Last month I got to attend my very first artist alley as a vendor at Anime Banzai. It was an absolutely amazing time and a great learning experience. My main takeaway was that I love working with a table partner, I enjoy working with customers face to face, and most of all, I want to keep tabling at conventions in the future!
Preparing for my first artist alley was essentially a year-long ordeal, though, and I had to do a lot of research and setup beforehand. There are a lot of other "My First Artist Alley" guides out in the interwebverse, and I can't claim this will be nearly as thorough, but I wanted to write up stuff that I did and learned along the way in the hopes it can help someone else just starting out (or at least be interesting for others to read!).
So here's how I started, 1 year ago...
- Step One: I found a convention I wanted to table at, applied, and wasn't accepted.
- Step Two: Picked myself back up and decided to start producing products far in advance instead of days before an application deadline.
I've posted elsewhere on my specific process in getting charms made or stickers printed, so I won't go into detail, but I started doing "shop research," reading artist FAQs and finding info on where they made their stuff. I got a few test products printed.
In the end, for my products I used:
- Moo.com for business cards
- Catprint for 5x7 prints
- Stickermule for stickers
- InkitLabs for charms
- Med Merch for notebooks
Sidenote: after the convention and talking with more artists, I realized that a lot of what I got printed was pretty pricey for a convention! So next time I'm probably going to use Catprint or Gotprint for my business cards (though I absolutely love the quality of the Moo ones and couldn't recommend it more--just not for handing them out like candy) and I'm still looking for another place for stickers.
I finally had an inventory! I decided to launch an Etsy while waiting for the convention and get practice making listing photos & selling to customers, which doubled as a great way to prepare photos for an application portfolio.
Having a portfolio like this was really important for both Fanime and Anime Banzai because they now do jury-based artist alley applications, but this isn't always the case--a lot of conventions are first come, first serve. I kind of really like the concept of the jury, though, because it means artist alley content is more heavily curated. It can feel really disappointing when you don't get in, though. Anyway, I digress!
I read through jojostory's guide on Artist Alley, and went over their Artist Alley Supplies List, and checked back with it occasionally leading up to the convention for sanity checks. A few months before the convention, I started buying table supplies, a lot of which were from jojostory's list.A couple weeks before the convention, I set up a mockup of my table display which looked like this:
- wire grid cubes
- plastic table cover
- felt square
- twine (not shown)
- post-it notes (not shown)
- plastic brochure holder
- business card holder
- tablecloth (not shown)
- binder clips
- cash box
- square card reader
- small tupperware containers (for charms and stickers)
- small box for prints (I recycled the business cards box)
- plastic sleeves for prints 5x7
- plastic sleeves for stickers 3x4
When my table partner arrived, we packed our bags for the hotel and double checked everything we had. We used roller bags and duffel bags to carry everything because it was just the two of us, and would be carting it from a hotel on foot. We packed for an additional list:
- water bottle
- laptop for movie nights
- baby wipes
- hand sanitizer
- lots of sharpies and random pens
- cell phone with extra battery
Due to some last minute changes, we ended up staying at a hotel nearby the convention instead of commuting in every day, so we arrived a day early to set up. At the end of the evening our shared table looked something like this:
On the left was my table partner, who had done artist alley before and was mentoring me through it. But! To my horror, I realized that when not backed by a wall as it was during setup, my little table display all but disappeared. Fortunately there was a Michael's nearby the conference center at we rushed over just before it closed to get a few last minute things. Once spruced up, this was my display:
I was really pleased with how it turned out, and totally relieved that it all pulled together. People seemed to really appreciate it and I liked having sample notebooks out front for people to look at. The stickers under the plastic cover worked better than expected, as you could look at them more closely than on the upper display (though some people mistook them for magnets..)
I was really nervous about it but decided to open up sketch commissions and they were a huge success. Over the 2.5 days of the convention, I completed about 8 total which really surprised me, I had been very unsure how quickly I could complete them (when I take normal commissions I often take over a week).
Here was my Commissions Supply List:
- Strathmore sketchbook pages cut into 4 (a bit smaller than A5)
- a set of Copic Multiliners
- a grayscale set of Copic Sketch markers
- non photo blue lead mechanical pencil (borrowed from my table partner!)
And that was that! Hours were pretty intense this year, as Artist Alley was open from 9am to 9pm, though I heard from staff that they won't be doing that again next year. My table buddy and I took a lot of turns getting food, and going to the restroom, but we were both so full in adrenaline the whole weekend went by really quickly. Took me a week or so to recover though, I was so bone tired.
I learned a lot from my first Artist Alley, a lot of little things surprised me about what sold well and what didn't; talking to other artists I learned about what they use for production and more tricks of the trade. Most of all I was surprised at how fun it was to interact with people, I was humbled when young artists asked me to teach them "how to make it as an artist," or when people came by the booth and split into a big smile seeing their favorite Pokemon as a sticker. For someone who was just starting out a year ago, and 5 years ago had given up on art, it was a huge boost to my confidence, reminded me why I want to do this, and most of all makes me think I can.
Both of us are looking forward to which convention we'll be doing next. I got a lot of great photos for my next portfolio submission to Fanime (fingers crossed!). I hope you enjoyed reading some of these little thoughts.