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Monday, October 6, 2014

Re-branding an Artist - Part 1 - Tough Questions

So, you like drawing, but also painting, writing, candle-making, and beading?  I know how you feel!  Being multipassionate seems to be a habit of most of the creative people I know.   Our minds like to wander and play and that's part of how we keep ourselves creative!

However, this characteristic usually leaves most of us with a huge problem - an unclear sense of artistic identity and, therefore, an unclear brand.

I've had this problem for years and it's only been until recently I've sat down and put a magnifying glass to my brand.  For example, just look at the mess that was my website last year.  I had masks, Art Nouveau, surreal work, miniature work, sculpture, anything and everything all thrown together on my site:

My Angelic Shades site back in 2013.

After discussing my fractured identity with fellow artists and a friendly Art Director, I realize that this Anything and Everything approach was really killing my sales and my presentation.

What an AD might think:
"She has so many styles!  She must still be a student and probably isn't very reliable.  She hasn't quite mastered anything."

What an average person might think:
"Wow, this is all really cool!  But later on, I probably won't remember what it is exactly she's selling." 

Echo this sentiment for selling at conventions, too.  After seeing all the masks, art, etc. at my table, most people aren't sure what I'm selling or if it's all by one person, since the themes differ so vastly.  This also made my sales pitches extremely complicated, as I wasn't sure how to address all of the products on the table.

Or my other favorite.

"Wow, this is cool!  I'm going to ask this person for a commission that she's not necessarily interested in doing because she's obviously interested in doing everything and is very versatile." 

In truth, I'd actually prefer it if people ask me for work that I specialize in, rather than work that I don't specialize in.  Most of the time, the work I don't specialize in doesn't go into my portfolio and is never seen again.

The Tough Questions

I had to start asking myself some important questions and coming up with answers that faced my fears as an artist.  These burning questions have been on my mind for a long time now:

What am I passionate about and what is just fun to do?

A lot of people think 'hey it'd be fun to make my hobby a job!' but what they don't realize is that once you make your hobby your job, it's not fun anymore.  If you turned to that hobby for recharging and relaxation, chances are that being forced to do it for monetary purposes is going to destroy that sense of fun and play you had with it.  You'll most likely have to get another hobby now that the last hobby has become the job.

My Answer:  I realized over the past few years that Art Nouveau and soft watercolor work is my 'fun' art.  So is mask-making.  I turn to these modes of expression to refresh my creative well.  Making them my job meant I had less time in my life for the mature fantasy work I am passionate about.  Admittedly, the money is nice and that also swayed me towards these other forms of expression.  This choice of splitting focus resulted in much burnout over the past couple of years.

My art as a body of work has so many facets.  What should stay and what should go?

Think about what target audience there is for your work.  Does your work actually target the same people?  Did you do something for random fun but it just doesn't fit in with your other work?

Sometimes it's just better to leave things off of your professional face for storage on something more casual, like tumblr.  Keeping unrelated work can make you look like a student or unreliable in your ability to finish consistent work.  Stop thinking of what is your 'best overall work' and starting thinking 'what is your best work for what specific audience'.

My Answer:  For me, I ended up dumping the ACEO and Surreal sections from my site.  These works were all older and I'm not exactly interested in being hired to work in that vein anymore.  On the other hand, I still wanted to share my artisan crafts and Art Nouveau, as I've put many years into them and still find them as viable professional faces to share.

And thus my brands Angelic Artisan and Angela Sasser were born!  Angelic Shades is my original studio name, which will now be purely for the work I created for my book, Angelic Visions, and for my Art Nouveau work.

My mature fantasy work is going to be housed on a new site that I'm currently working on (sneak peek here!).  Angelic Artisan has also been moved off to its own cozy website dedicated solely to my artisan crafts (a move which happened last year, actually).

I chose my real name as a studio identity because I feel like this brand is finally me.  I have found MY voice and what I feel is going to be the artistic identity I want to become known for.  Another perk to deciding what my 'main' identity/studio is going to be is that I now realize where the majority of my time needs to be spent.

Angelic Artisan and Angelic Shades will both now be downgraded to side projects that I only do for fun.  This is a huge weight off me and one that I feel will allow me to focus my time on my passions instead of being torn between too many tasks.  It's going to be hard saying no to the commissions that come in for artisan and Art Nouveau work, but decreasing my stress levels and focusing on my long-term goals is what needs to happen for me right now to stop feeling so overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me.

