Business

Do you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list?

I came up against this again recently and my usual skills weren't helping me much this time around. Through a class, someone introduced me to a time management tool. They attributed it to Stephen Covey and his Time Management Matrix (just do an internet search and you'll get loads of information on it. I found one such article written by Shana Lebowitz on Business Insider, posted December 30, 2015. Take a look and you'll see how the approach I used differs).

A prioritizing and "time-management matrix" aapted from Stephen Covey's "time-management matrix"This is how I learned to use it: create 4 quadrants and label them "Urgent", "Not Urgent", "Important", and "Not Important". Then list all your projects or activities in the quadrant where you think they fit best. Here's where I departed from the standard approach. I was encouraged to come up with my own definition of what those 4 categories mean to me. I also decided to add 2 categories within those 4 quadrants: "Personal" and "Professional". My goal was to sort my commitments and other activities (like time with family and friends, or exercising) in the hope that I could better decide in what order to accomplish tasks. I defined "Urgent" as "things that need to get done this month" and "Not Urgent" as things that will happen within the next 2 months or later. "Important" and "Not Important" were based on what my current values are.

This helped me see where I needed to focus my attention most, and in which areas I had a bit more time. This gave me some much desired breathing room and helped me refocus my attention.

 

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I send art out to a few sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Nothing original, just prints because they're lighter and smaller than original art. Lighter and smaller = less shipping cost. Prints also seem to have a more appealing price point than originals.

picture of prints, paperwork, and shipping supplies for convention preparation.

Most convention art shows I send art to have a display area and a print shop. The Display area is usually for originals or limited edition prints. Here the art needs to be framed or matted and bagged (make it look presentable and professional). The print shop can be open edition prints and they can be unmatted but usually need to be bagged, labeled with piece name and price. They also require paperwork: an artist information sheet; a display control sheet (list of pieces and prices); a print shop control sheet; and completed bid tags for each piece in the display area.

Here are a few things I've learned.

Lists are excellent. Since the required elements and process for sending art to each show are very similar, I created a generic checklist. I print one for each convention and mark tasks off as I go. The list become my second brain. All the organizing happens from that list so I don't forget anything.

Tape. Most of the shows want the bid tags attached to the art. From working the Art Show at CONvergence I've learned that the blue painters tape is excellent for this. It's sticky enough for the bid tag to stay put but is easily removed later.

Postage. Using USPS.com to purchase postage is cheaper than postage purchased at a post office. I go by weight and dimensions of the box, or type of USPS box for shipping. I use an electronic kitchen scale, which we already had, to weigh the packed box. The shipping is generally much less than one of those flat rate boxes.

Boxes. USPS has FREE shipping materials (boxes and envelopes). You can order them from USPS.com.

Piles. Piles and Post-it Notes are also help. Mind you, they are organized piles. One for display art and one for print shop art.

File folders. Each convention is assigned a labeled folder. The checklist and all the paperwork goes in there. It stays with me so I can refer back to the previous year or check the return shipment against my copy of the art list.

Packing. I learned to cushion the ends and short sides with bubble wrap or bunched up clean plastic bags. As added protection I put a sheet of foam core or cardboard on either large side, basically creating a sandwich with the art in between.

Tracking art. To track what went where or what sold (hopefully), I print a copy of the control sheets for my records. Ideally I also mark what number of the print run for a piece I sent out. This way if it sells I can mark the piece as sold in my limited edition print list. I'll also know whether or not to send the same piece the following year.

Waiting. Just let it go. When the box leaves my hands, that's it. I take it off my mental list of things to do and don't worry about it.

Unpacking. Ideally I do this within a few days of receiving the box. I check their list of pieces against the copy of what I sent. Usually everything adds up. Once or twice there have been discrepancies but the art show organizer for those instances resolved the issue.

Evaluation. Something sold? Great! Nothing sold but all the art came back in one piece? Great! Getting the art out in front of eyeballs is my goal. Getting me AND the art out together would be ideal but that's not always possible. I might reevaluate this at the end of the year. Maybe next year I'll focus my energies on shows I can do in person. We'll see.

Resources.
USPS FREE shipping supplies https://store.usps.com/store/browse/category.jsp?categoryId=shipping-supplies

ClearBags, as the name implies, has clear bags. They also sell standard size cut mats, backing boards, boxes, etc. Currently I cut my own mats because I want specific colors but I've stocked up on bags from them.  http://www.clearbags.com/

Convention Wiki is a decent starting place if you need a list of shows. You'll need to look each one up because some of them are defunct. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_science_fiction_conventions

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I only actually attend a few shows, the rest I just mail art in. For the past 2 years Gen Con has been one of those shows I do in person. What follows is my experience with it. Perhaps it will be helpful to some folks,

Getting there: I drive. Last year I picked a buddy up from Chicago and she helped load and unload. This year I pack everything I need and took it there myself. It's manageable.

