A Beginner's Guide To Artist Alley: What To Bring
The one word that I hear the most when I ask people about their first anime or comic convention experience is: Overwhelming. From walls of adorable plushies to seeing a cosplay group of Sailor Scouts, there's a lot to look at at these pop culture conventions. As vendors, it becomes a whole different experience than being an attendee, but those overwhelming feelings are still the same for first timers in the Artist Alley. After our first convention at Anime California in 2014, we began to test out new products, adjust prices and experiment with different set ups at other cons. These tips are what we have discovered to have worked for us so far. Take these tips as guidelines to help you get started and then branch off to experiment with what works best for you! If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below!
The Standard Artist Alley table package costs between $125-$350 and includes...
A 6 x 2 Ft. skirted table
Signage with your name and table number
1 Artist Alley vendor badge
Many cons also offer upgraded options for an additional charge such as a corner or endcap premium. Although not necessary for first time Artists, this is a great option to consider in the future when you feel ready to pay a bit more for a better location in the convention hall. We always try to get a corner table if the option is available opposed to an inline table because it gives you a bit more space and you generally have more foot traffic. Some cons don't give you a choice but you will always have to option to enter your preference in terms of location. If a convention's application doesn't ask for your preference, don't be afraid to send a friendly email letting them know your preferred location prior to placement.
What to bring to Artist Alley
The artist alley table package provides you with a great base to build off of for your artist alley set up , but you'll definitely need a bit more things before you're ready to sell. Below are a few of our essential items of what to bring to artist alley. (Check back for the Essentials list for travel shows.)
A STORAGE bin for Inventory.
Since art prints are easily bendable, its important to keep them safe in a bin that won't breakdown or allow any liquids to get inside, especially if you’re doing an art walk outdoors. Invest in a nice sturdy plastic bin that can easily be transported.
We enjoy bins that are also stack-able. This is helpful for when you have a lot of inventory that requires multiple bins. These weather-tight storage boxes come in a large variety of sizes to fit any print dimension. Our 11 x 14" prints fit perfectly in the 74 Quart box, along with some space for other items.
For travel shows, we keep our 11 x 14” prints in a 45 liter collapsible storage bin. We love the collapsible aspect because they’re easy to pack in comparison to a bulky box. We slip it inside our large luggage and pop it out when we arrive at our table.
A place to store cash.
Fanny Pack: You will be in a very casual environment with a lot of people walking in and around your table. Having a fanny pack is extremely convenient, because it will be on you 100% of the time. I absolutely LOVE fanny packs, especially when traveling and at conventions. All the essentials are easily accessible and won’t leave your sight. Find a fanny pack with multiple pockets so you can keep the change and other items a bit more organized.
Don't forget to bring at least $100 worth of change! (Depending on the prices you set)
Tens - 5
Fives - 8
ones - 10
Cash Box: Another option is a cash box. Although bulky to have around, its very useful if your dealing with coins and want something more organized. This cash box has a security wire that you can attach to the table, for added security. Just be sure to NEVER leave your cash box unattended. After each day, take it back home with you or take all the valuable contents out before you leave.
A card reader to capture credit card sales
This is an absolute MUST HAVE item for conventions. If you don't accept card, you are essentially giving up half of your potential sales. Although there are transaction fees for every purchase, the fees are minimal.
We use the Square Readers because they’re easy to operate and provides you with great analytical data for tracking sales. They also have an offline mode feature which is handy for when there's no signal in the convention hall.
If you opt for the Square Reader for swiping, be sure to get the headphone jack adapter, for those with the latest Iphone’s!
The older reader is $10 if you purchase it at a store, but Square will reimburse you with an instant $10 credit after you enter a code online. Right now Amazon is selling the reader for less than $10, so not only do you get it at a discount, you can pocket some extra change too!
There are plenty of card reader options to choose from so do your research and pick one that works best for you!
A portable battery pack
Most conventions run for 3 days over the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). The convention hall will usually stay open for about 8 hours. Many tables don’t provide electricity, so if you have a phone with a weak battery, you’ll probably need to charge up some time in the day. Portable battery packs are lifesavers. The prices range from about $15 for a simple single outlet battery to upwards of $50 for multiple USB ports plus other bells and whistles. When searching for battery packs, usually the higher the mAh (charging power), the higher the price and size of the battery. I like the ones that have multiple USB ports, so you can charge multiple devices at the same time. Also find one that is at least 10000 mAh or higher, as these can fully charge the average smartphone at least 2-3 times. If you want to charge larger devices such as an Ipad, I’d definitely suggest buying a charger with at least 20000mAh. Choose one that fits your needs of charging time and functionality. They even have new wireless portable chargers for those wireless charging capabilities. Remember to charge your portable charger the night before a convention! Below are a few options that I’d suggest checking out!
