The Dark Side of Conventions


[I wrote this a few weeks back in between Gen Con and Dragon Con. I’ve hesitated to post it, because I try to put out positive vibes, but after re-reading I think it has some advice and value that people should consider when doing conventions.]

I talk a lot about the benefits of conventions, but rarely do I discuss their bad points. In an effort for transparency and in the hopes of painting an accurate picture, today I’m going to talk about the parts of doing conventions that are no fun.

The first is fatigue. When I get home from a show I spend at least one or two days recovering. This needs to be considered because you can’t easily meet deadlines when you’re at a con, and you need to plan a couple days of recovery after most shows. That means a 3-day show is more like a 5-day, and a big show like Gen Con or Dragon Con easily takes a week or more. When considering the value of the show, time spent not making art typically means not making money. If you only break even on a show, that means you lost money overall. That’s not to say a con wasn’t worth it, you just need to consider the amount of actual time involved.

Aside from physical fatigue, I also experience social fatigue. When you’re at your booth you have to be “On.” I balance this by needing about a week or so to be “Off.” When you do back-to-back shows that can be tough. Fortunately, painting is a solitary task, so it’s fairly easy for me to get back on my game in time for the next big outing.

Another big drawback is losing tempo with your work. I often find it takes a day or more of painting for me to remember what I was trying to do with a painting. Whenever possible I try to finish work before leaving for a show. This doesn’t always happen, and I often hit a wall trying to dig back into a piece. The only way around this is to make myself sit down and paint. After about a day, it all starts to come back and the painting starts to talk to me again. I think this is the most frustrating part. Part of finding a painting is getting into a groove. Leaving the groove and finding it again is tough. Partly because like most creatives I don’t exactly know where the groove comes from. In so far as I can tell it’s magic.

The final difficulty I want to talk about is what my friend Sean Murray calls “The Alchemy of Conventions.” Every show is different, both in how it’s run, how you apply for booths, all of it. It’s SUPER frustrating, but each show is run by different people, and you have to learn how to play their game. Some shows have juries, others you pay in advance, some have artist booths, and the list goes on. This is also true for arriving to each show. Every time it’s a new adventure, even from year to year at the same show things will change. As I’ve done more conventions I realized I’ve developed a “Tome of Knowledge” that gets me through, but even still it can be very frustrating.

All that said, I still love conventions. At the time I’m writing this I’m both socially and physically fatigued, with 2 weeks in between two of my biggest shows of the year. I hope convention season is treating you well. I’m going to take a nap, and see you at the next show!


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2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Conventions

  1. Hey Sam, thanks for keeping it real. I love all you talks and tips for would be artist alley artists. I’m very excited to say that I’m finally taking the plunge! I’ll be exhibiting at my first ever con in 2015! Please keep up the good work and know it is appreciated.

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