Hoo boy, here’s a subject with some weight to it. Selling original (for the purposes of this post we’ll be using “original” to mean non-fanart) prints in an Artist’s Alley is hard. I mean, for one, a majority of the people who come to buy at the AA come specifically looking for fanart! Their eyes are scanning your work for specific characters, and anything without that character will get passed over. Even when you do much better work on a print of your OC, whatever fanart you have on-hand will often attract at least as much attention. What the heck is going on!?
Selling original prints in an Artist’s Alley is hard - but not as hard as it seems. In fact, it’s exactly like selling fanart! There are just steps involved in selling fanart that people don’t generally realise are happening, and as such don’t know to take into account when making original art. The trick to selling original art is to make something that the viewer can form a connection with. Artists often don’t realise that this is a factor because it comes pre-packaged with fanart. The viewer already has an established emotional connection to the subject of the picture, which translates into desire for the print.
You could easily have an otherwise identical picture featuring your original character that didn’t sell at all because the viewer didn’t connect with it.
This issue can, of course, be mitigated by using interesting poses, composition, or style - but “be a better artist” is not really a helpful solution to the problem. I think it’s a safe assumption that we’re all doing our best and striving to improve already. The helpful solution is to use subject matter that a viewer can reasonably be expected to have a connection with. Use subjects that already exist within the public consciousness - vampires, dragons, pirates, ninjas; Ask yourself “What do people like?”. If your illustration is of something the viewer already knows about and enjoys, they’ll connect with it. If it’s just a picture of your OC, they have nothing to work with. Sure, a few people will probably be reminded of something and relate to it a bit but to most viewers it’ll just be some dude. That said, you don’t have to use a nonspecific character or invent a new character for the image. To a viewer who isn’t familiar with your OC, there is no difference between your OC and a random character in the picture. So if you like drawing your OC, do so! Hell, if you do use your OCs people might notice that they’re in a couple of different pictures and ask you about them! Just make sure there is more to the image than “a picture of [your] OC”.
Another good tactic to having people make a connection with your work is humour. (This is one that I take advantage of quite a bit. Of my four top-selling prints, three are original. Of those, two are humorous. The non-original print is humorous as well.) People like things that make them laugh, and if they stop to laugh at your print they’ll be spending more time at your table and may see something else they like!
Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t successful with original art on your first try. It can take a couple of tries to get a feel for what your customers are interested in, but these tips should help you on your way. If you’re worried about not doing well, just do one or two original prints at first and only bring a couple of copies to the con. When a customer buys one of your original prints, ask them what they like about it! Keep their answer in mind next time you’re planning to work on an original piece.
Have questions or comments? Disagree completely with this advice? Stop by our ask box! We’d love to hear other points of view and advice on the subject of selling original art.