I just paid for my first table, now what?
I just paid for my first table, now what?
You’ve taken a leap of faith. You’ve signed up for a con and this will be your first table presenting you as a brand. Presenting your work to the public at large, face to face. Now, it’s time to scramble. You’ve got a lot to do before the show, don’t wait until the day before to figure out what you’re going to do.
First let’s discuss your space. I’m not going to go over every possible space, but rather, one that a newcomer to a convention, in this genre, might use. You usually have a few options when filling out the form from small to large. I thought of three scenarios that I’ve been through myself. As a newer artist to the field I’ve started out at the same place.
Table only: This is the typical artist alley set up.
Table and panels (supplied): This is what I’ve experienced at a larger convention like Gen Con.
Table (supplied) panels (own): This is me being creative with the space I’m given.
Ah! Now, we’re getting to why I’m writing this article. If you’ve just been given a space with a table and a few chairs, you’ll need to get creative. You have more space than just the table in front of you. You have some great space behind you as well. Depending on what you’re selling, you can do a few things with this space. Banners are popular and pretty affordable. You can do the tall vertical banner or build a contraption to hang a long horizontal banner. I’ve built myself some panels out of peg board painted black for more display space. If you have a few easels, bring those. The point is you have options. Your best bet is to pick the option you can keep as professional looking as possible. I think I’ve only seen one person pull off hanging their art like clothes on a line. Taping up originals like children’s posters is also on the “no-no” list. Treat your art like art and that’s the way others will see it, and pay more for it.
Being in this new situation of having your first table you’ll suddenly, hopefully, gain a new awareness for table presentation. Take notes on what others are doing that you think you want to implement for your next show. Now you have a great networking opportunity to meet another artist and actually have something to start talking about.
Let’s talk about the table itself. You can use a flat bed sheet as a table cover or find a table cloth that covers the table length you’ve chosen. Most people choose black, feel free to do likewise. Next up is the front of the table. If you opted for artwork behind you or just can’t afford anything of a display nature then consider a banner. A banner about the width of the table pinned to the tablecloth will work great. You might have to use packing tape on your side of the table to secure the tablecloth to the underside of the table.
Above I’ve said less is more. There’s no need to wall paper your area with art. It’s hard to see past the clutter. Consider an option for people to possibly look through a portfolio book if you have a lot of options. Put up on display enough work that tells people walking by who you are as an artist. Just enough so they can actually look at the work presented nicely.
What are you selling?
There’s more to this question than meets the eye. We’ll start with the surface version of the question. Are you selling prints? Originals? Maybe bigger posters, limited run books, custom sketches/commissions, other merch? Whatever it is pick one thing to be the main attraction. Everything can’t be important. Give most of your space to that item. Remember if you have a table you can keep your inventory out of sight.
Prints: I’ve heard a good quantity for each image is 8-10. This is a great number for your first show. If you sell out then you know what to adjust for the next show. Make sure to keep track of what sells and what doesn’t. I have a few prints that I am sure to bring double or triple the number. Strive for quality in your prints but also realize that most people won’t care if you choose to use the most expensive paper and archival inks. Your working within a price point where those issues are not of concern to 95% of your customers. That’s part of knowing your market.
Originals: Framed originals usually can sell better. Something that’s ready to hang. You can offer to sell it unframed if you think you can reuse the frame to make the sale. If it’s a custom frame then keep it with the art. I suppose I’m referring to paintings here, but a framed drawing can always take it up a notch in presentation. Originals are also your babies, so take care of them. You might also find depending on your prices, you might not sell many or any originals. I have some specific thoughts I’ll get to about this in just a bit.
Custom sketches and commissions: If this is your angle then make your presentation all about this angle. Have information about the process, prices, schedules, sign up sheets, etc. Be prepared to talk a lot. You’ve got to be the salesman now. But if you are approached or want to put a little sign up that you’ll do the work then keep it simple for the con and stick with some simple pricing. I said simple, not cheap. My personal thoughts about sketches are that I have the opportunity after the show to see friends I don’t get to see any other time. If I’m going to give up time with my friends to work, then the price has to be high. I value that time more than I do the few bucks I can make sitting alone in the hotel room. If you can talk them into an after show deal (but get the money at the show), offer to ship it free.
Merch: This might be hard to judge as an inventory item for your first show, but if you fell it’s right for you then go for it.
Now, let’s talk about the other part of my original question: What are you selling?
Really think about this. Are you using this table to sell stuff to the people attending or are you possibly there to market yourself to possible clients. This is important because it can affect the items you choose to put on display and sell or not sell. There is a difference between the work you can put out that will attract the crowds to you or attract your next client. It’s awesome when it can be both but you might notice someone selling something that seems to be the “hot” thing. And you start thinking you should have done something similar. That thing might be perfect for the attendees but will just not be of any interest to an art director walking the show. Who’s your market? Why are you there? That merch we talked about, is that something you could possibly afford to give away to get your name out?
Regardless of why you have your table, there are a few things you just need to have available. You’ll need your portfolio and business cards. If you are seeing art directors consider a “leave behind” package. Maybe your portfolio is in book form and you have a handful. Consider giving that book to the art director after the meeting.
Now you might be thinking, “Who’s watching my table while I’m meeting with this art director?” It’s time to think about your booth babe or roadie. Most cons have two badges per table so consider getting a friend to help out. They get in for free and you have your space covered so you can do some business. They don’t need to be there the whole time so work out a system.
Since this will be your first show you need to keep your attitude in high spirits. It can be rough the first day with no sales, trust me I’ve been there. Or it can crushing the whole weekend with no sales. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you were a failure. Remember our discussion about why you are there? If you get one call from an AD that liked your work for a job, BOOM, you did it. That is a successful show. Now, on the flip side, if you really feel that you bombed out you should take that as an opportunity for growth to focus on what to change. Maybe it’s simply a matter or painting/drawing more and skill building. Maybe your subject matter missed the mark for that audience. Use this experience for all the positive aspects available and don’t sweat the negative, unhelpful feelings.
Getting it there and back again.
First thing you’ll want to consider is a packing list. If you make a copy you’ll have one for the return trip. Start saving boxes or find a store that gives them away. My art store gives away boxes all the time. Hit the local department store for crates or similar containers you might want to use that stack nicely. You can get furniture wrapping plastic at the hardware store. Keep your stuff organized and it will not get damaged to and from. I’ve made custom shaped boxes for paintings and canvas prints. If someone buys one then they have a safe way to get things home as well. Consider a folding hand truck. It can be a long walk to where ever your car is parked. If you’re unsure how all this will work you can always do a test run of the set up at home. See what fits and make adjustments before you even get to the show.
And my last piece of advice is go as an attendee if you can the year before. (I know it’s too late now for some of you!) This is a great way to consider all I’ve outlined here and start planning ahead. Start asking questions and you’ll be prepared.