Con Etiquette: How to Ask for a Sketch

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.

Ask Politely

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.

Don’t Hover

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.

Comments

  1. spot on advice!

  2. God damn. It’s sad how many socially inept people there are within our culture. Nonetheless, fantastic write-up and advise. Thanks!!

  3. So pretty much this entire article can sum up in one simple line “Be smart, not a douche”.

    Thank you, Molly. Excellent article as always.

  4. I appreciate your tips since I’m just starting to buy sketches and original art.

  5. Great article!

    There’s a really interesting discussion going on about this at the 11 O’Clock Comics forum that’s worth checking out. Guy paid $200 for a Dennis Calero commission and is dealing with his extreme distaste for the final product (not surprising when you see it).

    http://bullpenbulletinspodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=15174.0

    • I just read through that link. Couple of thoughts: You are right, the final product is not upto par. I got a sketch from Dennis Calero last year, and I believe I paid $150 for it. It was of Man-Thing and it took him several hours to finish. The final sketch was fantastic, and had the same dark/shadowy qualities as the Batman piece. It was on 11 X17 and is one of my favorite pieces. Dennis was also very friendly to talk to, and whenever he saw us gave us updates on the piece.

      The only thing I can figure is that he got mixed up on what was being asked for and did a quick sketch instead of his usual stuff. There’s no way that was made using the same technique/tools as he usually uses for his top level sketches.

    • Stumbled across this. It’s unfortunate that in the comments under an article about etiquette, I find you discussing this issue with everyone except the person you should be discussing it with: me. First off, have your friend email me at denniscaleroart@gmail.com. I recall him professing to like the piece. I’m not psychic, and I’ve done pieces that I’ve not been happy with and the recipient has loved it. The opposite has happened as well. In terms of this article, this is not the way to handle this situation. Always get the email address or website of any artist you commission from. It’s natural to not be sure how you feel about a piece when you get it. Write the artist and politely discuss your concerns. You should not ask for a refund off the bat, unless the artist offers it first. Ask if he or she would consider redoing the piece. Most smart artists I know, and I consider myself one, charge what they charge in part because they know every once in a while you’re going to get a dud. This is art, not widget manufacturing, they don’t all come out the same.

  6. If you are a good person, be yourself!
    If you aren’t, follow these steps!

  7. In retrospect, I wish I had a theme for the sketchbook I started last year. I typically just see what I like from the artists and just go with that. But I love everything I have in there.

    Anyway.. This is all good advice, Molly. I would also add that if, on the rare occation, an artist offers to do a quick free sketch for you then show your appreciation by buying something from their table. As stated above, it makes them feel good and you may even make a friend in the process.

    • Having a theme definitely makes for a very cool sketch book. I have an Avengers book and a JLA book, including an Ethan Van Sciver Hal Jordan and a Mike Grell Longbow Hunter-era Green Arrow. Probably my favorite things in my collection.

  8. Fantastic advice! I swear, one of these days I’ll get my illusive Ryan Ottley sketch.

    More advice: always be on the lookout for Tone Rodriguez. He’s an amazing artist, really nice, and funny. He once drew me a Green Goblin, telling me to “F**k Off!”. It’s fantastic.

  9. Super helpful article! I’ll be going to my 4th con this summer, but I’ve always been too nervous about approaching artists for sketches because I was unsure of the “rules”.

    Question about sketchbooks. I know not all are created equal so are there any artist types that could let me know what the best kind of paper etc I should be looking for when picking a book out?

    • I’d love to get some feedback on this as well. I’ve been recently considering investing in a themed sketchbook since I’m now hitting a half dozen cons a year.

    • If you want something that looks nice on the outside, get something like a Moleskin or an equivalent. They’re a little pricey, but look classy. But the main thing is to get something with decent paper. A lot of artists use markers/brushes, which lay it on thick and can bleed through if the paper’s not good. Especially important if you’re going to be getting colored pieces.

    • @MisterShaw good suggestion. My only issue with sketchbooks is that you can’t have it out to multiple artists, just one at a time. Maybe if there was a Moleskin with some kind of loose interior binding to it so you could put plastic sheet protectors in?

  10. Nice write up, Molly!

    When it comes to meeting our comic creator heroes face-to-face, even the best socially-instructed among us find it hard to keep our cool. The excitement and ‘giddiness’ that surrounds an artist alley, or a con in general, only amp the nerve levels.

    The ‘Sketch Request Rules of Engagement’ that you have provided should be copied, laminated and, while in line, chanted to one’s own self like a religious meditation. I would also add…don’t forget to breathe!

  11. One kid at C2E2 didn’t follow the “Don’t Hover” rule, and for once, I’m kinda glad he didn’t, or I wouldn’t now have one of my favorite pieces. I strolled up to Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye artist Alex Milne’s booth in the Alley to see if he’d finished an Optimus Prime headshot sketch I’d commissioned the previous day. I got my sketch, but saw Milne hard at work on an unfamiliar Transformer. The kid in question, I’d seen standing there for maybe 20 minutes straight as I’d passed the booth a few times.

    Total hoverer. Probably his first con. But still. Anyway, I asked him which Autobot that was, and the kid bursts out, “That’s my car!”

    Seeing that, I innocently asked how much it’d cost me to get one of those of my car. His girlfriend (wife?) got my money and I got reference to her for later, and now I have my car as an Autobot.

    So, occasionally, when others break the unspoken rules, it works out in another’s favor.

    • Here, I like it so much I’m gonna share:

      http://i.imgur.com/SbIYn.jpg

      ’09 Nissan Sentra. Still trying to come up with a name.

    • @neums – That sketch is awesome. Congrats on the score!

      A few name ideas off the top of my head…Thumbs Up, Omega Cylinder, O-Ring, Battle Sentry, Manifold, Treads

    • I like Manifold. Or just Cylinder.

      O-Ring just sounds….well…after Austin Powers, I can never hear that without thinking “who does no. 2 work for?! who does no. 2 work for?!”

    • Also, Milne went the extra step and actually explained how he transformed, and what parts of my car were where. I like to assume that the thumb conceals the Autobot badge. I think he was doing purple backgrounds for Decepticons, also.

    • @neums – Glad you found some of the names useful. Good catch on the O-Ring suggestion though, totally forgot about that ‘golden moment’ in Austin Powers!. Hilarious!

      Milne sounds like a comic book fan’s dream artist. Very personable and respectful of his audience.

    • @kmanifesto – Most definitely he is. I bought a bunch of prints from him at Wizard World Austin in Nov. ’10, when he wasn’t on full art duties yet and was doing guest bits here and there. He was super cool, and I can pull the hipstery “I knew him before he was mainstream” comment out now.

    • That is an awesome idea!!! 2000 Honda Civic, Civhonda Prime will soon be Here!!

  12. whats the best way to handle an artist quote that is out of your price range? There have been a few times where that has happened, and i’ve politely told them that and thanked them for their time, but i always sensed they were pissed off…like “why did you ask what the price is if you’re not going to buy?” kinda thing.

    • I asked to look through Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s stuff, and nothing was marked, so I had to ask, and as soon as they answered, I said thank you and walked away.

      Don’t worry about it. You’re asking because you want to know if you can afford it. If you can’t, that’s no shame. If they don’t want people to ask, they should post it up. It’s helpful to have an idea of how popular (read: expensive) an artist is before approaching, but I wouldn’t worry about it.

    • thats good to know. i’ve seen some guys have a fully printed sheet with time slots and set prices next to a sample or two of what their con sketches look like. I think its great…sales pitch right on the table, and the artist is free to just talk to people without repeating the same business stuff 1000000x a day.