Bonus perk - my sites just look sooo much more beautiful and professional now that they have 'themes'!

Since I am re-branding mid-career, how do I mitigate changing my identity in the face of collectors and AD's?

This one is my toughest question right now.  How do I change what I'm doing so that people won't be upset by my switch of direction?  Most of the other multifaceted artists I've talked to worked to become known for one thing and earned the respect of AD's and their market before they branched out.  They were stabilized by the fact their fans would follow them and that they still have the respect of AD's whom they have proven their reliability to in the past.

My problem is I got good at one thing I realized later on is not the thing I want to be known for.  I'm not sure if I'll be burning bridges doing this.  It's quite intimidating!

My Answer:  Right now, my plan is to completely break my art styles up into Angelic Shades and Angela Sasser with their own corresponding sites and outlets so that when I hand a business card out to an AD or anybody else, the linked site on each unique card will present a consistent body of work with a clear theme.

As for AD trust, I will probably only be showing AD's my Angela Sasser brand, unless their projects specifically call for soft watercolors and/or Art Nouveau stylings.  They shall never know my secret identity as a soft flowy watercolorist and mask-maker!

I have no idea what this means for my social media faces, however!  I'm so entrenched in the Angelic Shades username that I'm not sure if people will actually follow me to a new name, if I start one.  Brand consistency for 'Angela Sasser' demands a new Twitter, Facebook page, blog, etc.  I'm not sure I'm going to do this yet, but you will be the first to know!

STOP!  Do you really want to do this?  Are you just messing up a good thing?

If you're doing well as you are and enjoy what you're doing, maybe you should just leave well enough alone?

My Answer:  It's taken me many years of struggling and burnout to realize I've invested my time in the wrong places because I was more focused on making money than taking the risky path and following my passions in illustration and concept art.  I was afraid and didn't trust myself.  I let bad advice and pressure from loved ones dissuade me from focusing on what I really wanted to do.  I also didn't really have an idea of where I wanted to go back then, so I did what was fun and acceptable.

Just because you might be capable of creating something that someone enjoys and will pay money for doesn't necessarily mean that's what you're meant to do, especially if your heart lies elsewhere.

Knowing all this, I feel my mistakes have helped me to refine a laser focus I'm looking forward to implementing now that I've identified where my heart truly lies.  It's only through experiencing these early struggles that I know myself better and can look forward to the future with more confidence!

Reader Questions:

Do you have multiple creative businesses?  How do you  handle running them all at once? Share your tips in comments!

Next Up: Part 2 - Brand Design

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Taking Bad Advice

Design by StickerStudio
The convention chaos has died down, a crisp Autumn wind of change is in the air, and I've been more than a little introspective of late while I've been in the process of re-branding my business.  I admit to thinking lately 'why did it take me so long to discover what kind of artist I want to be?'

While I know that way lies the path to madness and pity parties, I recalled an experience I had years ago when I was fresh onto the notion of being a fantasy book cover illustrator.  It was a DragonCon of many years ago and I was eager to attend a panel on book cover illustration hosted by previously entrenched artists in the field, all of who were traditional painters.

What I got from that panel was an amazing unanimous barrage of bad advice.

The artists, who I will not name, basically said "kids" with their digital art were cheapening the business and that one could no longer make a living thanks to them and the publishers.  Being that eager "kid" wanting to get into the business as either a traditional or digital artist, I took that advice to heart and decided that perhaps book cover illustration was a dying industry I shouldn't bother being in.

To be fair, it is a changing industry.  Books in general are becoming a thing of the past as we know them.  Bookstores are disappearing one by one across the country.  Digital proliferation is growing and the nature of art for books as we have previously experienced it is changing.  

In retrospect, I imagine these artists, all of whom were older traditional painters, were very fearful of these changes and embittered by a market where so many artists don't know their own worth and accept lower pay.  Even still, the damage of their negativity had been done to every aspiring artist attending that panel, including myself.  I took their word as law that book covers were a doomed field.

Now, I can't blame them for all of my bad decision making and not trying to go after my goals sooner.  I let early rejections from multiple companies whittle down my will till I just avoided turning in anything to publishers and artist's reps.  What I didn't know then is that my portfolio was full of student work instead of work targeted to fit the company.

