Thoughts on Artist’s Alley Pt. 1

Since I’ve been doing AA’s for, goodness, 7+ years now, I thought I’d share a few observations –

These are some of the things that I, as an artist and “business person”, have … wait. I need to cover something first. I frequently hear that if you’re in AA you shouldn’t be running a business because that’s what the Dealer’s Room is for. This is a lame argument from people who aren’t getting enough traffic/revenue/positive feedback at their table. That’s my opinion. Deal.

Artist’s Alley exists to PROMOTE and ELEVATE the artist and their work. Presumably, most artists would eventually like to get somewhere with that – be it independently published or tapped to do artwork for a major studio. To get to that point (and notice I said “most” artists – it’s fine if you’re doing this just because you like to draw and have no greater goals) you need to set up a serious business model.

Your art needs to be presented well. You need to have a good solid pricing structure. You need business cards, a web presence for your portfolio, proper tracking of profit and overhead, a name and preferably a good logo. You need to BE professional to BECOME a professional.

Dirk Tiede is a great example of this (plus he’s just a nice guy with a very cool web comic) – his table is very nicely put together – he’s got a clear, easy to navigate website – and he’s on book 3 in his storyline. His books are not through a major retailer – he generates the money needed for a printing by presales. If he were forced into a dealer’s booth, even at the lowest tier, I don’t think he’d manage nearly so many appearances – budget just would not permit.

Sadly, that would mean I wouldn’t have met him, and likely wouldn’t have found his comic let alone own all three books. (I’m a fan, but in no way getting compensated for this little promotion. In fact, I doubt he knows I HAVE a blog. ;) )

He is first and foremost an ARTIST. An artist that is doing well, and rightly so. However, his stuff would be largely overlooked and overwhelmed by the dealer’s booths with their 10 foot tall mobile store fronts. He is and should be in AA when he goes to conventions.

Now, someone who is employed and represented by a company like VIZ, would most likely have their booth costs absorbed by the company as promotional budget. They are often in the Dealer’s Room (if they personally have a booth at all) because they are working on a larger scale than your standard (even well established) artist.

I will grant you this distinction is grey, and often changing, and even subject to variation just between conventions. Something like Comic Con where no matter what booth you have or where you’re at you are fighting for attention – it’s almost a moot point. Artist’s and Dealer’s are almost indistinguishably blurred.

So what about me? Some don’t even think I’m an artist. I don’t draw… okay, I do a mean squirrel, and a pretty good goat head in top hat and monocle (no, really, it was a commission), but I don’t do any traditional drawing. I don’t sell prints. I sell buttons at my table. AWESOME buttons, but to some they’re just buttons.

Personally I think I’m different (and I won’t get into art vs crafts) because there is still unique art/design going into all my buttons. I spend hours tweaking and perfecting each one to get the look I want. Not to mention, each one is made on site. I don’t bring anything pre-assembled. Secondly, I offer custom buttons. In the dealer’s room, I don’t think I could offer that at all. The personal commissions that require lengthy interaction and quiet conversation. Like most artists – if pressed I’d have to stop attending conventions before I could afford a Dealer’s booth.

That would make me sad – and I’d like to think it would upset my customers too. The people who come up year after year, pointing out which one’s they’ve bought before that are pinned to their bag/hat/jacket. The stories of how a friend nearly stole one because it was so cool, or started a conversation between strangers. My art is always on display – and I like that aspect.

To keep going to all the conventions I do – some several hours drive, some several nights stay in hotels – requires a tight monitoring of my finances. I have to at least break even if I’m going to keep doing what I do. My way isn’t the only way, and I do have FUN at the convention. I certainly didn’t break even my first, second, or even third year. It’s been a long time developing my business. Expanding my designs, constantly rotating new ones in, offering new options, doing wholesale products on my website and to other artists. It’s work! But I love it.

So, you could come away from this post as just a lengthy way of justifying my existence in AA – but truly I hope if you thought otherwise, that you’ve reconsidered just what AA is and the great mix of “artists” of all mediums that exist there.

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