Easter came late this year, so Sakura-Con was April 18th-20th here in Seattle.
I was actually waitlisted for a table, but thankfully Tori managed to snag one and offered to share it with me. I’m really grateful because it would have really sucked to miss out on what is now my “home” con, and it was especially generous of her to offer to share since I have (more than?) twice as much stuff as she does, and we both knew I’d end up taking up a majority of the table…
This report is 6,261 words long.
Helping Kara out at Emerald City Comic Con this year gave me the idea of building PVC wings/arms on the sides of the table starting from way higher up than I usually do. It’s been a while now since I’ve been able to hang up all of my prints at the table, but I’d been kind of inconsistent and lazy about building up the side wings. But since I was sharing a table this con, having the extra hanging space that the taller wings provided would really help. I wasn’t sure how the surface of the table was going to be arranged, because I wasn’t sure how Tori was going to have her button display arranged (she’d made a few dozen more designs since I last saw her at IKKiCON…), so I was focusing on the vertical, especially since I knew Tori didn’t have very many prints.
I picked up some more PVC pipes Thursday morning and went home to cut up the 10′ pipes into more usable pieces before heading out around 11am to Westlake Station to meet Tori, who was flying in now that she doesn’t live in Washington anymore. Setup in the Exhibits Hall didn’t officially start until noon, but while we were sure they’d have let us in anyway, we took our time getting lunch instead. Setup ran until 6pm, so there wasn’t a huge rush, even though there was plenty we needed to do in that time.
As with previous years, check-in for Artist Alley was very painless, though we checked in at the control booth that was inside the Exhibits Hall, rather than the one that’s usually out on the skybridge. Because all of the things we were going to use to set up the table are mine, we just dumped Tori’s stuff at the table before heading back to my apartment.
Since Sakura-Con provides 8′ tables, since I still wasn’t sure how we were going to set up the table, and since I was so close by and didn’t need to worry about a weight limit flying, I wasn’t at all conservative about what I packed, which meant that one of my suitcases was probably 100 lbs and the other was 50. And I was even leaving behind my entire button stock for Thursday afternoon because I intended to print and punch a few more that night and haul the buttons in separately Friday morning. It was a good thing Tori was there to help me haul the stuff uphill to the convention center. <_<
I had two packages that were supposed to come in by the end of the day Thursday. The first was a big box of business cards, which I realized after I placed the order that I didn’t actually need yet because I found a stash of ~800 cards I forgot I had. This box was there when we arrived at my apartment to grab my stuff. The other box was a prints order, which was really important because I had several new pieces that would be debuting at Sakura-Con. Since both boxes were supposed to be delivered by UPS, I was confused as to why one was there, but not the other. I pulled up the tracking for the prints, and… that particular box would be late because of “a delayed delivery.”
Tracking had my prints stuck in Illinois. I almost always get my packages between noon and 4pm, so those prints definitely weren’t arriving my the end of the day. I was really pissed about it because I didn’t want to get prints from FedEx Office. Their best paper stock isn’t very good, and colors always turn out too dark. And they’re way more expensive. I thought about maybe just getting a few copies so I could at least have them on display, but I held off on making a decision for the time being.
Artist Alley was still very empty when we got back to the convention center. The PVC structure I’d planned worked out better than I thought it would (and used a lot less PVC somehow??). Tori’s button display was massive and sit kind of awkwardly on end though, so she had to play around with it a lot to get to clamp stably to the front of the table. The table was roughly split half and half as far as the table surface went, though I did awkwardly take up some of the hanging space across the top on Tori’s side. Tori doesn’t have any sort of banner, so we decided to keep my Fake Lemonade banner. It’s always been a good way for people to recognize and find me, and it did help that Tori was next to me last year too, albeit at a separate table.
The inside part of the PVC wing on Tori’s side was made useless because of the way her buttons were displayed, and the outside part of my PVC wing was blocked by the table next to ours (which was Xib and his friend Bryan — a huge coincidence because I don’t think any of us bothered to explicitly request to be near each other, haha). I’ve been trying to phase out bookmarks for the better part of a year, but I still have a handful of them. This was the first con where I just didn’t even bother putting them out anymore, so I didn’t build the larger of my two wooden stands. Instead, I used the space for grab bags and grab eggs, which I always want to do, but never have the space for!