Thus are the trials of an art student who attended a school who had no idea how to teach real-world portfolio submission etiquette for illustrators.  Thankfully, Jon Schindehette's ArtOrder Portfolio Building Class helped to fill in that hole in my education in a way that makes me confident when I am finally done prepping my new targeted portfolio that I am going to find work in my chosen field.

It wasn't until I met Dan Dos Santos, Justin Gerard, and others at DragonCon and IlluXcon many years later that I realized book covers (and related work) could be a viable profession.  Talking to Dan and others about their work schedules, I know they work their butts off, but they're making a living doing what they love while still sharing that energy and enthusiasm with other artists through Muddy Colors, IMC, SmartSchool etc.  Most of the artists I talked to are also traditional painters who have utilized digital in their workflow instead of cursing it as putting traditional painters out of work.

My whole point is this - your words have power.  Be mindful of the bitterness you pass on to other artists.  Talking the realities of being an artist is one thing while damning the whole future of the profession because you refuse to evolve or are having a bad day is another.  We must also keep in mind that not all artists are good teachers.

So what's the answer to 'why did it take me so long to discover what kind of artist I want to be?'  Lack of focus, money, fear, the list goes on (I plan to write about this in a later post specifically about my current re-branding plans).  The upside is that my meandering journey through different media, educational programs, and discovering things through trial and error has ultimately enriched my art.  I'm at a place now where I finally feel like I know where I want to go with my art and career.

I also know now, years later, that I should not listen to everything I hear at panels or on Facebook.  Sometimes people can be toxic.  The trick is knowing when to identify and ignore those individuals.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wordpress & Artists: My Favorite Plugins and Themes

A couple of years back, I did a series of posts on Wordpress and its value as a CMS (content management system) for artists wishing to create their own websites.  I am still using Wordpress to manage my site to this day and thought I'd share a few of my favorite plugins and themes!


All In One SEO Pack - Lets you add custom tags and meta info to your pages very easily to make it more easily found by search engines.

Duplicator - Lets you copy your site and database so you can move your entire site from one location to another.  Handy if you've been building in a private test folder before moving it onto your main domain.  This plugin can also create a snapshot of your site at any time for backup purposes.

MailChimp by MailChimp and Crowd Favorite - Lets you add a widget with a customizable MailChimp sign up form into your site's Sidebar.

NextGen Gallery by Photocrati - A wonderful gallery management tool that lets you create taggable images with sleek layouts.  The pro version nets you extra layouts and social sharing links bundled in.

You can also integrate the Social Gallery plugin with NextGen to create a Facebook-esque lightbox and viewing experience with even more social sharing links.  Buying the pro version of NextGen lets you use the plugin on all sites you own and is more mobile phone friendly than the free layouts.

The Events Calendar - Great for adding your upcoming appearances into a calendar on your Sidebar.

WooCommerce - I'm still testing this one, but I've seen a lot of other artists using this one to create an onsite store instead of hosting one offsite.  You have fine control over images for your products and can even sell digital items.  Will probably post a more in-depth review of WooCommerce as a shop setup after I've had time to play with it more.


All of the themes mentioned here are mobile phone friendly.

Make - What I'm currently using on my latest site.  Make comes with a free version you can use as-is.  I love the integrated social icons bar (I was hard coding them all before into a Sidebar widget) and it's very sleek looking.  The packaged Builder templates for creating Pages on your site allows you to do Pages with columns, image sliders, galleries, etc. very easily without requiring a lot of coding knowledge. It is e-commerce ready with WooCommerce integration in mind.

The Pro version lets you get rid of the template tag on the bottom as well as opens up extra Page layouts and pre-made templates where you can toggle Sidebars on and off and auto-populate Pages based on their intended use for quick Page building.  You also get access to more type kits that let you change the font style of your whole website at once.

The free and pro versions both have a ton of customizable Widget areas such as multiple Footers and Menu locations.  Buying the Pro version also lets me use this theme on all of the sites I own.

Virtue - Has a free and pro version.  The free version lets you create grids using Portfolio items.  I almost went with this one for my site, but I found the Portfolio setup a little confusing.  If you can manage it though, it seems like a pretty versatile theme.  Just like Make, you get tons of customizable Widget areas, such as multiple Footers and Menu locations.  It is also e-commerce ready with WooCommerce integration in mind.

