In Which There is a Summer Convention Wrap-up!

With Inktober so close to the horizon (two days away omgerd!), I’m finally sitting down and working on typing up a wrap-up for the last two months of conventions. And yes, this is absolutely a case of me putting this off way too long up to the point that I can’t wait any longer if I’m going to get this done, SO HERE WE GO!

Otakon 2017

Me and my table at Otakon 2017Ah, my old friend, Otakon. I am probably one of the few who was completely jazzed that the convention was moved to DC, because not only is it easier for me to get to, it’s location is prime for delicious foods that I normally don’t get (also, any excuse to get to ride the Metro is a good excuse).

It’s been six years (!!!) since I’ve had a table at an anime convention, so I will admit I was very nervous about what to expect. Especially since I purposefully have stripped all fanart from my table– and knowing that fanart is pretty much the bread and butter of an anime artist alley.

My Dragon Age Nerd ShowingHowever, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout of sales. They were lower than I hoped, but higher than I expected– if that makes any sense. I had a lot of people stop by the table and want to talk shop– specifically about my watercolors and my technique. This gives me hope for my goal for next year– starting to stream (or at least record) my painting.

I also had a lot of awesome Dragon Age fans stop by my table and talk Dragon Age to me (well, I did have a sign after all). It felt me feel more in touch with the convention– as I am hopelessly out of date with what anime fans watch these days. I like YOI just like everyone else, but other than that? Yeah, I’m probably not into it and/or haven’t even watched it. Most of my fandoms have always been on the outside of what is “popular,” so I’m used to that. But boy, did I feel it more than ever at Otakon this year.

A commission in progress
A commission in progress

I was completely wrong in my assumptions of what items people would want. I thought my holographic posters would have flown off the shelves like hotcakes, but I didn’t sell one. I was completely shocked. Everyone commented on how pretty it was, but no one wanted it. It could of been a case of pricing?

Another thing I thought was going to be popular was the makeup bags. And again, I was completely wrong. Not one sold. People were far more interested in the tote bags, which I sold out of, and just glanced over the makeup bags.

Finished commission
Finished commission

The most popular thing, however by far, were commissions. I got so. many. My only conclusion for all of this is that, my art style was appealing to people– just not the prints I was selling? Or the prices? And it’s not really a case where you can go up to people and be like “IS IT MY PRICES? ARE THEY TOO HIGH?” without having them run away screaming for security.

Walking around the alley, my prices pretty much matched with what else I saw, so it was just confusing. It could also be a case of people willing to pay a price for fanart of a character they know and love, but not so much for an original character they have no connection to.

The whole table, for now, was a lot of space for me. But it was nice being able to spread out, and also having table room for doing the commissions. I didn’t feel cramped in the slightest– and I really liked the idea of not being boxed in by an overhang display.

Final Thoughts

Next year, more totes, less posters. Also, apparently people don’t really go to flip through portfolios anymore, so I have to think up a different display. Commissions were my bread and butter here, so maybe also next year, I don’t need to make as many prints. Utilize your space better, maybe by setting up the stuff for sale on one side, then leaving the other half for a display of me drawing/painting?

Small Press Expo

SPX set-upSPX was a separate beast all to itself. Instead of having an entire table, I had 1/4 of a table– which became clear very quickly was not enough room. The wire set up also blocked me out completely, which made it hard for people to see that I was there, or you know, talk to me.

Back in the Spring, when I ended up not getting a table in the lottery, I pretty much resigned myself to focusing on illustration and portfolio stuff for the rest of the year. And so I did just that, finishing at least one illustration every month. Little did I know, my pal Spenser ended up offering to share his half table. But I got that invite less than three months before the convention. My summer was super busy with a new job and commission web work, which left me with no time to plan, much less draw, a new zine for the expo.

I was zineless at a zine event.

You can guess how well that went.

Spenser peddling our wares
Spenser peddling our wares

I’ll just come out and say it– it was kind of a disaster for me. Sales really were bad for me. The only thing I really sold were, again, the tote bags. I sold out of tote bags within the first two hours of the show!

Since I knew I didn’t have much to offer comics wise, I figured that sales wouldn’t be great, so I didn’t have a hotel room. In trying to save money, I ended up driving back and forth from my house, an hour plus drive. It was really draining to know after a day of very slow sales, I had a long drive to still go home before I could finally sleep. Yeah, it wasn’t great. Not doing that one again. Hotel rooms ftw!

