How I Leveled Up My Convention Setup Over 5 Years
In the Beginning...
My very first convention was C2E2 2014 and I had exactly eight — that’s right, eight — illustrations displayed on a half table. My work at this time was mainly fan art. No banner to speak of. I had two portfolios for people to page through, and when they selected the art they wanted, I signed and bagged it on the spot. It wasn’t exactly an expert set-up to start, but the art community welcomed me. They loved my style and I sold out of almost everything I had. I couldn’t have been happier! I mean, it was my first rodeo and it was a success.
This was also the first time I met Pete Mohrbacher. Within a couple weeks, I would be helping Pete run his own booth at Anime Central. The amount of information he gave me, had me feeling like Johnny Mneumonic: too much information not enough HDD space. One of the easiest things I learned was to have some work standing on the table. If everything is flat it makes it harder for people to see it from a distance. The next thing I learned was to engage with everyone that walks by your booth. Stand don’t sit. If you’re sitting you seem uninterested and therefore unapproachable. Have a banner, but what’s even better is to have work hanging behind you that you can sell. Basically, every single item you have on display is for sale.
I would go on to upgrade my display over and over. The goal was to develop my personal style focusing at first on fan art and building a fan base. Slowly over time as the fan base grew, I would start introducing work from my personal IP, Ancient Ones, eventually removing the fan art and making everything personal work.
Knowledge is Power
Now I sign, bag, and board all the art in advance. I found that signing on the spot and bagging took time away from other customers waiting to purchase my work. I tend to sign everything, minus the playmats these days. Bagging and boarding prints, shows the customer you care about the work. It’s also FREE ADVERTISING if they’re walking around the show with it, versus rolling it into a plain tube. I also added my stories to the back of each print (as Gavin suggested in last weeks article). This serves two purposes: one you stay engaged with the customer, and two (important) you put the piece in their hands. Having them hold it almost always guarantees a sale!
With your very first show, you don’t have to go all out. Figure out what you can afford to start and stick with that. For my early cons I built a backdrop from $20 worth of PVC piping from a hardware store, and added magnets to hold the prints to the black curtain. This whole setup costs less than $100. Sure, it isn’t the best setup, but at the time it was affordable and provided a lot more surface area for me to showcase work, hopefully catching the eyes of passersby.
In time you can upgrade, as I did, to a full banner. I started with a giant printout of my artwork (much cleaner and easier to set up than the PVC pipe display). It goes up in less than a minute, and you can ship it to shows using a ski-bag. This made my setup so much faster — no random pipes and hanging artwork. I just rolled the banner out and then I was free to focus on my table.
Over time I learned that there are some disadvantages to using the banner backdrop. The banner is nice to get eyes on the artwork, but you don't have art hanging behind you, that you can sell. As I mentioned earlier, everything you have on display, in theory, should be for sale. For this reason I upgraded to Flourish Panels which means all the work I display is available for sale. The Flourish is really easy to travel with and if need to you can also ship it in a ski-bag to a show. I have been known to borrow Pro Panels from time to time for shows I drive to, but this is not necessary and they cost a lot more than the Flourish panels.
Here are some specific tips that I’ve learned over the years:
• Stand up, don’t sit. If you are sitting, you look unapproachable.
• Don’t work on your art while running your table. If you have someone running the table who is focusing on your customer, then it’s OK, but in that scenario, you should share what you are working on, as it opens up your artistic process to potential customers.
• Have your work standing up. I designed three tiers this year so I have “steps” of artwork: The front of the table (if possible), the table itself that has two steps and Flourish panels and banners behind me.
• Get a table runner. If not, simply clip or tape work to the front of the table, just get the work on multiple angles.
• Invest in some garage mats to stand on. It’s good for your feet and back.
• Dress appropriately. Appeal to your audience! Comic book shirts work for selling fan art, but not so much for original art. I have friends who wear just a black shirt and pants. This works well, too. Look like you belong and want to be there. If you look like you don’t care about you, how can you care about your art?
• Invest in a Square reader. Most people want to pay with credit. Cash is king, but credit will usually vet more sales. You can snag one here.
• Learn the 80/20 Rule. Tim Ferriss Mentor Lesson: The 80/20 Principle
This is how I leveled up my convention setup, but things may go differently or much faster for you. I wrote this article as a starting off point to show that it is possible. I’ve got more than 50 shows under my belt and I’ve been doing conventions for five years now. So hopefully something I’ve learned can help you at your show!
Allen Panakal is an Artist from Chicago, IL. His main body of work these days focuses on his series The Ancient Ones which you can find at AncientOnes.net.