The Big Con: Convention Accounts
The Life and Times of the Artist Alley
Almost every convention has a Dealer’s Hall or an Artist Alley. This is where you can buy some of the best swag and merchandise. Maybe you get an art print commissioned from your favorite artist. The Dealer’s Hall and Artist Alley can really add to your convention experience.
Have you ever thought about what their convention experience might be like? I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennally and Kitsunecoffee who were two first time dealers at 221B Con. They discussed what they learned, how to deal with troublesome customers, what actually goes into having a table, and what not to do.
At the time of the interview, two other ladies were in the room with us. One was my best friend Billie who is also an artist. The other was Francine who is the Director of Anime and Animation Programming at MomoCon. Both gave fantastic insight on certain questions.
The following interview does not represent the views of the 221B Con staff. These are the opinions and experiences of two artist who, in Jennally’s words, “…are not involved with the con itself, and we’re hardly professionals.”
Me: I am talking with Jennally and Kitsunecoffee. This was their first time tabling as dealers [at 221B Con]. How is this different?
Kitsunecoffee: It’s different socially. You’re very much used to at a con going around, hanging out with your friends, going to different panels, and walking the dealer’s hall yourself. It’s not surreal, but it is a different experience. You’re not forced to be in one place, but you’re stuck in one place [to sell your merch]. It’s different having people come to you.
Jennally: You’re the person people are seeking. You’re on the other side.
Me: What were you guys selling?
Kitsunecoffee: I was selling handmade chainmail jewelry like earrings and bracelets.
Jennally: I was making custom made [fandom] marshmallows.
Me: Going back to the previous question.
Jennally: I would agree with Kitsunecoffee on the fact that it’s totally different socially, but you also have to think of it as work. It’s very much work. You have to be good with people in order to both understand their questions and what they want.
Kitsunecoffee: I was sharing a table with Bskizzle who I want to give a shout out to since she’s awesome and let me share a table with her. We discovered that you had to put on a face or a presentation. We were talking awkwardly about the things we were into right now like Dragon Age or video games as well as Sherlock. We realized we were scaring people away by being not so much manic but super excited about things that other people weren’t so much interested in. Either they were intimidated or that’s not the reason they came to our table. It is very much like work. You must work on a workplace persona. You want to bring in people so you can sell your things. That is your purpose at the dealer’s hall.
Jennally: I had the opposite experience. I found out that someone put out a mass message on tumblr in all of the tags searching for who was selling the marshmallows. I didn’t know about this until the Homeless Network came up saying, “Someone was looking for your marshmallows last night.”
You have to figure out a pace that works for you. You have to work out pricing that will cover your labor, supplies, and shipping costs.
Me: That’s why I wanted to talk to you both. You were saying you were getting a lot of attitude from customers saying that your prices were too high. I think people need to understand you make everything by hand.
Kitsunecoffee: Pardon me if I curse, but we make this shit. I make this jewelry by hand. I love doing it. It helps me de-stress. For one of my bracelets, it takes me about an hour and a half to make sometimes longer if my pliers aren’t working properly. Part of the reason I’m tabling is so I can buy new supplies for my Etsy store. Probably down the road, my prices will go down.
You have to realize that these chainmail rings cost money to make. These bracelets cost money. These earrings are laser edge scales. They’re not cheap. It’s $3.50 for a bag of ten. [To note, she uses six of them in one pair of earrings.] I had a sticker on there that said they were $14.
Some people were very understanding in their cost being more to make. But some people were like, “That’s really high.” I apologized telling them I wasn’t lowering my prices. I even had one lady pull out one of my bracelets, looked at the price note underneath it, and made this UGH face of like, “That’s too high.”
That’s part of tabling that you have to accept. A lot of people who come to Artist Alley doesn’t understand. Cara [an Atlanta based comic artist who sold art prints at 221B Con] deals with a lot of that. You’re paying not for a sheet of paper with something on it. You’re paying for the labor that went into it, the supplies, and our time.
I think a lot of people are trying to understand that on tumblr especially the young ones. I get it. You don’t have a lot of money. For those a little bit older, please understand that we’re not trying to rip you off. I’m sorry if I’m being ranty.
Jennally: No, it’s something that definitely needs to be said. Somehow, I managed to break even in all of my supplies which was exciting. I was selling marshmallows in a bag for $1 apiece. I thought that would be the easiest way regardless that one recipe batch cost more than the other to make. They kind of evened out in the end. But I had to do this for two weeks, because they take time to set and definitely time to package. I didn’t really have any complaints on my prices. But it was interesting, because people would say, “I really just want the one, but I only have $5. So, I’ll buy five of them.” And okay, that’s fine.
But I think it’s definitely different for the artists that do print art. People don’t realize that this is art. It’s not something you can make, and it’s tangible. This is something that someone put time and effort into to create.
Me: Have you ever been on an art livestream? It takes hours to do one picture. My buddy Crazyk-C does little fun sketches, but it still takes an hour to do a quick sketch. It takes time.
Billie: I think a lot of it is now that art is done digitally, it’s really easy for anyone to get online and copy it. They could just print out their own. That’s why prints are high. Otherwise, they will never make money off of it.
Kitsunecoffee: One thing I learned when I tried to print a book cover for a Dragon Age thing is that printing these things at Kinko’s is expensive!
Everyone: Agrees. One of us says it’s a shit ton of money.
Kitsunecoffee: You want to make even on this. For those who are like, “Why does this sheet of paper with reproduced artwork cost $10-12,” that’s why. Bskizzle had to deal with that. I think one person was waffling on the price. Then someone came up afterward saying the price was fair and wanted all of her art.
Even with postcards or stickers, it’s not about the size. Everything involved with the process costs money.
Me: I remember being in school with my costume design class that we were constantly printing things at Staples. For one project, it could cost $20 with the cheap paper. Really nice paper with gloss finish is super expensive.
Kitsunecoffee: It’s not just prints either. The booth next to us had these great pendants with pictures on them. People would ask her if they could take a picture of them. That was another thing. She would say that if the customer was putting [the picture] on tumblr, they had to zoom out and they had to tag her in it. If they were just texting it to a friend, that’s fine. However, she still wanted distance in the photo. It kept them from copying her work and printing it or claiming [the pictures] as their own work. People have in the past zoomed in on artwork to reproduce it as their own later or print it out for free.
Billie: People complain online about watermarks on artwork. Artists need that watermark!
Kitsunecoffee: Sadly, watermarks aren’t even cutting it anymore. People are still finding ways to get around that.
Me: This is our job. Not to sound like a poor, starving artist, but this is how we all make our living. This is how we eat and pay bills.
Kitsunecoffee: For those who are interested in tabling, go ahead and do it. It is a lot of fun. Even if you don’t do well business wise, you’ll make a lot of cool friends. But bottom line, it is work. You have to be confident about what you’re selling. You must know about it. Though, you can’t go, “Yeah, I know I’m fucking great,” because that’s not cool either. You have to be confident in yourself, and you can’t be discouraged if people won’t pay $20 for your merch.
There would be people who would be interested in Bskizzle’s art. Then they would see me but then go right back to her art. So they weren’t interested in earrings! That’s alright. Someone will be. If I make money, I do. If I don’t, I don’t.
Me: Like me! I love my Winter Soldier earrings!
Kitsunecoffee: You’re welcome! Thank you for the sandwich! [I bought Kitsunecoffee a sandwich earlier in the day to trade for my earrings]
Me: That’s always fun too! Doing trades.
Kitsunecoffee: That’s another thing that you’ll learn too. You build a comradery among other dealers. For example, I’m giving everyone cookies tomorrow. Not because I want their stuff, but because I want to. “You have all worked hard! Have some cookies!” Curly [from the Baker Street Babes] had given me one of her Dragon Age candles. I gave to her some of my earrings as thanks.
Anyway, you have to understand that you’re going to make money or you’re not. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t break even. Our friend Jackie Lewis said she’s been to some cons where she made a loss. Cara said when she started out she had a loss. Jennally?
Jennally: No, you’re doing great! You’re saying everything I was going to say!
Me: I find tabling such an interesting thing. I was thinking about it last year. That’s why I interviewed Chris Schweizer and Grace [You can hear my interview with them last year here at the 1:25:35 mark]. Because I was like, “You guys are sitting here for a very long time.”
Kitsunecoffee: It’s exhausting!
Jennally: Nine hours, just to let you know. Nine hours.
Me: When I was working at a different comic store, we were tabling for a day at a convention. I remember the feeling that I really wanted to go see the con. I was sad I was missing the entire event. I can’t even imagine doing that three days in a row.
Kitsunecoffee: Like I said, it’s a little surreal. This is my third year at 221B Con, so it was nice to have a different experience. I have actually met more people this way. I have seven new contacts on my phone. There’s one girl we call Mary Poppins who offered to watch our table when we got a little stir crazy.
Then there were other people like Traumachu. I know last year Bskizzle and I, well, didn’t necessarily have a pop up shop. It was more that Bskizzle and I didn’t know what to do. I understand now there are policies about pop up shops. Anyway, I was selling cookies. If I didn’t make money, I was going to give them away. Traumachu was nice enough to share her table with us. I realized how much fun it was to table. This year, we returned the favor by offering our table to her when she couldn’t get one.
Jennally: She ended up sharing our table, because our merch wasn’t covering the entire thing. We wanted to help her out, since she’s always been nice to many artists in the past.
Me: Does it cost anything to get a table?
Kitsunecoffee: It was $75 for us plus a small fee for dealers badges and taxes. For 221B Con, this is very cheap.
Jennally: SUPER cheap compared to other cons.
Kitsunecoffee: I know for HeroesCon in North Carolina, which is awesome and you should go-
Me: I want to go so bad!
Kitsunecoffee: You should! Matt Fraction goes every year! It is about $220 per table, and they’re the same sized tables as here at 221B Con. I’ve been to [San Diego] Comic Con three years in a row. If you go, great. If you don’t, you’re not missing much. It’s crazy and not as cool as everyone makes it out to be. To table there, it can be up to $1000 per table for the same size as 221B Con’s tables.
Jennally: But you also have to think that the volume of this con is way smaller than the others. It’s also a specialized con. This is centered around Sherlock Holmes, and while not everyone has all Sherlock Holmes merch all the time-
Me: Like all the Bucky Barnes stuff that I bought today!
Jennally: I know! People are allowed to have other interests. I think the main thing about it is they pick and choose. That is one thing that I will say about this year’s dealer’s room. There’s such a variety of good merch. Some of it I think is a little ridiculous for the table space they have and the little merch they have to go on it. But, you know, it’s their prerogative. I like that they separated all the similar artists. Not all of the art is in one row. Not all the jewelry is together. It’s separated so customers don’t go, “Oh I saw this thing cheaper next door.” There’s not so much of a fight over items.
Kitsunecoffee: I know that this is my first year tabling, and my display looks super sad.
Me: It’s not sad!
Jennally: I think it looks really good for what you’re selling. You have to think that your stuff doesn’t need the height and space that everyone else does. You don’t need any little jewelry racks or something. I think how you have them displayed is fine.
Kitsunecoffee: Thank you. It seemed a bit excessive to have giant racks with hundreds of options.
Jennally: Keep in mind that those are probably people who go to every convention.
Kitsunecoffee: That’s a good point.
Jennally: They probably have a back stock of all of their things, and they continue to make them to replenish their stock so they can go from shop to shop to shop. You have to think about their target customers. There are some dealers who are businesses.
Kitsunecoffee: One thing I wanted to talk about with dealers and how selective they were, there was a good and a bad about the selection. I think it has to do with the size of the con, how big it’s become, and the hotel. That’s an issue now. A lot of people do want to be vendors. I noticed there are a lot more tables this year, which I’m super happy about.
Jennally: Are there?
Kitsunecoffee: It feels like it. Maybe there aren’t.
Billie: There’s the ones out in the hallway.
Jennally: Those aren’t really dealers.
Me: Those are more promotions for other conventions and groups.
Kitsunecoffee: There is one lady doing henna tattoos which is cool.
Jennally: Those are more like when you go to an anime con, and there’s tables promoting other conventions. There are one or two tables out there selling stuff which is cool.
Me: I think where the new lounge is this year with the Tardis and stuff would make a great area for the dealer’s room.
Kitsunecoffee: That would make a great room!
Jennally: I haven’t even been in there yet.
