My Personal Dos and Don’ts of Selling At Shows

(CONTENT WARNING: There’s swearing. Because I get really passionate about this shit.)

I am not an expert. I have sales experience under my belt, from doing caricatures at Cedar Point for 3 years, and doing comic conventions for the last 5 (really kicking into gear in the last 2). But if there’s a World Sales Martial Arts Tournament out there, I’ve never participated in it, much less gotten a black belt or 1 million Zenny. With that said, don’t take too much salt with what I’m about to say, especially since what I’m going to suggest flies in the face of what a lot of “experts” will say.

Here’s what works for me when I sell my comics, prints and other sundry at conventions:

1. Opening with “How’s It Going?”

Tyler James, I know you don’t claim to be an expert but I’m going to call you out for a second because I remember one episode of ComixLaunch that pissed me off. Here’s why:

The advice in one of these podcast episodes was NOT to open with “Hey how’s it going,” but to open with “Do you like to read comics?”

At a comic convention this is about the same thing as asking if water is wet.

Not to mention that I tried this “Do you like comics” exactly once, and the guy looked me in the eye and said, “No thanks.”

I am brutal when it comes to sales tactics. If it fails even once, I will never use it again. So guess what opener I never used?

I’ve mostly trained myself into this new habit instead – when I ask, “How’s it going?” and someone answers something like, “Good, you?” I can follow that up with, “Well, I’m just selling my stuff today.” THAT is what gets people to stop 99% of the time.

Every once in a while, someone will answer with a “Good,” and nothing else. That’s fine. Conventions are big enough to allow passers-by and it won’t hurt you. Some people will want to tell you their life story. That’s fine, too: let them stick around because seeing someone at a table will entice other customers to come over. Also, you never know when that someone telling you their life story is going to give you an idea you can put into your comics. Just make sure the person is not a Time Bandit (more on this in a minute).

2. Ask the Customer About Themselves.

Now, the ONE episode of ComixLaunch I actually liked was one that Tyler didn’t host himself – it was hosted by Josh Dahl. Here’s a link to the episode. I internalized ALL these things just before Awesome Con and it resulted in my biggest sales jump yet. Plus, I got to try a technique I hadn’t used in years, and it re-inspired me to use it again.

The technique? Get the customer to talk about themselves.

You are there to meet new people. Show some goddamn interest in other people.

Don’t just talk about yourself and your work – ask the other person about what their T-shirt is referencing. Ask them if it’s their first time at the convention you’re at. Ask what they’re most excited to see at the convention. Ask, ask, ask.

Get to know the other person you are talking to. Even if they don’t buy from you, they will remember how outgoing you are.

Also, tying into this, throw out compliments. Throw ALL THE COMPLIMENTS. Even if the person is just walking by your table, throw a compliment at them.

Keep it genuine. My personal favorite thing is to compliment a cosplay, especially if it’s something I recognize.

3. DO NOT TALK POLITICS, DAMMIT.

I think it’s because I have rainbows on some of my art pieces, but there are (once in a blue moon, at least) people – usually dudes – who will approach and ask something charged.

There was one particular show at a local comic shop I remember. There was a dude who came up to me and it started when he asked to friend me on Facebook. I said, “No, I like to keep my Facebook friends separate from my art page, especially because my personal page can get political sometimes.”

Well, one thing led to another and eventually this dude spent literally 10 minutes trying to get me to engage in a conversation about how “naturally weak” women are because of some statistics about women tennis players vs. men tennis players using numbers that I’m 110% sure he pulled out of his ass.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me – back in my caricature days, I remember one teenage girl looked me dead in the eyes and asked me, “Do you believe in hell?”

So here’s a pro-tip from someone who gets asked these sorts of questions a lot: if someone asks you a question that YOU KNOW will lead to a heated discussion, say this:

“I’m on the clock right now, so I can’t really talk about that. If you want to talk with me outside of work, here’s my business card.”

And the best thing is, by doing this you guarantee that the person will not actually contact you outside of the show with those questions. Because they ask you those questions to get you riled up in the moment.

Brush them off. You are not there for them. You are there to find Your People. If they ask you politically charged questions and you know it’s to rile you up, they are not Your People. Move them away ASAP.

4. Play Whose Line Is It Anyway: Con Style

Maybe it’s because I’m really good at improvising, but my favorite thing about going to conventions and talking with people is going off-script.

See, there’s usually a script in mind when I pitch my comics and work to folks. But if given the chance, I would rather improvise and go off-script. This will make you appear more approachable. Yes, having a script is nice (after all, people expect you to know what it is you’re selling). However, I would rather activate my senses and gauge whether the person I’m talking to is even interested or not.

