There’s more to an artist’s life than just creating artworks, as some artists go out to meet and interact with their audiences through artist alley booths at pop culture events. Seeming like a surreal and fun experience, there’s a lot to unpack on artist alley tabling—especially for the time, effort, and funds that come with that big endeavor.
In a series of interviews with The Benildean, different artists retell their experiences and share insights into the world of artist alleys.
So first off, what exactly is an “Artist alley?” Artist alleys are venues within events like pop culture conventions wherein amateur, semi-professional, and professional artists “table” at these events to showcase their works and sell them. Similar to exhibitor booths, artists exhibit products in their respective spaces. They often sell art prints, stickers, posters, crafts, clothing, and other applicable merchandise.
Preparing a recipe for success
Artists often decide to table at artist alleys when they have enough investment and time to do so to sell their merchandise. For ID 120 Multimedia Arts student Anna Flores (@TOHRUNA), she shared that her decision to table at events was because she wanted to show other people her art. Coincidentally, Flores’ best friend asked if she wanted to table with her, so they did.
Two major challenges she encountered initially were the lack of funds and having little time. Exhibiting at an event in December 2022, Flores experienced rushing in preparations for the convention while balancing her school work. “But those two things didn’t stop me from going for it. I’m a risk-taker, so I mustered up the courage to go and be brave because tabling at conventions has always been my dream,” Flores imparted.
It’s certainly a huge investment to exhibit at artist alleys because of having to pay for table fees, allowing artists to rent tables, chairs, and the actual space where they’ll sell their merchandise. There’s also having to purchase booth equipment such as mesh grids, organizers, and hooks to set up to display merchandise on a table properly. Some artists even have to consider extra IDs if they’ll bring additional people when exhibiting, travel and food expenses, and even having their own allowance to spend on the event.
Cooking up unique art content
Before actually selling one’s own art merchandise, it’s essential to allocate time to plan what kind of merchandise an artist wants to create and sell. This would mean experimenting with artworks or designs consistently for their intended merchandise. There’s also deciding the merchandise an artist will put their artworks and designs on, such as art prints and stickers.
Despite those two types of merchandise being common, the content of these prints and stickers attracts customers to purchase them. Clylee Javier (@darthlees), also an ID 120 Multimedia Arts student, gives insight that they produce stickers and prints of the media they’re currently into, whether it may be books, shows, and anything they enjoy consuming as entertainment.
Freelance creative Jesh Alberto also emphasizes fanart as the “main flavor” in artist alleys. However, this has turned into a misconception today as original content from artists also sells alongside popular fan-made merchandise. Flores also mentioned that they plan to produce acrylic charms and button pins in the near future to increase her roster of merchandise.
Similarly, the designs and quality of such art products should definitely be worth purchasing for customers. This entails artists investing in good quality materials such as photo paper, sticker paper, laminating sheets, equipment such as printers, and even investing in their own skills as artists. It takes a lot of learning and practicing to be able to create artworks that are worth selling and can be mass-produced at the same time.
Moreover, artists need to consider trends too because as much as they want to sell merchandise of their favorite content, artist alley exhibiting is still a business, and appealing to the markets would help turn a profit. But it’s definitely helpful if one’s interests and today’s trends align, so it’s easier to produce art merchandise.
Dealing with spices of logistics and marketing
When it comes to actual events where artist alleys are situated, artists would have to go through the painstaking process of registering, marketing themselves, and even dealing with logistics just to exhibit at an event. Aside from having to pay table fees and deal with expenses, artists often have to go back and forth in clarifying inquiries with event organizers on floor plans, dress codes, and even guidelines on entering the venue early for set-up and exiting the event for pulling out. Some of these logistical processes even require certain documents, which is another thing artists should prepare before exhibiting.
In terms of marketing yourself for an artist alley, Alberto shares that exhibiting allows artists to network because you can exchange socials and your art merchandise with other artists and increase engagement. Furthermore, artist alleys give artists their own community to support each other in their artistic endeavors.
For the online side of things, having a social media presence before, during, and after an event can help artists reel in customers to visit their booth and perhaps become regular patrons of their merchandise.
Serving up an artistic treat to event-goers and art patrons
However, once you prepare everything needed, the experience of artist alley exhibiting is “surreal,” as Flores mentioned, especially considering she’s new to tabling at events. It’s a proud moment for her to see her own art on display and find people who are interested in purchasing and taking home her merchandise. Javier shared the same sentiments, saying there’s a “feeling of satisfaction of knowing that someone liked your art enough to buy and cherish it.”
Take note, though, that the journey to successfully tabling at an event is not easy and should definitely not be romanticized. Javier experienced slight dejection in their first convention, especially “when people stroll past your table without looking through everything.”
Flores also said she assumed things would turn out great for her first time exhibiting, especially in gaining a profit. But that didn’t happen as she learned in her experience that first-times are phases to “test the waters” in artist alley tabling and finding your own market. But she’s still grateful for the experience and will apply what she learned in the next event she’ll exhibit.
Trying a new hearty experience for artists
Overall, artist alley exhibiting is a unique experience for artists because of the opportunities they can get in physically selling their merchandise and interacting with people in real life. Plus, event-goers are always looking for merchandise to commemorate the media they adore, which is usually found in artist alleys of events, as emphasized by Javier.
Alberto believed that “artist alley exhibiting is something artists should experience because it’s a great medium to showcase one’s works and connect with people and fellow artists.” They added, "With the rise of art theft online, platforms such as artist alleys create a safe space for artists without the fear of having people screenshot and resell their work without consent.” Flores also recommended that student-artists to table at artist alleys because it’s a good way to network with fellow artists, exchange ideas and merchandise, and allow people to discover what you can create. Besides learning about content creation in art, you get to practice your social and management skills when exhibiting.
Artist alley exhibiting isn’t as simple as it sounds. Artists would have to go out of their comfort zones of simply creating art to learn other skills such as customer service, managerial work, merchandise production, and marketing just to expand their audience and share their art with others. It’s a hobby and a business to get into artist alley tabling because of the time and effort artists have to invest in it. But it’s definitely worth experiencing at least once for artists to try something new in their respective fields. Plus, it’s a great avenue for the average person to grasp the local art community better and support it.