I get a lot of questions about conventions and how to deal at them, as well as a bunch about other things, so I figured I'd finally write up a little FAQ to try and help people out! I wish I'd had something like this back when I'd started selling at cons! Be warned though that even though I've been attending conventions for years now, I'm still learning! I change things every year to suit my stall. I'm sure someday I'll get it right. Maybe.
What sells best at conventions? This is the most commonly asked question, and there's no black and white answer I'm afraid! From my experience, originals don't sell very well. Originals tend to be more expensive and people at conventions would rather get more bang for their buck, so they opt for cheaper prints. That said, ACEO 'sketch cards' are becoming very popular to sell, as they're original (and thus, unique) pieces of art that are also affordable. Small sketches and things can also work, but generally your best bet is to stick with prints - either regular paper (A4 or similar) sized, mini prints (postcard sized) or posters (A3 and larger).
People also like trinkets and small tangible things they can take away cheaply; badges (I highly recommend Awesome Merchandise!), bookmarks, charms and stickers are all really good for smaller goodies to stock (though in my personal experience, stickers aren't all that popular.) Badges sell well in sets - so far I've sold Cutie Marks, Bioshock Vigors and Portal 'Personality Core' badges in sets as opposed to individually and they've all done really well.
Sketch commissions/cosplay commissions/art created at the con is also really popular, but I can't talk much about that because I actually don't offer commissions at conventions (aside from Confuzzled, and I might branch into ACEO commissions at smaller conventions if I can manage it).
So, what do I take aside from my art? Aha, this catches people out sometimes, myself included! I've gone all the way to a convention before and then realised I didn't have my float, resulting in a scramble begging my friend to go to the bank to get some! So, top of the list is definitely:
Float! This is a cash box of change. There have been plenty of times where I've had somebody pay for a 50p badge with a £20 note! When this happens first thing in the morning, it can be awful! For the larger conventions, I usually bring about £100 in rounded numbers (£5 notes, £1 coins and 50ps). I don't sell anything for a smaller increment than 50p so there's no reason to bring 10ps and 20ps. For the smaller conventions, usually £50 or £30 as a float is fine.
Tablecloth. A lot of conventions do not offer their own table cover, so you end up rocking the 'rustic' wooden table look at the convention if you forget yours. Not good! A big long tablecloth is also handy for hiding under the table, where you store all your rubbish, cases and goodies. You want to try and look as professional as possible, so you really don't want all that on show. I have two long pieces of fabric stitched together for my tablecloth (pink and cute and full of cartoon cupcakes!) but I've known people opt for old duvets. Whatever works and fits your table's theme, really!
Bags, plastic wallets and elastic bands! Bags for putting prints in, plastic wallets for storing prints in and keeping them safe, and elastic bands for rolled up posters. Easy!
Business cards. Don't spend a lot of money on these. Sure, it's nice to have gorgeous quality, thick cards with rounded corners, but the majority of business cards at conventions get thrown away or dropped somewhere. Best to have something simple and cheap with your name, email, website and DeviantART / Tumblr etc, that way anyone who does want to look you up will have a way of doing so, and you're not losing much if they end up in a bin somewhere.
Pens, pencils, paper, sticky notes. You need to write up prices. I cannot stress this enough. Have prices on the table. Clear. Next to all prints. People don't like to ask how much something is in case it's too much for them and they feel awkward. Use paper, card, stickers, sticky notes, whatever, but get your prices on display! You'll also need to write things down for people, for yourself, sign prints (which is awkward with glossy paper, so bring a sharpie). If you're offering table commissions, you'll need your own art supplies too, obviously!.
