Angry Artist Alley: Toughen up you muther!#@$#!

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Based on something I heard from Trisha (aka. Ratgirl Productions), and the entire intention of writing this series, this article is aimed entirely for the newcomers in artist alley, and the ones who are thinking about it. Last post was very happy, so I’m going to balance it out with this one, just so you don’t get the delusion that every small-press/artist alley is so freaking awesome. And yes, I have cried myself, or wanted to cry so many times I lost count.

Not all of this applies to every artist now, but I guarantee you that at one point in time sitting behind artist alley, you’ve felt this way before. 

But if you have the guts to do it after reading this article, I’d say you’re pretty set to table at artist alley.

Because I care. We all do (?). This crazy aggressive post is to make sure you sissies don’t hurt yourself behind artist alley. Prepare for the worst, and the best shall happen. 

Prepare for sarcasm, because this is the internet.
(if you didn’t get the hint from the above sentence, this article is mostly sarcasm)
if you didn’t get the hint from the two sentences above this, I guess my sarcasm skills are too powerful.

The first thing I’d probably say about artist alley: ARTIST ALLEY IS A BATTLEFIELD.

From the moment it is announced by the group, the battle has already begun. You’ve got to get enough money and register, since it’s almost always a first-come first-serve basis. Nowadays, there have been ‘random raffle’ ones, but for some very odd reason, every year they have that, out of the 100+ people who register, it seems like some of the same few people are there every year. So the battle has begun.

Will you, or will you not join the battle of the table-grabbing?

Tables can go out like hotcakes in some places. There could be 30 tables that go out in a week, or even 50 that go out in seven minutes. Trust me, not kidding. If you have the opportunity and you’re 100% sure you want it, get it. Don’t wait last minute.

Now, suck up your gut soldier, because it doesn’t get better!

It’s about the gold. Well, not entirely, but the reason we bought a table is so we can earn money from selling stuff there. If your reason for going behind artist alley is ‘to get better at drawing’ it’s easier to do that online and tons of people will ask you to draw stuff for them for free as you ‘improve’. People over the internet fawn for free requests, you’ll get plenty of experience until you feel confident enough to sell at a convention. If your ‘excuse’ is to gain experience, I’m writing this article to prepare you for what you’re REALLY going to experience (although it’s not all negative). Another ‘excuse’ is to gain exposure. If that’s the case, go to a comic convention or craft fair instead of an anime convention because the ‘bigger people’ looking for potentials are walking around there. An art director walking around at anime conventions are nearly non-existent (but there have been a few). You go to a convention TO SELL YOUR ARTWORK. And also, to have fun ^_^

note: If you really want exposure at a convention though, try industry comic conventions, because the chance of an artist/writer/art director wandering around is MUCH more likely.

Does your art suck? I don’t know. Do you think it does? What do other people think?

If you want an honest opinion, it’s hard to get it. People don’t want to insult an artist by telling them their art isn’t at their standards. Best way to find out is to post it on an anonymous board like 4chan, make a rude comment about it, and let everyone build to the fire. They’ll point out all the flaws, and you can learn from that.

Don’t get your hopes up. You think buying 10 prints and selling it for 10 dollars each will get you one hundred dollars? Well, kid, have you ever considered that not all 10 prints would sell? Maybe only two would sell at a convention. I printed about 25 new prints  and over two hundred postcards for my last convention,. Guess how many I sold? I sold one postcard.

My first time making prints, I printed 10 of each design. That set of prints lasted me about five years until the point where I took a pair of scissors and cut it into shreds. It felt AWESOME. My second round was much better, so if you think your prints are dragging you down, then start all over ^_^

 You think they’ll all like your work? Well, somewhere out there, you might see someone give a sour look, or not even look in your direction. It could be unintentional, but the moment you see that face near your table, it’s like a blow to your heart. And imagine more than one person doing it. Imagine sitting there for eight hours seeing these things. Can you handle it? There have been SEVERAL cases where moms and young teenagers would look away from my table either from disgust of my artwork or because it’s too ‘dark’. I’ve seen them glance at my work, barely looking closely. I’ve even heard mothers drag their kids away from my table saying ‘don’t look!’. I am absolutely not kidding.

…then again, you have the opposite, where they will adore your work :3

Just because your work is decent doesn’t mean you’ll pick up the most business. Some people get a LOT of business doing things that seem mediocre to us (artists). But as I’ve once said to a group of people “as artists we can see what real skill is, but to customers, even the dumbest things can be the coolest thing ever”. You can see really untalented people farm the gold and you’re not. There are ways of attracting attention that is really stupid and you can’t say a word or it’ll ruin your reputation. Or even….if they’re your friends sitting next to you.

