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 #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!

Industrious Illustrating #47 – Income Streams

Last weekend I actually got off of the Youmacon Artist Alley waitlist extremely last-minute (like, getting off on Friday of the Friday to Sunday convention weekend last-minute), so I tabled for all three days with the stock I had prepared for Motor City Comic Con and actually surpassed all of my previous sales records and expectations for convention selling! If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I split a table at last year’s Youmacon with a friend as one of my first convention selling experiences. This year I had a whole table to myself, and I think my art and display have seen massive improvements since then, as you can see in my table display pictured below:

My convention table setup this year, though I did rearrange some of the prints on my photostand later that weekend

Considering how much better my bank account looks now, I actually want to talk about a few different types of income streams that working artists rely upon to make a living, pay bills, keep their art business going, or sometimes just to have “fun money”. Typically artists will rely on multiple income streams/sources to minimize volatility from surges and recessions in the demand for certain types of art services.


Getting other people to pay for you to draw them custom artwork is a pretty common way to make money as an artist. If your skills are valuable enough and you get your name out there one way or another, clients will be willing to pay a pretty penny for your services. Typical personal commissions cost anywhere from sub-100 dollars to hundreds of dollars, with some clients potentially being willing to pay over a thousand or more for your artwork if you’re in the top echelon of commission artists.

Commercial commissions (e.g. working as a contractor) pay much better than personal commissions and typically pay several thousand dollars per piece, but they’re also much harder to secure with higher skill and networking requirements to get your foot in the door.

Online Store

A lot of artists run an online store, whether they’re selling digital products, their mass-manufactured products, or even original artworks. If a lot of people from around the country or world want to purchase your products, this can be a decently regular and significant income source. However, there’s a lot of necessary know-how to actually market and run and online store, and actually fulfilling orders can become very time-consuming (I literally just spent 2 hours the other day packing orders). While I don’t focus as much on my online store as I do on other income sources, my online store has taken off enough to the point that it now constitutes a decent part of my income in between commissions and conventions.

Conventions (mass-produced products)

I’ve definitely already discussed conventions a few times before on this column, but they’re worth mentioning again if the type of art you create is geared toward pop-culture fans or simply can be sold in a cheaper mass-manufactured form. Just like with most types of online stores, the money you make per sale isn’t that much, but getting a lot of purchases in a single weekend can add up pretty fast and lead to significant take-home income relative to the amount of hours you spent selling. However, the cost and time investment involved in paying for table space/travel/merchandise is also pretty significant, and most people only break even or barely make a profit after expenses.

Fine Art events (originals)

I don’t know as much about this type of income since I’ve never tried to make money through this income stream, but I’ve attended a bunch and have a few acquaintances who are working to break into this sphere. Just as online stores and convention selling involve combining business acumen with an attractive display and good art to make people believe in the worth of your work, fine art events involve showing off your impressive one-of-a-kind creations and selling them for large sums of money similar to or larger than the amount of money you’d charge for custom commissions (in the hundreds or thousands of dollars). They also have a high initial start-up cost and most people don’t actually make a living off of doing this (which is true for pretty much all of the income streams here). Really, the main difference is the type of audience you have to woo and what kinds of signifiers (e.g. connections, presentation, the quality of your artwork) they recognize as determining the value of paying for your work. As for what those are, you’re better off asking someone else besides me, sorry.


I also don’t know as much about this type of income source, but it’s the closest thing that many independent artists have to a reliable income source. Usually this takes the form of digital goodies (work-in-progress pics, high-quality final pics, a monthly poll to choose an art idea to draw, etc.), but some artists run monthly enamel pin/sticker/charm/etc. subscription services where they mail out a merch package to their subscribers on a regular basis. The per-patron revenue oftentimes isn’t very high because of the expectation that subscription services that provide the same services to everyone who use them shouldn’t be too expensive, but the artists who secure a large and devoted paying following can make a respectable income off of monthly subscription money.

Full-time work

The dream for many artists is to find stable, full-time work with a company so that they can get typical employment benefits (including retirement and health insurance) and not have to juggle several different hustles at the same time to get by. However, full-time employees are expensive for companies to pay for, so in the age of increasing cost-cutting, outsourcing, and automation there’s fewer and fewer full-time jobs available — and the ones that do still exist are oftentimes higher level jobs which require years of experience at other full-time art jobs. Basically, more and more artists in the future will have to rely on some of the other income sources described above.

Of course, these are all very broad descriptions, and there’s many much more specific ways to profit off of these types of income streams, but I hope these descriptions are helpful enough as a way to help you get thinking about how you want to get money in exchange for the value of your artistic labor!

Also, I’ll be tabling in the Artist Alley at Motor City Comic Con this weekend starting from the time that this post goes live, so I’ll make a mention of how I did at my first comic con tabling experience in next week’s column!

Industrious Illustrating #46 – Common Merchandise Types

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! In previous weeks I’ve gone over profit margins and event types that artists can sell at. This week, I’m discussing a few different types of merchandise that I personally offer and their most common prices at pop culture convention Artist Alleys and online sales. Since this is another long post, I put my list underneath a Read More:

Read more: Industrious Illustrating #46 – Common Merchandise Types

Stickers ($3-8)

I used to sell stickers, but I stopped because the thin profit margin wasn’t worth how much trouble it was to market and display them in exchange for enough money to maybe buy myself a single boba per sticker. Other artists see great success with selling large volumes of them or in addition to higher priced items though. It all depends on your business strategy!
Keep in mind that some event venues will outright ban stickers and other sticky-backed items (phone grips, window decals, etc.) because of potential vandalism.