So how do I store it all and sort it all? You tell me! I still haven't mastered this. I've broken two suitcases transporting heavy prints to and from conventions (my latest was an expensive heavy duty case and the wheel literally melted under the strain.) My current technique is:
A4 ring binders full of prints. I currently have three, divided by topic (one for pony art, one for TF2/Valve and one for everything else.) Every print is stored individually in a plastic wallet which I simply take out and give to people. A good ballpark figure I used to use was "10 of every print", but I'm starting to up it to about 20 because I hate selling out! If I'm attending a larger convention (MCM Expo, BUCK, etc.) I'll make a point of printing more. If a print is old or doesn't seem to sell anymore, I'll only print a few. It's all experimentation, trial and error, blood, sweat and tears.
I have a large A3 display folder I use for holding poster sized prints. These I simply remove and roll into a tube with an elastic band. Because these are more expensive and larger to store, not to mention more expensive to print (and more awkward to print, at that!) I don't have so many of them, unless I figure it'll be really popular.
I keep them all in the suitcase I brought them in, and keep that under the table. It can be a real scrabble and things get very mixed up! One of my ring binders is breaking too so usually I end up with prints flying everywhere. At the busier conventions (MCM Expo, mainly) I can't do it on my own, so I'm extremely thankful to my wonderful friends and boyfriend for helping me out. I dread to think how much of a flap I'd end up in if I didn't have helpers!
And how do I display it all? Any way you like! These days I have so many prints, I don't really get to make my table look 'pretty' anymore. I've even resorted to the one thing I always swore I wouldn't do - I now have a folder on my table full of prints for people to flip through. I never wanted to do that because, in my opinion, people should be able to glance over a table and see everything available in one swoop. Oh, well. Like I said earlier, I'm still learning!
At larger conventions, I use wire cube storage grids like these to provide display walls. They're handy because you can use as many or few as you like, and shape them to suit your table. As you can see below, I end up using every inch of space!
Edit November 2015: - As I said, my methods are always changing as I'm still learning! This year I decided to ditch the wire frames for these new black 'frames' instead, which are found by searching for 'shoe cubes' on Amazon! They're way lighter and, more importantly, they look so much nicer! You can attach the art by blu-tac and they come in different sizes to suit different table needs!
I'm super happy with my new little "booth" look, and these frames fit portrait A4 prints so perfectly! I'll put any landscape art in folders or on the table in future, and probably use the four square frames (on the top middle and bottom middle) for displaying my name or something!
In the past,I 'd use plastic display stands at smaller conventions, but now I just haul the wire frames to them all.Display Pro is my company of choice for these, I've purchased many from their eBay store in the past! They come in all sizes and make your art look really nice. I think it's very important to have a vertical display. If your stuff is just flat on the table, it's not going to be eye catching. Like I said before, you need people to sweep a glance over your table and immediately see something that interests them! Conventions are busy, manic places. You might only get one shot to hook people in, so don't miss out!
Which leads me to one other point I'd really like to make...
Dealing with customers I have been a customer at many conventions, and I have been a dealer at many conventions, too. You know what? I usually hate walking around convention stalls, because people can be so pushy and obnoxious. I've literally had people shout at me, imploring me to come over to their table. I wouldn't say I had many social anxieties at all, but I just plain don't like it. I want to be able to look at someone's art or comic without being given the hard sell. I end up avoiding eye contact and shuffling past tables I'd love to look at, for fear of being pressured. I'd much rather be able to look at things in my own time and ask questions if I have any. I know a lot of people feel the same.
As a result, I think I'm friendly and approachable at my table without being pushy. If you guys want to buy my stuff, I'm most certainly not going to say no, but I never call over to people or push my work in their faces. If someone seems interested in, say, a Bioshock related print, I may show them another I have for sale, but if they don't want to buy it, I don't beg them to. Part of the appeal of having fanart on a table isn't to make money, but to meet other fans of the properties. I only draw from things I love (I'll never draw a piece to just 'sell out', or just because I know it'll make money) so when people come to my table, I know we have something awesome in common! It makes chatting to people easy and fun without any pressure involved. I don't mind if you don't buy my prints, I certainly wont ask you to. If you simply want to have a look at my table and enjoy it, awesome! The amount of people who simply walk past, but giggle or grin at something they've seen on my table is incredible. The fact my silly drawings can have that reaction is all I want, really. I don't do the 'hard sell'.
