A much-needed hiatus: On WHY we need to pause

2017 to early 2019, I went to event after event, as many as I could.

June 2019, I stopped. No, more like, paused.

I paused attending events, locked myself up at home to take up manga work I had been offered. I missed making stuff and going to events, but the pause was necessary. Because had I not paused, I would've burned out completely.

See, this is what a lot of other people go through when they fail to notice the importance of taking breaks, and making time for oneself. It was a hard pill to swallow to realize that what I thought was 'self-care' wasn't - AKA, working extra because I'm a freelancer, hence the logic that if I work more, I'm serving myself more. I was wrong.

I slowly crumbled in the pressure and the stress. I couldn't keep up. I got easily irritated, very emotional - and a lot of times, suicidal. When I feel like I want to kill myself, I think of how much people I love will be really sad. Then I think of my cat - no one's gonna love my cat as much as I do. So no, I had to stay alive. I had to.

I'm recovering now, slowly but surely. I can still feel the burns from 2019, but I can feel it getting better. Hopefully.

A Quest for my Perfect Artist Alley Setup - The Journey so Far

Setting up for Artist Alleys is easy - unless you're like me who has a lot of merch, then it can be a huge challenge. It's like Tetris - only that you need it to be more stylish, and marketing-driven. 

I  had only six Fold'EM Magnetic Bookmark designs (the first 6 I ever made!) , 40 pieces of my handmade notepads, and about 50 button pins during Magenta, my first-ever event as an artist. The  setup was very upfront - I laid down battery-operated fairy lights under pink and purple tulle I bought the week before over my half of the table, put the merchandise over it, picnic-style, just laying them there for the event-goers to see. I pinned up what needed to be seen onto little corkboards on mini-easels I got from Daiso - and wrote prices on a tiny blackboard with a chalk. Very basic, just the tulle and the fairy lights to add some pizzaz.

The table setup of a wedding I recently went to was initially what I thought of to come up with my own. The purpose might have been different, but I liked seeing a lot of pastel pinks and purples in my setup - as well as elements of wood, whites, and LOTS of warm light. 
Personally, I liked my arrangement.  
I was embarrassed about lighting up my fairy lights, seeing nobody else had them. Did it look too tacky? Did it look Christmas-y? Whatever. Fairy lights were very in lately anyways.
The setup was complete in under 30 minutes and I had time to rest and observe other artists. Most of them had these tall setup that looked so portable and clever! Some of them well-decorated, while some focused on their products. In comparison, my table setup looked so small, flat, and compact compared to the heights of their towering presentations. 

I felt comfortable with the presence of my tablemates though, Wabi Sabi. It was also their first time getting an event space, and equally anxious as I was. They had a similar compact-looking setup, though having more products. I felt less alone in the ordeal. They were good partners.
The event finished wonderfully with me thinking of my next event, Born to Make History - a Yuri on Ice event and gathering. I had only a third of a table this time, so bringing the Mystic Messenger merch I initially had was definitely out of the question. I had to make-do with the space I had. It was challenging, but it was nice seeing that when fairy lights are compressed, they tend to look more bright, giving my small and compact setup a vibrant feel. 

The problem I encountered with this setup was that the pricing board cant be read well by people, and the lack of space for stickers to be laid. Also, I tend to disturb my two partners (who were busy with sketching on-the-spot - I'm so sorry Ria! ; _ ;) with my movements, so, feeling bad about it I swore to never get less than half a space of a table. Ever. 
My merchandise list grew as the months passed by. What used to be just six bookmark designs bubbled up to twenty... then thirty - I knew I had to do something, as just pinning them on cork boards won’t do it anymore.

This was when I bought a rotating earrings' organizer and customized it so it'd hold the bookmarks while saving space at the same time. The notepads stayed as the items that take most of the table space, next to the stickers.
My table setup for ACX and Otaku Expo was pretty much the same. I was testing out this current setup and observing how people react to it. I lacked good signage for a while.
My table at the RFA Party/ ShoujoCon. Signage somehow present. Also, this event proved that fairy lights are indeed best in events that are dimly-lit. :D 
Come Best of Anime and Cosplay Mania, I realized the rotating display just had to go. Sure, it was nice and cute for interaction (as people liked touching and rotating the display). However, I learned that in conventions (such as in the case of starting artists like myself that time), most of your customers will be people who had just passed by in front of your table and got attracted to your art/merch on a whim. Most of them don't really have time to browse around (or rotate my bookmark display) - so getting their attention and hooking them in with a display that shows most my merchandise easier was indeed necessary to remove the need to touch or rotate anything on the setup to see all the designs since everything will be there up front. From this, I started using mesh wires and L-hooks. 

