How to get the most out of art conventions

cons illustration

Illustration by Dylan Shipley:

Conventions have changed a lot since Arthur C Clarke and a group of British fellows got together in 1937 to discuss sci-fi – quite possibly over a cup of tea. One thing has remained the same, however, and that's the networking benefits that hanging out with a room full of dedicated, like-minded people can provide.

Bring your best

convention cosplayers

Trapped between Wormwood and a Leprechaun: Ben hangs out with two of his favourite creations.

For comic artist Emma Vieceli, the payback was immediate. "Without cons, I wouldn't have been found by manga site Sweatdrop," she explains. "I was invited to join the group after my first ever anime convention."

Such instant success is a fine thing but, according to illustrator Dylan Shipley, it's still crucial to ensure people remember your art through preparation and presentation. "Sometimes you don't have much time to show your work," says Dylan, "so choose around a dozen of your strongest pieces of artwork, with your best first and your next best last to leave a good impression."

Stay humble

Even with your best art backing you up, however, it can be difficult gauging how to sell the 'You' brand. Difficult and potentially terrifying. "I’m a reserved person," admits concept artist Alex Taini, "and a bit shy too, so when I started attending cons I was a bit lost."

Such genuine shyness can sometimes come across as being aloof. "I was nervous and would put my sketchbook in the faces of everyone under the roof," Dylan says. "The worst thing you can do is appear like you think your artwork is better than everyone else's."

Humility is vital, no matter what a mega-genius you are. "It riles me when people walk up to my table and, without a glance at my work, dump their huge portfolio over my prints, looking at me with a smug expression," exclaims Emma. "That's not cool, no matter how talented you are."

Alex also notes the importance of modesty. "Always be humble. In cons and expos there are people from all over the world with different cultures, backgrounds and skills, so don’t close yourself in to your own little world."

My best friends and contacts are those that I've made with a drink in my hand

Not that self-promotion should be overlooked altogether. "Take business cards and hand them out if the convention heads that way," advises Emma, "but sometimes people may just want to talk 
and get an idea of who you are. More importantly, head to the bar post-event if at all possible. My best friends and contacts are those that I've made with a drink (not necessarily alcoholic) in my hand."

Enjoy yourself!

convention table

Sweatdrop pals: Emma Vieceli and the writer of The Clarence Principle, Fehed Said pose over some fine titles.

For many, heading for a wee nip after a day of smiles and handshakes is not only a perk of cons, but when the real networking begins, as Alex found out at an expo in Malmö last year. After the day was over, he found himself sipping on a few beers with the creator of the game Ico, the art director of Silent Hill and the concept artist for Jet Set Radio Future.

"It was fantastic to talk with them in such an informal situation," says Alex, "and if it wasn't for that con it would have been impossible for me to meet and make contacts with such famous people."

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 44.

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