Wave - I never got to test this one out on my own, but the demo site looks good and it's also e-commerce ready.  I'm including it here as an option because it was reviewed highly, is a decent price, and might be an option others might want to try.

So what are some of your favorite plugins and themes?  Share in comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

My First Kickstarter - Part 3 - What I Learned

So my first ever Kickstarter has ended and I regret to say that it did not meet its goal!  I am not completely crushed, however, as this has been an  experiment from the beginning.  I knew it might fail due to my own inexperience with hosting this kind of campaign.  I'm writing my thoughts here so that I (and you) can learn from my mistakes and triumphs.

"As the Lady of January, I must protest this treatment!"

What Promotion was Effective (or Not)?

To see a full list of the places where I promoted my Kickstarter, see Part 1.

- The Art Nouveau Tumblr blogs I submitted my promo posts to took about 2 weeks to process submissions.

- The Facebook Groups and Pages I submitted to never replied.

- The DeviantART Groups I posted to, especially artnouveau, were very supportive and enthusiastic! I had a few pledges directly from dA due to spreading the word there.  It's also a community I've been on for 10+ years, which probably plays a factor.

-  Reddit, despite everyone's insistence that it is vital, was useless for me.  I got a couple of upvotes, but I suspect Reddit is only effective if you have a particular fandom that would be interested in your topic. Alas, none of the several subreddits I posted to provided a single clickthru of support according to my statistics panel.  Perhaps I just didn't find the right subreddit with the right people?

-  Paid Facebook ads ($40 worth, to be exact) seemed to be somewhat effective.  I got plenty of shares and Likes and a few pledges via Facebook, according to KS's stats.  I promoted both a video post and a text post.

-  Paid Twitter ads (or promoted Tweets) got plenty of Favorites, but resulted in no direct pledges.  I have to wonder if people bookmarked the project page and came back later, which made them come up as direct traffic instead?  Either way, I had $100 free credit on Twitter for trying out their Ad area for the first time, so it was a great risk free promotion.

- During my campaign, Kickstarter launched a whole new way for projects to be found via their 'Discover' panel, which now includes clickable sub-categories for their main categories, which make it easier to narrow the focus of the projects that pop up for random discovery viewers.

The Bottom Line:  Out of all of the sites I promoted my Kickstarter at, my top three referrers which resulted directly in pledges were direct traffic via Kickstarter's site (especially after the debut of the new discovery panel), DeviantART, and Facebook.

Disclaimer:  My results may not reflect your results, especially if we have unrelated projects.  Best to test them out for yourself and see where your target audience exists on the net!

Toughest Challenges

Losing sleep - I spent a lot of time at night trying to think of the exact perfect way I could say the right thing to encourage people to invest in my project.  I kept thinking up endless tasks for myself to do.  Not a recipe for good sleep!

Obsessively checking email - Even though I promised myself I would not become obsessed with this, I could not help but clicking refresh to see when Pledges came in.  With such a short timeline, every day is vital and might bring new pledges!  This is a dangerous activity for our egos, especially when a campaign fails.

Fear of not promoting enough or too much - Was I spamming people?  Was I not asking people to do enough?  Was I not clear about what my project was trying to do?  All of these thoughts kept bouncing around in my head every day and night, also not conducive to sleep.

Why Did My Campaign Fail?

And now the tough question!  Why did my campaign fail, anyways?  I got some great feedback from a person who was kind enough to come forward and tell me why they did not back my project as well as fellow artists who have ran their own campaigns in the past, which made me come to some important revelations.

Confusing Expectations - Most potential Backers thought they were getting the entire series at once or they wanted to get the whole series at once, instead of waiting.  What they did not understand is that by backing this Lady, they actually help to fund the next Lady in the series.

If I were to just finish all of the paintings first without breaking them up into a series, I wouldn't actually be able to put any of the funding received along the way to a good use (IE. helping me to hire models, acquire new art supplies, etc) and therefore being able to improve the next Lady in the series.  I was not clear enough with my project Story and videos with how vital backers would be in influencing the creative output of this series and thus helping these paintings to meet their full potential.

