how much do artists make

Comic Cons & Art Fairs

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Art by Tanner Garlick

Art by Tanner Garlick

Comic Cons & Art Fairs

 Comic conventions and art fairs take place all over the globe, with almost every major city in the United States hosting one. With the large audiences  that attend these shows it is a good place for illustrators to show their work and start selling.

 In this episode we will cover what the world of comic conventions and art fairs is like, ways to get into shows, and the differences between them. This is one of the easiest ways (depending on some conditions) to make money as an artist.

 Lee White has experience showing at art fairs, whereas Jake Parker and Will Terry have experience with the comic convention circuit.

 Money range [5:32]

The amount of money an artist can make at a show depends on a lot of variables such as location of the show and the types of products being sold.

 At Lee White’s best art fair show he made $24,000 USD over a three day art fair.

 On the comic convention side, at Jake Parker’s first convention he made enough to cover the cost of the show and for travel. At Jake’s best comic convention he broke $9,000 USD gross. His average is $5,000-$6,000 USD gross.

 At Will Terry’s best convention he made $19,000 USD gross. His average is between $7,000-$9,000 USD gross.

 How Lee, Will and Jake started showing [8:38]

 Lee got his start showing at art fairs with Crafty Wonderland. He was invited to show when a table opened up. Following that experience he started actively looking for art fairs to attend.

In his mid 20’s Jake was in the comic anthology, [Flight](  The editor of the book purchased a table at San Diego Comic Con, and invited the other artists to use the extra space. Jake went to sell prints and books. After getting a taste of what it was like to table at a show, he decided to do his own show. His first show outside of San Diego was [CTNX]( Following that success he knew it was possible to be successful at other shows. a

Will Terry’s first comic convention was a disaster even though he spent two years researching how to sell. Through that experience he learned how to be successful. He now has an assistant that takes Will’s art around the comic convention circuit. Will only personally attends 3-4 of the shows.

 Will has a series of YouTube videos where he goes into detail about his first experience tabling at a comic convention.

[Will Terry’s comic convention video series:](

 Lee White: “It’s worth it as an experience. You cannot anticipate how much energy these things take. They are really hard.” Having extra people to help you is really helpful because there are so many factors involved.

 Doing this full time as your only source of income can be really consuming. For Lee, Will and Jake they use art shows as supplemental income sources. Artists who do this full time can go to 30-40 shows a year.

 Differences between art fairs and comic conventions [21:05]

 Art fairs are typically during the summer. Usually outside in parks, but sometimes in convention centers. Artists purchase 10 foot by 10 foot booths. The average attendee at an art fair is older (50 years-old to 70 years old). There are not a lot of collectors, it is mostly people looking for artwork to put on their walls. They want to purchase originals.

 Prices for pieces at art fairs range from $50 USD to $20,000 USD (higher end of that scale are people buying originals).

 Lee White: “The more specific the story in my image the less likely it is to sell. The bigger the character in an image, the less likely it is to sell.“ Lee focuses more on environment elements and doesn’t get too specific with storytelling. In order to be successful at art fairs you have to strike a nice balance between illustration and fine art, and create images people want to hang in their homes.

Lee’s Secret Sauce for Art Fairs: “[Illustrate] a moment that people can interpret what’s happening versus showing them what’s happening.” Create images that two separate people can view and come up with different stories. Just give the audience a hint of the story.

James Jean is a good example of this principle. His work transcends illustration and taps into the art fair market.


 [James Jean Instagram](

 Comic conventions [30:40]

 Comic conventions are focused on popular culture. There is an artist ally section where artists can buy tables to show and sell their work. Attendees typically have $100 and spend that across maybe 5 different artists. What sells the best at comic conventions are things people already know such as characters from popular films, tv shows or cartoons.

 Comic conventions products typically sells from $4 to $70.

 There is also a commission market, where attendees will pay artists to draw their character or some other character doing something specific. Some artists open their commission list before the show, whereas others only do commissions during the show. Jake does commissions at show and works on them during down times or at the hotel. He can make an extra $2,000 to $3,000 USD depending on what he is charging. Commission from artists at comic conventions can range from $20 USD all the way to $600 USD.

 Jake uses fan art he sells at comic conventions to get people to come look at his table where he also has pieces from his original stories. He uses this as a way to expand the audience for his original content.

