Artist Alley 101

This will be part of an ongoing talk about selling in an AA. I have a unique perspective in that I don’t sell traditional art. For those of you new to the blog – I create and sell buttons primarily with text or doodles on them – and I’m known more for my wit and humor than my art skills.

Despite (or because of) that, there are many tips and tricks that I’ve learned that I think hold true no matter what you’re selling. I’ve also got over 5 years behind me, and have made friends with a variety of artists along the way, and gotten feedback and tips from them as well. Hopefully some of it will be useful to you!

The absolute first rule is VISIT AN AA! This is the best way to get a good idea of what you’re getting into. Don’t hesitate to ask artists questions about selling – while they might not tell you financial details, most will talk about expenses, hours worked (both before and at the convention), tips for success and how long they’ve been selling. If you’ve never seriously considered everything that goes into SELLING while actually in an AA, then you’ll see it with new eyes. Just thinking “I bet I could make money too” and not doing the research will bite you hard.

Remember – the rules for an Artist Alley differ from place to place. Always check first with the organizer to see what restrictions there are before getting a pile of items made. Some locations also require a seller’s permit – which is a free form available from that state’s government site which outlines the rules and tax regulations for selling. Remember – even if the convention itself does not require one – income you get from convention sales should be reported each year on your taxes. Consult a professional for details. :)

Now then, I’m going to jump in and presume that you’ve done the above, and already have an idea of WHAT you want to sell. Be it prints, commissions, bookmarks, stickers, tchotchkes, whatever – you already have it ready to go at least in your head.

Research – As I said above – research how an artists’ alley works in general and specifically at the convention you want to attend. Get to know what is typically desired (showing up at a sci-fi convention with nothing sci-fi will have you and your customers confused!) both in subject matter and type of product.

List out a rough estimate of costs. Hotel, gas, food, badge/table, and your merchandise for example, all need to be considered. Most conventions have a no refund policy on both the table and the badges – so don’t get caught short and have to cancel at the last minute and lose your investment.

Prep – There’s a lot that goes into just getting READY for a convention. Being unprepared is the most common downfall of any new artist. I suggest creating a checklist – both for prep work and packing – and revising it as needed every time you go.

Merch Prep: Don’t underestimate how much time it takes to get things done. Whatever you’re selling, it takes time to get it all together and ready for sale. If you’re doing prints – leave time to have them printed and make sure every one looks good. If you’re hand making an item – how long does it take per item? How many do you think you’ll need?

Money Prep: You’ll need to bring some for change – and it’s hard to bring too much change! I’ve had customers come up with a $50 for a $1 item. Don’t get caught short. Go to the bank, they can give you set bundles of cash ($50 in ones for example) easily. Write down how much you have with you, so you can figure out how much you made at the end of the day. Make sure you have a secure place to put your money too. A locking money box is best, and keep it out of sight.

Inventory – Always keep an accurate inventory of your product(s). This will be especially important if you plan on selling more than once a year. It helps you gauge your sales without having to keep a detailed receipt book at the table, and quickly lets you see what was most or least popular. Do a full inventory before you leave, and after you come home.

Don’t be afraid to sell out! By that, I mean don’t print/draw/make so many of each item that you put yourself short on cash your first convention. It’s hard for even veterans to know what will sell the best, and a first timer can easily go overboard and bring way more than they need. If you completely sell out of something – be happy!

That said, try not to take so little that you’ve got nothing to sell after the first hour. Get an idea of how many people attend the convention you’re going to, and plan accordingly. If possible, bring materials to make more over the weekend, or take note of local print shops.

Pricing – Make sure you come prepared with an idea of what you want to price your items, but be flexible. Have some kind of sign available (and extra paper to make a new one) clearly showing your pricing for each type of item, and you may even want to put prices right on the items when possible. If after arriving you find that you’re priced too high or low, make a new sign. Don’t cross out and write in a new price, as this makes it look like you’re not confident in your art.

Showmanship – Half of the challenge is just getting people to stop and LOOK at your art. Having a nicely laid out table goes a long way in this.

Bring a tablecloth of some sort, so that your booth has a splash of color against everyone else. Sometimes the tables don’t even have a covering, so this can be a requirement more than a nicety.

Display your artwork as much as possible. A single binder on the table to flip through is nice, but if you can have multiple examples out in the open it increases the odds that someone will see a character that appeals to them. Most places are ok with having some sort of upward structure for holding prints / objects, something I’ll discuss in my next post.

It’s also a good idea to do a “test run” – mark out a similar sized space and decide how you want everything to fit / be laid out. Ask for opinions from friends and family.

Up next: Setting up! Getting your stuff there, and displayed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *