I did it, you guys. I survived not only my first year helping (as much as I could) with BaseLAN… but I survived “The Alley”.
By this, I mean the Artist Alley at C4, of course.
This isn’t my first year being in “The Alley”. I have sold artwork in there for a while now – about 3 to 4 years.
But this article isn’t about selling tips. This isn’t a brief 101 on “How to Draw”. This isn’t about even about my own personal experience this weekend. This article is for you, who have flirted with idea of being in Artist Alley but aren’t sure what kind of chaos is to be expected. The sea of people, the long hours, the overwhelming amount of talent in the room… how does one deal with that?
And so, I present to you a crash course in the struggle and survival that is the war grounds of The Alley! (It honestly isn’t as bad as it sounds.)
- Drink water. Just hydrate.
- Take breaks. Please.
- Have a sense of humor.
- See awesome cosplayers? Take awesome pictures.
- Talk to attendees, but even more so the artists.
- Do not ever compare your work to others or feel self-doubt.
- Grab business cards.
You look out and the river of bodies never stops. You sit there and feel yourself sweat. When did it get so warm? Drinking water will help you to not get dehydrated and turn into a hate monster. But this tip also has an added bonus to it! You can’t avoid it: you will be talking to A LOT of people, whether it’s the attendees, other artists, volunteers, friends, family, etc. Lube up those vocal cords to prevent the crippling effects of vocal loss.
You’re there. You’re in The Alley from 10am until 7pm. You groan, thinking, “I’m hungry and I have to use the washroom, guess I’ll wait until I’m done here.” But it doesn’t have to be like this! Get up, stretch the legs, explore The Alley, take a break. If a volunteer comes by and asks if you need to take 10, adhere to the Great Sage Shia LaBeouf’s advice and just do it. Or if you feel less inclined to ask a volunteer or cannot find one around, see if your neighbor can help a brotha/sista out. This also ties into a later tip of talking to your neighbors, too.
“Rude,” you think. “Does Kate assume that everyone doesn’t have a sense of humor? I’m funny as hell!” What I mean by this is that you are going to come across all kinds of people at your table. The most important thing is that you deal with it with grace, humility, and not take yourself so seriously (unless it borders on becoming an issue, of course.) On my first day, my table was approached by someone cosplaying as Joker (very well done, I’ll add), all the while maintaining the Joker persona, voice and all.
Talking to these people is like playing a game, at least to me. Roll with it: ask questions, make small talk, humor them. It might work in your favor. In fact, after the encounter, the cosplayer broke character to tell me that I was one of the few people who was actually fun to talk to. (They also came back to my booth the next day and brought people with him to buy prints.
I love cosplayers. Like the artists that sell their beautiful artwork in The Alley, cosplayers work hard to craft their costumes. It’s often a great conversation starter and their work deserves to be recognized, like woah. (Disclaimer: photos have been posted with permission from the cosplayers)…
Take pictures of them…
… or even join them!
To truly get the full experience of The Alley, you need to come out of your shell – and I know how hard this is, being a naturally introverted person myself. Getting to know the artists in your area and building rapport with them is like having a secret club. You see these people for 8 – 10 hours a day all weekend. You give the “nod” to each other when the intercom announces the con opening. You share concerned glances when the fire alarm has been tripped two days in a row.
Most important though? Knowledge share. Feedback. Convention tips (much like the ones I’m giving you now.) Networking. I cannot stress enough how making the connection with the people around you is so important, not only for you but the morale of the community, too. We help each other get better. Which leads me to my next point.
This weekend, I sat across from a very talented artist who had a literal wall of amazing art. What do you do?
I think of it this way: maybe I can learn something from this artist. There is a wall of GREAT reference I can study in front of me. And when I approached his table, the artist was extremely wonderful to talk to. Maybe I can learn more about his style and what tools he uses.
I won’t lie and say that I didn’t feel self-doubt at one point. It’s unavoidable. But I have to thank the wonderful artist next to me for the beautiful advice she gave me regarding wanting to sell my original art one day at a convention. Now I’m paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of:
You always want to try to offer something that most artists don’t. I divide my fanart and original art by 60:40. And throughout the weekend, I swap out fanart pieces on display with originals. The thing is, for me, I don’t want to be a fanartist. And you’d be surprised how many people are looking for something different than everyone else who just does fanart. You’ll develop a more dedicated fanbase just by offering something most tables don’t. So absolutely, get your original art out there.
This obviously goes without saying. Grab business cards from artists you networked with, for art collaborations, for tips, and for checking out their other stuff!
Of course, bring your own, too. You never know who might contact you because someone grabbed your business card.
Have any more questions about selling artwork or being in Artist Alley? Let me know in the comments below – and maybe I’ll see you in The Alley next year!
Kate is a contributing content editor and graphics person for AYBOnline. Enjoy her art up close – or far away, if you prefer. It doesn’t really matter to her.