You can usually tell when someone is just looking and they don’t intend to buy from you – they don’t make eye contact, they scan but don’t touch, and their responses to your questions are short. Let them look. If someone else is nearby, talk to them.

Improv is about energy. You want to keep your energy up and engage with the “Yes, and.”

(For those who don’t know, “Yes, and” refers to the idea that when you build a joke, you keep “no” out of your vocabulary. If someone asks “Isn’t the sky kinda purple today?” You answer with “yes, and” to build the energy in the scene.)

Saying “no,” even non-verbally, cuts the energy off. You want to engage with people, not walls.

5. Beware the Time Bandits.

Grace bless teenage boys, because they don’t entirely know when to stop talking about what it is they’re obsessed over. Teenage boys are not the only culprits of being Time Bandits, but in my experience, Time Bandits tend to be that demographic.

Time Bandits are people who will demand your attention for as long as humanly possible. There was one case at a local show in which a Time Bandit stayed at my table for TWENTY SOLID MINUTES babbling about Invader Zim.

(FYI, I did not like Invader Zim before the Time Bandit, and I sure as shit do not like Invader Zim now.)

Time Bandits are life-draining to your table. They will scare away any potential customer because the Time Bandit will do their damndest to keep your attention on them AND ONLY THEM.

Other customers will want to talk to you, but the Time Bandit will demand your acknowledgment so often that you cannot peel away to talk to the other person who came up to you. Or if you try to peel away, they’ll give off this vibe that they’ve been rejected, and they’ll sulk.

My advice – have a table buddy as often as humanly possible. Your table buddy can help you divert the attention of the Time Bandit, or talk to the other person who has approached you who wants to engage with you.

If you are at your table by yourself, encourage the Time Bandit to visit other tables. This DOES require that you know who else is at the show and what stuff they have. You don’t have to have extensive knowledge – just enough to know if there’s something out on the floor that would more closely pertain to the Time Bandit’s interest. Direct them that way as soon as you fucking can.

Because the worst thing is – Time Bandits don’t buy from you. I think they operate under the assumption that “oh, I can’t buy something from this person. Maybe if we talk about something we like for a few minutes, that would make this person feel like my time here was worth something.”

To any potential Time Bandits who may be reading this – I appreciate the gesture, but it’s not necessary. I go to conventions to talk to as many people as possible because I want to add to their experience. By trying to keep my attention on you, you are depriving me from making someone else’s convention experience awesome. It’s selfish and you need to stop.

6. Be Fucking Excited

Don’t just be excited. Be fucking excited. Show your nerd love emblazoned across your forehead.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking only about your numbers (i.e. “ok, if I make $XX that’ll make back the table. Selling X number of X books will make back the cost of hotel. Let’s see how many of these I can sell before the end of the day”).

Take this bit of advice from someone with anxiety – this is anxious behavior. STOP.

Deep breath in. Be in the present moment.

Because holy shit, you’re at a convention! There’s costumes and comics and manga and so many fucking nerds with the same interests as you! Revel in that.

Take in the excitement and the joy. Be genuinely excited about things at the show, and have fun. Trust me – that enthusiasm will bleed into how you approach your future fans.

I hope this helps.

Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

Watercolor 101: Tips and Techniques.

goddess watercolor painting
“The Goddess,” a watercolor painting I finished a while ago.

So yesterday I covered Watercolor tools and What those tools are for. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first, then come back here.

Today, I’m going to talk about how you use those tools, and share some tips I’ve picked up over the years.

The first trick to watercolor painting is deceptively simple:

Have a sketch ready.

It helps to have a foundation for your watercolor work, so sketch your subject first in pencil. NOT INKS. Many inks will smear when they come in contact with water.

The second trick is for mixing colors. Depending on whether you use cakes, tubes, or pencils, your blending techniques will vary.

With cakes, have scrap paper handy to mix on the side. That way you don’t mix on the cakes themselves.

To mix tube colors, the best surface to use is either a palette or palette paper. This will help the tube paint last longer while you work, as well, since tube paints can dry out quickly. Also, use only tiny amounts of tube paint. The pigments are strong but they dry out quickly unless you add water frequently.

With watercolor pencils, try different types of hatching and cross hatching techniques from drawing. This will give your paintings an interesting texture and provides an easy way to layer colors.

The third trick for watercolor is diluting your colors to either a) make them more transparent, or b) make them easier to blend.

Do you remember in my post “Watercolor 101: Tools,” how I said you need two containers of water? One is used to rinse out your brushes. You use the second container to dilute your colors.

So load up your brush with color, then if you need to dilute it, dip it in that second container.

The fourth trick is actually going to be a bunch of tricks. These tricks will help you get different effects in your painting.