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 Brian Wolf:  Actually I’d be the one with my head down if he was selling next to me 0_0

Your reputation is on the line. Do one stupid piece of shit like complain to a customer, they tell a friend, who tells a friend, posts it online, and you’re screwed. Sometimes you need to lick their goddamn shoes just so you don’t seem like a meanie. Or sometimes you need the excuse “oh uh…I need to go to the restroom real quick!”

Hint: if you react the opposite way (not a douche) it’s likely this won’t happen to you. Treat people nicely, be polite. I know it can be hard :(

Sitting next to ANYONE will end up having you comparing business with them. You might be earning more than them and end up like a cocky f_ck. Or you might not be earning anything compared to the person sitting next to you. Or you’re comparing and worried if you’re earning enough. It’s a shame kid. For me, as long as I hit the green zone and earn at least three times the amount that I paid for the ticket to sell at the con, I’ll stay sane. Try and be humble.

You will have a lot of customers you won’t like. From people who are hitting on you, to the freaky perverts that want to request something that…well, I’ve had interesting drawing requests. There may be people who would walk to your booth and photograph your work and walk away, and there may be people who just tick you off. If your fans adore you, you get respect. And if they’ve never heard of you, you usually get treated in an entirely different way.

You might draw something you might not like. There are things people ask that you might not like, but still want the money. But there are still boundaries. If you do not have the guts to refuse a drawing you don’t want to draw, then this is definitely not the place you want to go to. Someone wants you to draw a picture of two characters you don’t really like kissing? Well it’s your decision, but either way you need the bravery to do it, or the willpower to do it. By the way, IT IS TOTALLY FINE TO REFUSE A COMMISSION. Sure you won’t get paid, but at least save your sanity. I’d rather not draw two #$! on a !#%@ doing $%#@#! to each other.

I’ve been asked to draw yaoi on a few occasions, but some of those requests can get really….intense. Oddly enough, I’ve never been asked to draw hentai. Yuri, once. Maybe twice. I don’t remember. But if you are uncomfortable drawing it, just say no. 

You gonna cry like a little baby? If that’s the case, don’t go. It’s not that you suck, it’s that you might end up hurting yourself in a way that will scar you for life :( I would rather see an enthusiastic artist celebrate and appreciate their hard-trained talent to others in a happy way than have them beaten down where they’re in a mental state crying in the bathroom.

…..and if you think you can handle all of this without shedding a tear all the time, then be my guest. It’s not as happy-go-lucky as you might imagine. It’s more like the customers don’t understand any of this, and so if you’re beginning artist alley, you start to understand what it really feels like behind the table. In fact, I broke down and sobbed on a pillow once too in front of my friends. But when you’re a beginner, you should be prepared for everything I’ve just said. Crying on your first day is awful. If you can’t handle it, then you should hold on to your pocket money and invest it in something else.

So pray you’re not on the bottom of the food chain at a convention, and if you are, suck it up and make sure you learn from your mistakes. You’ll climb up for sure.

If you table the first time and enjoy every moment of it, it truly is an amazing experience.

But you know, there are very fun moments. From the adrenaline rush, to making new friends and remembering old customers, and even learning and meeting new artists. Sometimes just the small moments where kid’s eyes widen when they see something on your work and compliment you even though they don’t know anything about it really warms your heart. You might be looking up to an artist sitting next to you, or it could be them that respect you. Maybe introducing a series you absolutely love to someone who’s never heard of it, and having them come back the next year to tell you how they loved it too. Maybe it’s the incredibly rare times someone recognizes your artwork and calls you by your screen name. There’s a lot of great things in artist alley too. I may have gone through a lot of the wrong plots of artist alley (thus, the name of this blog series), but you know, I’ve had incredible moments too. I just don’t talk a lot about them because the best way to know these experiences is going through them yourself :3

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4 thoughts on “Angry Artist Alley: Toughen up you muther!#@$#!

  1. This is a really good article for artist alley beginners Jackie!

    As a customer (on the other side of the table), a vast majority of us don’t understand what it’s like as an artist. How cutthroat it can be. How stressful it is to break even, let alone make money. How hard it is not to compare yourself to others. Many customers don’t emphasize with the artist and that’s a shame.

    There are two things I wanted to ask you though: 1) How do you feel about well-known artists that give customers the cold shoulder?

    Back in the day when I went to anime conventions, I’ve gotten this response from the Deviant Art gods that went to these artist alleys. They wouldn’t even look at me, let alone acknowledge me, talking with their friends or looking at their Smartphones instead. I feel that as a customer, we shouldn’t feel like we’re inferior, especially when we want to spend our money on their awesome art. I guess some humility with these brand of artists would be much appreciated :).

    2) Why do less-skilled, but very popular artists sell more than the better artists?

    I’ve seen this case so many times.

    Thanks again Jackie and I hope you can answer my questions!

