Thursday, August 4, 2011

San Diego Comic-Con

-By Donato


For 12 years I have now been taking a major piece of my summer's creative energies and devoting them to a single event, the San Diego Comic-Con. This past convention was no exception, and turned out to be the one of the best years yet: from sales, hanging out with friends and the development of new business. Years ago, I had a few questions put to me, as I was gearing up for another West Coast trip and making the move from an Artist's Alley table to that of a booth with my friend Stephan Martiniere. I have included my answers from back in 2003, and find them quite relevant even today:
Why the booth at Comic Con?

In today's uncertain world of commercial illustration, I have found it best to diversify, not only my subject matter, but also my markets. I have attended the San Diego Comic-Con over the past four years and have understood there is the potential for major commissions and sales of originals to those who attend and are interested in the comics and movie markets. This year saw a ten fold increase in sales/commissions from last year. It was amazing. The decision to acquire a booth space not only opened my work up to an increase in traffic on the main sales floor (The old Artists Alley where I was previously is at the end of the enormous hall), but the appearance and size of my display demonstrated I was serious about my art and laid the suggestion for others to do so as well; from fans, to artists, to potential clients stopping by. 75,000+ attendees is a number of interested buyers you WANT to reach. (note, the convention is now ~ 150,000+)

What are some of the products and services you offer?

At my booth the number one product I sell is me, the artist. I am there in person to meet with prospective art directors from publishers to movie directors/producers who might stop by to be considering my work for a major project or even a small commission; I am there to talk with other professional and review portfolios of those who wish to become professionals; and lastly I am there for the thousands of fans who are either familiar with my works within the genre or are first timers who have never heard of me before. All of these types of people purchase prints, books, and maybe originals of my art to remind them of the style and intensity of what I do. I make sure I have something for everyone, from free handouts to high quality paintings.

Any thoughts about the future or plans? I'll be back to the Comic-Con, with even more epic work and a greater selection of prints. As long as I find clients who wish to commission the greatest challenging works I can embrace, I will always follow that lead.

My attitude and advice about this convention hasn't changed a bit in the eight years since answering those questions. I still believe it is one of the most important events to attend if you wish to develop your career in science fiction and fantasy illustration - either through walking the floor of the exhibit hall, to obtaining an Artist's Alley table, or putting out some hard earned cash for the full booth space. Time and time again I have been rewarded for the effort, many times the payback occurs years later, but the benefits still out weigh the cost. I tend to choose ways to invest in my career for the long haul, and believe you have to if you want a long arching successful career path.

To be candid, last year was my worst year at the con. I thought of packing it in. I told a good friend that unless a miracle happened this year, I wouldn't be back. Well, next year will be my 13th year attending, and I am glad I was proven wrong...

Attending conventions is a core foundation element to my self promotion I have thoroughly enjoyed to participate in as a professional artist. The people you meet at these events are as passionate about art as you are, and there is nothing as much fun as arm (and leg!) wrestling at the Westin Hotel at midnight on a Saturday with friends and fellow artists roaring in laughter around you.

If you make it to next years event, stop by the Donato Arts booth and say hello...I'll be happy to talk your ear off (or take you on in arm wrestling)!

Some photos of the convention:

My wonderful booth buddy, Stephan Martiniere, and Dylan Cole, the highly talented matte painter. Stephan and I made the move out of our start in Artist's Alley and have been together on the floor since.

Jon Foster in a live demonstration in 2008.

 Two new friends I made this year, Stephen Crowe and Paul Tobin of Weta.

Jon Schindehette and Robh Ruppel at the Westin Saturday night.

The lovely Rebecca Guay at the Westin.
  R.k. Post, Daren Bader and Jason Felix at the Westin.
  I found this gang up to artistic deviancey in the back room....Jon Foster, Marcie Post , Dave Seeley, Todd Lockwood, MuYoung Kim.

Hard-core fans at the convention! 
 These pictures and more on my facebook page.


  1. Very cool. Cons can be very confusing when you're selling at them. The crazy part is that it's hard to predict what will be popular or a flop in terms of art. There are so many little factors that add up to sales... Like how many people are crowding around your booth or table at any given time.

  2. Currently I've only done smaller local cons, and to be honest find SDCC a bit intimidating just from it's scale alone. I've never attended, but intend to be there next year. I'm torn between walking the floor for a year first or just jumping in to the Artist Alley (I cannot justify a full fledged booth at this time). Any advice?

  3. It was totally intimidating for me, a first timer. The first day I ended up somehow surrounded by 10-12 Star Wars Storm Troopers, got turned around and wandered lost for 15 minutes. It was also an incredible experience. I was lucky to have generous friends give me a spot in their area. Thanks Arnie, Cathy, Donato. When I arrived I knew I was completely unprepared even if all of my stuff had gotten there. The thing is I wouldn't trade this first time experience for anything. I spent most of the days painting and watching Donato talk and sell until he couldn't talk and sell anymore and then talk and sell some more. He knew what he was doing and did it well. Having Rebecca Guay on the other side of me didn't hurt either. The best thing about SDCC was meeting people. I made contacts I never dreamed I would. Some are already paying off. I can't imagine, now, never having the SDCC experience. I lost a little money but more than made up for it with new contacts and experiences. I mean seriously I had dinner next to Hurley from Lost.

    If I go again I will at least have some idea of what to do. So if you do choose to go prepare early.

  4. Donato, studying that picture of your booth reminded me to go and buy the video for "The Mechanic", which I have just done. Picked up Greg's "Above The Timberline" video at the same time - can't wait to get tucked into both!

  5. I've been attending Comic-Con since 1991 and it STILL intimidates me! It is a sensory-overload circus where there is simply no way to do everything, no way to see everything, no way to talk to everyone—simply because there is so much to do, so much to see, and literally thousands of people to talk to. It's exhausting, it's expensive, it's crowded, and it's almost inevitable that something will happen to piss you off at some point during the show—but it's ALWAYS a lot of fun, too. AND there's always tons of tempting things to buy (we've posted pictures of some of our booty at the Spectrum site).

    Anyone wanting to attend next year (July 12-15) should probably start planning now: Comic-Con sells out memberships months in advance. And if you want to exhibit, the last I heard there are 500+ companies and individuals on the waiting list for booths so you might want to fill out an application and cross your fingers.

    Donato has graciously allowed us a spot under his umbrella—which also affords us the opportunity to hang out with him and Stephan and Rebecca and, this year, Bill. We wouldn't miss it. (Oh, and I encourage people to run over to Bill Carman's site and buy one of his limited edition sketchbooks while he still has a handful of copies: it's a knockout!)

  6. It was great seeing you again at the con.
    The Mechanic is a "must-have" DVD for anyone wanting to see you at work!
    You LOTR book is really a treasure, too.

  7. Oh I should have struck up a conversation then! I stopped by to take a peek at your work in person. I am a big fan. Wish I went to the Westin as well - we have a few mutual friends apparently. Next year I'll say hello!

    My boyfriend, Jamie Baker, exhibits, too, which is partially why I am there every year. I think we've come to more or less the same conclusion you have. It's a big spectacle, for sure, and does not seem to have a lot to do with art any longer - more about the media-fest, toys, tv shows, movies, actors, etc. But for us artists, Comic Con is the most amazing place to meet with other artists that you would not normally get to hang out with - worth it's weight in gold just to be with people who are equally nerdy and passionate about the same stuff.

    Much appreciation and many thanks for sharing -

  8. Im impressed mister Donato, this post should be required reading for all young artists: you have to be able to sell yourself first and foremost if you want to make it. And thats not only applicable to the artworld.