Both of these wonderful ladies encouraged me with kind words, but there is still one more person I’ve yet to mention whose impact was significant.
I had never heard of Robert Kraus, a.k.a. RAK-Graphics… as Megacon was my first foray into the Comic-book jungle, and I daresay when we first met during Thursday night’s set-up, it was not unlike Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s first encounter at the Meryton Assembly Room.
Let us just say that I was less than impressed by his manners.
Upon arriving at my booth, arms loaded with boxes, I greeted him with something along the lines of “Hi, I’m your neighbor.” …..before proceeding to duct-tape my booth together.
I’m sure he smelled my noob-ness from a parsec away. =P
I had studied photos of exhibitor booths online, and had decided to hang my artwork from the metal framework using shower-rod hooks. However, during the actual set-up, I discovered that my hooks weren’t large enough to clamp over the unstable metal frame of our adjoining booths. Seriously, these booths were so wobbly, they would sway like suspension bridges whenever we sneezed.
But Robert had his artwork neatly hanging from similar hooks.
Hooks which seemed tailor-made for the booth.
So I inquired where he purchased his hooks….
And his reply rivaled Mr. Darcy’s attitude at Meryton:
“I do a lot of shows.”
“Um. Okay. But… where did you get your hooks?”
“When you’ve done as many shows as I have, you pick them up.”
He really didn’t want to tell me where those blasted hooks came from! =P
Or, maybe, he was being serious.
He literally picked them up at every show.
With persistence, I finally got him to admit his secret. He did, indeed, collect them from empty booths after each show.
They were the same hooks which the event coordinators had used to hang the booth signage… which I had promptly taken down because my banner was prettier than the default block letters on white.
Having only experienced the Farmer’s Market, where vendors are expected to sweep and tidy their areas before leaving, I was completely unprepared for whirlwind chaos left behind after Megacon exhibitors exit the building.
Overflowing trashcans, puddles of spilled coffee on the tables (I’m serious!), leftover food, cardboard, and debris everywhere, and many vendors’ signs lying on the floor with hooks still attached.
I scavenged around and collected a fistful of hooks for future use.
That was the first of many useful tips that RAK gave to me over the course of three days.
That is, once my uncle broke the ice and mended my wounded ego….
On my first day, I confided to Sarah that RAK seemed like a jerk, so we avoided talking to him at all.
I will regret that missed opportunity.
I did take notice how well his $1.00 ACEO trading cards were selling, and vowed to bring a bunch of mine next year…. as my cheapest product on the table was $3.00.
On Saturday, Carrie Hawks stopped by my booth before the show started, and greeting RAK warmly. Much to my surprise.
She proceeded to tell me that RAK was HER neighbor at her very first Megacon, and that he was full of helpful advice. She basically encouraged me to pick his brain while I had the chance…
And I was thinking to myself, “Yeah, Mr. I-Do-A-Lot-Of-Shows” doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming.
However, I did see fate at work in this situation: this being my first show, and RAK was my neighbor…
perhaps he was a good luck charm of sorts, and my placement beside him would increase my odds of future success.
Ignoring the duct-tape and yarn, he did point out that, unlike many new artists, I had enough common sense NOT to hang framed art (with glass) from the rickety metal booth frame…. apparently booth walls do topple over occasionally! (I didn’t confess that my tent blew away at last summer’s Farmer’s Market! heehee)
Of course, having a chatty man assisting me on Saturday, might have helped to warm his gears.
Robert likes to talk shop ~ he reminded me of a used-car salesman, and I don’t think he would mind me saying so, as he described himself as “a hustler”. LOL
From his pulpit, he preached to us about “multiple streams of revenue”… a catch-phrase that I had heard bandied around in online business forums, but hadn’t put seriously into practice.
He encouraged me to reconsider my break from eBay.
I hadn’t made much money from selling artwork there years ago; I felt like I was giving art away for free to customers looking for a deep discount… but Robert encouraged me to see it as a form of advertising.
“Put something up there that doesn’t cost too much. Don’t sell it for less than it costs to make, but keep the price down. My $.99 ACEOs do really well on eBay.”
“You get 50 FREE listings per month,” he continued zealously. “That is 50 items that will be in Google’s search, and in the Product search where people shop.”
eBay gets a ton of traffic.
Google loves eBay.