It took me forever to figure out how I was going to display my zipper bags though. Tori had hers hanging kind of above her and on the out-facing side of her PVC wing, but I had prints covering all of my vertical space. In the end, I tied and safety pinned them to a length of string which hung down from the top of my PVC wing. It wasn’t super visible, but I don’t think any one thing on the table is particularly visible because there is so much stuff. There are so many options these days for merchandise that it’s getting a bit hard to focus, I think. I’ve tested and phased out a lot of products over the years, but there’s always new stuff I want to try!
Since very few artists were setting up Thursday, we made a quick pass through the Dealer’s side of the Exhibits Hall after we finished at our table. After that, we headed down to the Art Show!
Though basically everyone, including Art Show staff, agrees that Art Show would do better if they weren’t tucked away in a hidden, low-traffic corner on the second floor, they weren’t able to get the show moved this year, and so we were back in that same room. Oh well. Panel space is still really cheap, and staff is still very nice, sympathetic, and incredibly accommodating.
Setup and check-in was easy, though I realized that I forgot to bring two of my pieces and that I needed to install a sawtooth hanger on the back of my canvas piece to be able to hang it. I also realized that I had a lot more space than I thought I did, so I planned to bring in a few older pieces the next morning, along with the stuff I forgot. Technically Art Show setup started at the same time that the Exhibits Hall opened Friday morning, but staff said it was fine for me to come in early, as they’d be around anyway.
It was past six by the time I finished checking in what I could at the Art Show. Tori and I bailed, stopped by Daiso for a few last minute supplies, dropped stuff off at my apartment, then stopped by FedEx near me so I could print some button designs (still no home printer, sigh) before getting delicious Thai dinner. I decided I’d print display copies, and maybe a few extra, of the missing prints at the FedEx at the convention center Friday morning. That way, I didn’t have too much extra to carry to the convention center in the morning.
After we got back to my apartment, I punched some buttons, verified inventory, and did more packing. I’d emptied out the smaller of my two suitcases at the convention center and brought it back to my apartment so I had something to transport my buttons in the next day.
My alarm was set up for 5:45am Friday. It’s a good thing Tori doesn’t mind my need to be up stupidly early so we have the maximum amount of time to do everything. I was cosplaying Rin again, but since I’ve done it a few times now, it doesn’t take me as much time to get the wig on right anymore.
UPS tracking had my delayed prints marked as “out for delivery” as of 4am or something, but I knew there was no way they were getting there before noon, and I wasn’t going to double back to my apartment in the middle of the day after the Exhibits Hall opened, so I still planned to get some prints done at FedEx. It was really frustrating knowing that they’d get there and be ten minutes away from me for all of Friday, but that’s how things go, I guess.
We headed out a little past 7am. Exhibits was supposed to be open for vendors at eight, but they let us in when we got there early anyway. I dropped my buttons off at the table, then realized that I’d left my USB drive with all my print files at home. Having to double back to the apartment put me in a really bad mood, but when I finally got back to the FedEx at the Washington State Convention Center… they informed me that there was a two-hour wait on getting prints.
I was kinda shocked… I’d gotten last minute prints at that FedEx before! And at that time, I had explicitly asked if they were normally very busy on convention weekends. They’d said no, and so I had been feeling pretty confident about my ability to get those last minute prints. A two hour wait would put me right at when the Exhibits Hall opened. No way. I got my inventory sheets printed, went back upstairs to seethe for a while, then decided that I REALLY wanted to at least have display copies, and so I headed out to Office Depot.
Office Depot also had a two-hour wait. Did everyone just forget to make prints this weekend??
It would have been in character of me to kick over some trash cans, and I really wanted to, but.
There was some comfort in completely giving up on having those prints Friday though.
I went back to the table to help Tori finalize the setup, filling the gaps I’d left in my print wall for the new stuff. It wasn’t like I didn’t have enough to fill the table. The Exhibits Hall opened at 10am, so around 9:30, I went down to Art Show to finish setting up there. It was a mad rush down there, but I got everything settled there in just enough time to run back upstairs before we opened for the day.
