We’ve talked a lot in this series about what you need to know before you hit the road and try to start selling your art at comic book conventions. In this installment we’ll talk about what you’re going to need, the basics, to prepare you for success at shows.
Obviously, the most important thing that you’ll need to have with you is your art. Two things sell at shows more than anything else for artists, original art and prints. For original art, just bring what you’re comfortable doing. That’s pretty simple. For prints, it’s pretty simple also. Most artists in the alley print their work at 11×17. This is generally because it’s the size that most comic book artists work on, so it’s just natural to print your work that size. Some artists go a little bigger or smaller, but don’t outsmart yourself on this one. If it’s good enough for almost everybody, it’s good enough for you. I use LithoNinja for my prints, and I’ve always had good results from them. I recommend finding a local printer so that you can avoid shipping, but if you’re going to have to pay for shipping anyway, I recommend my printer. Also, this is a good time to say that nobody is going to be perfect. Printers make mistakes sometimes, just like you do. If they mess up an order every now and then, don’t go blasting them all over your facebook page because you think that they have to be perfect for you. Nobody is. When they screw up, be professional with them and they will appreciate your continued business. Business is easier when you build good relationships. Occasionally, when you’re a little late on your bill, your printer will likely be a lot more patient with you if you’ve been patient with them.
Don’t go crazy with your ordering. If you are starting out with the 48 pieces of art I suggested, for most of them you never really need more than 5 each. Your better sellers you’ll need 10, and for your flagship piece you’ll need 15 at most. We’ll talk more later about inventory management, but for now, just keep in mind that you need a modest order.
You want to make an impact, but you also want to be practical. Right now, for most shows, I am using a small Cowboy Studio rig and 4 econolight banners.
A Cowboy Studio rig is generally used to hang a backdrop for a photo shoot. You can generally find them on Amazon, and they’re fairly inexpensive. As of this post, that Amazon link takes you to a listing to buy one for just $40. Cowboy Studios are lightweight, and they’re easy to use. Sometimes they come with clamps to secure your backdrop, but I use over-sized binder clips for mine. For your display, I personally recommend getting some econolight banners from Bannerworld. I got mine printed at 2’x7′, and they were only $28 each. The reason I chose to get my banners printed at 2 feet wide each is that convention tables vary in size. About half of the shows you attend will give you an 8 foot table, and the other half will give you a 6 foot table. If you get 4 banners printed, you bring 3 when you have a small table, and 4 when you have a large one. What you get on your banners is up to you, but typically, it’s considered a good idea to display your work at actual size. People are used to a menu sort of set up, so you’ll make it easy for them when you display it at the size they’ll be buying. The good thing about purchasing the econolight banners is that they are lightweight, and they’re practically disposable at that price. If you pay double that or more, it will be much harder for you to justify updating your display when you have new work, but you should always keep a current display, so make it work for you.
For your table, I personally recommend a black cover. It makes your work pop more, and black hides more scuffs and stains. I don’t buy expensive table cloths. I just go to Walmart and buy a twin bed sheet, generally for less than $5. Also, get two of them. Most conventions lock the room up overnight, so you don’t need to worry about packing up every day. Just throw a cover over your table, and save yourself the trouble.
I recommend getting yourself a pair of spinner suitcases, hard shell. Since spinner suitcases use 4 wheels instead of 2, those wheels are going to last a lot longer. Paper is heavy. If you get cheap suitcases, your going to have to buy a lot of them. The set of three that you see in my example is a good buy. Here’s how it breaks down for you: Your small spinner is for your art. If you have a regulation sized spinner, and you go for 11×17 prints, a box of prints will fit perfectly inside your small spinner.
Airlines don’t weigh carry on luggage (typically) so if you stack the box with prints, business cards and fliers, it won’t matter how heavy it gets. Your middle sized suitcase should be for your clothing and other personal items. Bring only what you need, but you want to be presentable, so don’t leave out anything important. Your third and largest spinner, if you’re following my advice, will hold your cowboy studio and banners, your table covers, your original art, and anything else you’re going to display on your table. If you can get all of that and your personal items into the large spinner, then good for you, but honestly, if you can’t justify paying $60 to check two bags, then should you really be flying to a show? Being prepared is better than being frugal. Be practical, but smart.
To display your art, I recommend Itoya portfolios. Any portfolio you buy is going to get destroyed by attendees fairly quickly, so just get something nice but inexpensive. I get all of mine from CarpeDiem. They have good prices. That’s pretty simple. You should also get a couple of inexpensive easels for your table to display a couple of your best prints with. This will help you show attendees what you consider to be your marquee pieces, which will help you dictate what sells, which you want to do.
Your art supplies
Don’t over think the supplies that your bring to shows. There’s a reason why if you google “convention sketch” nearly everything that you find is just line art, or at best colored in gray tones. If you’re doing a hometown show, bring everything that you’ve got. If you’re traveling, then be smart. People who want convention sketches are used to black and white. As far as your stock, bring what you’re comfortable drawing on. I recommend bringing some sketch cards, because you can finish those quickly and sell them for a good price. Also, bring a few blank sketch covers. You generally can get them for $5 or less, and people these days are more inclined to snag a sketch if it’s on an official cover.
To break all of this down, if you re going into this with nothing, you can expect to need to spend around $500 to get started, assuming you buy what I’ve recommended from where I suggest. I can’t stress enough that if that sounds intimidating to you, then you’re probably not ready for this. If your work is good enough, and you are a hard worker, then you should be able to make back that $500 on your first show. It’s easier than you think.
As always, if you have any questions about anything, feel free to fill out my contact form, or find me on my facebook page. Thanks for reading, I hope this helps you.