    • At Skottie young’s booth at C2E2, I have a feeling he was maybe trying to scare away some commissions seekers, because of his pricing. He asked $60 for a sketch and $200 for a full on commission. I think it was easier on him to just sketch, and only the hardcore collectors would fork over that much, so he was trying to dissuade the casual, or non-serious, collectors from commissioning anything.

      I went for a sketch, but since I wasn’t early enough, I was at the end of the list, and unfortunately he couldn’t get to me by Sunday. But he didn’t need to offer a refund, as he said to only pay after the sketch was done. I dunno if he had the same policy on commissions, but I thought that was extra cool of him. And he was gracious enough to apologize for being unable to do something for me and he was nice enough to agree to a photo. So, I saved $60 and I got a photo. Win/win, in a sense.

  13. The very first commission I got was a great piece! I was excited and thanked the artist but he had a real
    blas√© attitude. He didn’t say “You’re welcome” or “Thanks for your support” he said “You should give me a tip” without even looking up from what he was doing. I didn’t even know tipping was a factor in these things. I stammered a little and he said “It was hard to draw that background.” I gave him an extra ten bucks but just felt weird and awkward about it.

    • That sounds classless and asinine on the part of the artist.

    • Whenever I get so much as a doodle from an artist in the alley, free or paid, I shake their hand, say thank you, and even ask them for a picture with either them and the work or the two of us and the work.

  14. I think if an artist posted their prices it would make life easier for all involved. Take a look at the pricing and move along if it is way out of your price range.

  15. 1st comment is almost exactly what I was gonna say: Spot on pointers. And hope you do share your hot ladies sketchbook with the ifanbase, and thanx for writing this article, It hadn’t occurred to me to ask for a sketch at a con and love this idea, can’t believe the audacity of what some people said when you were talking about Templesmith. Love Wormwood and he’s on my list of someone I’d love to have a version of Nova or something in his style, hope you guys are still cool. Also thanx, for the Emerald City Comic Con pics and positive feedback, I was telling my lcs and a cpl friends I really wanted to check that one out as it looks to be a good one getting better and be a nice trip, so next year I’m putting some money aside for that one and it’ll be one of my much needed breaks from the Detroit area.

  16. filippod filippod (@filippodee) says:

    My 2 cents: do some research. Look on the Internet for previous commissions and sketches by the artist you intend to approach. You’ll quickly realize what they are best at and you will be able to request something which is up to their strengths. Also you’ll be able to see whether their commissions and sketches are consistently good or not. That way you won’t have to “gamble” when you request a piece.

  17. i recently decided i wanted to start commissioning a series of similar sketches from some of my favorite artists. My plan (following the above guidelines of course) is to have the artists do a single character bust in a single panel, interacting with the panel however they see fit.

    I got the inspiration from this Amanda Conner piece
    http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQnLbHB-JKVrm-nFPYsyBpZ0TfTPRC-7ayDcE5XOxccWAbqPfwvNgrkGpKcYw

    I would love to just have a series of different pieces like they have headshots in NY laundromats.

  18. i want to go to this years new york comic con. it will be my first. this was definetly helpful. any other advice? i really need it…..

    • As a four year veteran of NYCC, I suggest the usual: wear comfortable shoes, don’t forget to drink plenty of water and bring tons and tons of Purel.

    • @jackietam – Reed put out Purell dispensers outside every panel room at C2E2. I didn’t really see them on the show floor, though. They also had ice water in those large “sports team” tubs. Every time I ran dry on my water, I’d take the trip to them to refill.

    • @Neums Yeah, I saw that, but they should had those at the end of every a aisle in Artist Alley.

    • Yeah, too true.