Friday traffic was casual. There was a decent flow of people in the room, through the aisles, but I don’t think all that many people stopped to browse in depth. Sales were very, very slow. As always, everyone expects things Friday to be slow, but there’s an expected level of slow, and there’s a point where you can tell it’s even slower than that. It hadn’t been this slow at Sakura-Con last year, at least. I only had three commissions to do the entire day, and while they were all middle-tier commissions, they didn’t keep me occupied for very long. I had a lot of time to doodle and draw and take pictures of cosplayers.
I was really relieved that Tori’s stuff was getting equal attention to mine though. My prints take up a lot of vertical space, but her gigantic button board was very prominent at the front, and her side of the table opened out to one of the cross aisles, so the coin purses and zipper bags she had on the side of the table were very visible. Her commission information was also displayed more prominently than mine, as it was sitting on the table itself instead of hanging above, so she was actually getting way more commission work than me!
There were bouts of confusion here and there when people realized that both of us took commissions and when they realized they couldn’t mix and match buttons between the two of us, but no one minded. Our stuff is priced fairly similarly, so cost wasn’t driving anyone from one side of the table to the other, and our styles, while both obviously anime-influenced, are different enough that people seemed able to tell us apart easily. We also weren’t competing much in terms of fandom, which was really convenient, but also kind of funny ’cause we are in a lot of the same fandoms!
Sometimes people would approach me about buying buttons from Tori’s side when she was occupied with another customer, working on commissions, or punching buttons at the table, but I didn’t mind since most of the time, I didn’t have anything better to do. Might as well help! Since Tori has like three hundred button designs now and since she flew in, she was punching her buttons on-demand at the table. This was mostly fine…though at some point someone bought all ~50 of her MLP buttons, so she was busy punching buttons a while, haha. Our buttons and button punches are different sizes (1.25″ VS 1.5″), otherwise I’d have helped with that too! XD
Things didn’t really pick up at any point during the day, unfortunately. Tori had been busier than me all day, but this was half because of the button punching, and she agreed that things were definitely much slower compared to last year. As we were packing up for the day, I chatted briefly with a few other artists. Everyone was agreement: this was slow, even for a Friday.
After Exhibits closed at 6pm, we circled through maybe a third of the Artist Alley to browse before heading down to the Art Show to check stuff out. I also confirmed that things were going about as expected (slowish traffic all day, no bids on my stuff).
I talked to the Art Show head, Jeff, about the Art Show print shop though, and he encouraged me to bring in some prints the next day since they had room, and since I had given them a lot of suggestions last year (a few of which were implemented, such as a place to indicate open VS limited edition for prints in the show). I agreed, ’cause why not. I’d had prints in the Art Show the first year I did it in 2012, but I didn’t bother with them last year since very few sold in 2012. Art Show is so cheap overall though, that it really couldn’t have hurt even if Jeff hadn’t offered me the space for free.
Tori and I got Chinese got dinner, then went back to the apartment to play with cats and run numbers.
Friday this year at Sakura-Con was down almost 50% from last year. I was too tired and stressed out to think too much about it that night though. On the up side, UPS did deliver my prints sometime during the day, so I would finally have the new stuff available for Saturday. A small victory. I also got Tori to watch two episodes of Mushishi before we went to bed, so that made me feel a lot better too.
We slept in a teeny bit and got up around 7:15am Saturday (okay, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t actually count as sleeping in at all). Since my wig didn’t bother me very much Friday, I decided to go ahead and cosplay again, this time as thug gambler!Rin, because I have all of those clothes in the closet anyway. Doing an alternate costume would make me way less recognizable, but I’m 100% okay with that! Tori said that someone would probably mistake me for Grell (despite the fact that Grell has butt-length hair…?).
It was a pain carrying a 18 pound box of prints up to the convention center. At the table, I took down a few prints from the display to make room for the new stuff. I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to take down, but that’s always how it is. Thankfully, I’ll have an 8′ table all to myself at the next con (ACen!), so hopefully it will be less of an issue there….though the con after (MomoCon) that I’ll be back at a 6′ table. Saaad.