What to pack and how move it: I have a check list of things to bring. Having a checklist helps me stay organized. I have a handcart that folds down so I can wheel my stuff in and out of the show and store it under my table when not in use. Last year my booth buddy and I carried everything from the car. Ugh. Using the cart this year was a HUGE help. This handcart, actually. Don't rely solely on bungee cords. More on that later.

I packed several arty things to do while I was there. Next time I'm just going to bring my sketchbook and my pencil box.

Staying there: shop around for cheap rooms, they do exist. There are more options for staying if you have a vehicle to drive in every morning. There's also relatively inexpensive parking if you're willing to walk some blocks. There are also many hotels available downtown and Gen Con has some special rates through their housing department. Though in my experience it has been cheaper to find a hotel in the burbs and drive in.

Art: I have some canvas prints, originals, and matted prints that I hang on the display panels. These are mainly for getting people's attention. Next to the display art I made little title cards with prices. I printed out little Avery labels and stuck them on black foam core which I bevel cut so the foam edge wasn't visible. I attached them to the panels with Velcro.

Hanging with binder clips. Just clip one to the top of the print mat and place the loop over the drapery hook. It does make a little indent on the mat though.
Hanging with binder clips. Just clip one to the top of the print mat and place the loop over the drapery hook. It does make a little indent on the mat though.

On the table I displayed 2 portfolios with available prints. One has labels on the sleeves with piece name and price of print. The other is my actual portfolio that I show clients. I'll be replacing that one with a cheaper version so I can put labels on the sleeves. Plus then if I leave the table to walk my work around to companies, there will still be art samples for shoppers to peruse. I don't sell the prints that are in the portfolios. I have a Rubbermaid bin with copies of the prints in sleeves with backing board. Each section of prints is defined by a sticky note tab so I can easily flip to what I need. The prints are not matted.

Print bin for inventory with my sticky note labels for sections of prints.
Print bin for inventory with my sticky note labels for sections of prints.

I also have a sheet that lists inventory for the show and prices of pieces. Then when something sells I keep a tally on the same sheet.

To sell art at Gen Con you have to fill out a carbon copy slip (supplied by them). The customer brings the slip to the Art Show pay area. The Art Show staff handles the sale and sales tax. Then the customer brings the slip back with a paid stamp on it to exchange for the art. It works pretty well. I think only 2 people changed their minds about buying something after they found out they had to go wait in line instead of just pay me and walk.

Having a range of prices helps too. I have items ranging from $2 up to about $2000. Of course the $2000 one didn't sell, I use it mainly for display. A $175 original did sell (a pleasant surprise).

I don't do at-Con commissions (maybe someday). I did see other artists doing it. One artist said she would take the orders during the show and draw them at night. Then she would have people pay and pick up during the next day. Having to ship things to people afterward would take more of her time. As we know, time is precious.

Observations: There was a variety of work again this year. Lots of great art to appeal to lots of different people. People visit the Art Show for many reasons it seems: to shop; to kill time between events; just to look at cool stuff; to get game cards signed; to buy from a specific artist who will be there.

The setup:  I opted for the 2-panel, one table setup again. That seemed to work well with the amount of work I had to display. Gen Con Art Show supplies the panels, table, 2 chairs, garbage bucket. The 2-panel table setup is $327. Th 4-panel table setup is $419. Electrical is extra. To hang art they recommend drapery hooks. That's if you're hanging framed art with wire. Or you can use binder clips to attach to matted prints and then hang the clip off the drapery hook. Velcro works for some things. More on that later.

Me at my 2-panel table setup.
Me at my 2-panel table setup.

Next year: the Gen Con Art Show will be doing things differently. Getting space will no longer be on a first come first serve basis. There will be a jury process that will start in January/February. There will be a $25 non-refundable application fee. They had a memo in our packet about it this year. So if you want more information, watch the Gen Con Website, the Art Show Facebook page, and try to get on their mailing list.

If I end up doing Gen Con again, I'd like to make some changes to my setup.

