Selling my artwork at comic and gaming conventions has had a huge impact on shaping my path to becoming an independent artist. I’m writing this today as a way to say thanks to the artists who have influenced me and to pay it forward to new artists breaking into the world of sci-fi/fantasy/comic art! For the past year I’ve been able to take the lessons I’ve learned, some good art, and make a moderate living wage by only freelancing and exhibiting at conventions. What follows are some of the key practices that have led to my success with selling my work at conventions!
In March of 2016 I ran a successful Kickstarter to fund my book “The Illustrated Havamal.” With the help of 472 backers, I raised $35,108 for the project.
As I was running the campaign, I spoke to Dan Dos Santos about the idea of writing an article on running a Kickstarter and submitting it to Muddy Colors. Dan's response was that everyone wants to do an article about running a Kickstarter, and there are tons of them online already (go ahead, do an internet search, he’s not wrong), but there are very few articles about what a Kickstarter looks like on the back end. Dan said "I’m way more interested in the real cost of running a Kickstarter."
I imagine if you’re still reading this, like Dan, you're interested too. So here it goes…
I’ve had ADHD for my entire life. I saw one doctor described it as “diabetes of the mind”. This is a story of why I decided to seek help.
Over the course of a 51 day period I finished just one painting. Just one. That’s a big departure from finishing one every 7 days. Thinking back on that time, I can easily spin a yarn about where the time went. It’s fair to say that this was the largest, most involved painting I’ve made for Angelarium to date. Considering it was painted while I was trying to put my taxes together and travel to Seattle for Emerald City Comic Con, I might have a plausible excuse for why this took me so long. The truth is far more embarrassing.
I received 1000 enamel pins in the mail yesterday with the 1FW logo on them. Sam and I agreed that it was a great idea to get them made, but not because we wanted to make a ton of money on them. The truth is that more than anything, I just want to see these on people's art bags and lapels around places Illuxcon every year.
There is an expectation that the beautiful things we enjoy will find success, but that’s not always true. Anyone who has had their favorite TV show get canceled in its prime knows how this goes. Some of our most beloved things don’t have a mechanism to be sustained. That’s part of why I’m such a staunch advocate for Patreon.
I’ve seen Patreon provide support where no other system could, the most recent example is my favorite cosplayer, Christine Sprankle.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to force you to read this whole article to pay out the click bait title. Here it is, a new mantra to build your wealth and happiness as an artist:
Make your art available for sale before you promote it online.
This is so obvious, you may not consider it worthy of a written article and yet, ask yourself if you’ve actually followed this rule. I’m committing this to writing because it has become the most common piece of advice I’ve been offering to my compatriots. Too often, I see people do a wonderful job sharing their work, only to have the party clear out before they set up the merch table. Bands make sure their shirts and CDs are for sale while they are still on stage and so should you.
Let’s break it down.
Most artists seek out other artists and creative types. No one really “gets you” like another artist. It’s how we find colleagues, mentors, and friends. The time I spend with other artists is some of the most special time I have. The desire and advantages of participating in art communities in person and online are both huge and easy to understand.
Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to find other artists. It’s so easy, in fact, that you can create a world for yourself that’s almost exclusively art friends, and before you know it, you find yourself in an art bubble. Your social media will be filled with amazing pictures that both inspire you and occasionally make you want to quit. You will begin to think everyone is in the process of making their own intellectual property, and that everyone’s doing a Kickstarter.
This weekend, I rented a 20 foot by 10 foot slab of concrete for 3 days at a cost of $4000. Let’s take a walk through that choice and I’ll let you know how it turned out.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been readdressing the way I sell my work at conventions. After about 10 years of doing them as cheaply as possible, I started to realize that I had been doing a poor job at getting the most out of my time. I decided to scrap my old setup and rebuild it from scratch, doing my best to emulate the way the top performing artists were displaying their work rather than relying on what seemed to be the most popular approaches. This yielded a year where I first doubled my average sales and then doubled them again, leading to sales figures that were previously impossible for me.
Imagine you had a job where you not only had to come up with ideas for stuff, but you had to come up with GREAT ideas on nearly a daily basis in order to keep your job. That is the job of a concept artist and oftentimes an illustrator. Doesn't sound easy does it?Now imagine that instead of working for someone else, you worked for yourself? Not only do your ideas have to be great, they have to be THE BEST and they have to be UNIQUE.
But how do you learn to develop ideas? Let's say you can paint circles around everyone in your field - that's great! You can sell an idea like nobody's business and that's a big leg up.
It was recently brought to my attention that there were some little things I missed in previous convention articles. As someone who does a lot of conventions, certain things become obvious and therefore get taken for granted. At Gen Con this year I got to spend some time with several folks who were setting up at their first convention. This helped me see the convention atmosphere with fresh eyes.
I have the great pleasure of joining the instructor lineup of the upcoming One Fantastic Weekend workshop! It takes place November 5-8, 2015.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s the gist: One Fantastic Weekend is a four day on-site workshop for art entrepreneurs brought to you by the guys behind One Fantastic Week, a live, weekly webcast hosted by Pete Mohrbacher and Sam Flegal, who interview movers and shakers in the illustration industry. In addition to myself, Sam, and Pete, the other instructors are Annie Stegg Gerard, Justin Gerard, and Sean Andrew Murray. Each of us are bringing years of experience in managing our businesses as artists and illustrators, and we’re on hand to share all of our secrets with you on how to actually make money from your art.
Many artists share the same dream. We want to create imaginative images and share them with other people. Whether that’s by recreating our favorite characters from pop-culture or by creating new worlds from whole cloth, our ambitions are very similar. The one common barrier that we all share is sadly practical. We need money to pay our bills and take care of our families. The way we overcome that barrier is often what defines our career. Some of us find work in studios, while others work from home as freelancers. I have found much more happiness and success as an independent artist. Being an independent artist is not a label that defines the sorts of art you make, but how you choose to make a living off of it. It means making the majority of your income directly from your fan base without working through an intermediary like a publisher or studio.
As promised in Episode 65 here is the video of Sam's set up for Con Nooga 2015...
Over on Sam's blog, Artist Journey, he has done a series of posts with advice for those new to conventions, or those wanting to brush up on their con skills. After the last few episodes we've been talking a lot about conventions. Here are the links to Sam's posts: