Here on AEISD, I have been a passionate advocate for checking out what is often a much neglected section of the Exhibition Floor, somewhere that some purveyors of comic con culture don’t even go near – and, on every level, is the principle reason the whole subculture exists: Artist Alley, where extremely talented men and women ply their craft and showcase it to the passing masses… As well as making a couple of shekels, if they can!
While I have posted before about the proper etiquette for negotiating this potentially intimidating area of a con, I did that from the perspective of an attendee. However, it’s probably best to also get some helpful advice from someone on the other side of the table – here, in a post he originally shared on his rather fine website, digital artist Jonathan Reyes covers his golden rules for approaching the tamed artists in their unnatural habitat…
Jonathan Reyes: As a convention or art show attendee, you are undoubtedly one of the most important persons at the show. You may think that the artists, vendors, performers, or special guests are, but the truth is that without the people that actually attend the shows, there would BE no show. After all, the reason why all those talented people go to these events is to present, sell, and perform for the guests. It would be like a chef cooking a five star meal, yet having no one to eat it. As an artist I depend on you to view the fruits of my labor and, if you’re so inclined, to purchase my work so that I can continue doing what I love.
So yes, attendees are a very important part of the artist alley experience. However, that doesn’t mean that it gives you immunity to do whatever you like and to treat the artists as if their sole existence was to entertain you and only you. The fact of the matter is that we’re people too. We experience all the emotions that any other person can go through, and when you do certain things it can make us happy, mad, sad, or annoyed just like anybody else. Sometimes it feels like people think that what they do or say doesn’t bother us, but the truth is that certain things may drive us insane while we put on our best smile behind our table.
So to give you a few guidelines (and some insight) here are some things to consider when you peruse through the artist alley at a convention or art show:
1) Be Mindful Of What You Say
This one may seem obvious but you’d be surprised by how blunt people can be sometimes as they stand there openly critiquing your work. Artists are already accustomed to having their work critiqued but there is a time and a place for that (like in a classroom). Not only is it demeaning, but it can also be down right rude. You’re not obligated to like every piece of art that you see, but don’t just go around calling things “ugly.” Especially when the artist is right there within hearing distance. We may be busy working on a commission but we DO pay attention to what people say. Believe me, words can hurt.
Let’s be honest here, business cards (or other small handouts) can be expensive. Depending on how elaborate they may be, small handouts can really start to dig into an artist’s already limited budget once they start to run low. So knowing that, please be mindful of when to take one of those small handouts. Even if the person is openly handing them out, if you have no intention whatsoever to visit their website or follow them on social media then it’s just a better idea to leave the business card behind for someone else with more interest than yourself. If anything just take a picture of the artist’s information with your phone instead of taking a physical handout.
3) Don’t Openly Complain About The Prices
One of the most difficult things to do as an artist is to price our work. Having spoken to many artists (and dealing with it myself) it’s really difficult to earn a profit from our work while still making it “fair” for the customers. We understand when our work is a bit pricey, but you have to understand that there’s a reason for it. Materials, time, effort, and other factors go into setting the price, and it’s not always just a matter of getting the most money out of you.
Remember that most of the time you’re purchasing a unique piece of art that you can’t get anywhere else, and that the person who made it has to insure that they make a profit from it even if its just by a couple of dollars. You may not agree with the prices but don’t complain about it as if we don’t hear you.
4) Don’t Openly Compare One Artist To Another Artist
It’s an unspoken rule that every artist in the artist alley is competing with one another for people’s attention and (hopefully) for the chance to sell their work. Even with this knowledge it can still be rather annoying whenever artists hear attendees comparing their work with someone else’s. As I mentioned previously, it is completely fine to critique an artist’s work when it’s done properly, even when it involves comparing two different artists. But what should be avoided is saying things such as “That guy’s drawings are nowhere near as good as the other guy we just saw” or “I’d rather spend my money on that other table.” That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t think those things as they may be completely valid, but just don’t do it to where the artist in question can hear you.
5) Don’t Linger In Front Of The Table
I personally like getting the chance to talk to people when they stop by my table, as I’m sure other artists do as well. However be conscious of the fact that by you standing directly in front of the table you may be blocking other passersby from seeing what the artist is offering. It’s already hard enough sometimes to get people to stop by a table long enough to buy something, so it’s made more difficult when you can’t even guarantee that something will catch their interest because a person is standing in the way. This can also apply to situations when the table next door is very popular and creates a small crowd. If you’re waiting in line, do so in front of that table and don’t spill over onto the table next to it. Like before, it blocks others from seeing the artist’s table and let’s be honest, it’s incredibly rude.