    • I hope the people who read this don’t figure out who i’m implying and slit my throat.

      1) Sometimes just having a high reputation can mean you can do a lot of things others can’t, but it also means that people pay attention to you more. When you make one small mistake to a customer and you’re a well-known artist, people find out far quicker. Just because they’re well known or something doesn’t mean you can pry out private matters, which does happen, and often would lead to changing the subject and stuff. However, there are artists that even I don’t enjoy all the time because their attitude is very cocky (then again some artists can do that because they know and we know they’re great). So my opinion is that most artists must have a good reason to be mean to some people sometimes, but I do not always respect those who look down on others solely because they have more talent. I know one guy at Image Expo was a super talented letterer, and I asked him to review my portfolio. He immediately pushed my portfolio away and refused and said he was tired. I realized this dude must have been 70 with balding white hair and it was around 4pm, which is what I would call ‘dead time’ even for me-I completely understood, nodded, apologized and walked away. Thing is, if I was 70 and tired as hell I would do the exact same thing too.

      2) Reputation. Seriously, that’s all you need. You can be the shittiest artist, but when you have a high reputation you can flaunt your little doodle by them. Obviously someone like me has a super low reputation and most people don’t know me. In fact, for the first time (that I can remember) someone actually pointed out my real name and screenname at a convention (actually art fair)….a month ago. I’ve been doing cons for a LOT of years now. And guess why they know it? It’s not because of my art, it was because I was writing this blog. I wonder if people who read my blog even know I draw too o_O
      Also, customers often can’t tell what kind of effort and skill people put into their work. So when you mention someone is very popular, their conception is that their artwork is one of the best and should be bought.

      Also, read this article: http://jackieloart.com/blog/angry-artist-alley-what-do-they-want-to-buy/

  2. Great Article!

    Over the past 2 years of being a part of the artist alley scene I have experienced everything you discussed.

    The funny thing was I was warned about how cutthroat the scene was when I attended my first Fanime back in 2010. An older artist told me I had to bring my A game and come prepared to compete. This year will be my first time having a table at Fanime. I’m excited but I am not expecting much in terms of sales.

    Anime cons so far have sucked for me sales wise but that’s only because I attended small cons around the Bay Area.The anime fan base in general are tolerable at best and immature and obnoxious when it is at its worst. My attitude towards them has more to do with my age(I’m 36),the generation gap, the shift of power in the battle of the sexes in fandom, and most young anime fans these days lacking social skills.

    Everything you listed I have experienced. My buddy and partner basically told me ‘Whoa you made that? Have you ever thought of selling it at a convention?. I went in optimistic but pretty naive. The great thing about being older and getting into the artist alley scene is that I adapt quickly. Early on I did have high hopes but soon after my hopes turned into bitterness and anger. Luckily I never stay mad long. I never cried but I have posted some very mean rants just to get things off my chest.

    I’ve gotten plenty of sour looks, rude, and obnoxious comments from people passing by my table. Its funny because I thought I knew and was prepared for those reactions.But you never know how you handle it until it happens.

    I sat next to artists who were not as skilled who sold more than I have. I noticed merchandise items like keychains,buttons, or stickers sale faster and more consistently then prints do.I also noticed that the majority of artists in the anime con artist alley scene are female.If your female semi attractive or dressed in cosplay and if your art is just ok your odds of success of making money are higher than that of guy who is good or decent just starting to get into the scene.Me being an over 30 over weight black guy that draws busty female fan art tends to get ignored and at times treated rudely at most anime cons. Back in the late 90’s anime was more of subculture and the fan base was a bit older. And sexy type of fan art was more popular. Kids these days get offended over seeing a female character over a c cup.

    It hasn’t always been bad though. I wish you wrote this blog 3 years ago lol. Even still it is good that I had to learn the hard way and experience the process for myself.

    • Yea, even I was surprised how many people agreed with me. If you’re interested, at Fanime I’ll have a panel as a scare tactic to noobies who will likely experience pretty much everything I’ve said and let people like you feel the love that the rest of us older tablists know of (although you’re more than a decade older than me). Right now there’s some insane thing about the characters from Dragon’s Crown and the character designs being sexist, and people just seem to have the wrong idea about that term. You are in a very sticky boat where some people may find your art uncomfortable, and you should do some research on the controversy of that game–you’ll see that somewhere out there people will support your ideas….you just have to find out where. I have a pretty good feeling that your small conventions or whatever are more family oriented (as in mommies bring their babies and lots of kids and young teenagers). I find comic conventions like WonderCon is much more warming to things like that since the audience is usually older.

      Also, although I’ve never seen your work before, I’ll tell you that even if your drawings are full of EE cup chicks, personally, if the art is fantastic I’ll get it. But the mentality of most customers aren’t like that.

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