 How to start [47:23]

 When trying to get into art fairs or comic conventions it is really important to understand the market. Lee tried to sell at CTNX with Jake and Will and his art did not fit that market.

 Step 1: Go visit the shows not as a fan but as research. Take notes, take photos, be detailed and focused.

 Step 2: Make inventory. You can’t do a show if you don’t have things to sell. Start with prints, prints are cheaper and easier to sell. Make sure to use archival ink and paper so your work doesn’t fade. Jake Parker says “every sell is a person you touch.” When you sell a print you are building a relationships with that person. There is a lot of repeat customers, so if you use cheap stuff you lose that future business.

 Prints generally have low overhead cost with a high markup price. T-shirts per-unit cost are higher and they can be hard to sell and keep the proper sizes in inventory. Stickers are also harder (higher per-unit cost and lower markup price). People often just want the image so they will buy the smallest size just to get it. Don’t lose sales by selling products with higher per-unit cost.

 Jed Henry is a good example of this, at shows he only sells one size. [Ukiyo Heroes](

 Start small and work your way up. Both with what show you start with and with your inventory (not small products but a smaller product list/inventory). Check to see if there is a show within an hour of your home. This is a good way to start small because you have lower overhead costs.

 Lee white: “Stay local until you get your market figured out and then start branching out.”

 It is important to know there are different niche markets in each show. So know your work and who it appeals to.

 Comic conventions are generally easier to show at then art fairs. Art fairs are curated so. For example, Lee only gets into about half of the art  fairs he applies for.

 [List of every convention in the USA](

 Specifics on how to get into art fairs [01:06:29]

 For art fairs start with craft fairs, they are easier to get into. These shows are usually in the winter and indoors.

 [Art Fair Sourcebook]( Has art fairs sorted by region, how many people attend and how much they spend on average. This source is expensive, but it is good data to have when catering to an audience with a larger budget.

 [Zapplication]( is another good resource.

 Horror and success stories [01:07:55]

 Will Terry: For his first show he printed 1000 of each print, 23 different pints, so 23,000 prints total. He couldn’t even fit all his inventory in his car. Printing alone cost him $5,000 USD. He figured he would be showing at a lot of conventions so he was offsetting the cost. At his first show he only made $1,500 USD. After that he was pretty nervous. But luckily he was able to make it up over time, but it was scary after that first show.

 Lee White: At his first show he sold an original, but didn’t bring any bags. So had to give the customer his original art in a trash bag.  At a different show, Lee was busy setting up his booth, running to and from his car. When he was almost finished he realized the fanny pack he kept all his money in ($3,000 from his last art fair) had been open the whole time. Almost all his money flew into the wind before the art fair even started.

 Jake Parker: At a show in 2018, one of his tables was set up against and facing the wall. So he moved the table. Luckily no one told him to move it back even though it was obviously extending further out than anyone else’s. Also at that convention he had made a display structure out of foam core to hang prints. It kept falling over and he had to keep taping it. Overall it was just bad presentation.

Convention etiquette

 You have to learn convention etiquette. Watch out for ‘booth barnacles,’ they are attendees who stay for way too long and get in the way of making other sells. Jake has a polite way to remove booth barnacles. He waits for an opening in the conversation and sticks out his hand and says “It was so nice to meet you thanks for coming.” After that they usually leave.

 Also don’t just bring your portfolio to show and expect artists to review it. Always ask if there is a time to show them, don’t just assume. A good way to get a very quick and honest critique is to ask “what is the one main thing I should change in my portfolio?”

 For more information on critques listen to [Episode 10: Critiques] (


 Information forthcoming.


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

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If you want to join in on this discussion log onto, there is a forum for this episode you can comment on.

Episode 09: How Much Will I Make In Illustration?

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Art by Tanner Garlick

How much will you make in illustration? [2:06]

This is a question every student has, and the frustrating part is that it is often not discussed openly, or is just glossed over in school. Which, honestly, is a bit crazy! Some reasons for this may be that those who are teaching are making too little and are embarrassed to share that, or it may be that they are making a lot of money and don’t want to share that, because they are afraid of coming across as bragging. In this episode, we hope to cut through the fog of uncertainty and shed some real light on what the market is like and how much you can expect to make in illustration, in different fields, and in different stages of your career.

