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Define "success" as a small business artist

Last summer, 2022, was my first time doing conventions where I vended my art and goods. I didn't fully know what I was doing, and my booth this year will look very different; but I did make an effort to ask a few important questions to fellow art vendors. I wanted to share my thoughts on that here.

1. What is your bottom line? This may be a question derived from my training as a mediator, but I really wanted to know-- what is your walkaway point from returning to a convention? On average, artists selling similar wares to me reported that $3,000 was the minimum they had to sell to return to a convention. Some of those artists also traveled which may include hotels, gas, plane tickets, boarding pets while away, and of course for everyone it includes the cost of the table and food for the weekend. That means the take-home for most people that shared their thoughts with me was around $1,500-$2,000 for a weekend. Keep in mind, the months leading up to those weekends are also filled with work making and prepping inventory and displays. This was good information that helped me to get a sense of where I landed in the market.

For anyone reading this that shops with artists at comic cons, know this: That $1,500 per weekend boils down to $500/day. From my own experience, with the many months it takes to prep inventory to bring to conventions, not to mention cost of materials, this probably equals out to about $5/hour. Just know that artists are willing to be there for very little actual pay, because the pay is actually working towards sharing their art and building towards their individual version of success.

2. What does success mean to you? The answers varied greatly here! For some, it was to be invited to speak on panels at conventions. For others, it was to land a gig drawing for Marvel, Disney, or Wizards of the Coast. Interestingly, a monetary goal was not success-defining for any artists that were willing to share their thoughts.

3. How does being an artist going to trade shows affect your life? This question had the most varied answers of all. Many people that didn't get to travel and do conventions with their partners said it cut into their quality time. Some that did get to travel with their partners said it could be difficult to live out of a hotel or RV for parts of the year. Most if not all artists that I asked this question to said that the more conventions they did, the less they had time for making new art.

If you are just getting into vending at conventions, want to get into it, or want to rethink your small business as a convention vendor, I urge you to ask your fellow artists these types of questions! I definitely reflected on these answers and came to some realizations of my own. Most importantly, I hope you can define what success means to you.

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