Odds are you've been to some sort of art convention, right? Comic conventions and art fairs take place all over the globe, with almost every major city in the United States hosting one! They are a great way to transition from hobbyist to selling your work and building your fan base. Today we talk about the do's and don't's of conventions, and share some good and not so good experiences.
Comic Cons & Art Fairs
Comic conventions and art fairs take place all over the globe, with almost every major city in the United States hosting one. With the large audiences that attend these shows it is a good place for illustrators to show their work and start selling.
In this episode we will cover what the world of comic conventions and art fairs is like, ways to get into shows, and the differences between them. This is one of the easiest ways (depending on some conditions) to make money as an artist.
Lee White has experience showing at art fairs, whereas Jake Parker and Will Terry have experience with the comic convention circuit.
Money range [5:32]
The amount of money an artist can make at a show depends on a lot of variables such as location of the show and the types of products being sold.
At Lee White’s best art fair show he made $24,000 USD over a three day art fair.
On the comic convention side, at Jake Parker’s first convention he made enough to cover the cost of the show and for travel. At Jake’s best comic convention he broke $9,000 USD gross. His average is $5,000-$6,000 USD gross.
At Will Terry’s best convention he made $19,000 USD gross. His average is between $7,000-$9,000 USD gross.
How Lee, Will and Jake started showing [8:38]
Lee got his start showing at art fairs with Crafty Wonderland. He was invited to show when a table opened up. Following that experience he started actively looking for art fairs to attend.
In his mid 20’s Jake was in the comic anthology, Flight. The editor of the book purchased a table at San Diego Comic Con, and invited the other artists to use the extra space. Jake went to sell prints and books. After getting a taste of what it was like to table at a show, he decided to do his own show. His first show outside of San Diego was CTNX. Following that success he knew it was possible to be successful at other shows.
Will Terry’s first comic convention was a disaster even though he spent two years researching how to sell. Through that experience he learned how to be successful. He now has an assistant that takes Will’s art around the comic convention circuit. Will only personally attends 3-4 of the shows.
Will has a series of YouTube videos where he goes into detail about his first experience tabling at a comic convention.
Will Terry’s comic convention video series:
Lee White: “It’s worth it as an experience. You cannot anticipate how much energy these things take. They are really hard.” Having extra people to help you is really helpful because there are so many factors involved.
Doing this full time as your only source of income can be really consuming. For Lee, Will and Jake they use art shows as supplemental income sources. Artists who do this full time can go to 30-40 shows a year.
Differences between art fairs and comic conventions [21:05]
Art fairs are typically during the summer. Usually outside in parks, but sometimes in convention centers. Artists purchase 10 foot by 10 foot booths. The average attendee at an art fair is older (50 years-old to 70 years old). There are not a lot of collectors, it is mostly people looking for artwork to put on their walls. They want to purchase originals.
Prices for pieces at art fairs range from $50 USD to $20,000 USD (higher end of that scale are people buying originals).
Lee White: “The more specific the story in my image the less likely it is to sell. The bigger the character in an image, the less likely it is to sell.“ Lee focuses more on environment elements and doesn’t get too specific with storytelling. In order to be successful at art fairs you have to strike a nice balance between illustration and fine art, and create images people want to hang in their homes.
Lee’s Secret Sauce for Art Fairs: “[Illustrate] a moment that people can interpret what’s happening versus showing them what’s happening.” Create images that two separate people can view and come up with different stories. Just give the audience a hint of the story.
James Jean is a good example of this principle. His work transcends illustration and taps into the art fair market.
James Jean Instagram
Comic conventions [30:40]
Comic conventions are focused on popular culture. There is an artist ally section where artists can buy tables to show and sell their work. Attendees typically have $100 and spend that across maybe 5 different artists. What sells the best at comic conventions are things people already know such as characters from popular films, tv shows or cartoons.
Comic conventions products typically sells from $4 to $70.
