February 12, 2018

Artist Alley Retrospective: Evolution of a Table

Wanna hop back in time and see a little bby artist alley table? No? Too bad, gonna do it anyway!

Artist Alley tables have come a LOOOOONG way from their early times, and especially in what is considered a "good" set up.  I'm gonna hide a lot of these under a "read more" so I don't inundate people with all the big photos right away. (I'm also lazy and don't want to have to click on every picture, so I figured you wouldn't want to either).


  1. These are all pictures of my own artist alley booths over time. Hence why I drew all over the dang things and made snarky commentary. I would NEVER use another booth as a critique/show point without asking the artist first. (Now if you're in my background, sorry about that! I try to get as little of other people in my pics as possible)
  2. There is no One True Table for you to have. Everybody's table is different. Also, the types of shows people go to are different. You might set your table up a little differently at an Anime Convention vs a Comic Convention (at least I do).
  3. Got a question about stuff? Leave a comment! I'm working on a post about what you need to start out and/or useful display items you might want to use!

(CLICK ON THE READ MORE - It's hard to see!)

I started doing Artist Alleys (henceforth referred to as AAs or Alleys) in 2003, but silly me, I forgot to take pictures. Any pictures are fleeting and blurry, like you were trying to take a picture of a fairy. 

In the wee early years of convention AAs, tables were cheap. At JAFAX they were free. Legit. You heard me, freeeeee. But then again all cons were pretty small, and this was a free college convention put on by the anime club. I saw people sellin' art, and I thought OOOH! That looks fun!

(Take in mind, I came up through the art world learning a lot at a local studio, and they would do the large scale craft fairs and art fairs. So I kinda had an idea of what a booth might need to have - or so I thought)

1.) 2006 - JAFAX

The year I finally remembered to take a picture of my set up. Many artists at the time would use the table given to them, maybe have a tablecloth if they felt like it, and had their wares strewn about the table, mostly flat.  I was determined to be a little different - I wanted a quirky tablecloth (thanks bargain bin at Field's Fabrics!), and unique displays in hopes of setting me apart.

I had a work cohort's husband build me the bookmark stand to my specifications (I think I covered it in felt) and daaaang that thing was HEAVY AF. But it looked nice. And fit all the bookmarks I had at the time.

I knew that convention artists would keep a binder of works. So I tried that with my little binder, and I wanted some displays for my items (remember "quirky" was my goal?), so I had this little shopping cart that I put like.. a handful of tiny prints (boy I could use that NOW, I have so many), and I wanted to make keychain commissions on the spot so I made a little glass box display.

FUN FACT: I colored most of those commissions with PERMANENT MARKERS. *dies of embarrassment*

I think I had bought babbys first copics at Youmacon the year prior to this. I didn't use Prismacolor markers cause they dried out on me a lot, and I only had Tria Markers for my fleshtones (a gift from my studio teacher).

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2.) 2009 - ANIME CENTRAL

Forgot to take booth pictures again, but found an old 2009 booth from Anime Central! Now, there's so many people signing up we have a lottery, and IIRC this was the first year they actually made us buy convention badges on top of the table (table was $60??). They kinda forgot to tell us, and I remember someone coming around going "money pls" and I was confused. This was alleviated the next year, but hey, remember when booths (AND electricity) were super cheap?

I started doing laminated ID cards, but upgraded my set up to a pegboard foldable display that a friend of mine made. It was really awesome, and sturdy and had a carpeted board for the bottom... but still heavy AF.

I felt legit cause I had hooks with things! Bags with HOOK LOOPS. Packaged items! Sorta had prints, gave up on the portfolio try because attendees weren't looking at them at all.

Learned over the years to NOT have my copic set on the table even if I'm working cause people asked if that was for sale, the most.

FUN FACT: I still had no backdrop or any thing of the kind (let alone tall), and looking back on it, I'm seeing that might have been a problem? But I still sold really well so WHO KNOWS.

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3.) 2012 - Shuto Con

Some more years pass, more years I forget to take a pic of my booth before stuff gets set up. I graduated to owning a button maker in that time, so now I can add buttons to my list of wares.

I added a comic in that time. *sighs wistfully* someday I'll write more of it. I promise.

I added shrinky dink phone charms as those were up and coming, and added charms from Zap (their old old kind, back in the day). I still have those charms because they were for my comic and, well, I'm bad at displaying at this time. They were also really small.

This table was kind of a hodgepodge of a bunch of different ideas I had seen around the alleys and wanted to do stuff with. I was starting to get tired of lugging the giant heavy gridwalls around, and I knew the "Popular" thing to do is to just tape up all your prints to some backdrop and call it a day.

I do not miss un-taping all of those on Sunday.

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4.) 2015 - Katsucon

Oooooh boy. My first "big-really-far-away"kinda con I made it in all on my own with just the goal of selling (before that I was there to compete, so used the table to pay for the space). I made it through the jury that year, but discovered when we got there I think they were like, maaaaybe 6 ft big.

My prints were starting to increase in size, and I was intent on using my big-ass pvc pipe monstrosity (whyyyy), so I had to lower my gridwall down to the ground. That's why it's hiding.

I added matted prints to my table in hopes of looking more "artsy" but I think I realized later that this is just not that kinda show. Nor are a lot of anime cons. Now, if I do a comic show, or say maybe pipedream down the line, get into Gen Con's alley, matted prints would be the way to go. It's really all about reviewing the audience and the type of set ups they're more familiar with.

