Finally unpacked and settled back at home. My son was born on Tuesday at 1:05am so it was rough leaving the family for GenCon but my wife was very understanding. I talked with her on the phone while I was gone and found out when I got home she started running a fever Saturday night and didn't tell me because she didn't want me to run home. So to sum up, I'm a big jerk and I couldn't ask for a better wife. She had family staying with her and is on antibiotics but I still would have abandoned the booth.
Anyways...GenCon was really great for meeting potential clients and other artists but no so great with the print sales. This was my first time having a booth and I've definitely learned a couple of things. Here are some notes.
1. Eye level is more important than anything else! An amazing number of people walking by never noticed a single thing on my table. I could have had bright flashing neon lights of naked ladies and I still don't think they would have been noticed. I had one of my most popular prints printed on canvas and so I had to have it a smaller size. It was on my wall so people would often walk up squinting to check it out, and then I would direct them to a larger print on my table. From there they would check out the rest of the stuff on my table. This accidental trick worked well at getting passerbys to check out all of my work. Unfortunately it hinged on them at least catching a glimpse of the canvas print.
2.People don't read but money signs catch their eye. Despite prominently having some large text stating that 11x17 prints were available of all of the foamcore mounted prints on the panel, I found that I was having to tell everyone that information. At the same time, at the beginning of the convention I had two obvious sheets stating that 11x17 prints costs X, 8.5x11 costs X, foamcore prints cost X and oil paintings cost X. People tended to see those dollar signs before anything else and would turn away, assuming that the work was not worth the price without looking. After removing almost all signage with prices, I found that a lot more people stopped.
3.Purchases are often made based on content rather than polish. The work I had with familiar subject matter seemed to do best. Cerberus and Thor were easily recognizable as well as the angels and demons. The gods playing a board game was also popular because of the simple fact that they were playing a board game. I could have switched the gods out with horses and I think it still would have been one of the more popular pieces. In talking with Andrew McIntosh, he made an interesting observation. At comic conventions he often does well because he's the guy doing work that isn't in a comic style or subject matter. There he could make sales based on the polish while at GenCon everyone was working in a fairly realistic painterly fashion and the contrast between different artists work is different. In this situation it becomes all about content. I'd also like to throw in that having done some of the wildly popular card games like L5R or Magic helps a lot too. Plus if you've done card games you can make deck backers and play mats which I would bet sell better because people can tell themselves that the art piece is utilitarian.
4. Raven Mimura said that in his experience awesome monsters are a tough sell since many people have significant others that have to accept the artwork as well. Makes sense. I would also say that extremely large prints would probably be out of question for many. I know if I look at my house the largest I could probably go with any art is 22in. Anecdotal but still something to think about. Steve Argyle's booth was next to mine and I think all of his prints would be too big for my house but it looked like they were selling really well.
5.Variety is the spice of conventions or something like that. I unwittingly chose a poor tactic by printing only a couple of pieces but printing a large number of each. This tactic may be doomed if only because you're trying to predict which of your pieces will appeal to people. The fewer prints tactic will lead to lower up front costs/less risk but will likely cause your prices to be slightly higher. Prices appeared to play very little of a factor though I think. Most people who asked about prices or seemed genuinely interested bought the prints and price was mostly to check to make sure I didn't have some sort of insane price. There were better artists with cheaper prints and weaker artists with more expensive prints. When I quoted prices I don't think anybody thought, "pff, why would I buy this sea monster city for $15 when I could buy this more popular artist's wizard print for $10?" We're not selling the same thing so prices should really be able to be thrown out the window and not be dependent on size. By the same reasoning nobody is looking at the cost of packs of TCG's and saying why should I buy L5R rather than Magic when there's X price difference.
6.Booths are great for getting those hard to contact clients to come and find you. There were also some clients that I hadn't submitted to because I didn't have work in their genre really. For instance, the Shadowrun art director stopped by,seemed interested and talked to me for a bit. So now he has my website information and everything and I didn't have to feel like a jerk submitting a portfolio that I felt was inappropriate. Another company has only done historically accurate books and stopped by to ask about doing sci-fi work. I never would have thought of submitting a sci-fi portfolio to them. Then there was the peripheral gaming companies that I just didn't know existed before the con or didn't know commissioned artwork. So some LARP people talked to me for a long time about getting some artwork.
7. I don't know why it took me so long to realize it during the con, but push those business cards. If somebody is casually walking by looking at your work but obviously isn't going to stop for a purchase, ask them to grab a business card and check out the website. Heck, if you have prints available on your site, you might even make a sale after the con from it. Nearly everybody that I suggested pick up a card, did so and it even encouraged them to hang around and look a bit longer.
I've hardly had time to write this with all of the baby stuff and wife's temperature spikes so later I'll have to return to update this. Thanks to all of the artists at the con. You were very nice and treated me like we'd been friends a long time. Thanks to everyone who bought prints as well.
Some quick tips. Subscribe to mailing lists for printing sites and you can catch some good deals. I got 500 business cards for free and probably gave out 250 at the con. Also, I got the banner for free as well. Banners can be quite expensive. I think if I'd submitted my own design for the banner I still could have gotten it for $6 but I'm just that cheap.
8.Leave a white border around your images. I printed to the edges and found that the prints would not take ink for signings. I could sign in the white areas though without the sharpie or ink bubbling up. FYI, to your amazement, some people will actually want you to sign stuff. Blows my mind too.
Anyways, the con has already led to some work and looks like it will pay for my poor decisions on the print runs.