I walked through a few of the Alley aisles after finalizing the table for the day, but very few artists were around to chat. Around 9am, I headed down to drop off prints at the Art Show, then beelined to Good Smile Company in the Dealer’s side of the Exhibits Hall to pick up the Snow Miku nendoroid for a friend. (It was really lucky I went when I did, and that I had early access to them because I was a vendor, because they sold out very shortly after we opened for the day.) I’m actually really glad I got sent on such an errand because I probably wouldn’t have realized that Good Smile was even at the con otherwise.
I’ve been whining about the fact that they have yet announced any Free! nendoroids for months. I AM SO FRUSTRATED that Good Smile is making figmas of Free! characters before touching nendos!! Action figures of swimmers aren’t going to be terribly interesting, I’m sorry. There aren’t many action poses you can put them in, and swimmers have pretty damn boring costumes. (And I mean, Haruka’s figma is coming with an apron and a plate of mackerel as props, so they’re obviously not very invested in the sports side of the series either.) Nendoroids make so much more sense? They’re cute and adorable, like virtually all of Free!’s other merchandise? There are so many alternate costumes for these characters, too! Ugh! Why!
There have been a variety of small chibi figure releases by other companies, but adding to the frustration is the fact that so far, the only ones that are even close to a nendoroid in quality are lotto figures…making them hard to get and expensive. There’s another lotto set of figures coming out soon, too, but no word on nendos. Free! is still kind of surprising everyone with its commercial success, but I do not understand how Good Smile hasn’t figured out that making nendos would be like printing money. How can you not see how great this would be. Maybe once the second season kicks off, they’ll figure it out…
ANYWAY, the point of this toy collector tirade was to mention that I got to whine and spazz about lack of Free! nendoroids with the US rep for Good Smile at their booth. She agreed with me and encouraged me to keep whining directly at them so she can report back to base that lots of people want this thing! Make it happen, Good Smile!
Traffic and sales naturally increased Saturday, but not by as much as I would have liked.
Despite inexplicably having single-day passes available last year, Sakura-Con returned to only offering full weekend passes this year, so that probably affected attendance. I understand why they do it, but it really frustrates me because it keeps out the more casual folks who might have enjoyed just dropping in for a day, but don’t have the interest to stick around for three, or even two of the days. And who wants to pay full price when they’re only gonna be there for a short while?
On the up side, I was surprised and really, really pleased to see the above cosplayers! I’ve only read Solanin and Oyasumi, Punpun, but Inio Asano might be one of my favourite mangaka anyway. There are a lot of things to like about both those series.
One of the best things that happened Saturday was this commission I got though. Or these eight commissions, I suppose. I spent most of Friday keeping myself busy by drawing a lot of Winter Soldiers, and here and there, people would fantard with me about the movie. Saturday, one of these people returned, appearing suddenly before me to announce: “I need you to draw me Bucky Barnes.” Yes, very good. I like this plan. And specifically? She needed me to draw him with seven different hair styles. Behold:
There was also another amazing commissioner who requested sixteen full color sketch cards. Sixteen! This was easily the most any single person has requested of me at a con, and I could have probably done them at the con if I really tried, but the commissioner made it clear from the start that it was okay for me to take my time.
Since I would be working from text descriptions, I took him up on that and opted to do that entire set after the convention. Working from text is already much harder for a visual person like me, and trying to process words in a meaningful manner while sitting at an artist table is doubly difficult. I didn’t wanna blotch it since it sounded really fun! This was my first time actually taking an after-con commission though, and I didn’t count it towards my totals for the weekend. It seemed like a crazy outlier anyway.
Aside from the big batch of Buckys though, I didn’t have a lot of commissions to do at the convention. I didn’t have all that many at Sakura-Con last year either, and overall, my percentage revenue in commissions has decreased over the last two years (from an average of 32% in 2010-11 to an average of 23% in 2012-13). This isn’t all that surprising since 1) I have a lot more prints and actual merchandise now, and 2) I’ve increased commission prices significantly since 2011. But I’m also better and faster, so it isn’t like the price increases aren’t totally justified. I think I just need to make it more obvious I take commissions. I’m definitely going to take a leaf out of Tori’s book and have my sign on the table at ACen, rather than hanging over my head.