Lack of Variety/Demand - The downside of only having one Lady in the series so far is that it is highly reliant on those with a connection to January.  January isn't a popular birthday, as far as I can tell, meaning there were less Backers interested in picking this one up.  Now October?  I have a feeling she's going to have an easier time meeting her goal!  (October has been the number 1 requested Lady so far!)  By the time I get to the later Ladies, the previous Ladies will be included as part of the Rewards, which will add to the demand for that Lady.

What Would I Do Differently Next Time?

I definitely want to try Kickstarter again and I plan to continue the Ladies of the Months Kickstarter series. However, I will definitely be going about things quite differently after this first experience.

-  Plan a strict time table BEFORE I start.
I had a loose time table in my head, but so many delays came up, particularly with the video editing, that I stressed myself out more than I should have trying to get things posted within the relatively small window I had to promote in.  Next time, I hope to have all of my sample Rewards and videos created and ready to post before the campaign even begins.

- Target my promoters ahead of time.
I'm going to make a list of places to promote my Kickstarter ahead of time so I'm not scrounging during the final days stressing myself out and desperately trying to find the right outlets who will respond to me.  I hope to approach promoters first and give them some lead time for working in an article about my Kickstarter into their schedules first so they won't run into the problem of my campaign being over before they even have a free slot.

- Build a bigger fanbase first?
I'm torn on this one. Many people offering advice about this campaign stated you don't need a fan base before running a Kickstarter, but the people I have seen succeeding the most on Kickstarter already have a collector base they have built or have worked with well-known IPs.  I have a small fanbase, but it's not nearly as big as I would like nor does it seem big enough at the moment to support a Kickstarter for people who might pitch in on a whim.  Should I wait till I have built more of a collector base for a particular brand of art before starting another Kickstarter in this series?

By the same token, I've had many people notice Lady of January (and my Ladies of the Months series) thanks to the Kickstarter and just simply having the paintings out there at conventions and online has grown interest in them.  Most of my mailing list sign-ups at this past DragonCon were thanks to people wanting to know when their Lady's month comes up.  Does this mean that though January failed, my audience has grown just enough to make chances of the future Ladies' success bigger?  I'm still pondering on this one!

- Have a clearer creative journey.
I really believe focusing on how awesome Art Nouveau is and the physical rewards over the creative journey hurt my chances for success.  I intend to focus on how this series is actually helping me maximize the potential of these paintings beyond my current capabilities the next time.

I hope documenting my process has helped someone else out there.  I know it has helped me!  I look forward to presenting the Lady of February's Kickstarter in the coming months armed with new knowledge and enthusiasm.

Thanks to all who pitched in and gave words of encouragement!  If anything, running a Kickstarter gave me real, tangible evidence of all the amazing folks out there who are wishing me well and sending their support.  You guys are fabulous!

Till the next time!  I cheer to your own Kickstarter's success!

You can read the other parts in this series here:
My First Kickstarter - Part 1 - Concept, Preparation, and Promotion
My First Kickstarter - Part 2 - During the Campaign

September 2014 Giveaway and Q&A

EVENT LINK on Google+:

Join me for my September Patreon Giveaway! See how my month's been going, ask me anything, and learn which lucky Patreon patron will win one of my art items!

Can't make it? Leave your questions in comments and I'll answer them at the event, which will be recorded and automatically uploaded afterwards to my YouTube channel, where you can watch the broadcast later: 

Sponsor me on Patreon to get in on this chance to win unique items direct from the artist. Only Patrons at the $10 and up level will be added to the giveaway: 

Questions are fielded via the Q&A text chat feature within Hangouts, so do not worry about 'calling in' if you are shy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

August 2014 Giveaway + Q&A: Winner and Answers!

Now for some answers to the questions you asked in a previous entry!  Vanessa asks:

Q:  I find that I have a very hard time figuring out light sources and shading when I'm trying to draw or paint (traditionally and digitally). Do you have any recommendations for exercises or books that would help with this problem?

A:  Vanessa, mastering values is one of the most subtle, but important skills that I am still mastering, myself!  If you can establish the proper values and shadows, you can make even the most absurd forms look realistic and the most simple paintings intriguing.