Making a life in illustration [4:09]

When speaking of how much you make in illustration and of the various fields of illustration we are are ultimately talking about different lifestyles. A children’s book illustrator gets paid differently than a concept artist at an animation studio; the same can be said for a gallery painter or an editorial artist, etc. Each comes with its own unique type of payment system and accompanying lifestyle. There are many different career paths and combinations of career paths and it is wise to consider the environment and the financial situations that come with each.

Responsibility to talk about the business side too [6:44]

Schools are put into a tricky situation, because they need to recruit students and promise them a great career but the topic of money can be glossed over because the schools can’t guarantee jobs coming out of school. Will finds it necessary to have a talk with about finances with his students in each of his classes, and each time the students tell him: no one else has ever talked to us about this!

Comfortable to talk about how much you make [7:45]

Money is this weird thing that sometimes people hold so close to their chest. And sometimes people are super secretive about it. It can be frustrating

If you have artistic ability, the gamut of jobs available go from freelance out of your home to working full time at an animation studio and everything in between. Jake has taught at Brigham Young University (BYU), and feels as if the animation department there does a good job at helping students create connections with studios; they fly studios out to help conduct portfolio reviews and recruit. They try to get their students lined up with jobs and internships.

The hard thing about Illustration is that it doesn’t have a central source providing all illustration jobs, it’s everywhere! You school could fly and editor out to talk to talk about publishing work but they can’t offer 5 years of work like an animation studio can.

It can be a challenge to keep consistent work right out of school but there are things that you can do to prepare and gear yourself up to have consistent work; you can start trying to line up work, and start developing relationships to prepare.

It can be frustrating when you have no one to talk to about the financial side of illustration but it really only takes talking with a few people to start to get a pretty good idea of what it is like. Hopefully, this podcast will be a good start for you in answering your questions.

6 factors that affect your income as an illustrator [12:26]

It can be tricky to nail it all down, and don’t feel bad if you don’t fit into these categories. We are just going to ballpark some numbers and hopefully you can go from there!

We’ll divide it up into 2 different categories with 3 different sub categories.

Three different income bracket

Early pro

Mid level pro

Pro, seasoned veteran

Skill level

Exceptional skill

Average skill

Below average skill

It is important to know which you are talking about because if you use a seasoned pro like Chris Van Allsburg as a guide vs a student fresh out of school, you will get very different numbers.

People like Chris and David Wiesner have won multiple Caldecotts and are definitely anomalies.

You also need to distinguish your skill level with your career because there are students who are getting work in school and have an absolutely exceptional skill level, and these guys are super successful right out of the gate.

Chris Van Allsburg

David Wiesner

Dan Santat

We’ll try and focus a lot on average skill level, because people like those described above are outliers, and people with below average skill aren’t really going to be getting a lot of jobs.

What you can expect from book publishing [17:23]

Early pro $8,000-$10,000 for advances

Mid level pro $20,000- $24,000

Pro $28,000- and up

Educational publishers won’t be higher than $10,000

Small publishers offer less [19:27]

There are smaller publishers and they don’t offer as much. This means you should really think about whether or not it’s worth your time to work with them, consider these questions:

Questions to ask yourself before you accept work [20:13]

  1. Does it pay well? [20:28]

  2. Is it creative or challenging and taking you in the direction you want to go? [20:36]

  3. Will the final finished work provide extraordinary exposure? [20:48]

Lee considers these three questions when taking publishing offers. Ideally the project will fulfill all 3 questions but if it fulfilled two out of the three Lee would consider accepting the work.

Senior level in book publishing [22:16]

As you begin to build traction and notoriety the figures start to increase. Book illustration and publishing are a long term investment. You can build a long term career with passive income.

A published book doesn’t necessarily lead to royalties [23:33]

Most childrens books don’t earn out. Consider that most books go out of print. Royalties are great when they do come but, a general rule of thumb you could adopt is to just assume that you won’t get any and seek for the best advance possible.

Quick publishing advance explanation [25:11]

Publisher gives you advances on royalties. So you don’t get any money on royalties until the royalties due to you cross the amount of your advance. The advance is really there to protect the artist and create incentives.

Publishers can estimate how much a book might make in royalties and they give that money up front.

It takes a lot of time to make a children’s book and you can look at this as high income short term rates and long term investments you need to think about this as a business.

What you can expect to make within entertainment and concept art [27:00]

There are so many options, such as: storyboarding, background art, background painting, concept art, etc.