Near the end of the day, a customer buying Tori’s Grell button mistook me for Grell, and thus her prophecy came true. I suppose it isn’t that surprising since, with my display blocking most of me from view, it might been easy to overlook the fact that my hair was really, really short, and yeah, the rest of his outfit is pretty much what I was wearing. I should really get around to reading and watching Kuroshitsuji…
As we packed up, Tori’s friend Bobbi joined us and we headed down to Art Show again.
The prints I’d dropped off at Art Show had been doing well! Having prints of the original pieces I had in the show available at the show was working out great, and Jeff actually had to send a few people up to find me during the day because they wanted to buy prints that were sold out at the show, but which I had more of at my table. And at some point in the mid-afternoon, Jeff himself swung by my table to pick up more prints to bring downstairs. Still no bids on anything I had hanging when we stopped by though.
Afterwards, Bobbi led the way to delicious Italian food, then we all went back to my apartment. Tori and I worked on commissions while Bobbi played with my cats. Cats are a nice thing to come home to. Saturday was down 20% from last year. Not as bad as Friday, but still not great.
We were up again around 7:15am Sunday morning. I didn’t cosplay because I knew we were going to be hauling a lot of stuff at the end of the day, and that’s bad enough without doing it with a wig on. We actually stopped for coffee and breakfast this time though.
When we got to the convention center, I finally wandered around the rest of the Alley to look at things. As is always the case though, very few people were around, so I couldn’t really say hi to people. I’m bad enough about approaching people who’s work I admire without them not being there 99% of the time I have time to go talk to them, haha. Everyone takes off so fast at the end of the day, and they don’t show up until right at, if not after, we open. I guess everyone else is better at not working too hard. Tori and I did get to chat a fair bit with Lynn (Complex Wish), the artist at the table behind us, though!
Sunday went by at a pretty brisk pace as things finally picked up noticeably, though there no way for it to make up for the sales gap of the previous two days. Commissions took even more of a dive on Sunday, and I only got two very small ones over the course of the day — one of which I kind of stole from Tori, though she said she didn’t mind. <_< It was near the end of the afternoon; Tori was pretty full up and wouldn’t have been able to finish it before the end of the con; the commissioner didn’t seem like they were interested in a mail-in, so I kinda pointed out that I also took commissions and could do it. u_u;
Not much else to really say about Sunday, honestly.
After Exhibits closed at 4pm, I ran down to Art Show to grab my stuff.
I ended up selling two things in the show — two open edition framed prints. I’d never hung prints in a show before and felt kinda weird about it, but ultimately prints are just more affordable for people. I really like having originals in the show, and people tell me they like seeing them and think my prices for them are perfectly reasonable — it’s just that they can’t afford that, and there’s really not much to be done about it, I suppose. But that’s why having prints at the Art Show print shop worked so well for me.
I spoke to Jeff hurriedly about further improvements for Art Show. He said that they’re going to make a big push to move to change rooms for next year, which is really encouraging. Everyone was busy at closing time though, and I still needed to pack up at the table, so I didn’t stick around for long — I didn’t even get a chance to check my sheets there, so I won’t know how much I actually made until they send me a check. I know I sold a decent number of prints though, and so this ended up being the first year I actually made money at the Sakura-Con Art Show. Third time’s the charm after all?!
Packing up took a while. Since I brought in more stuff Friday and Saturday in addition to what I dragged in Thursday, a lot of things didn’t fit in the suitcases. Thankfully, Bobbi and her daughter were around to help Tori and me drag things back to my apartment. Having two extra pairs of hands to hold miscellaneous bags and such while we hauled the big suitcases was really invaluable, and the way home was all downhill, so hallelujah.
I really need to get a suitcase with four wheels. Having to support the weight of the suitcase on my wrist while I drag it is killer, and I felt phantom backpack straps on my shoulders all weekend because I got so used to the weight of my heavyass backpack on me going back and forth from the con. I need to be less abusive to my body. ;/
After I lay down for an hour to pacify my aching back and shoulders, the four of us got delicious Thai food and called it a weekend.
Sakura-Con itself wasn’t bad, and I don’t take issue with much in regards to how the show is run, but sales were a bit disappointing.
After Exhibits closed Sunday and before I ran down to Art Show, I speculated and theorized at length with another artist about why things were so slow compared to last year. We think a big part of it is oversaturation. There are a lot of geek cons in the Seattle area, and as we’re both local, we both attend as many of them as we can. A lot of people here have seen us before. A lot of people here already have our stuff. If most of the people who like and want our stuff already have our stuff, then there’s not much to be done, is there?
