Starting Out

In an ideal world, we’d all have the time to carefully prepare before we get into any endeavor. In the real world, often we’re thrown into situations with little or no prep. Someone offers to share their table in the artist alley, we get comped one, or we decide on the spur of the moment to get one and later ask what the hell we were thinking at the time.

If you have the luxury of several months to a year for prep, go to as many conventions as you can and watch the artists in the artist alley, ask the artists you know, and ask online.

  • What are they selling?
  • Which tables have the most number of people looking at the art?
  • What are the price ranges?
  • What sorts of things are they selling? Commissions, original works, prints, comics, posters, stickers, keychains, fabric art, etc.?
  • Who stops at the table? Check out their age, gender, and style. (Cosplayers? Teenage Gothic Lolita girls? Adult male gamers? Harassed parents dragged around by their kids? A wide variety?)
  • Ask the artists how their convention has been going.
  • Flip through the items on display and note how they’re displayed. Does the artist put one example on the table and keep the rest behind it? Or are all the items out on the table?
  • Is the artist doing anything to attract people to the table? How is it working?
  • Ask the artists for advice. Most are friendly and willing to talk with fellow artists. If you run into someone who isn’t, thank them politely and move on.
  • Walk around the alley and observe the traffic patterns. Where are the most people concentrated? What areas have fewer people? How do people walk around the alley – what aisles do they go down, and what aisles do they miss? What makes them move closer to or farther away from a table? What times of the day, and what days of the convention, do more people look around and buy things?

Most conventions, especially the larger ones, have message boards or forums on their websites, with areas for the artist alley and art auction. Art sites such as DeviantArt also host forums that occasionally have convention artists talking. These are all good places to lurk and to talk about what sorts of things sell, and to acquaint yourself with the practices of a particular convention.

If you’re planning on being a Pro Artist in this for the long haul, your first few conventions should probably be devoted to experimentation. Adjust your prices for each convention. Try different types of deals and incentives. Make friends with other artists in the alley and ask them about their experiences. See which primary audience your art appeals to, and how much money they’re willing to pay. Ask the shoppers what they look for when they’re looking at art, and what makes them buy. Rearrange your table setup. Put different prints out on the table and see what catches people’s attention. Try different subjects and see what sells to who.

Be critical about the advice you take, even the advice in this guide. You’ll get lots of advice, much of it from people who aren’t artists or don’t sell in artist alleys or people who think their own desires are representative of the rest of the population. Don’t let them convince you if your experience says otherwise.

  • Myth: Hentai/Yaoi/Yuri sells.
    • Reality: Hentai and sexually-themed art has a much smaller customer base than you’d expect. Many anime convention goers with money to spend are under 18 or not interested in explicit material. On the other hand, adults who are interested in these themes, while fewer in number, often have a lot more money to spend on this sort of art. If you want to maximize sales, unless you’re at a specialized convention like Yaoi-Con or one with a lot of adults like Dragon*Con, it’s probably best not to devote all your table to hentai, yaoi, or yuri. But if you’re a Hobby Artist and in it for fun, then draw what interests you.
  • Myth: Scantily-clad girls sell.
    • Reality: It depends on the attendees of the convention and what your art style is. I’ve found that in my experience there are vastly more fangirls willing to drop money on my art than fanboys, and the pictures I draw of women tend to languish on my table while pictures of half-naked men fly off. Your mileage may vary, but if you’re in this as a Pro Artist, then for your first few conventions try a variety of subjects and keep track of what sells better for you, without assuming anything.



(Note 12/29/2012: I’m closing comments on this page as it’s getting hit hard by spambots–I’m talking thousands of spam comments! I’ll leave others open, although if it gets too bad, I’ll create one page for comments and shut them on the rest of the pages.)