Convention and Fairs

Okay guys, I wasn't sure what to write for this one, so I guess I'm going to follow up last weeks SDCC post with a post about conventions and fairs (since I attend and take part in several of them).

First off, let me start by saying that conventions and fairs can be a great way to gain exposure as an upcoming artist. You gain a whole new set of fans and followers and can potentially meet contacts that will help your career. You get to meet established fans and help them put a face to the name behind all the work they love. Also, by meeting you in person, they gain a connection to your work and become more "loyal" fans - because they feel a kinship between themselves and your work. However, conventions and fairs are a lot of work, and at times can require a large financial investment on your part. They require planning and organization. A certain level of business professionalism that doesn't seem to come quite so easily to artists (at least not me). Travel can also be a part of the equation if you don't live in an area with the type of conventions and fairs that you want to be a part of. I've been lucky in this sense because I live in Southern California. I have several art fairs (fine art), and conventions all around this area. SDCC, while it is in San Diego, is still just two hours away. Los Angeles and it's surrounding areas is only 30-40 minutes away. But for those that live in other states, or just too far for a commute, travel expenses can be a big deal. Hotel stays, car rentals, plane fair or gas money are things that need to be considered. Not to mention your booth fees, review fee (for some fairs), and equipment rental (if you need it). It's all part of this investment in yourself and your work.

So I know that sounds pretty daunting, but we need to look at the benefits. I mentioned that fans are a big part of it. This is key to your success as an independent artist, making original work. Because you're not likely to gain some kind of distributorship for your creations (although don't count it out completely), you have to do all the leg work to advertise yourself. Building a business around yourself can be quite a challenge. This is when fans play a huge roll in your success. As an independent artist (Hmm... I'm starting to question that term... I should explain it more clearly. By independent artists, I mean one who is working for themselves, creating their own line of products), you need followers and fans in order to be successful. You need them to build a connection to your work that brings them back, wanting more. Their connection to your work will lead to them talking and promoting you to their friends. This is where things really pick up and people start doing the advertising for you (that's not to say that you should ever stop advertising yourself). So building this Fan-Artist relationship is something you want to focus on as an independent artist. And one of the best ways to do that is through conventions.

I've been part of the Beverly Hills Affair in the Gardens Art show for 5 years. It's a great place to gain exposure because it's situated right in the downtown area of Beverly Hills, just steps from the shops on Rodeo Drive. It has a large following and gets thousands of attendees each day, including celebrities (some of the recent ones have included Bill and Hilary Clinton, Michael Jackson and Queen Latifa). Although sales of high end bronze figures is not a regular occurrence at this venue, artist like myself and others continue to exhibit there. The main reason is the exposure to a new set of fans and the possibilities of meeting the right connection to help your career. While my level of success at the show has been minimal, the connections I've made have been very helpful and have opened several doors that I wouldn't have otherwise considered. Sometimes it's difficult to see the connection back to the fair, but if you trace it, you can see that it was through the fair that I met one person, who introduced me to another, who invited me to an event, where I met another person... and so on. These connections can be extremely valuable because they lead to opportunities, and it's all about following the opportunities in our business. Now the flip side of this is the expense and personal, financial investment that I make each year. Here's a quick run down of the costs. A booth fee is $350 (not bad actually because they don't take a commission on any sales - as some fairs do), a review fee of $35 (this is because the show is juried every year, so they charge a fee to cover the judges and the time it takes to review hundreds of applications), there's the rental van - $250 for 3 days, gas, food, promotional materials, packaging and help (if it's needed). All in all, it's around $700+ every year (and that's just one fair). There's also the strain of setting up and breaking down. The long hours of sitting and talking about your work, answering the same questions a hundred times a day. Watching people walk by without even glancing at your work, or worse, making disappointed faces as they look at it and then walk away. I know it all sound like fun, right!! Well, the payoff can be huge when all the planets align in your favor, so from my perspective it's absolutely worth it.

For next year, I've added Monsterpalooza to the list of fairs and conventions. I already purchased my table. This convention will work in much the same way (although I am expecting more on site sales at this one). Because it's local to my area, I don't need a room rental or plane ticket. The art I'm taking is much smaller than my bronze work, so I don't need a rental van. However, this being my first time showing my commercial work, I need some new planning. My booth design is important. You want people to be drawn to your booth. This means standing out from the background. Colorful signs and displays can work to draw the eye. Banners are a great way to promote yourself from a distance. Up close, your booth needs to be organized and well laid out. A great example of a well laid out convention table is the Shiflett Brothers. Brandon and Jarrod have worked on their display over the years and have honed it down to a well displayed and varied table. They incorporate different heights, which avoid the problem of a flat table. When all your work is laid out flat on a table it can seem like a bargain store clearance table. By changing the display heights, it now becomes a showcase for the work and is more visually stimulating. It also allows for spotlighting certain work by elevating it higher than others. This is the model I will use for my display next year. So now I need to fill the table. Figuring out which pieces and how many to take will most likely require several conventions to figure out. I'm not expecting to be completely satisfied with my display the first time out. Right now, the biggest issue I have is filling the table. I have until April of next year, but I do need to get cracking on new pieces. My goal is 12-15 pieces, including two-three 1:2 or 3:4 scale creature busts. I have 5 right now (two of which will go up for sale soon), and I have concept drawings for at least 5-6 more. My hope for Monsterpalooza is to gain some new fans and followers of my work, make some connections to further my career, make some on site sales, and of course hang out with all the cool artists and friends at the show.

Alright, I prattled on for quite some time now. So what am I trying to say? Conventions and fairs can be a great opportunity (despite their financial commitment). Building a fan base is key to the success of the independent artist. Conventions require planning. All of this in hopes of being able to do what we all love to do. It would be nice if artists could find the same level of success or fame as all these movie, t.v. and reality show "stars", but that's not likely to happen. We're probably going to remain on the sidelines of mainstream popular culture, so it's up to us to build our own success. While there's many avenues to success and no two ever seem to be exactly the same, there are some general practices that can lead you there... Conventions and fairs being one of them. So if you've been thinking about getting a booth at an art fair or convention, I say go for it!! Get yourself out there, take a risk on yourself, and see what happens. Even if you don't sell a thing, the experience is always a benefit. If you can't get a booth at a convention, then consider just visiting one. I've never had a table at SDCC but going there has led to some great opportunities. So look up the convention schedules, grab your stuff and get out there. I hope to see you at one of my booths soon.