Kitsunecoffee: It would be cool to have the dealer’s hall there. There’s a lot more space for the artists who couldn’t get tables. I mentioned earlier about having a pop up shop last year. [This year] I would check tumblr in my slow periods. I saw a few instances of pop up shops being closed down.
Me: The policy of this convention is because the dealers pay for their table, you cannot have dealer shops in your room.
Jennally: It’s the hotel’s policy.
Me: It’s the hotel’s policy, but also one for the convention too.
Jennally: It’s the more pressing matter that you can be kicked out of the hotel.
Kitsunecoffee: The first year [of 221B Con] we were in a different hotel. The con was more lenient, because they understood the dealer’s hall was much smaller.
Me: I remember in the first one, a few artists set up for the night of the tea party.
Kitsunecoffee: Yeah! It was for people who didn’t get a table. Last year though [for the pop up shops], there is an undercurrent when you’re doing it that you know you’re sneaking around. I think because I was selling cookies, I didn’t think about it much. I know now it wasn’t the right way to go about it. I think for a lot of the artists who signed up hoping to get a table and bought all their supplies, it was hard not to get a table. It was very much a necessity to try and have a pop up shop. I think we’re concerned about the reactions that we’re seeing.
Me: What do you mean by reactions?
Jennally: The artists that didn’t get in and the artists who got busted for planning a pop up shop-
Kitsunecoffee: They were posting about it on tumblr.
Jennally: That’s the main issue. They were posting about it on tumblr. If they had just done it on the spot, it probably would have been fine. Because they were posting about it, everybody saw it.
Kitsunecoffee: Including the 221B Con staff.
Jennally: Well it was tagged in all the tumblr tags. They wanted people to know which is understandable. It’s advertising for what you’re trying to do, but it also made it aware to the staff. From what I have heard from a few of the artists involved with this, they had been told they would get a table this year, and they bought their badges before just to make sure they had it all settled. It’s cheaper if you go ahead and do it now.
Me: You don’t get badges with the table?
Jennally: You do get badges with the table but you also get it refunded if you had already purchased one.
Kitsunecoffee: There’s actually questions about that. Bskizzle was dealing with that earlier. We decided last year that we wanted to table together. I remember being there, and we were told to buy a badge but we would be refunded if you get the dealer’s thing. Bskizzle was told that—and this could change! This could change at any time—but we probably wouldn’t be refunded.
Jennally: Really? My tablemate and I were refunded already.
Kitsunecoffee: I just feel like there’s some sort of communication problem going on between the staff and the dealers in general.
Francine: Part of it is when you check into a hotel as a convention, when you get here you have to pay the hotel everything. So at that point, you have no money. The hotel has all of your money. Usually the money for those things do come out of the hotel payment.
Kitsunecoffee: Right, right.
Me: Even with all this from the good, the bad, the awesome, and the sometimes sucky, would you want to table in the future?
Kitsunecoffee: Yes! If I do table again for 221B Con, that would be awesome. If I want to be an attendee next year, that would be cool too. If I table again—since we’re first timers—we’re going to be more aware of the situation. We’ll be more aware of the supplies.
Jennally: That’s the other thing. I talked to multiple people and this is a slow year [at 221B Con]. My stock is not even half gone. That’s one of those things you learn with experience is how much to prepare I stressed myself out way too much for this.
Kitsunecoffee: I actually ordered too much too. I was scared since I was a first time dealer I wouldn’t have enough. I would see these huge set ups. For the costs of the earring, it would seem weird since I was making these at the table. I can make a pair in under ten minutes, but the cost is the supplies and everything else. I’m not trying to rip everyone off.
If you’re dealing for the first time, it’s better to have less and sell out of what you have and make money then ordering too much and losing money.
Jennally: It depends on where you are. If you’re local, then go ahead and overdo it.
Kitsunecoffee: Yes! I come from another state so I got a bit panicky.
Jennally: And if you’re local, then you don’t have to worry about the shipping costs. For me, my stuff keeps for a while, so I’ll probably ship it out to people. I’ll probably do a pop up shop online of little grab bags.
Me: Well, thank you guys for this!
Leave your own experiences with an Artist Alley in the comments! Have you ever been an artist alley attendee? Thinking of it?