Industrious Illustrating #62 – Coming to an End

I almost can’t believe that the school year is almost over already — I feel like the spring of 2023 happened only a couple of months ago! Currently I’m trying to finish a bevy of final assignments on time this week before they’re due, which includes both UX-related coursework and client work. I wonder how it’d feel to balance a full-time job workload on top of making my own artwork for both personal and business purposes… (Also, this is why the column is a couple of days late this week)

What I was definitely able to make time for this past week, however, was driving down to Toledo to see the total solar eclipse. I don’t regret this one bit, as I’ll remember forever throwing off my eclipse glasses when I saw the sliver of sun disappear and seeing a giant void of darkness with a glowing rim of white light looming in the dark sky above me. No wonder why so much mythology and artwork has been inspired by the sight of a total eclipse!

I didn’t get any really good eclipse photos because my phone camera is older and I didn’t think of borrowing a nicer camera from LSA or Stamps’s equipment offices, so this is the best one I have

I also did Con Ja Nai last weekend and made a fairly decent amount of money — several times more than what I’ve historically made at CJN before my art business really started taking off this year. I think the addition of mecha keychains has boosted my con revenue from average to quite good, as they satisfy an under-served niche for small mecha merch. It goes to show that sometimes you don’t know what’ll work best for you and your business until you experiment and eventually hit it off with your customer base.

My setup from last weekend — I definitely feel like I need to simplify this down though, as it’s a huge headache to set up just for a single day of selling even with two people working on it

Also, filing taxes by yourself as a self-employed small business owner is a huge headache — I’m likely going to reach out to a small business CPA (accountant) for next year’s tax season since my taxes are going to only get more complicated now that I do out-of-state events. The difficulty of keeping track of sales, income, and estimated taxes is something that I don’t think enough people warn you about before you try to run an art business.

Anyway, I think there’ll only be one or two more Industrious Illustrating columns this school year before I go on summer break and focus my energy on other things. I’m not sure yet whether or not I’ll bring back this column next school year, as my art business has now taken off a lot this year and my coursework is also becoming increasingly demanding closer to graduation. However, I’m tempted to keep this running until the end of undergrad because it’d be a really nice log of my growth and development as an illustrator and product designer over the course of several years.
If you’d like to see this column come back next year, I’d love to hear from you ^^ And either way, I hope you’ll enjoy the nice weather outside in the upcoming weeks!

Industrious Illustrating #61 – Sakuracon 2024

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! It’s been a few days since Sakuracon 2024 and I still feel really exhausted O(-( You can see my table setup below:

Overall Sakuracon was an expensive convention to attend, especially since I flew my usual helper to Seattle with me and paid for his expenses in addition to my own. However, I actually broke my previous earnings record (which I just made last month at Katsucon) and made a significant profit, so I’m very happy with the results! I had an amazing time meeting so many wonderful people at Sakuracon, ate so much good food, and I hope I can come back to the Pacific Northwest for more conventions either later this year or next year!

I ended up using Monday to visit the Seattle Aquarium and the International District/Chinatown before hopping on a late-night flight back to Michigan, as the prices for Easter weekend flights were more expensive than spending an extra night and day in Seattle. I picked up some limited-time collaboration merch from Animal Crossing and Honkai Impact 3rd while I was there, and I also took a bunch of reference pictures of marine life that will inspire future original pieces.

If any of you guys are interested, I’ll be selling leftovers from Sakuracon at Con Ja Nai, which is UMich’s very own annual one-day anime convention that happens in the Modern Languages Building from 12-7pm (Artist Alley closes at 6pm) on April 6th. Come say hi! 🙂

In other news, I’ve also been accepted into Anime Park (subsidized Canton IKEA trip!) on May 4th and I got off of the waitlist for Motor City Comic Con Spring (May 17-19), which I am still considering whether or not I want to accept since it overlaps with Anime Central and I’m still lowkey hoping that I can get off of the waitlist for Anime Central or grab a no-show table on the actual convention weekend. Either way, I’m looking forward to a summer of making new art, doing events, and (if it’s in the cards for me) summer classes/an internship!

Industrious Illustrating #59 – AMKE and the Grindset

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! Honestly, I forgot to make a post last week because I was out of state for Anime Milwaukee and was focusing entirely on running my Artist Alley table to the best of my ability. I almost forgot again this week because I’ve been figuratively (and literally!) running around trying to make merch orders/re-orders before my next convention at the end of the month. Anyway, here’s what my AMKE table setup looked like this year:

Overall, I did pretty solidly — my revenue was on the higher end of the middle in terms of revenue I’ve made at conventions in the past — but Milwaukee is a fairly expensive city to visit and I’d bring more premade food with me next time to cut down on costs. Otherwise, I’m fairly happy with my profits and I’ll be back if this con accepts me again next year.

