April 12, 2012

How to Artist Alley: Your Products

What's an Artist's Alley booth without products to sell? While I may spout my ideals on "Doing this for the art", it's also sensible to know that you'll have to make back that booth and hotel cost somehow!

For some of us, choosing what to make may come second nature. You may already have a skill or art projects you'd be more than apt to sell off. Others might be a little bit more confused or unsure. That's what we'll tackle today in "How to Artist Alley"!

How to Artist Alley:
Your Products
How to decide what to make

Posing thoughtfully helps.

What am I going to sell?

If you can't answer this right away, that's okay. Chances are likely that you are already a creative person, and like tinkering with things/artwork/etc in your free time. You already make things, you just haven't thought about it on a Convention Selling level yet!

Note: If you don't make things, and still want to sell (i.e. you will have to teach yourself something from scratch), and are planning on signing up for a booth with minimal/no skill in making said items...

Please. Stop right here. Turn around. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Before you even think about signing up for a booth, work with your idea. Play with it. Learn it, and learn to make it fast and good. Your first versions of new products will take you exceedingly longer than anything you've had a lot of experience making.


Back to our original question though.

Here's what I recommend: Think about what you like to do and think of stuff you'd want to find in an Artist's Alley. If you wouldn't want to buy it, neither would the customer (more on this later).

  • Are you a 2-D artist? (Drawing, painting, anything on a flat surface) 
    Prints, buttons, and other printable objects might be up your alley. No pun intended!

  • 3-D Artist (clay, jewelry, etc)?
    You will probably be making objects, wearable, collectible, displayable, etc.

  • Do you make something unique?
    You might have an audience, or fill a niche nobody realized they needed!

More often than not, your booth will (and probably should be) be an extension of yourself as an artist. What you sell will give customers an impression of the type of artist you are, and what your passions and hobbies may be. It's also wise to note that your booth might not be the ONLY venue you are vending in - places like Etsy or Ebay (or your own site) may assist you as well.

Still confused? The only other advice I can give you is to actually visit and experience some Artist's Alleys at conventions to get a feel for the environment and type of artists you'll be "competing" with for space and customers. The convention arena is a lot different than a standard or online store.

My Personal Thoughts
If you love your product and love making it, you'll love talking about it, and you will be enthusiastic. This will transfer over to customers you talk to, and then THEY'LL love it too (if they don't already).

If you don't love your product, then who will?

I don't know why I drew Miku in there. I see a lot of vocaloid cosplayers?

Don't be a Copycat!

I can't believe I almost forgot to talk about this. It's kind of an unwritten rule that artists should NOT directly copy what another artist does. At least, it's an unwritten rule to me.

There are some products that are the same, no matter what you do - buttons, bookmarks, prints, cards, etc. Yes, they're the same item, but they'll have YOUR art on them. So that makes them unique. Don't fret here.

Sometimes, "copied products" will happen accidentally. A long time ago, I drew personalized ID cards. There were other people who also did ID cards. HOWEVER - each of them were different and had their own style. Stuff like that's okay.

In the end, you're better served by making items that people will be familiar with but unique to you. At least starting with these kinds of things - buttons, bookmarks, badges, etc.

You're not going to start off with an amazing unique idea to you. It'll come the more conventions you go to, and develop your booth's "feel". Just make sure you don't blatantly copy somebody else. (I was doing standard alley stuff until sometime around 2008, when I figured out the Pokemon badge thing - and I've been doing alleys since 2002ish. And I also finally delved into comics just this year!)

Also - you shouldn't be recreating things you can buy in the dealer hall (plushies would be the biggest offender here). Just not cool, and a lot of conventions will make you take them down.

I'm my own worst critic.

Quality Levels

I honestly don't think a lot of people think about this. If you take a little extra effort and make clean, clear, comfortable products - they will sell ten times faster* than something you made the night before, half asleep.

*I don't have actual stats, but I'll say they move off the shelf faster.

What do I mean by clean, clear, comfortable products? Well, to understand this, one must think like a customer. What kinds of things would turn you away from even thinking about buying a product? This could be poor paper quality, damages, shoddy craftsmanship (threads, glue showing), obvious smudging of inks/colors/paint, non-crisp edges or lines.... My list could go on forever. And you need to be honest with yourself too. Be picky.

Frankly, if your product's quality doesn't match the pricing your putting on it, then a customer won't buy it. No matter how "appropriately priced" it may be (though there are exceptions to this rule, you'll always find an attendee who will buy anything with XYZ symbol on it, but they're not a reliable source of income as their preferences might change with the seasons).