And this isn't in a "let's trick the customers" kind of way - it's more of a way to make them more comfortable with your selling space, and less translation is needed in their head to know what is what.

I dunno why I spelled set up wrong. It's not supposed to say setum. (setum up, up up) Sorry.
I think I added some keychain charms in hopes of trying to fit in with the Cool Charm Kids Crowd, but, because I can't afford hundreds of dollars of charms, I went again with the Shrinky Dink ones (about the time their batches started getting weird so making em was dicey).

The portfolio has made a return, mostly because I'm running out of room to display ALL the prints in various sizes, and... I'm kinda refusing to try to do the massively tall print walls I see other booths though. You do you, but that's not me.

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5.) 2017 - Great Lakes Comic Con

 Another couple of years pass, and a few good and a few bad cons inbetween. I ended up taking a year off, and started back up in 2017, new, fresh, and with a NEW NAME. For the third time. I SWEAR this one will stay, unless I have to switch to my IRL name.

I started wanting to aim for the more typical comic-con, small press, artshow styled booths, because after lots of introspection - that's kinda what I'm aiming for. I invested in another actual banner I could use at most shows with a favorite artwork of mine on it - banner holder is still hanging in there well though (I've had it for quite some time).

Instead of just doing a taped-together print wall, I wanted to start converting to a more "fabric" background that would fill the entire back area, and thus take down any sort of back end distractions that seeing other booths through you might have.

I got an actual tablecloth finally somewhere between the last con we talked about here and this one.

I wanted to play with more of the "Small Press Aesthetic" and got myself some baskets, some nice book stands, a light up sign (honestly that was more for me because I thought it was cool) and some more "rustic" looking type set ups (like the one with the sketch cards).

I'd love to use that sketch card set up again, but I'd need a booth larger than 8ft to make it work how i want.

I also had been researching those cool plywood displays that like, ALL the professional booths I see at Gen Con had, and I couldn't get them at the time, so as a test, I made my own out of black foamcore board. It was relatively successful when the fan wasn't attempting to blow over my prints, but I liked the concept.

FUN FACT: Making table set ups out of foamcore is a great way to test a set up if you're not sure you want to invest in it yet.

Also I broke down and got those connector grids in case of table emergencies, and they've done well so far!

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6. 2017 - Indy Pop Con

Eeeeey, I'm graduating pieces with each show now! This was my first show where I had my brand new banner with my booth name on it. I had always wanted one (mostly for the "just in case I ran out of room for a banner!) which is typical at smaller booth size shows, and sometimes I need that banner for my comic advertising.

I also finally got myself some real, legit displays (the ones you see on the left there) and some inexpensive book holders to show off what was in my books! I was able to condense a lot of what I had because, well, as you can see I'm starting to have a copious amount of stuff.

My kingdom for a middling-sized booth between AA and Vendors... (I refuse to buy two tables out of integrity).

I also added a new item - STICKERS! Between the show listed above and this one I got myself a Cameo 3 machine and I have never been happier having such a nice die cut machine. THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER.

I also realized at this show that a.) that black backdrop, while huge is a PAIN THE REAR to assemble because the tabs on the sides I have to thread the poles through. SO MUCH NOPE. On top of that, I found out that black miiiiight not be the best backdrop color in general, as it can eat pictures and I had to fake a border for my sparkly print.

But I had other ideas...
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7.) 2017 - Anime Weekend Atlanta

Before I vended at AWA, I had visited Gen Con yet again, and this time with a discerning eye on what I might want from my booth in the future.

That's when I came to the conclusion I needed fabric panels like Pro Panels (just like what they have at Gen Con!) and then I went and looked them up. And as delightful and transportable as they are... I do not have a spare 800 lying around, so I took to google.

Found a lot of tutorials on craft show frames, but I couldn't fit a whole Door Frame into my car. I needed something... more compact-able. That's when I discovered the outdoor carpeting that came in rolls already 6ft wide! Perfect for 6 ft or 8 ft booths!

Got me some curtain hook things, and went to town with my set up. This is relatively close to what I currently do, give or take some items (and time).

The stickers have been released from their portfolio prison and now reside on the table itself, and they do well there (or sometimes I tape em up to the gridwall squares I have).

I really compacted as much as I could into this particular table, so much I had to invent a fake fourth row for my plywood display as my prints exceed the space I have.

I have since inherited a HUGE wire display for these and I gotta say I'm kinda excited to see em on it.

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Back in MY day...

*gets out old lady cane*

*sits in rocking chair*

Now. Sit down kids, as I tell you of the dark times.

When I started, we didn't have as much internet resources. YouTube didn't exist (that's right, NO video tutorials for us!). And we did a lot of stuff by personal research AT the shows, and taking notes and talking to other artists - Facebook didn't really exist when I started Alley-ing and only now it's become this really big part of the culture.

But now? Now we have the world at our finger tips.

Use your resources. Do research. Look up what others are doing. Visit a show, and take notes on what you like. There are so many tutorials out there, and information, and even just connecting with people that you don't have to fumble in the dark like I did.

And don't worry.

Your first booth won't be perfect. Your second or third, won't either. In fact, your 10th is probably still being worked on. And that is totally okay.

The nice thing about booths is they are malleable. Something doesn't work? Get rid of it. Learn something new that you liked? Add it!

Don't worry about getting it "right" on the first try. Do what you can, and learn from every show!

There's no ONE true way to do a booth. So experiment. Find out what makes your booth yours.

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