  19. Great advice!! EVERY single commision I’ve ever asked for has been for been for myself. I’m floored by the vendors and “other” people who stand in line to flip artwork on ebay. I recently had an awesome experience with Rebekah Issacs. She did a great Angel commision for me at Megacon and addressed the piece to me, and I enjoyed the conversation w/her on “Angel & Faith” along with the mythology of the characters and book. The whole reason for a con visit and a commision is the interaction w/you and the artist. David Finch did a piece for me and to be honest, the conversation w/him about comics, his work, the Avengers/Batman movie was just as amazing as the art. That’s the truth, and I LOVE my David Finch piece. If you are a true fan and one that appreiciates the body of work from artists, writers, and inkers, express that, but don’t geek out. They are people too, and want to be in the mix w/true fans of the books they work on. In the end, we are all in the same boat, and truly just want to enjoy the Con experience, which let’s be honest, is “Legend, wait for it, -dary”!!

  20. Curious, what’s the rule-of-thumb for tipping? Not to get all Mr. Pink, but it’s gotta be different than tipping a waitress or bartender, right? I mean, I tip my tattoo artist $50 per piece. Is there some sort of generally acceptable minimum range, rate, or percentage that should be taken into consideration?

  21. I need to get better with this, try a few emails, come up with some better Ideas for sketches. First couple times I got commissions I just blurted out something or got the main character they are famous for.

    Ryan Ottely – Allen the Alien

    Rob Guillory – Tony Chu

    Skottie Young – Wolverine – I was super impressed with this.He did it on colored brown paper using black and white chalk? Not sure exactly what it was, but its sweet, also added a X logo for good measure. And was only 60, bet this would be more now.

    Want to get at least a few different artists this year as SDCC. Also, grabbed a few quick sketches from Jeff Lemire on the back of a few boards, these are fun and he draws them in like 60 seconds but they still display well.

    • I saw Rob and Skottie last year at SDCC. Bought a book from Rob, which he signed, and got a page from Skottie. Since I got those, I didn’t ask for sketches, but I did see Skottie doing some work while I was going through his pages for sale, and the dude does good work.

      Overall, the best advice is still “don’t be creepy.”

  22. Keep in mind that each artist is different, so ask if in doubt.
    It is true for example, as Molly said, that some artists don’t like you standing in front of them while they are working on your sketch. At the other end of the spectrum there are artists, such as Tim Sale, that require you to stay in front of their table when they work on your commission.

  23. As someone who’s been avoiding buying art mostly because I’ve been overthinking how to approach artists, much appreciated!

  24. This stuff, even if intuitive, is very helpful. I have never attented a con and plan to change that soon. But it’s a bit daunting when you have no idea what to expect.

  25. oh custom sketch how you haunt me, a couple years ago I attended a convention that ryan ottley was at, and I was so awestruck by him that I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a sketch… I don’t know what it was, I did my research, knew how much he charged, I knew what I wanted, but I couldn’t speak to him, I talked with lots of other creators at the con but I could not utter a syllable to him, I even talked to Jason Howard who shared a booth with him. Finally I had to have my girlfriend go up and ask him for a sketch, but sadly some guy got there first and got his last slot, and then tried to haggle with him on it of all things! So I never did get my sketch of Omniman and Allen the alien playing air guitar….

    *sigh*….

  26. Some awesome thoughts and tips! Here is another post about sketch etiquette people may find interesting…

    http://beaucouppop.blogspot.com/2012/04/draw-me-like-one-of-your-french-girls.html

  27. I’ve gotten many sketches in books I bought from the creator directly. They’re more doodles than sketches. I take what’s given and often it seems effortless on they’re part – many draw as second nature, often drawing at the same time engaging in a conversation with a colleague. But I’ve never had problems and have gotten great sketches/doodles from Lemire, Kindt, and Kelly.

  28. I find that asking them ahead of the con is always the best way to make sure youre on an artist’s list. A lot of time their lists are full even before the first day. I was so disappointed when I ran over to Steve Epting’s table the first minute that I was allowed in to NYCC ’09 and he told me he was booked up. Turns out media day was the culprit. I also found that sometimes you can hit up an artist for a quick sketch completely at random, like the Sweet Tooth sketch I got from Jeff Lamire. Nobody was even at his table!

  29. Does anybody know how to find what kind of price range you would be looking at for a certain artist.