The last trick is the simplest, but it’s really the key to de-stressing your convention prep, and allowing you to take advantage of sudden opportunities.
5. Never unpack your con gear.
It’s just that simple. When you do your final test display at home, pack everything up (remember, reverse order, so that the last thing packed is the first thing on the table) and put it away somewhere safe, all together. If you’ve made a checklist, go through it and make sure everything is there. (This is where duplicate supplies come in handy-you won’t be pulling sharpies out of the con gear and then coming up short because you forgot to put it back.) After that, leave it alone unless you are adding new things.
Our setup lives in the studio closet, mostly in the front so it’s easy to get at. We can just walk in, gather it up and go. Everything we need for a con is stored there-stock, display, supplies. We keep our card reader in one of the bags, since we only need it at cons. We always know where everything is, and we can’t forget anything important this way.
When we create a new product, as soon as we finish, we pack it up, at least as much as we plan to bring to any con. After trial and error, we have a pretty good idea of how many books we need to fill the rack, etc. The rest of your stock can be stored separately, but make sure it’s accessible for refills when you return from an event.
When we come up with something new to sell, one of the first things we consider is how we will display and transport it. This is vitally important-I guarantee that if you leave that until con time, you will have at least one disaster. If you can’t come up with a good way to handle it, it’s best put on the back burner until you’ve solved the problem. Otherwise, you risk spending time and energy dealing with damaged stock, or disappointing sales because of ineffective displays.
The same thing goes for displays. After you create or purchase something new, test it out, make any changes and then pack it up and put it with your con gear. Don’t mess with it unless you need to make a change, and put it back right away. Nothing should be stored in anything that would damage it in the long term. I would suggest rolling instead of folding for anything that can crease, for example. For this reason I prefer fabric to vinyl for non-retractable banners, since it’s easier to iron out wrinkles.
After the event, if your teardown went smoothly, just leave everything packed up and put it back in its place. Replace stock if necessary, but otherwise, leave it alone. If you had trouble during teardown and things are out of order, make sure you repack as soon as possible.
If you do this, you are always ready for your next con. No last minute freaking out and rushing around. When we first tried this out several years ago it was a revelation. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves and we worried that something might be wrong. Instead, we had a perfectly smooth experience that cemented our conviction that this was the way to go. If we aren’t behind on any projects, the week before a con is usually time to relax, which puts us in a much better mindset going into an event.
Other tips in this vein:
I would also advise creating “go bags” with art supplies and general personal gear to make things even easier on yourself. I keep two art bags mostly ready to go-a compact field sketching kit and a larger messenger bag I take when I’m doing more ambitious work. The sketching kit is always ready to go. The messenger bag needs a few minutes of prep depending on what media I plan to use, but I keep a pencil bag with all my absolutely necessary supplies ready to throw in so I don’t get caught without a pencil, for example. (See James Gurney’s blog for advice about field kits.)
If you are packing food, know what you are bringing and plan what you are going to carry it in. Consider storing coolers with your convention supplies for ease in packing. Ditto for general luggage. Designate your traveling bags and keep them somewhere easily accessible. If you have travel size toiletries, etc. just leave them in the bags, if possible. The less you have to remember to pack, the better.
The moral of the story is work smarter, not harder.
This was pounded into my head by a printing teacher, because avoidance of wasted time and supplies is paramount in that field, but it applies everywhere. Make the time to stop and think about what you’re doing before you get started. Spend most of your prep time planning and you will see the benefits in saved time and energy.
I cannot stress enough the value of being organized in your art business. Even if you are normally disorganized (I’m sure my mother is wondering who this pod person is), it’s worth the effort to discipline yourself in this one area. All platitudes aside, there are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy a person can expend without burning out. Every hour you spend trying to fix an problem caused by poor planning or disorganization is an hour that doesn’t get spent creating or even doing productive business work.
Reduce the amount of decision-making you need to do for things that are not making sales or creating art. Save the mental capacity for the important stuff and you will be able to handle situations that come up more effectively. When you are interacting with your audience or creating, you will get better results if you cut down on any unnecessary physical and mental clutter. It’s much easier to deal with difficult customers if you’re not already stressed out from trying to find a replacement for the markers you left behind.
If you’re not wasting time trying to remember where you put something, or how to deal with your collapsed display, you have that much more to put into your art. If you plan and prepare effectively, you will be better composed when dealing with customers and have a more productive experience.