Some of my favorite exercises to understand the importance of value, especially as it affects composition, is to study master paintings and create black and white abstractions of them (thanks to Chris Oatley's Painting Drama for the idea!).  Like this:

Breaking down a painting into the major value groupings which define the image teaches you to recognize that effective paintings aren't about shading and lighting everything to the same intensity, but that you can push and pull the viewer's eye by grouping together the overall values where you would like the flow of the image to move.

As for knowing what to shade, lighting and shooting your own references is extremely important!  You can bring a level of realism and grounded reality to your pieces if you can define where the cast shadows fall.  Some artists do this with photographic reference, others learn to light and rig in 3D modeling programs so they can control every aspect of their reference more easily.

There's so much more I can say about this topic, so I'll just leave you with a suggestion for further reading in the form of James Gurney's amazing books on painting, Imaginative Realism and Color and Light.  Both books talk extensively about values, color, composition, and so much more!  They are an essential part of my book shelf.

Q: As an artist do you find it more difficult to begin passion projects as opposed to commissions? Where do you find your motivation? I know that when I get home from designing all day one of the last things I want to do is work on my own projects, and I have started missing them!

A:  This is a tough one!  I am still battling to get motivated after work.  After working on commissions for other people all day, I just want to curl up with a video game or a good movie.  The best way I've managed to trick myself into 'working' after work is to realize that this is essential 'play' time.  We remain creative by letting our minds wander (see John Cleese's lecture on the matter).

It also helps for me to give myself a set amount of time I can expect to be playing.  You can get a whole lot done an hour a night if only you dedicate yourself fully to that hour!

Q: My last question is, where did your love of art nouveau stem from? What draws you to this particular movement in art?

A:  I fell in love with Art Nouveau when one of my good friends in college introduced me to the work of Alphonse Mucha!  I instantly fell in love with the elegant swirling lines and organic shapes.  Replicating the style is like pure joy for me.  Inking the tiny details is a form of strange meditation.  I feel like Art Nouveau is a mirror into another world where the artistry of the individual was more appreciated than soulless manufactured design.  There's so much beauty, passion, and artistry in the architecture, paintings, and simple household objects of the period!

Thanks for the wonderful questions, Vanessa!

Without further ado, the winner of the Bad Fairy ACEO is....

Caitlan McCollum!  You're on a winning streak, m'dear!  

If you'd prefer the 50% off discount code prize instead, let me know via email and I can get you sorted out.

I hope to return to my usual live broadcast format for September's giveaway and Q&A.  More details to follow!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Convention Report: DragonCon 2014

After catching up on sleep, emails, and the internet, I'm finally able to grab some time to write a few thoughts about this past weekend's Dragon Con!  It was an odd year for me, as my sales were not so stellar, but the sense of kinship I felt with the other artists, even during a 'bad' year, warmed the heart.

I've come home feeling encouraged and inspired more than ever before, especially since I had a disappointing show.  We all have them and I learned a lot this con about myself, my future, and how much I love the supportive nature of the art community.

I have a lot of thoughts to sort out, so I'll try to condense!

My Display this Year:

My table setup during load in.  I wore a much nicer outfit at the actual con so I didn't look like an art hobo.
This table arrangement changed a bit over time, with the books being moved up front and the bookmarks behind them.

My gallery display in the Art Show.  Art Nouveau to the left, mature fantasy in the center,
and my masks to the right.

The Convention Experience:

As always, the Art Show is a well-oiled machine and set up went rather well!  I had a lovely time chatting up familiar faces like Annie Stegg, Justin Gerard, Drew Baker (Drew, the playmats you printed were gorgeous and I sold them both!) and Peter Morhbacher (or more often, his dad, Mike. He told some stories about you, Pete. Hehehe!).

I also made new friends with my amazing table neighbors, Jasmine Beckett-Griffth and her husband Matt, and Tienne Rei and her lovely assistant, Linda.  I also got to hang out with the talented Meredith Dillman and her husband and my good friend and artist, Brenda Lyons.

The more time I spend at conventions, the smaller the art world becomes!  It's been a great pleasure getting to know other artists more personally and to realize what an encouraging and amazing community network we have.

I just wish I had more time to chat with everyone!  We were all so busy that beyond a dinner here and a shuttle wait there, it was selling, eating, or sleeping.  Makes me sad I'll miss IlluXcon later this month, where people generally have a bit more time to hang out!