I cut a tall, but narrow wire grid into two (because the one I bought was too big), and connected them with cable ties. They stood up balanced and sturdy when placed on a flat surface at 90°, but it was very wobbly when touched. The base was scarily unstable.
As my merch count added up, with more kinds of items joining in (like the Born to Make History Monthly Planner and the Collectors' Blank Sticker Albums), upgrading my table arrangement became a necessity. At that point, it was no longer out of wanting it to be more stylish -  functionality comes first, then style. 

So, I opted for a bigger mesh wire. An incident during Best of Anime (where a group of cosplayers destroyed my setup accidentally by bumping its base, sweeping all my bookmarks onto the floor) pushed me to do something about that unstable base. I connected the base of two big mesh wires to a smaller mesh laid on the table that acted like a "flooring" for the whole arrangement. This was a very good idea, as when we placed the quite-heavy notepads over them, it was secured af. 
^My setup last Christmas Ozine, December 2017. I was so upset about the organizer placing the Artist Alley inside the almost hidden function hall that I didn't even take any other pictures other than this one.
Otaku Expo, in February 2018.
The new setup with the two big mesh wires with another smaller mesh as a base was astounding-  it could hold all 60 bookmark designs we had. No clumsy con-goers could topple my display anymore because of how secured it was - which was amazing. However though, with this setup, we encountered a problem because of how huge the mesh wires were - the setup was wobbly and dancy  when put together. It just kept on swaying easily. And while the merchandise had been growing and improving around that time, the setup made the whole thing looked lousy-looking and lazy, specially because of how big it was. Most of all, I couldn't use the width of the table because the notepads are lying there, using up all the space.

As my merch count were rising again, I had to think of better ways to display everything without the lousy look. After all, we got the functionality - now we just need the style.
I braved Divisoria and purchased little square wire grids and  connectors for the new setup. I also (finally!) got a greeting card rack where all my notepads can be displayed neatly, so they no longer hogged the horizontal space. Look at how stunning it looked when I debuted the new setup at Cosplay Matsuri 2017! ^__^  The bulky fairy lights were also replaced with thin, copper ones as to not take the attention away where the eyes should go - the merch. 

I also adopted Nari's brand, Makanesque during the event, and housed his collection of food stickers in my share of the table. It took a good half of the bottom of the table, since his merchandise were loose stickers and were flat. I suppose we still have to work on that, and make a proper place for the now expanding number of blank sticker albums we have so it doesn't just lay there lifeless at the foot of the notepads.

To complete the look, we started printing my shop and artist name with product info at the top of the towering wall of wires, and coordinated the product price signage with the same motif - my favorite, pastel nebulas. I was really satisfied with how the whole setup had progressed. 
Come Born to Make History 2 on the 18th of March, I took a whole table for myself for the very first time. It was a marvelous experience to see all of my Yuri on Ice merch in one full table setup, and it gave me insight on how I should place everything in the next upcoming months. (Also, I realized just how many YOI-stuff I have in my collection!)

It wasn't perfect, like how I wasn't able to put emphasis on the new letter sets I made (I wanted to elevate them a bit with some sort of pretty organizer with info on it). On the contrary, I liked how there was space for everything and it felt easy on the eyes. I also considered getting a full table in the next conventions, as long as I can afford it. 
Throughout my journey to find that 'perfect' Artist Alley setup, I learned that the 'perfect' setup is subjective to the artist and the products they're selling. What's perfect for me and my creations, might not work for everyone else, and vise versa. However, as a personal preference, I like putting elements in my setup that show who I am as an artist - so I make it a point to put effort in how I present my art during events. 

For now,, my quest for that perfect convention setup will never stop. Instead, it will continue to evolve as I learn and progress, just like all the merchandise and offerings I bring each conventions I attend. 

I hope to make an update post soon when I make improvements in the setup. Wish me luck! :D

Video Series: Stick With Me

Hello lovelys! 

I started a new project called Stick With Me where I upload quick videos of me trying to fill my new Collectors' Blank Sticker Album. I recently filled my original one (which was the prototype for all the sticker albums I've made) so now I'm out of place to put my other incoming stickers. Now what I want is for you guys to see how long my sticker album will last me and to show you how many stickers I can fill in one book. 

Ya ready? Let's start the first video! 

The stickers I put are coffee-themed mini deco stickers from PaperJoyPH that a friend gifted me. Aren't they cute? As a huge coffee drinker, I loved these so much and I bet I'll be using these for my planner anytime soon. 

I tend to make these videos sped-up so that people can watch the entirety of it quickly, but what do you think? Would you prefer a longer, slower video, or do you like the faster, sped-up quick vids? 

Let me know in the comments below! 

How I Started in Conventions - A Story and Some Advice

The Start.

March 5, 2017. Magenta. A Mystic Messenger event in Makati. I found the event in Facebook, as I browsed my fandom-filled newsfeed with my latest craze at the time - Mystic Messenger. I knew I just had to take part of it. It took me about three days to finally decide to click that SUBMIT button on the sign-up form, because I couldn't bring myself to do it out of irrational shyness.

The promotion banner I made with Wabi Sabi, my table partner for Magenta.
It was my first-ever convention after a long battle with self-doubt whether I should put out my fan works to the public. I've been a commissioned artist for as long as I can remember. All my works were always for private eyes only. I was terrified, but thrilled, about the thought of going public. This time, my client are the people who will see my work, I thought.
I only had the essentials with me that day; products of days of practicing a table layout on my desk, a week of sleepless nights, a calloused hand, and an empty pocket from spending on my first capital. Armed with a bottle of Cobra to battle my sleepiness, I marched into the small event place onto the table assigned to us. I was nervous, seeing other artists with their full setups as we await the start of the event. 

Then came in the guests. Then the music. I remembered smiling a lot, laughing a lot. Explaining what my little Fold'EM Magnetic Bookmarks are and what they do. Seeing lots of smiles and amazed eyes. I was ecstatic.

A peek from inside our table. Video courtesy of Narikeen. He says he's sorry for the wobbly camera lol

The whole day passed by quick, and I finished another bottle of my trusty energy drink. I found myself with an almost-empty table, my heart (and pocket lol) full. I left the event early, around five in the afternoon feeling sick. Either way, the magnetic bookmarks I just conceptualized about three days ago sold out and we no longer have anything to sell. The way home, I was in trance. 

"No freaking way."

For me personally, I found it hard to believe that my works were appreciated by local people. For almost four years, I worked as a private illustrator online exclusively with international clients - thinking that my art had no place in the local community. I was afraid that nobody will appreciate what I was doing. I was wrong. 

A few months later, I joined my next event, Otaku Expo 2017 in Megamall. And then the next event. And the next one. And here we are in 2018. 

An advice to those who want to jump in.

1. Just start. 
Just sign up when you see that call-to-action posts by event and organizer pages. 
Take that leap of faith. 

2. Make something unique.
Bring something new to the table. It will help you in the long run to establish 
a good sense of identity and branding. 

3. Make friends and connections. 
The local artist alley community is small, and most likely, people know people who know people. 
Start learning how to networks. Having lots of friends in the community will help you survive all the event burnouts, emergencies, and the need for table buddies from time-to-time. Don't fret, after all, we're all in this community because we all love art, anime and games - you’re sure to find lots of people to connect with!

4. Save money.
You'll need money to sign up to events and make merchandise. That's a given.

5.  Avoid drama and don't start it either.
There's drama here, as there is anywhere else. However, it isn't healthy to take part in it, nor start any. Snuff out any conflict as soon as you can, and always keep your feet on the ground. Your future self will thank you for it. :)

6. Practice your art and never stop striving to improve.
There's always room for learning. Always.

7. Never forget to have fun.

Event burnout is real, so don't forget to legit have fun in each event. Go support other artists' work, meet your friends, greet familiar faces, partake in the event activities if you still can and just take in the surroundings. You can never be too tired to not appreciate good anime music and being with a lot of people who share the same love of the hobby as you do. 

 ✧ ✧

Within more than a year doing booths and tables in local conventions, I have learned a lot about the ins and outs of most events. And while it may be true that there are a lot more artists that have been artist alley cats longer than I have, I just wanted to share what I've learned so far. I don't claim to know it all - HECK - I WANT to learn more about the industry! This is a really fun - albeit a physically exhausting world. Let's keep on learning and improving together, shall we? 

PS: It's been YEARS since I last blogged.
Feel free to suggest topics or anything you want me to write about! ^__^