A Guide to Asking for Signatures and Drawings at Conventions

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I recently got asked on my Facebook page if I could share my thoughts on fans asking for autographs and sketches at conventions. I thought others who are new to attending conventions might enjoy hearing the basics of this process. I can only offer my perspective, but it might prove useful for anyone approaching other artists or celebrities at conventions as well.

Speaking for myself, I’m happy to sign anything I’ve worked on for fans at a convention, whether they’ve bought it from me or not. Sometimes you’ll see celebrities at conventions who charge for their autographs, or will only sign the items they’re selling. This tends to be most common with actors selling photographs of themselves at conventions. Usually celebrities with these kinds of restrictions will have signage at their table clearly stating their policies.

While those policies can be frustrating, keep in mind that such revenue is probably a big factor in that celebrity being at the convention at all, and convention appearances may be an important source of income for them. Often the celebrity is willing to sign a personal item for a fan, but if I’m going to wait in a signing line to speak to a celebrity at a convention I try to purchase something from them as a courtesy. I feel like it’s my way of paying for the opportunity to meet them and have that brief exchange with them when I get my turn at the front of the line. Otherwise I’m taking up their time and trying to get something from them for free when they’re trying to make some money and there is a line of people behind me waiting to do business with them.

Regardless of what a given celebrity’s policy is, if you’re going to ask for a signature on an item you’ve brought or for a photo with them, ask politely. And if they decline, accept that decision politely. You might think you’re only asking them for a small thing, but to that celebrity, doing it for you may make them feel obligated to do it for everyone. And that might be more of an obligation than they can afford to make.

 

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As far as asking for artwork, I’ll often have fans ask me for a free sketch, and typically I’ll politely decline. I’ll occasionally throw in a quick head sketch with a signature for young fans at the conventions, but it’s at my discretion. It’s something I like to do for kids, but it’s very dependent on how much time I can spare at that moment. On the other hand, when an adult asks for a free sketch, it can come across as “I want the service you’re charging for, but I don’t want to pay so why don’t you just give me something for free?” Also, although this is rarely the case where I am concerned, it’s important to note that sometimes an artist is at a convention but they aren’t doing commission sketches at all. They might be there to sign autographs and sell pre-made prints or books, but aren’t drawing at the show.

(Here’s a tip – If you want a sketch from an artist at a convention and can’t afford what they’re charging, be on the lookout to see if they’re doing a signing for a publisher. Sometimes an artist will be doing quick sketches for free in such a setting that they aren’t doing when at their own table. Free sketches tend to be relatively quick and simple – you get what you pay for – but they’re better than nothing, right?)

Regardless of the setting, if you ask for a sketch, again – ask politely. And if the artist declines, accept their refusal politely. It’s expensive for creators to travel to attend a convention, and often they’re paying for that table in an Artists Alley. Commission sketches are a big part of how artists try to offset some of those expenses – with no guarantee of making enough to show a profit.

As a rule, creators and celebrities love meeting fans. It’s always great to hear from people who enjoy your work. But there are mercenary fans who try to ruin it for everybody. It’s not uncommon to see a convention sketch or autographed item for sale on eBay or elsewhere, usually for a higher amount than what was paid to the artist/celebrity (assuming they were paid anything.) And, the surest way to make a creator whose work you enjoy feel terrible is to act entitled and treat them as though by showing up they’re now obligated to do whatever you ask of them. So, well, don’t do that. Just be polite and courteous and you’ll both have a great experience!

Morgan and Me

“Can I please get a photo of you Mr. Freeman? I loved you on The Electric Company!”

Don’t get me wrong on any of this – I love meeting fans. I really enjoy attending conventions and encounters with fans are almost always the biggest highlight of the weekend for me, and I think most comics pros feel the same way. But I’ve been approached by a lot of fans both the right way and the wrong way, and the fondest memories are definitely of the fans who did it the right way!

So for the final time – our two recurring themes:

By all means ask for that autograph, personal photo or whatever, but do so politely.

If the answer is no, accept that answer politely, and understand that there may be a good reason that no needs to be the answer.

12 Comments

  • By Richard Vasseur, April 4, 2013 @ 8:19 am

    I completely agree with everything you said. When ever I have seen a celebrity selling pictures I will always buy one of theirs to get signed over anything else. The same with a comic or drawing. I think it helps to contribute to pay for the time an artist is at the convention and the time they spend with fans. They do deserve to be paid for their work and time.

  • By Matt, April 4, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    Awesome insight. Any suggestions for the other side of the table, as in interacting with fans as a new con-goer? Were you nervous at your first cons?

  • By Rachel Hendricks, April 4, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

    I was at a Philladelphia Wizard “comic con” several years back and happened across Jim Balent. I don’t believe he was actually there officially but there was a company making toys based on his comic Tarot and I crossed paths with him, said hi because OMG it was Jim Balent whose work on Catwoman I enjoyed. I had my sketch book in hand but hadn’t actually even asked for a sketch (Though I think I asked for his autorgraph) and he asked me if I’d like a sketch! I was very much yes please!? lol He talked about his leaving Catwoman and the reasons behind it and starting up his own publishing and comics while standing in the middle of the con doing a Catwoman sketch.

    Although I’m not a big fan of his current stuff, I feel like I should help promote (via facebook, twitter etc) whenever I can his work. He’s such a nice person and he didn’t have to do any of that at all! Least of all explain why he left Catwoman – which I’m sure he’s been asked a zillion times, or even offer to do a sketch.