On other note, something I’ve been thinking about this week is that even though I do anime conventions instead of art fairs or other events because I specifically love fan culture and engaging with fellow nerds, turning my online shop and convention tables into nearly a full-time job on top of schoolwork is extremely exhausting. I’m almost grateful that I didn’t apply to any cons in April besides Con Ja Nai (Umich’s own one-day anime con!) and I haven’t gotten into any conventions in May (RIP Fanime, ACEN, and MomoCon) because otherwise my entire year would just be convention after convention interspersed with grinding out new merch designs. For one thing, even though I get a lot of merch design requests it’s not like I actually have to constantly make new designs — I’m only just starting to do out-of-state conventions this year and most attendees haven’t seen my work before! For another thing, if I just constantly work myself to the bone chasing higher revenue, would the extra money really be worth burning myself out and making me forget why I’m doing this as a gig instead of working a more “normal” job? Also, all of this is taking away energy, attention, and time I could be spending working on original projects or seeking out other potential jobs/careers, such as doing commercial illustration or user experience design/research. I definitely want to focus more on those during April and May.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy making new merch — I do this precisely because I love the process of researching and designing new merchandise and making them into reality — but I also can’t remember how to enjoy that process without giving myself space to decompress and relax. I think that this weekend I’ll focus on doing house chores and taking “me time” (probably playing video games and taking walks) so that I can remember what it feels like to be a human being and not an art-making machine.

All of this makes me wonder whether or not I should consider being a traveling freelance artist a viable job path in the future rather than a profitable hobby. I mean, what happens if there’s a year where I’m not accepted into any major conventions and my online sales aren’t enough to make up the difference? But also, another part of my brain reminds me that just about every industry is being shaken up by AI and other changes in the economy at the moment, and a regular salaried job would also place my livelihood at the whims of external forces. The best any of us can do is diversify our income streams and not place all our eggs in one basket, whether that basket is a corporate job or self-employed freelance. Maybe this isn’t as upbeat and hopeful as I wish I could be, but this is a column about my journey improving my art and trying to make it viable as a career, so I think it’s to everyone’s benefit that I’m candid and frank at least on occasion. I hope all of you have a great restful weekend, and see you next week!

Industrious Illustrating #57 – Katsucon 2024

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! This week’s post is late because I spent the entire weekend in National Harbor, Maryland (near Washington D.C.) at Katsucon — a large anime convention — in the Artist Alley selling merchandise of my artwork! It broke my previous convention sales records several times over and I ran out of a bunch of merch designs, so I’m very happy with the results! I also got to network with and meet a bunch of other amazing artists!

When I was in the area, I also visited the Steven P. Udzar-Hazy Center, which is an offshoot of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum located nearby in Virginia where the space shuttle Discovery is on display alongside an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde supersonic plane, an X-35B STOVL, and many other exciting civilian and military aircraft! I took lots of reference pictures and even did some on-site sketching to the best of my abilities, though I’m not as practiced at drawing aircraft and I was exhausted from driving all the way to D.C. (with an overnight stop at Pittsburgh) last week.

Anyway, I’m elated that I got the opportunity to do a convention outside of the Michigan-Ohio area for the first time and that I gained so many valuable experiences from it, plus I had lots of fun and made enough money to fund my next art business ventures and pay for a bunch of personal expenses! I’m looking forward to my slate of upcoming cons next month (Anime Milwaukee in, well, Milwaukee at the beginning of the month, Sakuracon in Seattle at the end) and I also hope to do more original design work soon with aircraft as inspiration!

Industrious Illustrating #49 – Paper Printing

Did I say “next week” in my last column? Oops. I kinda forgot that Thanksgiving break was coming up, and then I ended up too busy with personal life stuff to actually make this post. Anyway, now I’m making this quick-ish overview of paper terms and types for making prints!

When making prints on paper of your artwork, something important to keep in mind is paper weight (which is almost always equivalent to thickness). Thicker paper is sturdier and harder to damage or bend, which both keeps your stock safer and also feels better for your customers compared to receiving a super thin paper print. Usually the way to evaluate printing company paper weight is through points, which is a whole number version of how many fractions of an inch thick the paper is. For example, 12pt cardstock is .012 inches thick. There’s also other ways of evaluating weight such as pounds or gsm (grams per square meter) that sometimes show up, but I’m less familiar with how those work.

A sampling of papers with different gsm. Source:

There’s also a myriad of different paper types available for printing, but the ones used most often for poster prints are text and cardstock. Text paper is thinner paper similar to office printing paper or the pages of a book, while cardstock (also known as cover stock) is closer to the paper used for a greeting card or the cover of a softcover book. There’s also giclee, which is an archival-quality paper used for more expensive fine art prints that are meant to last, but I don’t use it since the per-unit cost is much higher than cardstock and my customer base prefers relatively affordable posters.

If you want personal recommendations, the paper I use from Catprint is specifically their Light Cardstock – Satin, which I feel has a good balance of sturdiness, light-weightness, and a finish that subtly enhances the artwork (I’m not sponsored, but I definitely wouldn’t turn down a sponsorship if I got an email about it). I’ve also tried 12pt gloss cardstock from Greko Printing (a Michigan-local printing shop) and found it similar in thickness and quality to Catprint’s Light Cardstock Satin, so that’s a valid alternative if you want to support local.

The print I made with Greko is on the left, while the print I made with Catprint is on the right. Greko’s feels slightly thicker, but otherwise the two prints are quite comparable.

If you print at home or (as a Stamps student) in the Digital Printing Lab using an Epson printer — which is a valid option if you prefer total control over your prints and can tolerate wrangling the printer yourself — Epson typically makes several types of papers that are good for art prints. I personally liked their matte premium presentation paper the most — their non-premium paper is way too thin and light for my liking, and I didn’t really like how the gloss finish on their gloss papers made my artwork look overly shiny. They’re typically available in packs of 25 or 50 online in various sizes (usually 8.5×11″ or 11×17″), and they even have some extra premium options like a canvas finish or extra thick paper that I’ve never tried but might elevate your prints.

Don’t make my mistake — make sure that the paper you’re getting has the “Premium” at the top!

Honestly, the best advice I can give in the end is to order a sample pack (usually either free or at a small cost) from the printing company you’re interested in to actually see and feel for yourself which paper type would work best with your own artwork. Enjoy having your artwork physically sit in your hands as a custom print!

In terms of next week’s topic, maybe I’ll go back to showing and talking about my own artwork, since it’s been a few weeks of just talking about art business-related topics. Of course, I’d like to hear if you guys want me to cover anything specific in the future!

Industrious Illustrating #48 – November Conventions Recap

My Motor City Comic Con Fall 2023 table

Welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! Last weekend I was selling at Motor City Comic Con Fall 2023 in the Artist Alley, which ended up being a lot slower sales-wise and traffic-wise than Youmacon was the previous weekend but still an okay profit. I think that my stuff just isn’t as popular with the comic con crowd, which makes sense since almost everything I draw fanart of is a Japanese or East Asian media property (even including Armored Core). Weirdly enough my Pacific Rim print sold way better at Youmacon than at Motor City, but I think that can also be attributed to Motor City Comic Con’s fall show having lower attendance and buying interest overall than either Youmacon the weekend before. I still hope that I can try spring MC3 in May next year since I’ve heard it’s much better attended than the fall show, but I don’t plan on doing the fall show again since it didn’t really feel worth my time or the table cost.

Something I’ve definitely noticed is that selling big-ticket items (large prints, specialty prints, deskmats) has helped increase my revenue and profits at conventions. My profits at MC3 were salvaged by several people making large purchases of multiple prints or items, and a significant chunk of my far better than expected profits at Youmacon was also people making large purchases of deskmats or multiple items at once. There’s only so many days in a convention weekend, which means that making more money means making more sales or making larger sales. Because my products are mostly for a specific niche (mecha art) rather than a broadly appealing mass market, I can’t count on making more sales at every event. However, I can count on making my art and offerings good enough to encourage larger purchases per interested customer that are worth as much as or more than several smaller purchases. That’s just my personal business strategy, though — other artists may find greater success selling lots of small cheap items that add up into good profits.

In terms of future conventions, I received acceptances for two early 2024 cons within the last few days — Anime Milwaukee and Katsucon (Washington D.C. area) — which means I will finally be branching out from Michigan/Ohio cons and traveling further away to get my work in front of more people who haven’t seen it before. This also means that a bunch of the money I just earned at Youmacon and MC3 is immediately getting reinvested back into the business since I have to book hotel rooms and transportation to get to these cons, which goes to show the importance of making a profit rather than merely breaking even. Without making a profit off of these past few cons and my online sales, I wouldn’t have enough money to both pay off personal expenses and grow my business at the same time.

Anyway, I won’t have any more cons until January, so I probably won’t be talking much more about conventions until then and I’ll focus on other art and art business-related topics. Next week I’ll discuss different ways to make prints (at-home printing, outsourcing, etc.) including a few on-campus or local options for UMich students!