But that’s not to say the entire show was bad for me. I had great conversations and met some awesome people– like Nilah Magruder, who is an amazing artist, and my new favorite person (psssst check out her art). Also Gale Galligan, who I hadn’t seen since SPX 2015, had some adorable zines that I picked up and just devoured. They are so cute. Not to mention, I made a fool of myself fangirling over HamletMachine and her art (I’ve been a Starfighter fan since it’s launch so many years ago ;_;) . It was also great to hang out with Spenser again. He and I haven’t seen each other since before I moved to Japan, so it was great being able to see him and catch up. I may have also ruined Civil War for him, but shhhhhh don’t bring it up.

And that’s the point of SPX, right? To chill with your friends and get some comics? So, despite how bad sales were for me,  I can’t help but love the vibe of SPX. I look forward to it every year, and I will definitely try again for the lottery next year.

Final Thoughts

TOTE BAGS. I will have at least two more designs for tote bags by SPX next year, if not more. Not only do people want them at the show to carry their goods around, they are a great way to get my art around a very crowded artists’ room. I also saw a lot of amazing zines this year, and I want to be able to have some of my own next year. Short stories/comics are a huge weakness for me, and I need to face that weakness head on, and challenge myself to knock some out before the next SPX. I’m aiming for two, along with a sketch zine, but if I can do more than that, great!

 

So I guess that’s my next year’s worth of art planned out!

October 1st marks the beginning of Inktober. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be posting each illustration every day, or doing a weekly/biweekly dump. I guess it all depends on how busy the illustrations keep me. I’ve made some of my best stuff in past Inktobers, so I am really looking forward to it this year.

So that’s it for conventions for 2017. Until next year…

Have nugs, will travel
Have nugs, will travel!

 

In Which Aja Talks About Displays at Conventions

I give a lot of thought to presentation at artist alleys. Not only to grab the attention of passersby, but because I want to create a memorable experience between me and the people who stop by my tables. When I have people who come to my table and tell me they’ve been following me since my days at DeviantArt, then well, yeah I’ve done a good job of resonating with my audience.

(Believe it or not, this happens at every show I’ve been to… and I haven’t used DeviantArt seriously in almost ten years.)

This year, I’ve finally decided to update my table cloth to this amazing hot pink color. When I found this color, I knew I had to have it. I’d been shopping around for patterned table coverings, but couldn’t find any that I liked. I had resigned myself to creating my own pattern and making the table cloth for next year and sticking with what I’ve used for ten years, but then I ran across this solid color, and knew it would work. Not only does it go really well with my normal color pallet, it will (hopefully) also draw attention. One glance at the table, and people will know what I’m about– BOLD PINK COLORS.

(Okay, maybe that’s a little too much pink… OR IS IT?)

I’ve also decided to get rid of the “boxed” design that I had been using with the wire cubes, and try for something a bit more open. While the boxed design that many artists use is very effective in showcasing everything you have with you, I always get the feeling of being– for lack of a better phrase– boxed in? Like there is no escape! I had done a set up similar to this at SPX and FrederickCon– although instead everything was on the table. It worked pretty well, except there was a lot of scrambling for things on my end when it came to sales because I had to store everything under the table. Hopefully, the half cube I set up on the left (my right) will alleviate the problem.  I also had to account for the fact that I’ll be selling bags for the first time, and wanted to make sure they were properly displayed.

Why bags? Well, a lot of artists that I follow and love have been doing pins, which are amazing! But my art style doesn’t really apply to the process. However, I wanted to branch out into something that’s not just prints and posters, so I ordered a [very] small amount of bags to give it a try this year. From the early feedback I’ve already received, I did not order enough. Not to worry, you can find the bags for now on sale in  my shop on RedBubble. I was going to wait until after the convention, but I’m so worried I’m going to sell out fast, I want to be able to give an option to people.

And lastly, every year I like to do something a little special for my customers at conventions, so I like to have some sort of nice presentation or a gift saying thank you for supporting me… that type of thing. Well this year, I’ve made folded these origami card holders to display my business cards.

A friend of mine in Japan presented her meishi (名刺 – business card) this way to give it a bit of flair. When I saw it , I was super fascinated by it! I’ve practiced origami since I was very little, and I had never even considered that it could be folded in this way. I told her about my passion for origami, and she offered to show me how to fold it. I thanked her profusely afterward– which lead to a very touching gift later when she game me a small ream of origami paper that was made where we lived in Saga that still makes me a bit teary eyed, but I’m getting off topic here!

