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Artist Alley First-Timer? What You Need to Know!

Journal Entry: Mon May 16, 2011, 12:57 PM
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Artist Alley First-Timer? What You Need to Know!
A little advice after my time at the artist alley.
by ArtByMelissaM

:star: An original article by ArtByMelissaM

Artist Alley: My First Time!

:bulletred: Many of us have been to some form of comic or anime convention and traveled through the artist alley. The first time I ever went to a convention was WonderCon in San Francisco, California, and the first place I stopped was at the artist alley. I remember being so surprised that there was actually a place completely devoted to artists. After browsing through the artist alley and meeting some of the artists, I thought to myself, “One day, you’ll be here, too.”  About 5 years later, I was coerced into getting my first artist alley table at Sac-Con in Sacramento, California on March 6th, 2011.

:bulletred: Preparing to have an artist alley table was one of the most stressful things I have ever experienced. I looked up everything I could on having a table. I asked various artist friends what their experiences were in the artist alley. I even tried to find books on the subject! Sadly, the books didn’t help me enough to prepare for the convention.

:bulletred: Most of you reading this are probably considering getting your first artist alley table or you’re still a novice and you want to get some tips. I hope this article will help you out enough to prepare for the challenges of preparing your first artist alley table.

I Want a Table: Where do I Start?

“I want to get an artist alley table, but I don’t know where to start!”

:bulletorange: The first step in getting an artist alley table is to pick a convention you want to go to. Start small at first; don’t try to get a table at San Diego’s Comic-con just yet! Look for local anime/comic cons and start there. Tables are usually cheap and come with admission badges for you included in the cost of the table.

:bulletorange: Scope out the battlefield. The best thing to do that’ll save you a major headache is to attend a convention and do some research beforehand. Then plan on having a table there NEXT YEAR. This isn’t to discourage you from getting your artist alley table, it’s to give you time to prepare! Before getting a table, you should go and get the feel of the convention. Think of it as a research opportunity.  Learn what type of fans go there, what the artist alley looks like, where the nearest pizza place is, etc. This gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the area, so when you go to the convention you don’t feel so flustered!

:bulletorange: Another reason to wait till next year's convention is because you probably don’t have a large enough collection of prints, business cards, signs, original art, books, stickers, pins, buttons, etc. to sell. If you give yourself a year to prepare and get the necessary merchandise, you’ll be a happy artist, people will recognize your professionalism and be interested in your products, and you’ll probably make more money.

:bulletorange: You don’t HAVE to wait to get your table, but take it from my experience: it’s worth the wait. I got pressured into getting a table about a MONTH before the convention. So I had a month to get everything together, to create artwork, to make prints, and to learn how to promote myself. Had I spent a year preparing, I probably would have been more successful (and saved myself a massive head ache from all the stress).

Prepping for the Convention

“What am I suppose to do to prepare for the convention?”

:bulletgreen: All right. So you’ve picked out your convention, you've done your research on the table and what? Now you get to work on your products.

:bulletgreen: Your original comic. If you have a comic that you want to sell at the con, this should be your first step. You need to get your comic prepared to print; I’m not going to go into too much depth just on this. Don’t worry, there are a lot of books and sites that are made for this subject. The reason you need to get your books printed first is because this is the longest step. It can take a few days or a few months for your books to be ready to sell, so if you give yourself enough time, you’ll do fine. You need to get your pages ready for print, first look for print shops that print comics. Look at their prices, customer reviews, and see if they’ll print out a proof of your book.  A proof allows you to fix any errors on your end, and it lets you get a good look at the printing quality of the service before you place a full order.  

:bulletgreen: Make your prints. I suggest you have a healthy mix of fan art and original prints. One of the things people told me to do is have plenty of fan art prints, because people rarely buy original art. What happened to me was I had people stopping by my table and saying they liked the fan art prints, BUT they never bought them. My best selling prints were my original art prints. So it really depends what type of people go to the convention. I found this to be a relief because I absolutely DISLIKE doing fan art, so it was refreshing to see that people wanted original instead of mainstream. I’ll give tips on print places in the bottom portion of this article, so stay tuned! Also, make sure to check with your chosen con's guidelines concerning fanart. Many cons are restricting fanart due to legal issues.