Buttons/Pins ($3-$15+)

While buttons and pins are sometimes used interchangeably as terms, they describe different types of merchandise. Buttons are typically laminated paper pressed into a metal backing with a safety pin attached on the back to secure it to clothing or other soft materials. Pins are typically wood, acrylic, metal, or enamel with an attached pin post (shaped like a metal nail) and “clutch” (typically rubber or metal) to attach it to soft materials. Pins are also typically more expensive than buttons because of the higher production cost that comes from outsourcing them to a manufacturer rather than being able to mass-produce them at home using a button press. However, these two types of merch are oftentimes displayed together on table displays using corkboard, canvas banners, vinyl cubes, etc. Prices on buttons and pins vary a lot and are generally dependent on the production cost, size, materials, etc.

I currently sell some specialty buttons shaped like coffins or made of soft plush material and a few pins either made out of metal in the shape of a bottle cap or made of responsibly sourced wood. They’re not my bestsellers, but I’ll see how they’ll do over time as I accumulate more online sales and attend more events to sell my art.

Most of my coffin-shaped button designs

A wood pin I’ve made with a fat squirrel design.

Acrylic Charms ($8-$20+)

Acrylic charms are printed 2D artwork sealed within a (typically) laser-cut piece of acrylic cut to the artwork’s outline. The most common size of charm that I see is 2.5 inches with a clear border around the design and a hole in the top with a metal keychain clasp for hanging the charm on something else.

These typically sell for about $12-15, which may seem like a lot for such a small and simple item until you remember that acrylic charms are almost all produced in China (so, higher shipping costs than sourcing domestically like you can for prints) and are relatively sturdy and long-lasting compared to stickers or prints.

Larger charms and charms with special finishes/gimmicks such as holographic finish, foil accents, attached hanging acrylic pieces, special clasp designs, an internal compartment with shakable acrylic pieces, etc. can sell for a higher price, typically somewhere between $20-$30. Charms smaller than 2.5 inches can go for lower, typically somewhere between $8-$10. There’s also charms made of other materials such as metal, wood, PVC, and enamel, but they’re a lot less common than acrylic charms either for durability or cost reasons.

Charms sell best for me through online sales compared to other merchandise types. I assume this is because charms take up less space and that the charms I offer are in a niche that doesn’t have many other artists making small merchandise (mecha/robots) even when compared to the broader internet.

Two recent acrylic charm designs I made that far surpassed my sales expectations when I listed them online

Prints ($10-$25+)

Prints without specialty finishes like holographic (rainbow crystal) laminate or metallic spot foil accents are fairly cheap to produce, totaling about 1 dollar per print for 11×17 inch prints and even lower for smaller prints like 8.5×11″ or 4×6″ prints. Their high price point compared to their production cost comes from the length of time a typical print artwork takes compared to smaller merchandise with simpler designs, and also their relative large size compared to other forms of cheap-to-produce merch such as stickers and buttons. This still means that their profit margins are much better compared to other merchandise types, which also means that competition in the print-selling market is extremely competitive, especially in Artist Alley.

The most common prices I see for common print sizes at pop culture conventions is $10 for 4×6/5×7 prints, $15 for 8×10/8.5×11″ prints, $20-$25 for 11×17/12×18″ prints, and much higher for anything larger. Specialty finishes up the prices per print size by at least $5, though in my experience customers are willing to pay an additional $10 or more for a special shiny-looking print. However, these prices are actually relatively low compared to how much fine artists charge for prints at fine art events, as the typical attendee there is expecting higher prices compared to the average anime or comic con attendee.

My best-seller at cons is by far prints, though prints also account for a majority of the merchandise that I offer in the first place.

Examples of holographic finish prints that I sell online and at my Artist Alley table

Apparel ($20+)

I don’t personally sell apparel because of the high cost per unit (at least $10 per printed shirt) and the amount of stock I’d have to order for sizes S through XL without knowing if it’d actually sell, but there’s some artists who sell shirts or sweaters either printed on by a third-party manufacturer or that they screenprint on themselves. There’s a decent amount of potential money to be made by selling apparel since it’s not a common Artist Alley item and a lot of customers see appeal in functional items, but it also takes up a lot of storage space (a problem especially for weight restrictions on flights for faraway events) and you end up having to compete on price with fast-fashion corporations who can afford razor-thin profit margins far more than an independent artist can.

Other merchandise?

Keep in mind that this list is far from exhaustive and that there’s lots of other things that you can either create yourself or get your art printed on! This is just meant as a quick introduction/overview of commonly sold merchandise types in the specific type of small art business that I currently work in.

Remember that the advantages of selling mass-produced merchandise based on an original drawing instead of focusing on selling one-of-a-kind original art pieces are that you can reuse your designs infinitely and across various types of merchandise to potentially make lots of sales across a long period of time from a few hours of labor. Your budget and time are the true limiting factors when it comes to what kind of merchandise you can create and offer as an independent artist!

Anyway, Motor City Comic Con is next weekend (November 10-12), so I’m waiting on several merchandise orders to ship in ahead of that con. I’ll be debuting new merchandise like rubber deskmats and double foil prints to experiment with what my customer base likes best, and I’ll be sure to write a column after that convention talking about how my first comic con tabling experience went!