The artist I spoke to has more stuff now, and the stuff is so much better, but sales were still down, and I’m very much the same position. We always have new things, sure, but somehow it’s not enough. Plenty of folks will stop by again and look again and tell me they’ve seen me at other cons, but I’m sure there are plenty, too, that will skip my table entirely because they’ve seen it before, even if they like my stuff.
That’s why I really wish Sakura-Con did single-day passes, and why I wish ECCC would reserve a number of day passes for the weekend of instead of allowing themselves to sell out weeks in advance. We need the casual people who didn’t know they were coming to the con until they walked past the convention center. We’ve already sold to everyone else. o_o
Overall, I was down 20% from last year. I made more at IKKiCON, which has less than half the attendance, than I did at Sakura-Con this year. Commissions were also down by about 25%, not including my one big after-con commission. Tori thought I should have included the outlier though, since I wouldn’t have gotten it if I hadn’t been at the con. If I did include it, I would have been basically dead even with last year in terms of gross sales (down 1.4%, seriously) and up 56% in commissions, lol. One commission making up such a significant percentage of sales means those final numbers aren’t a good indicator of the con overall though, which is why I omitted it.
My prints being delayed a day really gave me a bad start to the weekend and stressed me a lot. I’m glad they at least arrived for Saturday and Sunday though, as the new prints I had made up a significant portion of overall, non-commission sales (~40%) while making up a small percentage of overall inventory. This goes right in line with the “oversaturation” theory.
Most other aspects of the show went well though.
I’m always really worried about sharing a table since I have so much stuff, but I’m honestly really pleased at how well sharing with Tori went. We didn’t get in each other’s way, and we didn’t have a lot of competing items, so I really don’t think my sharing a table contributed at all to the drop in sales. It would have been about the same if I’d had the table to myself.
I was also happy with the overall stability of my PVC setup. Tori’s side did have a loose pipe at some point, since she had was backing her coin purses with some pretty heavy cloth, but we fixed it without much trouble. I’m pretty excited about reusing the setup while flying solo at ACen (though Tori will be at the table next to me!).
One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that the PVC was built up to 5′ from the table surface. You might recall that Sakura-Con has/had a 4′ height limit on Artist Alley tables and I think this makes no sense whatsoever because Dealers have no such height limit and we’re in the exact same space. The fire marshal does come every year to check displays, but stability and safety aren’t wholly dependent on height, and every year we see plenty of tables that are set up past the 4′ limit. Last year I tried to bring it up with staff after the con, but I never got a response. The 4′ limit is still mentioned on their website, but yeah this year we built to 5′ and no one cared. u_u;
Table height nonsense aside though, my interactions with staff was agreeable for the most part. I had some weird questions about my tableshare issue with Tori in December, and those emails were responded to in a pretty timely manner. I know some other folks had some issues communicating with staff and/or having staff sending them necessary information in a timely manner, but it sounds like hearsay when it isn’t my story.
And as far as Art Show goes, I’ve always been really happy with how receptive staff is to feedback and suggestions, and that hasn’t changed. They’re accommodating and understanding, sympathetic to artist needs — just really great people to work with. I don’t think I made enough in the show this year to make up for my deficits in Artist Alley, but I can’t complain! It was my first time actually making money in Art Show, and I’m pretty excited about doing the show again next year. I’m definitely planning to have a print shop table in the show from the get-go, so hopefully it’ll turn out even better than this year, especially if they do manage to get the show moved to a room with better traffic.
Apparently, Art Show used to be on the fourth floor, but the Blood Drive got moved into the room they used to occupy, so they can’t have it back now. Yes, it’s important for Blood Drive to be in a prominent location too, but… there’s gotta be a better way! Jeff seemed fairly optimistic about their prospects this time, though he was vague on the details, but here’s to hoping!
I’ll keep hoping Sakura-Con brings back single-day passes, but other than that, I suppose there’s not much to be done. If new things are going to make up 40% of sales while making up 10% of stock, then the only answer is to make evem more new things!
As always, thanks for reading. Here are the rest of the pictures!