Crazdude’s Artist Alley Beginner’s Guide Pt. 1

Artist alleys at conventions can AnthroCon 2016 Crazdude Artist Alleybe a great way for artists of any skill-level to make connections, improve their skills, and turn a profit. If you have only been taking commissions online, it can be a daunting new experience. There are so many things to consider, what if I forget something? Will it be busy or slow and what can I do to survive either situation? Hopefully I can help to break down the planning for both Artist Alley prep and at-con productivity.


Preorders Keep Things Rolling

PeachPit-Full-body-Feral-MarkerSince Artist Alleys are all about handmade and time is a hot commodity, my goal is to always to get pre-orders for pick-up by advertising consistently on social media. It gives me the opportunity to put a little extra TLC into commissions while at home and ensures the customer will be able to pick it up at the start of the convention and show off the badge or commission all weekend long! Offer special treats for pre-orders like stickers, buttons, or exclusive features. Also any opportunity to milk the event and breakeven before arriving at the convention is a bonus.

Taking commissions at a con? Great.

Paying off the hotel and con fees before you even get there? Priceless.

Breaking even before a convention may not happen for your first convention (it didn’t for me) and that’s perfectly normal! Conventions are meant to be a way to get yourself out there and seen by people who wouldn’t have seen you otherwise! So if things are slow, you can always work on more social media marketing, create YCH designs, or organize your space to be more eye-catching.


Supplies and Documentation

Things can gScreen Shot 2016-05-10 at 3.54.49 PMo from zero to crazy pretty fast at a convention like Anthrocon, which is why I’m glad I got my practice in at FurTheMore ’16. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I prepared… a lot. And I wasn’t sure what I would need so I packed… a lot. I was essentially the Alley finishing department; I brought my laminator with various lamination thicknesses, hole punch, straight paper cutter, scissors, glue, paper punches, and so on.

For the alley table itself, I made sure I packed plenty of examples of my work, business cards, price lists, as well as some prints and stickers. For behind the scenes, I created documents for recording customer and commission information.

  • Customer order form – I created a form to fill out as I talked through the details with the customer. I record the date and time of the order, their name, social media info, preferred contact info, confirming when they plan to leave the convention (because not all people come for the entire weekend), character info (like a link to a ref sheet), poses, style/medium, and any details like props or preferred colors all in one space was something that helped to organize the chaos.
  • Commission queue chart – After capturing the customer order information, I add them to a running commission queue, which shows the brief summary of customers in order of which they paid. Column headers include: Price, Name, Type of commission, Contact info, Done (to check off when artwork is complete), Gone (to check off when artwork was delivered). Trello can also work but it’s handy to have a private hard-copy version.
  • Take-home commission order form – Similar to the customer order form except no need for at-con timing information and I included a separate section at the bottom for the customer’s records. The bottom portion can tear off so they can get a receipt with my contact information and summary of the commission details.

Great examples of these documents can be found at the Artist Alley Field Guide Tumblr; I simply redesigned my own with my logo and other details I found important for me to note.

These documents were super useful at my first artist alley but when you jump into the bigger busier conventions, you may not be able to fill out these documents with each customer. In fact, Anthrocon was a madhouse for me on the first day; I spent the entire day just filling out order slips.

Anthrocon gives artists booklets of sequentially numbered order slips that I used to my advantage. Each order number in the book has three different carbon-copy colored slips; one for the customer, one for me, and one for the con registers. I fill out my info, their info, the commission brief description and price, tally the cost, then tear out and separate the slips. On the backside of my slip, I had the customer write their contact info (whether it was telegram, phone, email, FA or other social media account) and if it was a take-home commission, I would have them write their address as well.

While the customer went to shop around and pay at the register, I kept all of my slips in the front pocket of my binder. Once the customers came back from the registers and showed me their proof of purchase, I wrote “PAID” on the corresponding slip and the slip upgraded to their own protective sleeve inside the binder. This sleeve ended up being the sleeve that contained all the information and commission work together. As more people paid, the new slip would go in the next sleeve and so on eventually creating a commission queue. After a commission was complete and delivered, I moved the sleeve with lonely slip to the back of the binder; out of the queue.


Prices, Money, and Security

For some conventions, money collection is handled by the organization which makes it a little easier in some ways (no need for a cashbox or credit card reader, they handle the taxes) and tedious in others (having to instruct your customers to pay at the registers, needing to see proof of purchase.) Anthrocon and some other cons take a percentage out of your earnings at the register to cover your table. This may seem rough but it’s much more fair to the less experienced artists who would otherwise pay a flat fee and may not even make that back through commissions. The percent taken from each order should be listed on the con website and you can easily raise your rates by that amount or more to cover what the convention takes.

My first artist alley was supposed to be handled by the organization according to their website. However, the other artists and I were informed of different plans as soon as we arrived to the alley on day one which made for a grumpy bunch of artists. Many of us had credit card readers and cashboxes but left them at home since we weren’t expected to need them. If that communication bait and switch ever happens, remember that you can manually enter credit card numbers into the Square register app or use Paypal.

If you have to manage your money at a convention, always be alert. The bigger the con, the more theft that happens. Supplies, cameras, phones, wallets and cashboxes are all fair game. Be sure to keep your valuables on you and possibly invest in a cash apron with a zipper to close it up just for security and easy mobility.


Read Part 2 where I will cover Set-up, time maintenance, and taking care of yourself for a long artist alley weekend.

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