:bulletgreen: Merchandise. Key chains, buttons, stickers, bookmarks, etc. All of these other items have to be made with a machine (if you're making them yourself), or you can get them made by a company that specializes in making these products. These items are CRUCIAL to your table! A lot of people go to conventions and don’t have a whole lot of money to spend, so they look for small items like key chains or stickers, so if you have a bunch of these little money makers on your table, it’s another tool to get people looking at your stuff and make some con goers happy because they were able to buy something with pocket change!

:bulletgreen: Business Cards. These are THE MOST important part to your table! People will want to check out more of your art or read your comic, so you need to have business cards to give out to your potential customers! The main things you need on your business cards are

• Name (First and Last)
• Email
• DeviantArt
• Website (if you have a webcomic, site, ect.)
• What you do (Comic artist, graphic designer, writer, ect)

:bulletgreen: Your Table Kit. Be prepared for any table catastrophe! This is a list of things you’ll need to have your table in perfect shape:
• Duct tape
• Cash Box
• Safety pins, S hooks
• Scissors
• Ruler
• String (or dental floss)
• Silver/Black Sharpies (for signing prints and books)
• Pens
• Small first aid kit (Medicine, aspirin, cough drops)
• Mints, gum, breath freshener
• Notebook/index cards/paper
• Calculator
• Receipts(for tax records)
• Extra business cards
• Snacks/drinks
• Table cloths(2)

:bulletgreen: Boxes, Bins, Storage. You’re going to need to be able to transport all of your products and table materials to the convention safely so you don’t mess anything up. I HIGHLY recommend getting cheap plastic storage bins (which you can get at Walmart for like $5). Also get a plastic storage bin with drawers (preferably with 2+ drawers), you’ll need something to hold all of your receipts, paper work, art supplies etc. These storage bins and drawers are life savers for conventions. Also, these storage bins should be used to store all of your extra merchandise, table supplies, and book keeping for the conventions you attend.

I'm Ready! Can I get a table now?!

“Alright I have all of my table stuff ready, NOW can I get an artist alley table?”

:bulletblue: Hold on there, you little eager artist! You can’t just sign up for a table out of no where! Believe it or no.t there are legal matters you need to take care of first. I don’t know if this applies to ALL conventions in other countries or states. But here in California, you have to have a Seller’s permit to go to conventions, but the following info is VERY IMPORTANT if you plan to have a table in a Californian convention.

:bulletblue: Temporary Seller's Permit: If this is your first convention, start off by getting an occasional/temporary sellers permit first. It only takes a few minutes to fill out, and all you have to do is take it to the nearest Board of Equalization Office (BOE). It takes about an hour for the BOE to process your permit and get your packet of papers ready for you, so take this time to get some lunch, or to do a little shopping, and then go pick up your packet of papers.  The BOE counter person will explain to you where your permit info is in the packet, show you some of your booklets on the tax info and will tell you the deadline for you to turn in your tax work. Even if you don’t sell anything, you still need to fill out the tax information stating that you didn’t sell anything.

:bulletblue: State-by-State BOE Considerations. If you’re from out of state and want to do a convention here in California, you can do all of this by snail mail, it’ll just take a little longer. Here is where you can print out your permit application form for a Californian sellers permit…. If you have nothing to do with California and don’t want to ever do a convention here, go online to your states BOE website, and if you don’t live in the USA, then you’ll have to find out the terms and permit registrations for your country.

:bulletblue: The permit. When you get your sellers permit you will need to keep it with you at your table. I’m not saying that their will be any problems, but if by some random chance a government official shows up in the artist alley requesting everyone show their sellers permits, you won’t have to worry about getting in trouble. I had my commission prices sitting on my table and in the back of the sign holder I had my permit in site, so if this situation had happened to me, all I would have had to do was turn my sign around to show my permit. It’s the little things that can keep you from having a fun convention to having to pay fines or leaving the con.

:bulletblue: Price + Tax. You need to include tax when your selling your merchandise. I know I know, you’re probably saying right now “WHAT?!?! WHY SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT GET MONEY FROM MY ART WORK???” Sadly, I can’t answer that question. But if you want to avoid any problems, I suggest collecting tax while selling your merchandise. This is where the receipts come into play. Before you go to the convention, make a chart with the total price, tax and item price, the total price will have the amount the customer will pay. The total price is the tax and item price added together. So your $7 print will actually cost $6.44 + the $0.56 tax, so your customer will be paying the $7 and not having to worry about change being involved, which means less math work on your part. Your chart would do this for all of your merchandise, and you will refer to it every time you write out a receipt for your customer.