He suggested that I peddle my artwork to antique malls
The classical vibe of my Regency cat portraits will complement the vintage picture frames and antique furniture, he mused. My artwork might be a impulse buy for a customer looking to redecorate their living room in a 19th century flavour.
And the one piece of encouragement that Robert gave to me basically summarized the feeling I’d received from all the wonderful artists at Megacon: Don’t give up.
He believed that I had a good product
“It is unique and eye-catching, and people love cats”, he said.
He doesn’t care for cats. But apparently he is good luck for cat artists!
He went on to quote some numbers…. it’s estimated that 50% of new businesses (including artists) fail. They get discouraged.
They do one or two shows, and lose money, and stop doing shows altogether.
They try something once, and it doesn’t work, and they quit. (Like me and eBay).
“If you don’t make your booth fee back, don’t write off this show. You exposed your artwork to thousands of people. Think of it like renting a billboard.” ~ RAK
Fortunately, I did make my money back and then some.
It was true that I had been discouraged; I was the newbie in the room, and the other artists had been working professionally for years, and were technically more proficient than me. It was daunting to think how far I have to go.
But according to Robert, I’m already ahead of the 50% who gave up years ago.
The message I was receiving loud and clear from Jasmine Becket-Griffith, and Carrie Hawks, and finally from my neighbor RAK-Graphics, is that I will eventually be successful like them.
I just have to keep working at my art, and take failures in stride, learn from my mistakes, learn from others, and put myself out there. Be everywhere.
If these established artists can see my potential, and have such faith in me, how can I continue doubting myself?
Still, I found myself worrying whether or not I could convince my husband that this trip was worth all the effort and money that we spent preparing for it. He was hoping that I would return stinking rich and able to put a down-payment on the house of our dreams.
Would he still support me unequivicably if I came home merely breaking even?
As if he had eerily read my mind, I received a text-message from Joe which said,
“I’ve always believed in you, but I know what it means to hear it from your peers.”
And immediately I felt guilty, because in all this excitement and stress, I’d forgotten how much faith he had in me.
He allowed me to spend gobs of money on supplies, purchase a rental car, leave town ON HIS BIRTHDAY, and drive 15 hours to Florida… leaving him at home for an entire week with the children.
While I frolicked in the 70-degree sun, it threatened to snow in Maryland.
I had spent years of my life with men who were possessive, distrustful, and oppressive, seeking to cage my free spirit.
It was humbling to acknowledge I could take for granted a man willing to throw open the door, and say “Go follow your dreams and be happy.”
But I couldn’t find the right words to articulate my thoughts, so instead I wrote:
“Yes, it’s great to hear praise and encouragement from successful folks who have ‘been there’. But without your support, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. So YOU are my most important fan! Okay, did that sound like an acceptance speech?! LOL”
One day, honey, I will get there.
And if I’m lucky enough, you will be right there beside me.
But on Saturday afternoon, Carrie casually mentioned catching up with Jasmine Becket-Griffith… and I knew it was hopeless.
My inner geek just went weak at the knees, and I found myself rushing over to Jasmine’s booth early on Sunday morning before the show opened.
I was crossing my paws that she would be willing to have her picture taken with me.
(I always envied the artists who uploaded Facebook albums of Megacon, and EVERYONE posed for photos with Jasmine)
Because, ya know, Patrick-Freaking-Stewart was also there, and I didn’t bother to leave my booth to get an autograph or my photo taken with Jean-Luc Picard. =P
But if Carrie Hawks is the Queen of Fantasy Cat Art, Jasmine is the Goddess of practically everything else Fantasy/Goth/Fairy/Mermaid related in the known universe.
Like Carrie, I had “friended” Jasmine years ago on Facebook… at my request.
She accepted friend-requests from all of her fans, until Facebook told her that she had too many friends. (5,000 is the limit of personal friends, I guess, LOL!)
So she started a Fan Page for her other 302,695 friends (at the time of this posting). She gains nearly a thousand new fans each day.
Jasmine is a household name for us ~ we don’t even use her full name.
Like Madonna, Beyonce, and Cher… it’s just Jasmine.
It always catches me by surprise when I run across people who don’t know who she is. LOL
We’ve been watching her sales on Ebay for a few years (her ID is Strangeling), awestruck that her paintings create bidding wars within an hour after being posted. After only 24 hours, her artwork is already worth hundreds of dollars…. and the auction finally closes with the winner paying $4,000-$5,000.
