It looms: Weekends full of exclusive toys, brightly costumed enthusiasts, and vendors galore. Back issues you could never find at your local shop or trades you never knew you needed. Photo ops, panels with people you have idolized since childhood, the gathering of people all interested in the same amazing subcultures. This only means one thing: Convention season is once again in full swing. The lull of the winter is over. Collectors are readying their long boxes and freeing up shelf space for their new Emma Frost bust; cosplayers are nursing pricked fingers as they struggle to sew spandex. But out there is someone: someone who has never experienced these things due to money, time constraints, lack of interest, whatever. Someone out there has never experienced the magical environment that seems to come along with this fandom we have associated ourselves with. And that someone really has no idea what they’re doing.
In the past, I’ve written articles on the proper convention etiquette for first time convention attendees. I’ve talked about essential things like bathing and respecting other people’s personal space. But today I am going to tackle something much more specific: acquiring amazing art, for your walls or to keep safe in a sketchbook. Most good conventions have a plethora of talented artists happy to draw for you, but there is a certain protocol that needs to be followed. As a rabid collector of amazing art, I am happy to share the expertise on art getting that I have learned over my years of con prowling.
Make a Game Plan
Do your research! Check the convention’s website beforehand and see what artists are going to be there. If you see some of your favorite artists there, make a list of who you are interested in getting sketches from. Some artists don’t mind if you pre-commission: that is, you contact them before the convention and tell them what you want and that you will pick it up at the con. Oftentimes this will be on the honor system and you will just pay upon pick up, but at times you can even pay beforehand with paypal.
If the artist DOESN’T do pre-commission and you REALLY want a sketch from them (this especially goes for more well known artists), be prepared to immediately book it their table as soon as the convention opens on the first day. Then you get your name at the top of the waiting list.
If you aren’t much for pre planning, wander around the convention and pick artists you like based on the art they have sitting out on their tables. However, if you take this approach, know you probably aren’t going to be getting a sketch from someone high profile because usually their sketch lists fill up in the first couple of hours.
So you’ve found an artist that you want a sketch from? Great! Now comes the part when you decide to get some custom art from them. Be polite, cordial, and friendly – make eye contact, introduce yourself, give them a compliment on their work. Describe what you are interested in, ask them how much it will cost (at times they have set prices but usually it depends on the size of the page, if you want color, etc. Pencil sketches are usually cheapest, followed by ink, then colored as the most expensive. You can also provide your own sketch book.) DON’T EXPECT TO GET A SKETCH FOR FREE UNLESS THE ARTIST KNOWS YOU OR IS PARTICULARLY DESPERATE OR YOU ARE A FAMOUS PERSON THAT PEOPLE THROW GIFTS AT. Asking an artist for a free sketch is insulting. This is their job.
Have Reference Ready
Want a super obscure character that only appeared in an episode of Star Trek once? That’s great, but have reference ready! Not all artists are fancy like you and have a smart phone, so if you know what kind of art you are going to want before the convention, bring reference – a page from a comic book, a printed page with a picture of the character you’d like, etc. Artists are generally happy to draw anything for you as long as you give them something to work with. I have commissioned artists for pictures of myself, my friends, my dog, my friend’s dogs, zombie unicorns, unicorn stickhorses, Polaris from X-Men, Lady Gaga, etc etc etc. Everyone was so happy to do all of these sketches for me AS LONG AS I HAD REFERENCE. Seriously, this is important.
Your name is on the list, money has been exchanged. Now it’s time to go on your merry way. If you want to watch the artist draw for a little bit, that’s fine! But ask them first. Don’t stand their awkwardly, blocking their table from other people as you mouth breathe over their progress. That’s just weird.
But the best thing to do is to ask an approximate time that your art will be finished. Even provide a cell phone number if you feel comfortable with them texting you when your piece is finished. Then LEAVE THEM TO THEIR WORK. They are not going to appreciate you popping by their table every fifteen minutes and lurking wordlessly until they look up and mutter “not finished yet”.
Ask Before Tipping
I like to give my artists a little extra than they asked for just because I am so amazed by artistic talent that I just want to shower these talented people with dolla dolla bills ya’ll. But I have found it makes a lot of artists uncomfortable. If you want to tip, make sure to ask first. For example:
“Oh wow, I love this so much. Is it alright if I give you a couple extra dollars for your time? You really made my day.”
Express your Gratitude
Yes, this was a business transaction and yes, you paid for your art, but do not just quietly nod and slink off with your art. Make sure to let the artist know you LOVE WHAT THEY DID FOR YOU. It makes them feel good, it makes you feel good, and you may even make a friend in the process.
DO NOT CRITIQUE THE ART
I used to date Ben Templesmith and upon sitting behind his table I was absolutely floored by the amount that people would COMPLAIN about their commissions. Sure they had just paid $150 for a piece of art, but that seemed to give them some sort of strange entitlement.
I heard preposterous things like: “My friend got a commission from you too and it was better than mine, I want half a refund.”
“You didn’t draw her sexy enough.”
“Can’t you just re-do this whole character?”
They’re the artist. You do not have creative control. Even if it doesn’t look EXACTLY HOW YOU SAW IT IN YOUR HEAD, don’t tell them so. If you want something to look the way you see it, draw it yourself.
So there you have it: How to get sketches at conventions. Questions? Comments? Post in the comments below! I am looking forward to seeing everyone’s convention sketches this year. My hot ladies sketch book is over halfway finished and I hope to finish it by the end of this year! Perhaps I will show it to you when I’m finished, ifanbase.
Molly McIsaac wishes she had artistic talent but makes herself feel better by collecting other people’s art. You can follow her misadventures on twitter.