6) Be Respectful To The Artwork
Just because you’re not exactly at a museum looking at a 100 year old piece of artwork doesn’t mean you should mishandle or disregard the artwork being presented at a convention or art show. Conventions in particular give attendees a closer look at the artwork, with many artists laying out their prints, books, or portfolios on the table for people to look through them. But don’t take this as an open invitation to be rough with the materials. Be gentle in the way that you pick up prints and books, making sure that you don’t fold or even tear them.
Likewise, if you’re flipping through a portfolio don’t disregard the pages as if it were a used, out of date history textbook from school. Lastly, even though I feel this should be a given, don’t touch anything on the table if you have dirty or sticky hands. Common sense guys, nobody wants your germs on their merchandise.
7) Leave The Table The Way You Found It
Even if you never see them do it, artists actually take a lot of time carefully preparing their table long before the doors of the convention are opened. This may include things like arranging prints a certain way or opening their portfolios to a particular page, usually done to put their most popular work in clear view. Most artists will obviously love it if you take a few minutes to look through their work. However, don’t make a mess while doing so. If there are prints laying out, don’t just leave everything in disarray when you leave. Same thing goes if there are business cards, handouts, or books available. You don’t have to completely clean up the table, but don’t leave it as if a tornado just strolled through.
8) Don’t Forget Your Print Or Commission
This one is more specific, but nonetheless incredibly annoying whenever it occurs. Sometimes you may not be sure if you’re ready to go ahead with a purchase so you ask the artist to “save it” for you while you continue to walk around. Likewise, you may also ask the artist for a commission, something that not only takes time and effort but also uses up supplies like paper and paint.
So if you ask these things from the artists, don’t leave before either picking up (and paying) your commission piece/print or at the very least letting the artist know that you’re not going to go through with the purchase. By keeping the artist busy working on a commission or having them hold a print that you ultimately don’t pick up, it doesn’t allow them to collect their well deserved money, either by you or somebody else who would have bought it if the print was available.
9) ASK If You Can Take Photos
With piracy being a real concern for many artists, having people take photos of their work can understandably make them a bit nervous. Some artists don’t mind if you take photos of their table, but that’s not going to be a universal stance. So if you plan on going around practicing with your camera, at least take a second to ask the artist first if it’s ok with them for you take a quick picture.
Just to clear things up, it’s not that the artists are camera shy, it’s that they don’t want to end up seeing cheap recreations of their work littering places like eBay or Etsy. The same way that you probably would be uncomfortable if people started sharing pictures they took of you, be considerate of the artist’s wishes if they don’t want their artwork online.
10) ~HANDLE YOUR KIDS~
Last, but definitely not least, if you’re a parent, guardian, or older sibling whose walking around with young kids, please, please, PLEASE keep them in check. Pretty much every previous rule on this list is applicable to children and can sometimes be even worse with them, especially when it pertains to them being very “handsy.” Let’s be clear here, taking care of children can be a very difficult thing to do, especially when you’re out and about. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just let them “loose” to do whatever they want when you’re at conventions. This is especially true whenever there is artwork involved.
Horror stories abound about young children who have wreaked havoc on artists’ work. Things such as bent prints, ripped portfolio pages, dirty hands, and even having drinks spilled on the table are unfortunately not uncommon when it comes to kids. So if you plan on bringing your young kids with you, please take a few minutes to go over the do’s and don’ts when dealing with artwork. The artist alley community will appreciate you tremendously for it!
So there you have it. 10 things that you should consider whenever you’re strolling through the artist alley at a convention or art show. They’re not difficult to do. Some of these just deal with manners that your parents should have taught you when you were younger. Others are probably things that you never considered before. Perhaps you never thought about how standing in front of a table for a long time without buying anything would make some artists a bit annoyed. Whatever the case may be I just hope that you take these into consideration the next time you plan on going to a convention or art show. Have fun, meet some interesting and talented artists, but please do it politely!
What are some other things that guests should consider? Add your suggestions and comments below in the, y’know, comments section below.