Convention Conversations Pt 2

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!

What it must be like organizing an event for fantasy/sci-fi artists

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 think I’m good enough for MAGIC!?

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’.

JSShipSketch

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My First Convention Table – Spectrum 3

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.

Anyway.

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.

Here is my current “Portfolio Postcard”:
portpost
postback

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.

Here is a photo of my table after I set it all up:
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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!