An emergency supplies Kit
We pack an Emergency Kit for every convention because anything and everything can happen and you want to be prepared. This box contains basic items such as scissors, tape, post-its, pens, sharpies - to random tools such as a cutting pliers, zip-ties, Advil, band-aids etc.
The multi level trays of the tackle box are useful to store small items such as paper clips, pencils, erasers, band aids etc. While the bottom compartment can store larger items such as scissors, duck tape, and a pack of zip ties.
The large pouch option is great for traveling. Since you’ll have a lot of different items, it’ll be easier find what you’re looking for with a mesh or clear pouch.
An art portfolio flip book
A portfolio book is perfect for showcasing all the different prints you have available to sell. We use hardcover books because it gives off a more professional look and the quality of the binder is much more sturdy than the soft covers. Although a little pricier, we opt for poly glass pages because it gives off a crystal clear filter that protects the art prints on display.
We suggest having a minimum of 2 art portfolio books available on your table display for each convention. If you dont have enough room to display 2 books on the table, keep one behind the table to bring out if the table display is occupied. This allows you to cater to more customers who may be interested in looking through your artwork. If you see someone looking at your artwork from afar, you can gesture them over to flip through your art portfolio to see even more prints. It's a great conversation starter and gives customers something to do while they're at your booth.
If you're having a difficult time starting conversations, check out this post about how to talk to customers at artist alley!
Plastic sleeves to protect prints
Your artwork is valuable and its important to portray that value to the customer. A simple way to do that is in how you package your prints. Packaging your prints in a protective sleeve can add value to your print and the customer. It shows to the customer that you take care of your prints and they are purchasing a quality piece of art.
We purchase our protective sleeves in bulk at clearbags.com! You can also purchase them through Amazon for faster shipping and smaller quantities. They carry a wide range of sizes to match any artist's print selection.
*Be sure to choose a sleeve that has a "protective closure flap" so that the sticky adhesive doesn't damage your print!
Disposable self stick easel backs
Along with portfolio books on the table, it’s good to have artwork propped upright on a table easel. These Self Stick Easel Backs are LIFESAVERS. They barely weigh anything, and save a ton of space, especially when traveling for a show. They’re available in a variety of sizes and often come in white or black. We display our 11 x 14” prints in a clear sleeve with a sturdy cardboard inside, and stick a 12” easel back to the back of the sleeved print. On a 6ft. table we put at least 1-2 prints behind the portfolio book (as seen in the photo).
Photo backdrop to display prints
The first question many people think of after they sign up for a con is "How will I display prints at my artist alley table?". There a many ways to display and set up art prints in artist alley, but the most common way is to use photo backdrops. They're light, portable and easy to set up and break down! They also have the ability to expand up to 10 feet tall, which is perfect for customers to see your display from across the convention hall.
You do have to get creative when it comes to setting up your prints to hang from the display. It took some time and experimentation for us to come up with a clean set up. One option is to laminate your display prints, hole punch the 4 corners, and connect the prints using binder rings. This sounds a bit confusing, but I'll try to post a more detailed guide on how to set up your artist alley table in the future!
There are many different kinds of photo backdrop stands to choose from. When you’re searching for a backdrop, the most important thing to consider are adjustable crossbars.
This one has a total of 4 connecting cross bars that are each 3ft. in length. Since the size of an Artist Alley space varies between conventions, this backdrop allows you to adapt to the space given.
A Dolly/Hand Truck for easy transportation of your goods
Most conventions are held at a big convention center or hotel/conference hall, so it’s likely that you’ll have a bit of a walk to get to where you need to be from your car. Therefore a dolly/hand truck will be your best friend. Depending on how much inventory or how large your set up is, there are different weight capacities you can choose from.
This 300 - pound capacity dolly is a good multi-purpose option and is great because it’s collapsible and can be stored away and out of sight when you’re not using it. Having 4 wheels as opposed to the 2 wheeler’s also makes it easier to maneuver, especially around bumps and cracks in the ground.
Hopefully these items will help you get a jump start into having a successful first time artist alley experience. For more inspiration I'd suggest you go out to a convention and look at how other artists display their products in the artist alley.
If you have any other questions about what to bring to artist alley and how to display your artwork at events, feel free to drop a comment below!
- Jana Rae Pascual