    I wish I could financially support more artists – unfortunately that’s just not an option for me beyond buying comics here and there and occasional it comes out of my vacation to a con budget prints/sketches lol – I do try to retweet and repost when things come across. There are so many wonderful artists out there that people should know about.

    I started following you, Christopher, a while back after someone reposted a Doctor Who related item on facebook. I saw the Young Justice meetup occur at Gally but as I wasn’t familiar with the comic that I didn’t want to intrude. I didn’t know the proper etiquette on that one. lol

    In fact I’ve been meaning to pick up the Masters print from your Etsy store you posted on Facebook a while back.

  • By Christopher Jones, April 4, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

    Hi Rachel! You’d have been more than welcome at the Young Justice meet-up at Gallifrey One. It was pretty informal – no entrance exam or anything! ;)

    I’ll be at Gally1 again next year. Hope to see you there!

  • By Christopher Jones, April 4, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

    Matt, I don’t know if I was nervous at my first cons – I know I was excited to be there as an artist!

    I remember one of my earliest conventions at which I had a table – it was before I’d “broken in” to do work for DC Comics or any other major publisher. I had a Batman drawing I’d done on the wall behind me – it was my response to a lot of Batman art I’d seen that didn’t strike me as having a lot of mood or atmosphere. It was 90% black with just a moon and enough edge-lighting on Batman to make out the shape of his cowl and cape. This young kid was waling buy my table and the sight of that drawing stopped him in his tracks. He looked up at the Batman drawing and his eyes got big. “Do you… draw Batman?” he asked me. I replied, “I drew THAT Batman, if that’s what you’re asking, but I haven’t worked on the comic book yet, no.” “Oh,” the kid matter-of-factly replied, and walked away without saying another word. I thought it was pretty funny at the time, and I *still* think it says something about fans and conventions – but don’t ask me exactly what that is!

    Suggestions I would have for anyone new to exhibiting at conventions:

    The polite thing goes both ways. Even if you’ve had a long or bad day and are tired, hungry, grouchy, whatever, anyone taking the time to stop at your table deserves a friendly hello and a moment of your time.

    Signage can be a big help – label what you have for sale and have signage for what services you’re offering (e.g. sketches) with prices. That said, be patient when fans inevitably don’t notice those signs and ask you anyway!

    Display vertically! Don’t just cover the top of your table with your stuff – that’s hard to see from more than a few feet away. Use the front of your table or have a standee behind you to display more of your work. Racks that can display comics or prints vertically on your table top help, too!

    Keep your table family friendly. Even if your work isn’t aimed at kids, families come to the show and it’s just a courtesy not to assault them with adult images as they walk by. Plus, sometimes the adults who might be interested in your work have kids in tow as they walk around the convention. Keeping the R-rated stuff in a portfolio makes it available when you want it while making your table more accessible to everyone else.

    Bring drinks and snacks to keep behind the table. You’re going to be there a long time, and if there’s food and drink available at the convention it’s sure to be more expensive than what you can get at the grocery store.

    Be sure to have business cards and/or some kind of freebie at your table with your web site URL on it. Some people will stop at your table and show a lot of interest but don’t have money to spend at that moment. If they have any interest in your work at all, you shouldn’t let them walk away without something letting them find you online later.

  • By Matt, April 4, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

    Thanks for the response, Chris. Great advice – gives me much to think about. I especially like your pointers on signage and displaying vertical. :)

  • By Christopher Jones, April 4, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    I’m glad you found it helpful. Answering your question gave me a head start on another blog piece – tips for EXHIBITORS at conventions!

  • By Destiny W., April 4, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

    That’s super encouraging. Makes me feel like less of a nuisance when I want to talk to big-time artists. :)

    I’m also curious, do fans often try and hand you fanart? Do you like it when a fan brings a piece of their art as a gift?

  • By Christopher Jones, April 4, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

    Destiny – I have fans come up to me with fan art from time to time, I find it flattering when they do.

    The funniest experience with that was at a tiny little local show where this young girl came up to my table. I don’t think she knew or cared who I was. She was just there with her parents and bored. She looked at my stuff and made it clear that she wanted to draw something. She asked for paper and something to draw with. I gave her a sheet of the bristol paper I was doing sketches on and a pencil. She proceeded to draw and generally hang out at the table while her parents did other things.

    When her family finally collected her and left, she came running back to give the the drawing she’d done. It was of an anime character I was unfamiliar with, and I don’t think it was given to be because she was a fan of my work or as any personal gesture. I think it was just the product of an hour of her boredom and giving it to me gave her something to do with it.

    If nothing else it gave me a funny story – and I still have the drawing in my studio!

  • By Timmy, July 18, 2013 @ 12:21 am

    How might one get a print of Disco Nightwing that one totally forgot to get at ConVergence this year? Did I mention one has $$$ to offer? HERE!! TAKE IT!!! TAKE MY MONEY!!! heehehehehe

  • By Christopher Jones, July 18, 2013 @ 12:29 am

    Find me when I’m doing a convention appearance or a signing. The next appearance I have planned in the Twin Cities area is Fallcon in October!

  • By Bons D, July 18, 2013 @ 6:42 am

    Not just at Cons, this should be a general thing: Being polite and accepting No.

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