There is also a commission market, where attendees will pay artists to draw their character or some other character doing something specific. Some artists open their commission list before the show, whereas others only do commissions during the show. Jake does commissions at show and works on them during down times or at the hotel. He can make an extra $2,000 to $3,000 USD depending on what he is charging. Commission from artists at comic conventions can range from $20 USD all the way to $600 USD.
Jake uses fan art he sells at comic conventions to get people to come look at his table where he also has pieces from his original stories. He uses this as a way to expand the audience for his original content.
How to start [47:23]
When trying to get into art fairs or comic conventions it is really important to understand the market. Lee tried to sell at CTNX with Jake and Will and his art did not fit that market.
Step 1: Go visit the shows not as a fan but as research. Take notes, take photos, be detailed and focused.
Step 2: Make inventory. You can’t do a show if you don’t have things to sell. Start with prints, prints are cheaper and easier to sell. Make sure to use archival ink and paper so your work doesn’t fade. Jake Parker says “every sell is a person you touch.” When you sell a print you are building a relationships with that person. There is a lot of repeat customers, so if you use cheap stuff you lose that future business.
Prints generally have low overhead cost with a high markup price. T-shirts per-unit cost are higher and they can be hard to sell and keep the proper sizes in inventory. Stickers are also harder (higher per-unit cost and lower markup price). People often just want the image so they will buy the smallest size just to get it. Don’t lose sales by selling products with higher per-unit cost.
Jed Henry is a good example of this, at shows he only sells one size. Ukiyo Heroes
Start small and work your way up. Both with what show you start with and with your inventory (not small products but a smaller product list/inventory). Check to see if there is a show within an hour of your home. This is a good way to start small because you have lower overhead costs.
Lee white: “Stay local until you get your market figured out and then start branching out.”
It is important to know there are different niche markets in each show. So know your work and who it appeals to.
Comic conventions are generally easier to show at then art fairs. Art fairs are curated so. For example, Lee only gets into about half of the art fairs he applies for.
List of every convention in the USA
Specifics on how to get into art fairs [01:06:29]
For art fairs start with craft fairs, they are easier to get into. These shows are usually in the winter and indoors.
Art Fair Sourcebook. Has art fairs sorted by region, how many people attend and how much they spend on average. This source is expensive, but it is good data to have when catering to an audience with a larger budget.
Zapplication is another good resource.
Horror and success stories [01:07:55]
Will Terry: For his first show he printed 1000 of each print, 23 different pints, so 23,000 prints total. He couldn’t even fit all his inventory in his car. Printing alone cost him $5,000 USD. He figured he would be showing at a lot of conventions so he was offsetting the cost. At his first show he only made $1,500 USD. After that he was pretty nervous. But luckily he was able to make it up over time, but it was scary after that first show.
Lee White: At his first show he sold an original, but didn’t bring any bags. So had to give the customer his original art in a trash bag. At a different show, Lee was busy setting up his booth, running to and from his car. When he was almost finished he realized the fanny pack he kept all his money in ($3,000 from his last art fair) had been open the whole time. Almost all his money flew into the wind before the art fair even started.
Jake Parker: At a show in 2018, one of his tables was set up against and facing the wall. So he moved the table. Luckily no one told him to move it back even though it was obviously extending further out than anyone else’s. Also at that convention he had made a display structure out of foam core to hang prints. It kept falling over and he had to keep taping it. Overall it was just bad presentation.
You have to learn convention etiquette. Watch out for ‘booth barnacles,’ they are attendees who stay for way too long and get in the way of making other sells. Jake has a polite way to remove booth barnacles. He waits for an opening in the conversation and sticks out his hand and says “It was so nice to meet you thanks for coming.” After that they usually leave.
Also don’t just bring your portfolio to show and expect artists to review it. Always ask if there is a time to show them, don’t just assume. A good way to get a very quick and honest critique is to ask “what is the one main thing I should change in my portfolio?”
For more information on critques listen to [Episode 10: Critiques] (https://www.svslearn.com/3pointperspectiveblog/2018/8/8/episode-10-critiques)
Jake Parker: mrjakeparker.com. Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44
Will Terry: willterry.com. Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt
Lee White: leewhiteillustration.comInstagram: @leewhiteillo
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