Use these following tools to get these effects:

Sponges, which blot or absorb color. This makes painting trees, clouds, and porous surfaces easier.

Salt, to absorb the color and create rocky surfaces.

Toothbrushes, to flick color on the surface. You load up the toothbrush with color, then you brush the bristles with your thumb close to the surface. This is an easy way to make stars and sand and other grainy textures.

Rubbing alcohol, to lift up the color in splotches.

Try out other tools and see what kinds of textures you get from them!

Those are just some basics techniques to get you started.

But I understand you may have some more questions, like…

“Does it matter what brand of paint I use?”

It’s entirely up to you what brand you use. There are tons out there, and there are even some brands that make student-grade paints. Student-grade paints have lighter pigment and are cheaper than brands like Windsor & Newton. They’re good, affordable alternatives.

“I heard about Masking Fluid. What is it and how do you use it?”

Masking Fluid is a special fluid you paint onto a painting surface so color won’t paint onto it. It acts as a mask (get it?).

The way you use it is you lay down the masking fluid on the areas you don’t want paint to touch. Then you paint like normal, amd when you’re done, you just rub it off.

Have more questions? Be sure to look at this handy reference from Wet Canvas. If you still have questions, leave a comment below and I will answer to the best of my ability.

Thank you for reading! And I will see you tomorrow.

Watercolor 101: Tools

I’ve been drawing with watercolors for about 8 years now. I’m not a professional (at least, I wouldn’t consider myself such), but I’ve picked up a few tricks.

This is good because when I look online for the basics of how to get into watercolor drawing and painting, I’m frustrated with how hard it is to read the information.

It’s a shame because watercolors are one of the most fun mediums you can experiment with.

Do you have to draw landscapes? No, not unless you want to. You can draw whatever you want with watercolors.

(There are even some watercolorists who design awesome tattoos, but that’s a different topic for a different day.)

But where do you start?

Well, first, I want to talk about the tools.

We’ll talk about how to use them, and what to draw with them, in the next post.

So what do you need to start painting and drawing with watercolors?

watercolor painting tools
A sample of the tools you’ll need.

First, you need two containers for water. The first one will rinse your brushes. The second one will be what you use to dilute colors.

Second. Brushes. This is really up to personal preference. However, keep in mind that in art stores there are brushes specifically made for painting with watercolors. These are going to be your best choices.

These brushes come in either of two types of hairs: synthetic, and natural. Again, your personal preference. My personal preference is for those made with natural hairs, because they retain water for longer.

Brushes also come with a variety of tips on them. Each tip is used for a different techniques.

Here’s a handy chart.

brush tip chart

Third, a rag.

Or a paper towel, or wash cloth. Or a dirty shirt. Anyway, You need something to wipe your brushes on between colors.

Fourth, the paints.

The paints come in three forms – cakes, tubes, and watercolor pencils.

watercolor cakes tubes and pencils tools
Watercolor cakes, tubes, and pencils.

These have their own pros and cons.

Cakes are easy to carry, are perfectly portable, and come in a set. However, the color range can be limited, they’re tricky to mix, and the colors are more transparent (meaning you can see the paper underneath).

Tubes come in a large variety of colors and are easier to mix than cakes. They are also very opaque, meaning you can hardly see the paper underneath. However, they take up space and you need either a palette or palette paper (which is waxy) to mix them.

Watercolor pencils are unique. They work like colored pencils, and you can color with them like such. Then you add water in strokes and voila! You have a watercolor piece.

Watercolor pencils are easy tools to work with, and it’s easier to get gradients (which are swaths of color moving from dark and opaque on one side, to thin and transparent on the other) with these tools.

The drawback to these tools are that, like cakes, color selections are somewhat limited, though some sets have a nice range of colors. The other drawback to this tool is that they leave behind a texture, which can be a problem if you want a smooth color.

Back to supplies. You will need…

Fifth, a painting surface.

The best surfaces to paint watercolors on are papers. The best of the best are mixed media papers (which are nice and thick), Bristol paper (which is often smooth), and watercolor papers (which are thick and toothed. Toothed paper means it has ridges, which helps retain water).

Sixth, a color wheel.

This is a necessary tool for any artist. It shows the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors on the color wheel, as well as their compliments, analogs, tints, and shades.

color wheel
Color Wheel

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, be sure to check out this primer on color.

And seventh, scrap paper.

Preferably, this scrap paper will be the same type of paper you’re painting on. With this, you can test and mix your colors before committing them to your final painting. This is also the best surface for mixing cakes. I’ll talk more about how to do that later.

Those are the tools you need to get started with watercolors. I’ll talk about techniques, tips and tricks in the next post.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow.