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 #45 – Conventions/Fairs

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! This week I’m going over the different types of events that artists can sell their artwork at and discussing basic information about their audiences, event sizes, etc. The general idea is that artists can pay a fee (anywhere from $50 for a small event to $300-$500+ for larger events) to an event’s organizers to rent out a table space (anywhere from 6-8 feet or more) that they sell at during show hours while the event is ongoing. The money earned from these can be pretty respectable (anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for the top-performing artists), but part of getting there is knowing what types of events are out there and whether or not their audiences will want to purchase one’s work.
Disclaimer: I’ll be mostly going over pop culture-related events because that’s what I’m most familiar with. There’s lots of fine arts-related events that are also worth considering that you could look into on Facebook Events or similar if that’s more of what you’re interested in, though!

Indie Comics Fairs

Indie comics fairs are typically small one or two-day events (a few hundred to a few thousand attendees at most) with programming and an artist alley highlighting independent comics artists and their original creations. Some of the bigger fairs of this type are the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo in Boston and MoCCA in New York City. I’ve never tabled at one before, but I enjoy attending them to look for zines, short comics, and original art prints — not so much popular culture fanart or non-paper types of merch — and most of the audience seems also be primarily interested in those types of merch.

Some local events worth checking out if you want to buy from and meet independent comics artists are A2CAF at the Ann Arbor District Library as well as the Detroit Zine Fest. And if you yourself make comics, these events are worth a try to make sales and reach out to potential fans of your work!

A recent A2CAF promotional image

Comic Conventions

Comic conventions tend to be larger than indie comics fairs, happening across a full three-day weekend (Fri-Sun) with thousands to tens of thousands of fans in attendance, and they focus more on highlighting big-name comics artists and Western pop culture celebrities as well as selling photo-op and autograph opportunities with them, although some comic conventions lately are trying to appeal to a broader nerd audience by bringing in anime voice actor or internet celebrity guests. Some of the biggest comic conventions in the country are San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). The audience for these events tends to skew older with more of an interest in Western media and pop culture, though there’s also generally a decently sized audience for other forms of pop culture such as anime and video games. I’ve never tabled at a comic con before as of the writing of this post, but I am planning on tabling at Motor City Comic Con Fall in Novi from November 10-12 this year! I’ll likely write up a post afterward talking about how the convention went and sharing any insights I gained from trying out a new type of convention to sell at.

Motor City Comic Con’s logo.

Anime Conventions

Anime conventions are the type of convention I most frequently sell at, as most of my work appeals the most to anime fans either by being fanart of popular anime properties or being of a subject matter that anime fans tend to like (e.g. cool robots, cute animals). They’re typically focused on Japanese pop culture and animation, but lately properties from other regions of East Asia such as South Korea and Mainland China have become popular as well at anime cons, and many anime con attendees are also fans of Western pop culture media and video games. I’ll be tabling at Isshocon (also in Novi) in January 2024, which is a new first-year anime convention that I hope to see grow into a larger con. I also might be at Youmacon 2023 in Detroit next weekend (November 3-5) if I get off of the waitlist, but we’ll see about that.

Youmacon’s logo

If you want to try tabling at pop culture conventions but the several hundred dollar table fees and large crowds of larger conventions are too intimidating to get started, I highly, highly recommend applying for Con Ja Nai if you want to sell any kind of art that appeals to an anime or pop culture fan audience and you’re currently a student at UMich. Con Ja Nai happens every early April on a Saturday inside the Modern Languages Building with free admission, panels, a maid cafe, and a decently sized vendor hall/artist alley to browse. While Con Ja Nai is a small one-day college convention held by UMich’s anime club (Animania) that attracts a few hundred attendees at most, it’s very cheap to table at (about $15 for a 6 foot table space), the selection process prioritizes University of Michigan students (no need to deal with the lottery/jury applications gauntlet of bigger conventions) and the money is pretty good for the amount of attendees the event gets. Applications typically open around February or March and are typically shared in the Animania Discord server and/or on the convention’s website, so keep an eye out for that. I’ve actually posted on this column about tabling there a few times in the past, and I plan on doing so until I eventually graduate and move out of Ann Arbor.

A previous promotional image for Con Ja Nai.

Other small events?

While I did say earlier that I don’t have experience with fine arts events, there is a similar small art fair at the University of Michigan called the What the F! Art Fair that is still accepting applications until tomorrow, 10/28 (at the time of publication) for women, queer, and/or BIPOC artists to sell their art in any medium. I’ve done it twice and got the vibe that the attendees care mostly for looking at and purchasing original fine artwork, which isn’t what I sell but could be perfect for a different artist! You can find the application link here (note that I am not associated with the What the F magazine in any way whatsoever).

And that’s all for today! If there’s any topics you guys want me to cover or go into more detail on, please let me know in the comments! 🙂

Industrious Illustrating #16 – Table Layout

Boo! You didn’t expect an Industrious Illustrating post on Halloween, did you? Yes, this post is three days late, but that’s part of the spooky surprise!

In reality, I’ve been so busy with preparing for Youmacon, aka the first big pop culture-related convention I’m selling at, that updating this weekly column slipped my mind. But I can now share the test table setup I made with my tablemate yesterday! We don’t have all of our prints displayed yet, and we’ll probably move some things around as well to maximize visibility, but this is close to what our final table setup will look like this weekend! Also, I wish I could share what our table number is, but that’ll likely have to wait until the post I make this Friday (first day of Youmacon). If any readers are planning on attending Youmacon 2022 in Detroit, I look forward to seeing you there!

Speaking honestly here, while I do enjoy working on more refined and detailed paintings to turn into prints, I also feel like I’ve been slacking a lot on making life studies and personal artwork, rather than just painting what I think will sell to an audience. That’s not to say that I feel like I’m not making progress in my art, but I do feel like I could be pushing myself in more ways than I am at the moment.

Even though it’s not New Year’s yet — we still have Thanksgiving and Christmas left to go before the end of 2022 — my resolution is to study more of the pictures I took of the scenery and other peoples’ artwork while exploring Hong Kong this summer and implement those studies into my artwork as an illustrator and character designer.

Anyway, I hope to see you guys this Friday either in person or with my next Industrious Illustrating column!