:bulletblue: Receipts. Those little pieces of paper that remind you of how much you just spent on whatever it is you just purchased. Most people just throw them away. What you as an artist should be doing is keeping them so you can refer back to them when it comes down to your tax paperwork. I HIGHLY suggest you give out receipts to your customers when they purchase something, even if it’s a small button. It's better to take the minute to write a receipt than to not fill one out and have problems with the tax people. All you need to do to fill out a receipt is to put the date, your name (or your companies name), the name of the item and the cost of the item(the cost without the tax), the total tax, and the total(the total cost of the print + the tax). If you made your chart like I suggested, you wont have to use a calculator too much. If someone buys multiple items all you do is write all of the items bought, their prices, and the added tax, then the total amount paid. See, this legal stuff isn’t TOO bad.

What else, what else?

“Okay. Is there anything else I should know about?”

:bulletpurple: Here are some quick tips for your table set up:

:bulletpurple: Keep your cashbox/cash register out of sight! usually the best place is under your table.

:bulletpurple: Don’t put all of your merchandise on your table! Put out 1 of each item for people to see. You don’t want people to man handle all of your merchandise and find out 5/12 of your prints were damaged. Have 1 of each product on the table. I keep my prints in sheet protectors. If you have a book, keep a few on your table. Like one on a stand and one open for people to look in.

:bulletpurple: Protect your merchandise. KEEP AN EYE ON ALL OF YOUR STUFF! Keep all of your extra merchandise under your table or behind you.    If you have items under your table, use your boxes and carrying cases as shields from people whom might try to crawl under your table to steal something (highly unlikely, but better safe than sorry).

:bulletpurple: Stay organized. Keep your stuff organized! Have your extra prints where you can reach them, your buttons where you can see them, and your books close at hand!

:bulletpurple: Strength in Numbers? Bring ONE friend to help you watch your table. Remember 3’s a crowd and more is just a disaster.

:bulletpurple: Break time! Take breaks occasionally! That’s why you bring a friend, they watch your stuff and handle sales while your gone to the bathroom or to look around.

:bulletpurple: Be mindful of the time! DO NOT spend more than 20 minutes away from your table! The longest I would ever stay away from my table was 5-10 minutes.

:bulletpurple: Leisure Time. Bring something to do, use the time when people aren’t stopping by your table to work on the next page of your comic, or to get some more art done. If your working on the next page to your comic, people will walk by once and wonder, ”What are they working on?” then they’ll continue to walk by and see the progress on your work, then they will most likely, buy your book, or a print!</blockquote>

Can I finally get my table?!


:bulletred: Alright, alright! Go on, my little artists! Be free into the world of Artist Alleys and Conventions!

:bulletred: BUUUUUT, before you take the plunge into the scary Artist Alley world, here are some good reads that’ll help you out even more! I know they’ll help, cause they helped me!

:star: The Basics of Having an Artist Alley Table

:star: How to Successfully Run an Art Table

:star: Manga Tutorials: Artist Alley

:star: Evolution of the Artist Alley Table - Part 2 - Part 3

:star: Book Rec: How To Make Webcomics By: Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub - Published by Image Comics, Inc.
This book has an amazing chapter on comic conventions and artist alley tables. This book is like my second Bible :D

Thank you for reading, and I hope some of this is helpful to you!

:heart: :iconartbymelissam:

Related Manga-Apps Articles:

:star: So You Wanna Make Some Merch...

Add a Comment:
ichirukifan13 Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2015
A lot of that legal stuff doesn't apply here in Canada. I've never heard of anyone having trouble with selling fanart or anything. I don't think we have to worry about the whole seller's permit here either or paying taxes on tables, but I could be wrong. I've never had a table of my own but none of my friends have had any problems like that.

Either way, there's a lot of good advice here!!! So thank you! :3 I'll be keeping this in mind when(hopefully) I'll be running my own table in the future! :D
DancingSubaru Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
This is good to know!
Thank you for the tips!
LostElegy Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I disagree with brining only one friend, I've brought 2 xD and had plenty of fun with them we weren't too crowded either,

