How I Leveled Up My Convention Setup
My very first convention was C2E2 2014 and I had exactly eight — that’s right, eight — illustrations displayed on a half table. I sold my prints for $10 each or two for $15. I designed an Infinity coin as a pull to get people to look at my work, which was mainly fan art at the time. 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 made all my expenses and about $400 profit. 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 of this, 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.
I would go on to upgrade my display over and over. I focused mainly on fan art, still, and getting my style out there. The goal was to get people to like my art while slowly working on my own series, Ancient Ones. I would incorporate these pieces into the fan art, eventually getting rid of the fan art and going 100 percent original art. That was an amazing day for me. It’s a great feeling to create your own personal work and see people love it.
I signed, boarded and bagged all the art in advance. I found that signing on the spot and bagging took time away from other customers waiting to purchase your work. I tend to sign everything, minus the playmats these days. Bagging and boarding shows the customer you care about the work and it’s free advertising if they’re walking around with it, versus rolling it into a tube.
For your very first show, you don’t have to go all out. Figure out what you can afford to start and stick with that. This image is basically a backdrop built from $20 worth of PVC piping from a hardware store plus magnets to hold the prints to the black curtain. This whole setup cost 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. This was my third show.
This is my first big boy banner! It’s one giant printout of my artwork, versus the PVC pipe display. This goes up in less than a minute and I used to 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. This was my fifth show.
I realized that at shows, people don’t always want to approach the table; they may be shy or have social anxiety, or maybe they think if they approach, they would be pressured to make a purchase.
In order to get eyes on the art, you have to see it up close and from a distance. So you can see I have work hanging in front of the table, standing on the table, and behind me. The more angles you can get on your work the better. That’s why snagging a corner table when you can gives you a great advantage, if you can afford it (Corners tend to cost a little more).
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, the table itself that has two steps and Flourish panels and banners behind me.
- I bag and board all my work. I order crystal clear protective closure bags from Clearbags and Chipboard Pads(boards) from Uline.
- Have your work on display behind you, either a banner or hanging artwork. I use Flourish panels to hang all my artwork. They are cheap, affordable, sturdy and easy to travel with. Here’s a link to their site.
- Get a table runner. If not, simply clip or tape work to the front of the table, just get the work on multiple angles.
- Add tablecloths to match your work. My work is space-themed, so black works well. Here are the ones I use.
- I used eSigns to order my banner. Here’s a link to them.
- I use display stands to hold up my artwork. Here’s a link to them.
- Invest in some garage mats to stand on. It’s good for your feet and back. These are the ones I use.
- 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 always vet more sales. You can snag one here.
- Learn the The 80/20 Rule. Tim Ferriss Mentor Lesson: The 80/20 Principle
Finally, this is how I leveled up my convention setup, but things may go different or much faster for you. I wrote this article as a starting off point to show that it’s possible. I’ve got more than 50 shows under my belt and I’ve been doing conventions for four years now. So hopefully something I’ve learned can help you at your show.
If you have any questions I’m always available. You can find me on multiple social media outlets.