The general feel from the attendees this year was...tense, to say the least.  So many seemed very upset about the crowds in the Dealer's Room and in general.  I've heard that there were 72K attendees this year.  This is insanity!  The hotels were just not made to contain this number of people.   Due to foot traffic and the general unintuitive layout of the hotels, it's near impossible to find your way to a panel on time, and that's not the worst of it!

Between myself, people I know, and other attendee experiences, we witnessed glass bottles being dropped off balconies (onto other people!), an escalator being shut down because of too much foot traffic in one area, the dealer's room being shut down by the fire marshal because of too much traffic, a fist fight on the shuttle bus, and so much more chaos!

Dragon Con, it's time to consider your attendees' comfort levels and move the event to one of the local convention centers.  I probably won't be coming to this con ever unless I have to sell things because I don't want to deal with this mess.

Best Sellers:

My Kushiel's Dart prints were a big hit and I sold out of them completely!  It's unsurprising, since the print depicts a character from a popular novel that many identify with (thank Jacqueline for giving me her blessing to sell these prints!).  My Ladies of the Months postcards and bookmarks were also popular.  People wanting to know about when their Lady will be released was the #1 reason many signed up for my mailing list.

Overall, I sold many small things this year (bookmarks, card prints, small prints, etc.) while the canvas prints and masks gathered dust.  I have a lot of thoughts on why this is that I'll cover in a minute.

Throughout the show, I saw many high priced original paintings selling across the board.  This is a very encouraging trend that I hope will be continued in future Dragon Cons!  Dragon Con seems to be attracting a decent number of collectors who aren't afraid to spend top dollar on good art.  Original oil and acrylic paintings seemed to be the most popular big ticket item out of them all.

What I Learned:

If there's anything I learned this year, it's that having a bad con can sometimes teach you a lot more about what you're doing right or wrong than having a decent year can.

My Brand is Too Segmented - I had a fair few people come up to me to say they loved my art, but that they were wondering where all of my older angel-centric work went.  This is the effect of not having sold at the show at a table in a few years and my work being in major flux since that point in time.

I've been moving towards a more serious mature fantasy vein in recent times and I learned from this experience that this type of work doesn't exactly jive with what my past collectors expected, which I suspect affected sales.  My thoughts on how to handle this problem and where I'm going as an artist could fill a book, so expect a future entry on this topic soon!  I've already gotten some great feedback from fellow artists and AD's that have proven invaluable.

Mailing List Signup Ideas - I did my standard book giveaway this year, where new sign-ups would have a chance at winning the book on the last day of the con.  However, my neighbor Tienne did an excellent job of encouraging sign-ups by giving people a choice of a free print if they signed up, which is a far more immediate tactic than a book giveaway.

She also gave folks the option to sign up to a snail mail only list, which is nice for those customers who don't check e-mail often and prefer the updates of a solid mailer.  I want to try this idea at the next con and see how it goes!

Digital Art is a Hard Sell - I had many people confuse my digital art for oil paints, which is a style I've been nursing for my own benefit, since I don't have the luxury of ventilation so I can work in this medium and I consider digital far less messy and environmentally destructive.  Once people learned my painterly work was digital, they seemed to be disappointed.   The idea that digital is 'easy mode' and is therefore worth less for that still seems prominent.

If I could do it all over again, I'd hang my original traditionally painted pieces at my table and put the prints in the Gallery Bay.  People seem more interested in chatting with me about my process and it's a lot easier to do that when the original is hanging nearby.

Coolest Costume:

Last, but not least, here is the coolest costume I saw!  Dragon Con is a costuming paradise and I am always sure to be on the lookout for impressive ensembles.

I didn't get out of the Artist's Alley much, but this one really knocked my socks off!  The amount of detail is just staggering and I can literally hear the Junk Lady's voice in my head when I look at this costume.

"What's the matter, my dear, don't you like your toys?"

All in all, this convention is still one of the best places to sell fantasy work in the Southeast and I hope to come back, but probably not at a table until my artistic voice evens out a bit.  The Art Show has an ever-increasing number of amazing artists that are definitely worth seeing, but also gives enough of the limelight to lesser known artists that might surprise you.  This mix of amazing artists and new talent makes the Art Show a must-see for any of you out there interested in either participating in the show or seeing some of your favorite artists in person.

Till next year!
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