  • Design and print a price list that's legible from 3-5 feet away. Along with that I'm going to streamline the note cards I sell – make them all the same size and price.
  • Design a sign with my name that reflects my artist brand.
  • Display more art on the panels. Practically fill the space. Instead of the framed originals and canvas prints, I'm considering doing what I saw other folks do. They displayed prints. I especially liked the ones that were matted all the same. Charles Urbach has a nice display. He printed his pictures with faux mats so it's all one image/one piece of paper. He mounted these prints on foam core. Then used Velcro to attach the display pieces to the panels. It looked quite nice. Plus it acted as an immediate portfolio for those wandering around looking for artists. I might have a few originals but at the $175 or lower range.
  • Have everything displayed as a designed whole. I thought I did. I even layed everything out on my living room floor. Not so. I had one piece that had a light mat while everything else had a middle value mat or darker frame. That one piece looked fine at the last convention I was at. There it was hung among other matted pieces of similar value on metal grid walls. At Gen Con on the dark panels it stuck out too much and distracted from the pictures.
  • Lights...maybe. A few people brought lights to shine down on their panel displays. I think this helped counteract the strong convention center lights and gave a professional looking presence.
  • This year I held a drawing for chance to win a print or 20% off a purchase. It got people a little excited but not many. I think if I had a larger following it would have created more of a buzz. If anything, it got people into my art if they didn't have money enough to buy a print. Or, maybe next time I'll do some other kind of small, very limited number giveaway.
  • I need to practice getting people's information. This year I had a sign-up sheet to collect email addresses for future mailings. The drawing also allowed me to collect email addresses. I made sure to get cards from art directors that stopped by who were interested in my work. But when it comes to individuals asking about personal commissions, I need practice. I made sure they took cards but I didn't get their information so I could follow up with them after the show.
  • Not having a booth buddy this year wasn't too bad. My neighbors watched my stuff and handled a sale or two while I was away. However, being gone for long-ish periods of time (showing the portfolio around) was kind of tricky because that was one less display book of prints to buy at my booth. Also, I wasn't at the table to talk to folks. So next year I think I'll find someone to help.
  • Show the portfolio around Thursday - Friday and maybe Saturday. Save Sunday as the day to be at the table. That's when most of the sales seem to happen. People are watching their wallets and deciding which of the many cool things they found during the con they can't live without.
  • I need to get packing straps. Bungee cords worked well when wheeling the cart to the convention center. On the way back they gave way when I didn't clear the lip to the parking lot. I thought I'd make it. Major fail there. Ouch.

All in all year 2 in the Gen Con Art Show was better than the first. I was more social this year. I went out to dinner with many folks. I had enjoyed talking to my Art Show neighbors. Plus I went to the Artist Reception and had good conversations. I was a bit more comfortable with the drive to and from Minnesota and the process of setup and tear down. More people bought prints and one original sold. However, financially speaking, the investment (so far) has been more than the sales.

Right now I look at the whole experience as part of a long term game plan. I'm getting my art and myself out in front of many eyeballs. I'm meeting people and making some new friends. I'm hoping it's a cumulative effect. I'm not going to judge right now whether this will be a good idea next year or not. I'm going to wait till at least December to see what happens.

 

Here's my little home away from home for the next 4 days. Table 31 in the Art Show. I have an experiment this year. I'm holding a drawing for a giveaway!

Gen Con 2014

One lucky person will get to choose either a print on premium matte paper from the selection I have at Gen Con, in stock,
OR 20% off your next art purchase from me.

  • The 20% applies only to prints, originals, or **personal art commissions. Excludes commercial work (commissions for promotion, games, cover art, or similar).
  • Winner will be chosen 2pm (Eastern), Saturday, August 16, 2014 at GenCon.
  • One entry per person.
  • You need not be present when I pull a name but you must be at Gen Con to enter. Winner must be able to pick up their print by this coming Sunday, August 17, 2014 by the close of the Art Show which is 4pm Eastern.
  • The winner must have a legible entry.
  • Winner will be contacted a.s.a.p.
  • Final price for the 20% off will include shipping and sales tax (if in Minnesota).

** I reserve the right to refuse personal commissions that are too far outside my range (ie. extremely gruesome or obscene).

I had previously posted about the process I was using to redo my Website.

Upon further investigation, a little nudge from friends, and some tech advice, I decided to give WordPress a shot. I have to say I'm liking it so far.

At the date of writing this, I'm using a free template from Tiny Forge. So far it fits my needs. We'll see what happens as my business develops.

What I'm finding useful right now:

  • I have it set up through my hosting account so I don't have to worry about storage.
  • Fairly easy, straight forward CMS (content management system) from the start.
  • I can create galleries with proportional and large-ish thumbnails instead of the goofy little cropped ones I used to have.
  • There are easy to create contact forms.
  • I can move pages around on the fly and change colors all at once.
  • I can do some monkeying around with the code in the edit panel (helpful hint, Firebug used through Firefox is a great tool to figure out what code does what).
  • Each image gets its own unique page which is great for Art Directors or other visitors that want to bookmark or share a specific picture.
  • The template is set designed to work well and look great on multiple browsers and mobile devices. This is something I would have had to test myself, and recruit friends to test which would have taken a LOT of time. Time that I'd prefer to use making pictures.

What I'm finding a little tricky:

  • I have minimal control over what appear where in the galleries. I think that's probably due to me needing to learn a bit more about this set-up (and maybe a bit more CSS or something).
  • There's a huge amount of padding below images in blog posts (probably room for descriptions) so I need to either figure out what I'm going to use that space for or figure out how to delete it.
  • I would like more flexibility with the layout but the way it is now is pleasing and consistent across ALL pages. That would be tricky to keep track of with a WYSIWYG builder because I would have had to keep track of a specific file for each image. This way each page is created on the fly, instead of multiple files to organize.For even more on Websites using WordPress, Aaron B. Miller has an informative post you might find useful.