Entertainment industry [28:29]

Main Industries

  1. Animation

  2. Video Games

  3. TV

  4. Live Action

Feature animation, and feature live action pay more but TV might last longer like ten years. Video games can fluctuate but depending on the studio they can have pay rates similar to feature animation.

Feature anything is considering those with top tear skill sets and you can anticipate $70,000 starting off but also consider the cost of living in the area where feature animation is i.e. California. Cost of living in California is very high and your income may not be able to sustain a life there.

One of the reasons schools don’t talk about money [32:12]

You need to understand the life that you are choosing because there is a lifespan to each project that you have. Movies are made within 3-4 years and the studios have the option to keep or not keep you.

You should treat each job like it is freelance and think of your options. The are highs and lows in the industry.

Benefits of working in the entertainment industry [34:35]

In the entertainment industry there are great perks to think about like benefits, bonuses, and retirement. You can work around peers that help you and push you to level up your craft. The exposure of working in the industry also opens up other doors. Working in a company there is lateral movement like storyboarding or production assistance.

Day rate for feature animation concept art [35:42]

There are also opportunities to do freelance for animation, video games, TV, advertising, etc.

The day rate is set by the studio or you can negotiate for it.

For animation, the max is about $500/day.

Think about your social needs  [36:35]

Are you social? Do you need to, or do you prefer to work on a team with people or to work more solitary? This is a factor you should consider with different career paths, some are inherently more sociable and some are inherently more solitary.

Puppet Sanding to doing what you want to do [39:02]

Lee said there is this joke that when people started at Laika, they would have to “pay their dues” and started off just sanding puppets, because someone had to, and then, after paying their dues they would move onto doing more art and creative projects. Sometimes you will do something you didn’t anticipate, and you may have to spend some time “paying your dues.”

What you can expect to make at art fairs, Comic Cons, etc. [39:56]

The estimated rates in one Comic Con:

Early pro- $500-$1200

Mid pro $1200- $5000

Seasoned pro $6000-$30000

Will Terry Youtube, Comic Con

Will, Lee, and Jake say that they could make a living off of just comic cons and art fairs but it would be a lot of work, and stress, and isn’t the lifestyle they want.

By using different sources of income, you can create a sturdy “financial table”. Each leg is a different source of income that you have contributing to holding up the table of your finances; such as: art fairs, book publishing, freelance. If one leg “fall out” or is not producing income then you still have others to rely on. Whereas, if you only have one source of income, then if it falls, you will be in a lot more financial trouble. It’s great to have multiple legs to make sure your table is steady and strong.

Working in one area or multiple areas [45:03]

There are two types of artist.

One, the artist that has reached a pinnacle in his or her career and and focuses in on one thing

Or two,  an artist that has to piece together different forms of income but still can make a living.

Steps to take if you want to get into Comic Cons and Art fairs [50:47]

  • Go to Comic Cons or art fairs

  • Do research and development

  • Understand setup and prints

You can go and talk to people running successful booths and ask them a question or two but don’t sit there and take all of their time. Also, as a rule of etiquette: never get in the way of a sale. Be polite, and you and they will have a great experience talking.

The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines [52:40]

This book talks about how to quote but most artist don’t love the guidelines. This could be the starting book. Helps to have a ballpark of where the price range might be.

Find peers that you can go to chat about pricing.

Will’s YouTube on Pricing

What’s the best route for making a living as an illustrator? [58:31]

Have a day job that pays the bills first then you can transition into illustration. Think about the need in the industry and how applicable is your talent in the industry. Understand your target market, budget, and rights. Have a day job.

Make great art and also understand how things are sold.

Piper Thibodeau worked a corporate job and did art on the side before she was able to make the jump and be an artist full time.

Piper Thibodeau

What are some financial things freelancers forget to think about? [1:05:19]

Freelance artists need to understand that what you make is not what you get. Consider the amount amount your agent will take, taxes (30%), health insurance, investments, savings, etc.

Quicken Self Employed, is a great tool for freelancers!

Quick Overview: Dollar Cost Averaging [1:06:25]

If you make 1 dollar what happens to that one dollar? How much to you pay for your agent? Studio space? Taxes? Then you can start to calculate based off of how many costs eat into 1 dollar, how much you will need to make to be financially comfortable. 


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

If you like this episode, please share it, subscribe, and we’d love it if you left a review! These podcasts live and die on reviews.

If you want to join in on this discussion log onto, there is a forum for this episode you can comment on.