Here's some suggestions on minor things you can do to improve the quality of your products with minimal effort:

  • Clear Coloring
    Run tests. A lot of times the colors you see on your monitor don't always match up with the colors that come out of the printer. When you have a print ready (or several, preferably), go to your preferred printing vendor and have them print a single copy of each one. This will also let you know how the printer will handle your order when you come to get your final copies. Printers malfunction sometimes, so if the color doesn't look right, ask. The printer might even be able to give you suggestions on color formatting!

  • Laser Printing
    Seriously. If you are selling prints, please don't make them look like you printed them off your inkjet the week of the convention onto some standard sheets of copy paper. I won't care if you made a masterpiece, I'm not gonna buy it cause it looks shoddy, and will bleed if it even gets remotely wet. Or possibly rub off onto things in my bag.

    Go to your local print shop, office supply store, or my place of choice now: Fed Ex Office, and request them to print your pictures onto heavier, bright white paper. I often use the #32 bright white. It's thick without being cardstock. (cardstock is also nice for prints, but not necessary)

    This goes for anything printed. Even buttons. I print all my button images on laser printers, so that way if the button gets wet, it doesn't bleed out/fade. 

  • Smudge/Crinkle Proof Your Products
    Find a way to store your products so they won't get crinkled, bent, smudged, or damaged in any way. What you see as a small crease in a corner nobody will see, your customer will go "NO GET IT AWAY I WANT THE PERFECT ONE". So just save yourself the hassle in arguing (or possibly haggling a discount), and keep your stuff safely organized.

    Also, this is here packaging comes in handy - if you can hand it to them in some sort of protective container, it'll be less likely to be damaged in their transport of it.

  • Sealing/Enamel
    It's amazing what a covering of sealer or enamel will do to your products. This is usually used for the more 3-dimensional items, things like sculpey clay, charms, and the like. I recommend selecting a clear gloss (most of the time), and spraying it enough to cover all the necessary sides. This will create a lovely sheen on your products and make them safe to the touch/handling as well as easier to keep clean. Customers may try to touch your products. Protect them with that glossy layer. As always, test a product's gloss layer beforehand.

  • Safety Proof
    Nothing's worse than buying a product, then having it fall apart on you days later. Making keychains/charms/earrings? Create a testing sample, and wear the CRAP out of them. Attach them to your keys, phones, whatever you intend their use to be. Treat them terribly, smash them with things, step on them... The more durable your products, the more your customer will want to come back and buy more! 

Don't let this happen to YOUR customers.

Packaging, Packaging, Packaging!

If you've spoken with me, you'll know I LOVE packaging. Packaging not only serves the purpose of protecting your product from the standard wear and tear in an attendees bag, but it also helps make your products look professional and that you care about them!

It's a wise idea, once you've created your products to figure out how to store, display them, or how they will be handled by a customer.

My biggest gripe here is with prints. So we'll start with that topic. Are you selling prints? Please invest in clear sealing art bags and backing boards.

Buy this.

Protective Closure Bags
Has a peel and stick section on the bag itself so your art won't get stuck getting it in or out of the bag. Also prevents smudging, getting wet (for the most part),or ripping in somebody's bag.

They come in all sorts of standard printing sizes, so you can DEFINITELY find one that fits your artwork. They come like, 100 in a pack, and are relatively inexpensive. (Example: 8x10 bags are $9.50 for 100)

8 x 10 ClearBags™ 4-Ply White Backing Board (25 pack) [BACK8]
I strongly suggest, nay, demand you get these too.

Backing Boards
If I could demand any sort of mandate in the alleys, it would be backing boards (or something similar). These are pre-cut matboards in specific sizes that you slip in behind your artwork when you put it in to a protective bag. This prevents the artwork from getting bent, crinkled, crushed, you name it - because you know they're just gonna shove your amazing artwork into a bag.

They don't have to be the ultra fancy type, nor are they overly expensive: You can get 25 - 8x10 sized boards for $4.50. If you're matching your number of plastic bags, then that's only $18.00.

For a grand total of $27.50 you'll have a ton of packaging, and make your prints look IMMENSELY better and professional. And your con goers will be pleased their art is not being crushed.

Other Packaging
Think about how you want your customer to see, and/or carry your product. They sell earring cards and jewelry cards and tags in craft stores now (along with neckforms and the like), and plastic locking craft bags are easy to come by (and cheap) and can help protect your products.

I'll stop before I have a 3-page dissertation on packaging, and I'll save that for its own post. Later.

In Summary

Your booth can really be anything you want it to be, obviously within reason. Be creative and courteous!

Next Up 

(Friday) we'll talk about Pricing. I originally had it tacked on to the end of this particular blog post, but then it turned into a small book, soooooo it gets it's own post!

NOTE: Sorry for the late posting - I wanted to add my little pictures (even without the color at first), and I got caught up finishing a project for work.


  1. Where can I get backing boards and protective closure bags?

    1. I usually get mine from a website called Clearbags (www.clearbags.com)!