Hearing the “starving artist” stereotype gets old, right? Attending conventions is a popular way for artists and designers to make money because of Artist Alley. Whether you’re a con veteran or just starting out, you want to make the most out of every convention you go to.
Before you sign up for an Artist Alley booth, I’ve got 7 tips to help you get the most bang for your buck and to end the weekend with plenty of money in your pocket.
What is Artist Alley?
Artist Alley is the area at a convention where up-and-coming, famous, or amateur artists can display and sell their work, draw sketches, or sell other merchandise. Typically, this area can be found at comic or anime conventions. The space provides an opportunity to network, make a profit, and gain recognition for your work.
At nearly every pop-culture convention, you’ll likely find an Artist Alley. The above image, for example, is a snapshot of Artist Alley at the 2019 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo where a table is $425. Cartoonists and sketch artists aren’t the only ones you’ll find here. Writers, authors, and even professionals gather to meet fans and share their work.
What to Sell at Artist Alley
If you created it, you can sell it. Artist Alley is a place where creatives are encouraged to sell their original work whether that comes in the form of a comic book, t-shirt, or a button. At any artist’s booth, you’ll likely find a combination of these items for sale:
- Drawings or paintings
- Pins and buttons
- Fabric patches
- Books or comics
- Plush toys
While there are endless options to the merchandise you can sell, be sure to check licensing on characters that aren’t original and read the rules of the convention you’re attending. Then, get creative with your art and merchandise to create Artist Alley product ideas that will attract more passers by to your booth!
7 Tips to Make the Most out of Artist Alley
Whether you’re a newbie or a pro, you don’t want to sign up for an Artist Alley booth without a game plan. The more prepared you are, the better your chances are for success. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sell Yourself, then Your Art
There may be people at the convention who have seen your work online or might even own some pieces already. Let your fans get to know you and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself and your accomplishments, and then show attendees some of your newer or lesser-known work. Even if your career is just getting its start, it’s still important to establish your credibility as an artist.
Pro Tip: Don’t let the chatty Kathy take up all your time and attention. If a conversation starts to run long, ask them if they’re interested in buying anything.
2. Maximize Your Booth Space
Think of your booth as your mini store. Making the most out of your Artist Alley booth setup is where you will display all your artwork, and you don’t want it to look lame. Most table packages include the following:
- 6 x 2 ft. table
- 2 chairs
- Garbage can
- Signage with your name and table number
- Vendor badge
Notice that only the bare bones are provided, so it’s up to you to bring the materials that will make your booth stand out. Most importantly, you’ll need some way to display your work like a backdrop or easels. Plan out your booth ahead of time so you arrive prepared to set up.
Pro Tip: Protect your work with clear plastic sleeves or folders. Packaging your prints can add value to them and to the customer. You can also provide shopping bags for people who purchase your work.
3. Utilize Freebies
Convention goers meet a ton of artists and visit even more booths, so freebies are an easy way to draw people in and help them remember you. Put your name, logo, or contact information on the giveaways so people can get in touch with you after the convention is over. Consider useful branded freebies like hand sanitizer, lip balm, or lanyards.
Pro Tip: The chances of a customer buying from you again increases if they easily find you. When someone makes a purchase, consider slipping a business card into their bag with their artwork. That way, when they go to tell their friends about how awesome you are, they have all your info to give out.
4. Consider Taking Commissions
If you plan on taking commissions at Artist Alley, you’ll need to bring some sort of signage that lets people know you’re open to taking on projects. Commissions are a great way to earn profit, but it requires specific planning ahead of time to make sure you don’t spend the entire convention hunched over sketching.
Things you should plan for are:
- What is your pricing structure?
- How big and detailed will the commissions be?
- How long will each commission take to complete?
- Will you be able to do commissions immediately, or will you complete and mail them after the convention?
Pro Tip: Include your prices and examples of the types of commissions you’ll do on your sign. This will help customers decide what they want so you don’t have to answer repetitive questions.
5. Interact with the Public
When you’re at a convention, the worst thing you can do is sit behind your table or spend the entire time sketching. Use Artist Alley as an opportunity to network and catch up with friends in addition to a chance to make some coin. Greet your neighboring booths, find familiar faces, and enjoy yourself! If you’re having a good time, chances are people will notice and want to talk to you.
Pro Tip: In addition to making money, make it your goal to meet printers, publishers, or other artists you can potentially collaborate with. These worthwhile connections can pay off big time in the future.
6. Get Creative for Your Audience
There are so many different conventions you can attend, so be sure to tailor at least some of your artwork toward the show. If you’re going to a Horror show, have some spooky creations, or a painting of a superhero if you’re going to be at Comic Con.
Pro Tip: Consider getting creative by selling your artwork in forms other than print. Artist Sam Flegal had a piece of artwork he created as a print that did not sell well, when he decided to put the print on a small pencil bag, it sold like crazy!
7. Make Taking Payment Easy
Nothing would suck more than losing out on a sale because a customer had a credit card when you only took cash. Being as flexible as possible will help you make more sales. Invest in a cell phone card reader, accept checks, and take cash to make sure anyone who wants to purchase your merchandise can do so!
Pro Tip: If you plan to take cash as a form of payment, you’ll want to wear an apron or a fanny pack to safely keep your money on your person. Consider bringing some change depending on your prices. A good rule of thumb for having change is: 5 tens, 8 fives, and 10 singles.
Is Artist Alley Worth it?
Artist Alley is worth it if you go prepared, energized, and organized. You have to spend money to make money, especially since most standard booths range anywhere from $125-$425 for just the basic space.
The better prepared your setup is, the more likely you’ll be to attract foot traffic that will lead to sales. Have a game plan in mind for your pricing, commissions, and payment options so that you can make the most of your time at the convention!
Your success at Artist Alley is ultimately up to you. Whether you decide to travel to conventions as your primary source of income, or you want to start off with the occasional appearance, you now have the know-how to be profitable. If you make the most of your Artist Alley setup and have clever product ideas, you’ll be ditching the “starving artist” label in no time.
Borrelli, Christopher. (2019 March, 27). At Chicago comic cons and beyond, Artist Alley is a place to network, connect with fans and make money. Retrieved on October 24, 2019, from https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-ent-c2e2-artists-alley-0327-story.html
Pascual Productions. (2018, May 28). A Beginner’s Guide to Artist Alley: What to Bring. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from https://www.pascualproductions.com/blog/2018/1/24/a-beginners-guide-to-artist-alley-what-to-bring-to-artist-alley
Winkler, Mary. (2015, October 9). So you want to be a convention artist? Retrieved October 28, 2019, from https://design.tutsplus.com/articles/so-you-want-to-be-a-convention-artist–cms-24924