d like to have a hand in my own fate as well. Having things that own and have control over is a whole other level.

Do the thing, y’all!

Of Eggs and Baskets

I want to be a fantasy illustrator, creating interesting and entertaining works for the public to enjoy while they play the games and read the books they love. That is what drives me and what gets me out of bed in the morning.

But there is something that causes a little bit of fear, too. Something that sends me back to bed some mornings when I feel defeated and unmotivated. It’s the acknowledgement that the freelance life can be unpredictable and extremely difficult to maintain if you don’t have a steady stream of clients coming in at all times. Chatting with other freelance artists has taught me that being a freelancer is like living on a roller coaster, with highs and lows and twists and dips and loops. And that’s great, I love that about freelancing.

However, it’s also bad in that if we’re to make freelance life our entire career, it can be extremely stressful and sometimes it can cause us to downright fail if we let it.

How do we avoid those times in which our clients have all but vanished at the same time (it happens) and our bank accounts reach that horribly ugly number – 0? How do we enjoy the freelance life if we’re constantly struggling to find the next client?

One way I’ve learned of from much more successful art entrepreneurs than I, and am currently implementing myself, is Multiple Revenue Streams. Also known as “putting your eggs in various baskets.”

What this means is that while Fantasy Character Illustration may be my main objective (as an example), I need to develop other ways for income to be generated that doesn’t rely on clients hiring me for specific assignments. There are a plethora of ways to do this, and I can’t begin to list all of them, but I’ll talk about my plans and maybe they’ll help you to find your way, if you need it.

Tawny’s Plans For Not Starving

I. First and foremost, I’ve built a portfolio that is beginning to strengthen. This is very important, especially when you’re just starting out. You have to have work you are comfortable showing to potential clients and art directors. One key tip is to make sure you are only showing work you want to be hired to do. What this means is if you want to paint characters but hate painting creatures (again, just an example), do not have creatures in your portfolio! You will invariably be hired for the things you don’t like if those things are in your portfolio. If you enjoy environments, and that’s what you want to paint, only show those off! This will save you a lot of frustration and heartache in the long run.

If you’re not sure WHAT you should have in your portfolio, because you’re not sure what you love to draw, I have  a quick exercise for you. I totally stole this idea from Char Reed, but I’m sure she won’t mind my sharing it with you:

  1. Get out a piece of paper and a pen.
  2. Write down 10 things you love to paint.
  3. Make sure the 10 things you write down are things you enjoy creating and won’t get sick of, at least for a while.
  4. Organize the work you already have that fits those categories.
  5. Create new works based on that list.
  6. Show the world your portfolio.
  7. ???
  8. Profit.

This is the method I’ve started to use, and guess what? I’ve started to get work based on what I put in that portfolio. Try it. The worst thing that can happen is you create new portfolio pieces you love. Not a bad fail, if you ask me.

II. Another path I’m taking that I’m hoping will generate some followers and potentially some income, is sketch cards and traditional portraits.

a. People love sketch cards of their favorite characters, and it can be a relatively quick way to produce new art that you can turn around and sell for a few bucks. Depending on your brand, the character, the client, and a few other factors, you could potentially sell a sketch card for upwards of $25. That’s not terrible for something that ideally took less than an hour to create.

b. Custom traditional portraits seem to get a lot of attention from collectors and the public. Sometimes, the general public doesn’t really understand digital art and how it’s produced, so they tend to put a little bit more value on traditional drawings. Again depending on various factors, some artists are able to sell portraits of characters, celebrities, and people for a couple of hundred dollars each. My plan is to create portraits on toned tan paper using black Prismacolor and white charcoal pencil. I just love the look of it, so I enjoy the process of creating them.

An added benefit of these types of art is that they offer me a creative outlet that gets me away from the computer for a while when I’m feeling burned out. I can also sit and work on these while spending time with family and friends. We will all sit down to watch some TV or hang out and I can sketch at the same time. I won’t feel the guilt of “wasting” time and it’ll cause me to be more productive! Win/win.

III. Passive Income. A while back, while “productively procrastinating”, I learned how to create neat looking documents in Adobe Illustrator. I love to-do lists and other organization type printables, so I made a few of my own. I listed them on Etsy and did a little marketing. Very minimal marketing, actually. I posted about them on Facebook and Twitter and then wandered back to working on my character illustrations.

Every couple of weeks, though… someone will buy one. They’re printables, so once they’re listed and the file is attached, the customer can immediately download the thing and enjoy their product. I don’t do anything on my end.

So, my plan is to create a few new printables every couple of months, keep my shop updated (Etsy items “expire” and you have to re-list them periodically), and market them a bit more as I have time.

In a crunch, I can ramp this up and push them more, which will create more of a customer base and bring in more income. I just haven’t done that yet. There are other ways of creating passive income, mine is just one example. I’ve seen a plethora of artists create tutorials and post them on gumroad. Once the thing is created and posted and available for download, it becomes a source of passive income.

Have you heard of any other ways to generate passive income? If so, share them in the comments! I may create a blog post in the future with a list of ways to do this.


Basically, these are some ideas I’ve had about how to take my career to the next level. If I’m distracted by the fear of not finding clients and not being able to pay my bills, I won’t be productive. I have to find ways that are creative, related to art, and interesting that will help to keep me on track. These things also serve as a way to give me a break from digital painting while also remaining productive and making progress.

I hope this post helps and I wish everyone the best of luck in finding multiple baskets for all of your colorful eggs!