all other tips are great!
nootaz Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
oh thank you for this! you are a life savor 
im planning to go sell at a pony con but iv been worried...
i just gotta see how to sell a coloring book...
FlynnTheCat Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2015  Student Digital Artist
I have a question! I plan on setting up a stand of my own sometime next year and I should be selling prints, keychains, stickers, etc... But I'm not sure where to buy / how to make the custom keychains,stickers... Do you have any tips on where to get the supplies for any of these things? I've been trying to figure this out for a few days now :^) thank you for any help you can give me!!
kabocha Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You want to look around at different print shops.  I know some places in Asia do some interesting print jobs -- I've seen a small agency called JimiAgency do some interesting keychains and stuff...  Plus sparkly prints.  They might be a good place to start looking!
FlynnTheCat Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2015  Student Digital Artist
I'll look into it! Thank you so much for the help, I really appreciate it!
ProjectGlue Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2015
Thank you (:
PolarStar Featured By Owner May 23, 2015  Student
Wow, this is really a helpfull information! Thank you!
Alexandra-Marrero Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
kallielef Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2015  Professional General Artist
This was very helpful, thank you. I've been to a few cons now, and am taking the leap for the first time and setting up shop. One thing I'm very nervous about (as an introverted artist type might be) are on the spot commissions. Have you done these, and if so, what has been your experience? I'm not great at drawing things off the top of my head, and tend to be a perfectionist about my traditional works, so I'm concerned about time constraints too. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. 
Sanza-tan Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Hi! I was reading this article, and just noticed your comment. I know you aren't asking me personally, but I thought maybe some insight might help. (: I was at Lex comic con this past weekend, and ordered an on-the-spot commission from a really cool artist. As long as you have something to look up reference pictures with, and finish the commissions before the end of the day, things should go well for you! Hopefully you wont have any really rude, or impatient customers. 
kallielef Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Professional General Artist
Thank you very much for your reply. It's good to hear drawing from reference isn't frowned upon (I praise the ones who don't need to). I think it will help me feel more comfortable in such a busy atmosphere. Thanks again! 
Sanza-tan Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You are totally welcome. :) I'm glad I could help out! 
Good luck with all your artist alley things! <x
kallielef Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2015  Professional General Artist
Thank you so much! 
Sanza-tan Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You are very welcome. :)
rainismysunshine Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
A good thing about the UK is that you only have to pay tax on the art if you make £6,000 or more. ;)
XemnasISuperior Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2014  Student General Artist
One Question though, this guide was incredibly handy, but where does everyone get those wire racks? Do they bring them along? the stands and all that?
Ashikai Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah, you can buy them at K-marts and stuff. They're REALLY heavy though when you think about lugging them through airports, so I've never found them very useful for anything but local cons or cons you're driving to.
huntercat Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2014
Do you have to be good (like really good at drawing anime and stuff like) to have a table at artist alley?
kabocha Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Depends on the convention you're going to.  Check the rules of your local con -- they may have a juried application process, which means you have to meet certain quality standards, regardless of what you intend to sell at the con. :)
Ashikai Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Not necessarily. While it is true that a lot of Artist Alleys are juried (a group of people judges your work to see if you can get a table), many of them are actually first-come-first-serve. 

Art quality is pretty relative anyway, so you can get a table whenever you feel like you're ready. And don't feel bad if you don't get in. Even seasoned and pro artists get rejected from the AA.
huntercat Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2014
Oh ok, i feel a bit more confident now. Thank you so much! :3
Ashikai Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You're welcome and good luck!
UYMAAGEEK2012 Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2014  Student General Artist
yay AnimeNEXT
Kattaro Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2014
Good points ^^, I just had my first artist alley table but didn't sell so well so I'm looking for improvement ideas for next time. Thanks for the info!
UnknownSaint111 Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014
How many did ya sell
Kattaro Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2014
not too many but didn't have to leave empty-handed :) 
Thor9926 Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2014
Theres one thing I don't understand, my girlfriend and her friend had a table at Tokyo in Tulsa and they didn't get a sellers permit but they sold their stuff and there were no repercussions. So is that permit a rule or is it just a suggestion?
kabocha Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
It depends on the convention you're at, and the laws of the municipality you're in.  In most places I've been to, you are supposed to get a seller's permit.
Ashikai Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Well, different states have different laws, so you have to check with the staff at the conventions to see if you need one or not.
DecreeB Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This is the most INFORMATIVE work I've ever read, and it's VERY helpful! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I knew some of it, but most of it was new to me and very helpful, especially the parts about legalities. And I know it varies between states (which is why I'm in contact with them), but it's still great information to know. I didn't even know I needed any permits to do this, so this probably saved me A LOT of legal issues!
I'm (hopefully) going to my first Comic Con ever (even as a guest) with my web-comics in April and I'm super excited. No, I haven't got all the legal stuff worked out yet, nor have I registered, but mine's fairly new and there are still some booths left, so I have SOME time.
Anyway, thank you SO MUCH for this! You have no idea how helpful it was, I truly appreciate it!!
LOOMcomics Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
Please, head over and thank Scar23. She wrote this for us!
Lorillei Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2014  Student General Artist
I just wanted to ask how you are supposed to make receipts. Do we write them out? Or are you supposed to get some sort of register to print them out for you.