I’m really pleased with how they came out, and they add even more pink to an already very pink table, but yep, I’m going with it!

I’ll be leaving for Otakon tomorrow, and my bags still aren’t packed, and I haven’t been able to find my room floor in weeks, so I should get to that. A few people have asked me where my table is, and the truth of it is– I don’t know yet. I’m one of the tables in the pending O section. Once I get my table assignment tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be putting it up on social media.

See you at Otakon! ^_~

In Which There is A Week Until Otakon!

I’m taking my own advice, and charging head first against a blank screen despite the deep terror I’m feeling looking at it. Let’s do this!

For the first time since I’ve returned from Japan, I’m going to be tabling at Otakon’s Artist Alley in one week! I’m really excited to be coming back to what I consider my “home” convention. I was so sad I couldn’t go last year, but by teeth had other plans. Thanks root canal!

I’ve promised myself this year to start prepping early, so I thought sharing my process in prepping for an artist alley would be fun and informative for those of you curious about running your own table in the future, or just wondering what all goes into being in artist’s alley.

This year I’m not focusing on the 8.5 x 11 prints like I have in previous years. In the last few shows I’ve done, people’s interest tends to lean towards my smaller items, or bigger items, but the old 8.5 x 11 are collecting dust, sadly. This year I’m experimenting with having 8.5 x 5.5 prints, which works really well with my watercolors. I’ll be looking for feedback at Otakon about the bigger prints, but if enough people don’t express a want for them, I’ll be phasing the size out of my prints permanently.

 

I just received these prints from CatPrints and am super happy with them. I even gave their holographic papers a go, which came out great…

 

This new way of approaching my prints creates a conundrum. Pricing. Price too high, no one will buy– price to low and… ulgh, I can’t think of a good rhyme here, but you get the idea. Pricing too low is not good either. While you may sell a lot (or everything), you may not make the production cost + time/effort put into making it back, which will set you back instead of further ahead (which is the goal, right?). This is why at artist alleys you generally see letter sized prints around the same price range. Because these are nice quality prints, some with the special holographic screen, I need to charge more, but what’s a good price? I’m thinking $12 for the plain prints, and $15 for the holographic ones.

But what do you think? To expensive? Not enough? Or just right?

 

The State of Things – Summer 2016

Let’s get the sad news out first– I won’t be making it to Otakon this year. Last week I was having killer tooth pain. Went to the dentist to find out that I need to get a root canal, and due to a stupid insurance loophole, the first day I can get my root canal is August 11th, the day before the con. Not to mention the expense of the procedure (over $1000) will require everything I’ve saved for the con (and so much more ulgh), being able to talk to people will not be in the cards that weekend either. So I made the call to not go this year. I’m really upset about this, because this is the last year of Otakon in Baltimore, and I’ve spent 17 years of my life going (almost) every year (I think I get a pass for the years I was in Japan ^^;;). But here’s to next year in DC~! As long as you can get to the con via Metro, I’ll be there :D

 

Now the serious announcement.

 

About a year ago, I made a choice. I was hot off of finishing the pages for NASA, and I needed to quickly decide what comic I was developing I would start as a webcomic for SPX. I had two projects “ready” and I had to choose which one to go with. I chose Tokyo Heart Story for a number of reasons. Now with a year of work under my belt, and only 13 pages to show for it…  I’m starting to think I made the wrong decision. It’s been a year since I started working on THS, and I’m still in the same corner I wrote myself in before even starting the comic. And it’s completely frustrating to me that I can’t make this story work, to the point every time I start to work on it again, I get stressed out all over again trying to make the pieces fit.

(But to be honest, I was nervous about it before I even launched it– the night before the site went up, I literally had a panic attack on how not ready I was to launch. This has been a constant state. I thought it was just nervous jitters, but now I know better.)

Mix in with all of that a crisis of the state of where my art is, and a drive to try to level up my drawing skills, and well, you get a mess.

Which is exactly what I feel like I am right now.

A hot mess.

So, I spoke with my circle of trust this week, and discussed the feelings and frustrations I have, and how it feels like this is holding up everything else in my life (both personal and creatively). They unanimously agreed that perhaps a hiatus would be a good choice– maybe even a permanent one. I’m not sure about that, but one of my friends suggested working on another project I have cooking for a while, and see if that either clears the block for THS, or takes over and well, then I have another project to work on. And I have to agree that sounds like a better plan. So for the next few months I’m going to be focusing on sharpening my skills, while trying to get some development work for a different series. And if I find myself starting to draw THS stuff again, all the better, right?

