Conventions and Art

san-diego-comic-con-2010-day-1-and-preview-night.5106479.87.jpg Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly, Alex Pardee painting at San Diego Comic-Con 2010 One of the reasons Shannon Cottrell and I love covering fandom conventions is because the events provide a space for artists at all stages of their careers. Our first convention report focused on the young and talented artists we met at Anime LA 2009. Since then, we've come into contact with many more people who have brought their work to conventions. Sometimes we spotlight something we saw in the exhibit hall, like animator Michelle Reese's student film "Paper Animals." Other times, we ask questions about the con experience. Recently, comic creator Chandra Free described her first Comic-Con panel for us, while Meredith Yayanos and Zoetica Ebb of Coilhouse talked a little about finding inspiration at the Con. As we've gone to more conventions, I've become more curious as to how the events affect artists. Do they have an effect on the creative process, in addition to being a good way to promote one's work? If you have any insight, please share in the comments.


  1. I think cons are a great way to reach a huge and demographically relevant audience very quickly.

    If you’re the kind of artist who will do quick sketches “on-demand” and you’re good, you’ll make big bank there. If you’re more of a fine artist with eccentric tastes, there’s a lot of people wandering around.

    It’s also a place to get a taste of how big events; of which you are only a small part; are managed and handled, and how some organizations treat their patrons.

  2. Besides hanging out and talking with the dozens of artists I know, it’s also just insanely inspiring. Especially for my group of friends who get together and draw here in LA every week. We also have a giant international gathering in San Diego for Comic Con every year (or try to…we used to do in at the Marriot next door but they’ve turned us away in recent years). Anyway…all I can think about is drawing and writing by the time it’s over.

  3. It really depends on the show as to how motivational it ends up being. There are shows where the artist alley is an awesome place to be, where you can discover tons of great art and meet a lot of artists. There are also ones that are a grind and where you aren’t treated particularly well (as an exhibitor). Those ones don’t really get me all that excited to sit down and start working again.

    I think what’s great about these kind of shows is the opportunity to actually meet and talk to artists you might admire or respect. That kind of accessibility is rare in other media – I wouldn’t take that for granted.

  4. I’ve never done a convention, but I’ve done a number of art fairs, and it’s really not all that inspiring.

    Typically, the weeks leading up to the event are filled with long days and very little sleep getting everything ready. Each day of the event begins several hours too early, as there is a rush to get set up before everyone else arrives. Then you have to be constantly ‘on’, alert, focused, and at your best, which can be very draining if you aren’t very good with interpersonal stuff. (and many artists, myself included, lack these skills.)
    During the event, unless a buddy is there to cover for you, you don’t get to actually see anything, because you are trapped in your own booth the whole time. You quickly become friends with those beside you, and you get a really good view of the person across from you, but that’s about it, creativity wise.

    What fairs are very good for is gauging public reaction. When you spend as much time alone in your studio as I do, it’s easy to get a little carried away with something. It’s sort of like the genetic drift you see on islands, where their are no predators: things can get weird or stupid rather quickly. Gallery shows tend to only attract peers and other art insiders. Fairs can be the only time ‘regular people’ talk to you about your work, so it’s a great way to see how people are really connecting to your work. its a really good way of gaining insights into your own work.
    The most insightful thoughts often come from people who start by saying “I don’t know anything about art, but…”

  5. I love cons. I’ll be doing one in three days! So excited. I love the atmosphere, and being able to meet new artists. It’s a great community of people. I remember my first time, everyone could tell and they were super super helpful and nice, and had lots of great advice.
    I find it’s also a great way to see what people like in your art. People are walking past your table constantly, and talking. All it takes is a little attention, and looking like you have none. You’d be surprised what people say to each other. I love that I can find and talk to artists I admire who are also there. I like that it also takes artists out of their little shell of working alone and places us all in a common arena.

  6. We were big fans of going to cons as artists–so much so that we created our own con exactly for this purpose.

    Intervention ( is primarily focused on artists, and one of our main goals was to try to bring together established artists and new artists to get some real connections going–and to allow for that communal environment that can form from these types of events.

    Previously we were known in the north east for bringing our “” group to many cons in the area–which was a large group of artists who went to cons together to generate that atmosphere of pushing and prompting that makes artists compete and excel when put in a group.

    When we had the chance to make our own event a reality we jumped on it–and so far the vibe from our guests and artist alley participants has been great and really points to them looking forward to interacting with each other and the attendees to make this a really creative experience for everyone.

  7. Cons hmmmm

    Starting out or unknown artists should try to obtain a table in a small local comic con, most citys hold them. Some citys offer free tables to artists, which helps. Unfortunately for new material it is a big struggle, most people want a drawing of Batman. I would even suggest doing library shows if your art is suitable for all ages.

    Larger shows understand going in that you will not make a killing. If you realize this & use it as a networking platform and general promotion of the your work, you will reach Nirvana early in the show. Most $$$ is made behind the scenes, getting your work recognized by big companies, inking and coloring other artists work, is also common practice.

    Don’t be discouraged by people who keep walking by your table. It happens, usually people attend conventions because they are looking for something specific and not a webcomic about aliens around the Area 51 compound (plug)

    Make sure you have the right amount of supplies. For drawing, promoting,entertaining yourself, and most important selling.

    I have attended about 10 conventions since I started a couple of years ago. I make the most from the public on the smaller shows, and library cons.

    Heroes Con- (Charlotte NC) good for comicbook artists

    Baltimore Comic Con (Baltimore)good for small press

    Dragon Con- (Atlanta) good for cosplay and indy writers

    Area 51 Comics (?) – Good for a laugh (plug)

  8. Since I can’t do art full time, I like to use cons as a good motivation to have new work ready.
    I’ve attended GenCon in Indianapolis for 3 years and always banged out a ton of new work revamp my portfolio for art director hunting and trying to get new illustration jobs. I’ve never really had tables there, but I ran around schmoozing for most of the 4 days, when I wasn’t playing D&D.

    I do get tables at NYC-based cons – NYCC, MoCCA Festival, etc, just because it’s easier for me to lug stuff from my apartment to them. It’s really great because it gives me an excuse to get creative about branding my items. I’ve designed t-shirts, totebags, postcard sets, created tiny ‘zines, made large prints of my work and more. It’s inspiring to pick up a new object & think how I can make it work with my art and consider the new composition I’d have to build on its surface. I also like the interaction with people passing by the table, seeing the cosplayers and hanging out with other artists as we all try to sell our ‘wares.

    This year I’m holding down a table at SPX in Maryland. Along with the usual offering to draw on the spot, as a screenprinting artist I’m going to bring along a small screen or two and do live printing once or twice a day onto any object people bring to me – whether it’s a t-shirt, sketchbook, skateboard, backpack or their skin.

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