Sean was a panelist at Snake River Fandom Con 2018
This was one of his panels, along with Adrian Ropp and Brittany Lindstrom
Nerdds like nerdy stuff. And we know where to go to find nerdy stuff and nerdier people. Thats right,
ComicCon Comic Conventions! If I could go to conventions as much as I wanted, I would probably be there like 40 weekends out of the year. Well, some people have figured out a financially stable way to go to this many conventions, and that’s to be a Con Artist! By this I obviously mean Convention artist!
When you go to your local Con, you might walk the Vendor Floor, go to some panels, dress up in Cosplay, and get an autograph/photo from a celebrity or actor.
Some people forget that there is a whole ‘nother part of the vendor floor that isn’t comics, collectibles, or new pieces for your next cosplay. There is Artist Alley. Rows upon rows of artists, local or not, who have essentially become so good at fan art that they are able to sell it and make a living off of those sales.
Here is a piece I have bought at my local con, that I featured in a previous article, Why Captain America Is My Role Model.
It was something I saw as I was walking down Artist Alley, and I knew that I had to have it on my wall at home. Not only that, but it was worth me paying money for. It was a print, so nothing one of a kind in the sense that I have the only copy, but because this came out of the mind of a fan, as opposed to a Marvel employee, it is something that I feel is still unique to my home.
Why Would You Become a Con Artist?
So lets say you are a fan of some nerdy stuff (not a stretch if you are reading The Nerdd), and you are told you are artistically talented. Let’s ignore the possibility that you don’t think you are, because that could be from Imposter Syndrome, which is an article for a later date.
So you make fan art, maybe of some (relation)Ships you wish were canon, Alternate Universes where characters are faced with situations that are impossible in their story, or even just some cool head/body shots where you get a cool version of that character.
If this is something you want to do as your career, being a Con Artist might be the best place to start. Mainly because you don’t have anyone to answer to. The convention doesn’t care if you show up with only two photos, or don’t even come at all. As long as you have paid for your table in time, you only are held accountable to yourself. Yes, that is also stressful for entirely different reasons, but the point is that you have the lowest barrier to entry. You don’t have to prove your worth to anyone before the convention, you just have to pay the fees. Warning: Fees can range from $120-$450. Do research for your local con.
This is your chance to prove yourself, and see if you have the talent that Mom says you do. You can put your art out in front of people who are usually in a spending mindset already. Not only that, but instead of the internet where they have to find you, you are physically where they are, so they can literally walk up to you, and pay you right then and there.
Perhaps you aren’t completely sold on doing art for a living, you only have to sign up for one convention. A single, three day event, and if it doesn’t work, you never have to do it again. You aren’t bound to any long term agreement, or feel like you are letting down an employer if you try it and find out you don’t like it. This might be the smallest investment you can make for a rapid-fire experiment.
How Do You Become a Con Artist?
First of all, look for your local conventions. You might know of one, but I’m willing to bet that there are some you haven’t even heard of that are within an hour of your house. The FanCon circuit is blowing up right now, and new conventions are being born every year in most metropolitan areas. So go to a convention or two, and bring a note pad with you.
You only need to go one day with focus, to find out average price ranges for art that is similar in style/medium/quality as yours. While you are there, try to talk to another artist and ask them some questions you have. If you are nervous, look for someone that currently isn’t helping a potential customer. Don’t worry that you are bothering them, because they spent money for that table, with the specific hope that they get bothered.
Now that you’ve done some research regarding the professional art scene in your area, you are more prepared for your turn. If you want to spend another year making sure you have art that is ready for the same show, that’s fine. If you want to try to get in on another local show happening sooner, that’s fine too.
Whatever convention you choose, go to their website. When you get there, you should be able to either find a “Vendor” part of their site, or send them an e-mail asking them where you can find information about getting space in Artist Alley.
When you sign up, they should give you some information regarding what will be available for you already. How many square feet is dedicated to you, will there be a table, how big, are there curtains separating you from other artists next to/behind you? What also might be some questions you should ask are: “Is electricity available to use, and how much does that cost?” or “Is your ticket to the event included in your table price, and if so, can you add on another for a helper?”
Bring a +1
Speaking of helper, make sure you bring help! This is important for a couple of reasons. First, you are going to need food and bathroom breaks at some point. Someone needs to stay to watch your booth. Also, if you are in the middle of making a transaction or talking to someone about some of your art, you don’t want someone else to walk by, look at your booth, see that you are busy, and walk away. Your helper can wave them down and start talking to them, so that once you are finished helping the first person, the second person is maybe ready to buy!
Don’t forget, even though we are talking a lot about money on this article, because this is a business, you want to make sure you never “Draw for the Dollar”. What I mean is just because something is super popular, doesn’t mean you have to draw it. Yes, Doctor Who is super popular at conventions, but if you just aren’t a fan of Doctor Who, don’t draw it, because you will probably get something wrong, fans won’t want it, and you have wasted that opportunity. Instead, know what you love and draw that. Especially if it’s obscure, and you don’t think that anyone at the Con will understand it. Because I guarantee that at least one person will understand, and now you have the only Kaiketsu Zorro art at the convention (or whatever is your niche).
Can You Just Be a Con Artist?
You can! There are people who just are artists for their yearly local show, there are some who do ones all through their state as well as neighboring states, and there are some who do 40+ shows a year. I’m not saying you should quit your day job tomorrow and go full fledged into being a Con Artist. Start with one, see what kind of profit you make, if any.
Reminder: Making a profit is not guaranteed.
If you do even break even, don’t forget about travel costs, food costs, and money you could have made at your regular job. If you don’t make all of that, that doesn’t mean you should pack up your bags and never do it again. There are so many reasons to come back to a show that you pay for, that don’t necessarily have to do with what you make back financially.
So if it does go well, add on one show at a time, making smart decisions about what to add on to your schedule. The best way, by the way, to know what is a smart decision, is to talk to the artists around you on Artist Alley. Some of them, this is their first year like you, and some of them are going to be the 40+ weeks a year artists. Introduce yourself, ask them for advice. The biggest note I’ve heard, when asking for advice, is When you ask for help, you get advice. When you ask for advice, you get help. So don’t go trying to get something out of someone, just ask for some of their wisdom that you can use.