This decision was not one I came to easily, and I’m trying to take a positive look on this and not just have it be a project I quit. I love all of the characters dearly in THS (esp the last one that has yet to be introduced, despite being a main character T^T), not to mention the story is a very personal one for me. And maybe this is the root of my issue? Maybe it’s too personal of a story that I’m not ready to share with the world. Hmm.

 

Anyway, this blog will continue to be updated and all of you will be able to see what I’m working on. I’m trying to focus on next year, and the year after that. For the first time, I’m making a life plan. And it seems pretty great.

Thank you all for the support you’ve given me for the last year. I hope you will continue as I walk into this next chapter.

Playing to Get Work Done

sketchbook00001In my last post I discussed how Juicy Ink’s 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge inspired me to stop the excuses and start working in my sketchbook again. This was kind of important to me in finally letting myself do some ugly drawings– which is a problem I’ve had since before art school.

In my mind, I want everything to be beautiful, and if it doesn’t meet a certain criteria in my head, I just stop working on the piece. Now while there is some kind of argument in being efficient and leaving a piece before working it into the ground attempting to get it to work, I have been so hesitant to make anything not “beautiful” that I’ve stayed in a very comfortable box of always using the same materials (which I am very familiar with) and using the same techniques over and over and over, and you can see why part of the reason I was having art block was that I was stuck very much in a rut. Juicy Ink’s videos showed me a way to get out of that by getting out of that comfort zone by trying to approach materials with a different perspective.

Before my art block hit me very hard, I was playing with toned paper, as I saw a slew of artists I admire starting to use it for sketches. I didn’t get very far experimenting with it then, but I liked the idea of toned paper– so I took that idea, drug out an ooooooooooold pack of Prismacolor markers (some of which were gelatinous, which was very gross), and made some toned paper of my own in my Moleskine sketchbook. The markers bled like crazy, but I didn’t care. I wanted to play, and if that meant I was going to make a mess, then so be it! And thus a punk Sailor Moon was born.

And the thing is, it didn’t matter to me that the anatomy was whacked as anything– or that I squished so many things onto the paper making everything even more wonky. I had fun. Not only did I have fun, I felt inspired. Which was not something I had felt in a long time.

 

sketchbook00002

Taking that inspiration and rolling with it, the very next day I used the same technique on the very next page, this time in yellow marker (the only other marker that was working well), and basically drained it covering one and a half pages with it. And just started drawing. It takes me so long to just draw, I loved how quickly I could just leap into getting an idea down and putting it to paper. Normally, this is such a struggle for me, I will waste hours trying to think of how to pose something before I even touch the pencil to paper. This was game changing. I started playing more, experimenting with pencil and colored pencil to see what it would look like instead of inks– on the yellow it looked amazing— and then decided to see what would happen if I used my white gel pen, and boom! I got a great three tone technique that I could accent with colors.

 

I finally found the thing that clicked.

 

But, as I mentioned, the markers were solidifying, so continuing to make pictures like this using the Prismacolor markers wasn’t really an option. But really, those markers were almost 15 years old. I’m amazed they made it that long. Using my Copic were out, because coloring large swatches of color are very good ways of killing Copic Sketch markers in a hurry.

Enter Copic Wides.

 

image1

I love these markers so much. They are the perfect color palette for me, and they are so versatile in what they can do.

I’m not sure why I like this technique, but it gets me drawing without fussing. It might be the patterns that just emerge in the block of color? When I make a solid swatch of color, there just isn’t any of the blank page hesitation that I usually struggle with– and it might be something so simple as that, but it has really helped me. I’ve started to play with the shapes in the marks that are made and suddenly, I have an idea for a drawing. So instead of waiting days/weeks to open my sketchbook until I have a perfect idea to sketch, I’m opening my sketchbook daily and playing with colors and shapes until I have an idea. And really, I think some of this experimentation has lead to stronger work then I have done in recent months.

IMG_3587

 

I’m still trying to figure out how I can hone the technique into a finished piece, as the solid color swatches give the drawings a rough, unfinished, feel to them, but I love the raw energy that the marker strokes lend to anything I draw on top. I need to work with it more, push a little further, but I feel as if I have made a real breakthrough here. I might finally be finding my artist’s voice in all of this experimentation.