There is a huge balance between "being pushy and open" and "being sullen and quiet", though. So many people sit behind their tables and don't say a word to anyone. Even if you're busy with an art commission, you can still be chatty and friendly! At Confuzzled 2013, I spent so long chatting to people I ended up getting really behind with my ACEO commissions, but it was worth it! I got everything done in time in the end, and made a bunch of new friends in the process!
I think the bottom line is, be yourself and be friendly. Don't be pushy, and approach people only who look open to approaching! At conventions it's very easy to fangirl over somebody's t-shirt or cosplay, but a simple 'hello' is often enough!
What do you use to paint digitally? I've had a Wacom Graphire, then upgraded to an Intuos which died, so I was given a Bamboo Touch (I never used the 'touch' part). The majority of my paintings were done with the Bamboo! It's an awesome little tablet and ample, really.
However, I also treated myself to aYiynova MSP19U. It's a screen tablet like Wacom's Cintiq, only a fraction of the price. I had a play around on the Cintiqs at MCM Expo and absolutely fell in love with them, but it broke my heart to pay so much. After doing a lot of research, I discovered this Yiynova. Without so much as a single bad review, most people who used one compared it very favorably to a Cintiq and I have to say, having had mine for a few months now, I wouldn't be without it! Everything just seems so much smoother and faster with it, my creativity is up tenfold. The biggest drawback is that it gets SO hot. My room is small and with two PCs and three screens (I run the Yiynova off the laptop), it just gets a little too warm in here. Oh, well. Small price to pay, I guess!
Word of warning though, though I've no personal experience of it, I hear there are major conflicts between Wacom and Yiynova drivers. It never affected me because I'm running it off my laptop which I removed all my previous Wacom drivers for, but it's worth noting. If you want a Yiynova to work, get rid of your Wacom drivers! They're never going to be friends.
What software do you use? I paint almost exclusively in Paint Tool Sai. I can't speak too highly about it. It is seriously the smoothest, nicest, cleanest program I've found. It's also cheap enough to actually buy! I edit (resize, add text, do minor manipulations) in Photoshop CS5. I used to paint in Photoshop until I found Sai, though. It was nice enough, but I just like Sai so much more.
Where do you get your art printed? I do it all myself! It's seriously the worst part about convention dealing, haha. I used to have a Brother MFC-6490CW printer/scanner which allows printing up to A3, and I use HP Inkjet Photo Paper. I had a bad experience years ago with sending files to an external printer (horribly badly cropped art) so I'd rather do it all myself. It's time consuming, and often makes me want to pull my hair out, but in the end it's worth it.
I found the Brother printer started being a problem with colour accuracy, prints sometimes faded and it eventually blocked up beyond repair. Nowadays I use an Epson R2000 with Epson brand ink, which is archival quality, waterproof, and designed to last decades without fading.
What about real media? I have been known to create real media artwork! For ACEO 'Sketch Cards' I use thick Bristol Board and markers, with some pencil for highlights and shadows. For anything else I use a mixture of markers (mainly Letraset Promarkers, but I also have Copics, Trias, Prismacolours and even Magic Markers) watercolour paints, watercolour pencils, Karisma pencils, Staedtker pigment fineliners, pastels and the kitchen sink.
Other Amazingly Relevant Questions
RED or BLU? RED all the way!
Favourite Mercenary? Sniper and Medic, though I'd love to go have a pint with the Engie. I think he'd be great for drinking and BBQs and philosophical discussions.
Best Pony? Gotta be my main girl Rarity.
Noxus or Demacia? Piltover. Please.
Exile or Dominion? I play a steely souled Chua, but my hippie heart lies with the Exiles. Sorry, Dommies!
Got a question about going to conventions? Or anything else, for that matter? Don't hesitate to contact me!