She paints in marathon sessions every single day, finishing a new piece every 2-3 days. She’ll post the link when she’s finished, and within 10 minutes, you can sit back and watch the bidding battle.
Grab a bowl of popcorn, and hit Refresh often…
For me, the fascination is akin to watching a train wreck, except this sparkley purple engine smashes into a giant puffed marshmellow, and all the unscathed passengers climb out of their windows, up onto the sugary mound, and start bouncing about like crazed kids on a trampoline.
It’s one of those “Holy crap, is this for real? Am I really seeing this?” moments.
Of course, she didn’t exit the starting gate at 90 mph. She began selling her art as a teenager in the late 1990′s, when eBay was in its infancy, and her work was different enough to stand out in the online flea market.
She was selling her paintings for $40-$50 at auction back then, not $4,500. Though she was already dedicated, painting two or three of them per day!
Jasmine claims her success was due almost entirely to her obsessive drive and work ethic. When a friend posted a blog comment on Jasmine’s success, here was her reply:
“lol, i wouldn’t say that i’m doing amazingly well by any means. i’m doing better than i expected, but again i do work often 18 hours a day promoting my site, submitting stuff to search engines, begging folks to link my site, making prints, answering email, mailing stuff, and of course (last, but not least) painting.
i’m probably barely pushing minimum wage if i looked at it hourly.
i really think that if ANYBODY, certainly someone with… ambition and talent… were to honestly put that much time into it they would do at least as well as i do.
i [am] lucky in that i was in a position to “quit my day job” and have the opportunity to spend that much time on my art career. if i wasn’t with someone (matt) who has a relatively steady income to cover the rent in case i totally flopped, i probably wouldn’t have been able to do [anything] with my artwork.
i really live kind of a lonely life right now, really unless i’m at the post office mailing stuff i am no more than 15 feet away from my computer/art area, and i am constantly at work.
i really don’t think that it is an admirable lifestyle, it’s way too introverting and self-absorbing and it’s turned me into a completely asocial agoraphobic.
i suppose it all matters where your priorities lie.”
Flash-forward 10 years, her husband Matt now works full-time for his wife, as do many of her relatives.
Jasmine’s level of success has always served as my “glass ceiling”…. a constant reminder of what extreme dedication can achieve. I accept that I will never become as famous as she is, because as she wisely said, my priorities lie with my family, and spending time away from my art.
Of course, I knew that she wouldn’t recognize me personally. Not one person in five thousand friends, even if I wore a mask of Mr. Darcy Cat over my face. I wasn’t an active poster on her Facebook wall or blog.
So I crept up to her table, where she was already seated ~ patiently waiting for the doors to open and the crowds to crush themselves, pressing into her double booth.
I introduced myself with, “I just wanted to say ‘Hi’. My name is Tara, and I have a booth over there selling cat art.”
And, of course, the butterflies were threatening to burst from my stomach like alien parasites.
Jasmine looked up at me, smiling, and replied,
“Oh, Tara Fly? [Matt and I] saw your booth yesterday when we were walking around. Your artwork is very nice.”
And I was nearly struck dumb that she remembered my full name, but did mumble something about the duct-tape…
And she laughed, and said, “You should have seen my first booth.”
Then she started telling me about her various shows ~ everything from threats by the fire-marshall over crowd control, to the difficulties of getting a hotel in Atlanta, GA in the months leading up to DragonCon. “Book your hotel a year in advance, or you’ll never find a room!” And how FaerieCon in Baltimore, MD is so strict, they complain about her mermaids because they aren’t fairies.
And interspersed with these tales of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, she gave me tidbits of advice for applying to shows. She spoke to me for nearly 20 minutes, one artist to another, as if she acknowledged me as an equal… or a future equal. Just give me a few years to collect 300,000 fans, m’kay?
When Carrie came over to collect an autographed copy of Jasmine’s new art book, I stood in line to purchase one.
But Jasmine said, “Oh, I’ll give you one, too!”
And she addressed a book to me, and placed it into my hands.
Her husband chided, “Alright, that’s the last free one. We need to sell some of them.” LOL!
I returned to my booth with 5 minutes to spare (before the doors opened), and texted my husband, nearly squealing through my fingers as I typed:
“I met Jasmine!”
He replied: “You sound star-struck”.
Yes, I was.