By the way, thank you so so much for this! It's really cleared up many of my questions and I'm thankful of the links you provided as well.
LOOMcomics Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
I have to second the spreadsheet. It's really time consuming to write out receipts in the hustle and bustle. You can always buys a small receipt booklet and ask directly if they need a receipt, though. In my experience, most don't. ^^
Ashikai Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Surprisingly, most people don't want receipts. What I did (when that rare person came by) was write out what they bought, how much it was, the date, and my signature on the back of my business card. This was the easiest thing for me to do, but I've seen other people buy carbon-copy paper at an office supply store and write things out on that as well. :)
kabocha Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
There are books of reciepts that you could get.  What I've done in the past is kept a spreadsheet of when things sold on a computer so I could track it... But typically, in most Artist Alleys, the general policy is 'no returns'.

But in any case, something like this would probably suffice.
Mrawi-Chan Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I looooved it :love: !!!!
I got many ideas and tips and I am ready for my first artiest alley table in Comic Con 2014 :')

thaaaaaank you !!!! :love: :tears:
LOOMcomics Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
Be sure to thank the lovely Scar23! She wrote this for us!
Mrawi-Chan Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Done :') and thank you a well :hug:
LAELAH Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Gods thank you for this article! Though I have a question that I don't know if anyone could shed some light on... Seller's permits. Do you need a permit when you take a commission? Not just during a con (on which I'll have a temp) but just year round. I live in California and it says pretty much if you sell anything you need a permit? Its not like I get commissions every month so filing taxes for non-sales would be pointless.
LOOMcomics Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
Awesome. Thanks for reading. Be sure to visit Scar23 who wrote this for us! :love:

P.S. I'm not entirely sure about California's laws as everything I do is for my own state, which is on the lenient side of things. But this (… implies you need to apply for a temporary permit in Cali for even rummage/garage/yardsales! It seems to me after reading that you would need a temporary permit for specific cons (or a specific con in California) or a yearly permit if you do cons year round in California. Hope that helps!


Who must obtain a seller's permit?

You must obtain a seller's permit if you:

  • Are engaged in business in California and
  • Intend to sell or lease tangible personal property that would ordinarily be subject to sales tax if sold at retail.

The requirement to obtain a seller's permit applies to individuals as well as corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies. Both wholesalers and retailers must apply for a permit.

If you do not hold a seller's permit and will make sales during temporary periods, such as Christmas tree sales and rummage sales, you must apply for a temporary seller's permit. Such permits are normally issued to selling operations lasting no longer than 90 days at one location.

Ashikai Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This varies greatly from state to state. I'm from Maine, and you don't need a small business license here. You can just throw up a sign and do whatever you want.

One-off sales like commissions RARELY require a sellers permit. I doubt you're selling your commissions for more than $1000 each (I'll be amazed if you do). You'd need a seller's permit if you were to do this full time, or if you were making enough to be taxed on it.

Otherwise, think about it as getting paid to mow someone's lawn. The effect is the same. ;)
LAELAH Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Ahh I see. Thats very helpful! And thanks for the insight. I just dont want to get in trouble with California :/ and I quite like the analogy of rewarding yard work.
Ashikai Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Understandable. Just go about it thinking of the work as taxable. If it's a decent amount, then you may need a license (not a sellers permit. A small business license), but if it's not then you can claim it at the end of the year as "unexpected income." <--Straight from my tax guy. o3ob
Sketch-Assassin Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
What is a good print size to start of to sell? I was thinking 11 x 17 but I have noticed some use a slightly different shape. What do you recommend?
Ashikai Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
8.5x11" sells surprisingly well because the size is still quite large, but you can keep the price point down. During conventions, I definitely sell the most 8.5x11", followed by 11x17", but I think a lot of which size you decide to sell depends on what size your artwork looks good at. My art style isn't really suited for large poster-sized spreads, but it works really well for charms, stickers, and smaller prints. 

My suggestion: Print out the same illustration at three different sizes and really think about which size looks best. I really don't think the same rules can apply to everyone (but 8.5x11" is a really good place to start anyway. :P )
Kimiblu Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This helped a ton! Thank you!! I don't think I'm ready at all to have a table yet, but hopefully I will be in future~ :heart:
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