Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nakakon 2014: Unification: Review For Artists

Naka was one of the BEST convention experiences I’ve ever had. It was also my first time as an adult in the Kansas City area. On the first day, we ate lunch at a place called Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ and I’ve officially decided there needs to be one of the restaurants in every city. Moving on, the review.

This was my first year attending Nakakon and it was their 10th birthday. I had always been told it was a great convention to go to all around, with fantastic guests and artists and very well organized. They select artists from a jury pool so as long as you submit by the deadline, you have a shot. I have no idea what they judge by, aside from the merit and variety of artwork. No preference to locals, hating on  crafters or anything of that sort. Located in the beautiful Overland Park City of Kansas (west KC, MO), it was pretty close and right off Interstate 70. Easy travelling for anyone on either end of the country.

The Overland Park Convention Center is a spacious, modern building with plenty of parking. It’s located right off the highway in a relatively easy to navigate area. Plenty of hotels nearby including Drury, Holiday Inn, Marriot, and others. This might have something to do with the fact that there was also a hospital up the street.

So like any convention center, OPCC had ginormous rooms for panels and exhibitors. Escalators and elevators, big glass windows, a thousand sets of doors, and a big loading bay. It was nice that the loading bay had open docks and parking spots so trucks and vans weren’t just lined up trying to unload. Venue staff were also very polite and helpful. Inside the area with vendors was also a food vendor and restrooms. Outside the vendor’s room, hot food was catered most of the day and ohmigosh it looked good. Oh, here’s a biggie. It was clean. Custodial staff checked on the restrooms regularly and every hours or so, someone would walk by to sweep up any bits and pieces on the floor, trash cans were never overflowing. This place was top notch.

Artist/Dealer Space
Artists and dealers were in a locked room (with our own set of restrooms and concessions!) The loading dock led directly into the vendor area. It was setup pretty nicely, with vendors in the front half and around the walls. Artists were in a block in the back half of the room. I think there were 3 aisles. Artists received a 6x6 space and a bare 5x2 table. I gotta admit, the 5’ table was a pretty tight fit. If I had known the table size ahead of time, I would’ve brought my own to organize my booth. Oh well. At least I had a tablecloth.

Even though artists were in the back half, there was no traffic issue. The aisles were big and artists could setup a back display because none of us were back to back. I liked that because I could hang prints behind me to get more exposure, but it was also a little awkward for anyone walking behind me to be able to see my boxes and mess ^_^ I guess it’d also be important to mention the artist sections were roped off by short rods and drapes so there weren’t just people milling behind your table. We had a divided space.

From what I could see, most vendors were divided by blue tape on the ground. It started to get confusing with some of the vendors not against the wall. They had shelves everywhere and it wasn’t clear where the aisle was and where the booth was. I don’t actually know why I’m mentioning this but someone might want to know.

Every night the doors were locked and I believe they had some security keeping an eyeball on all the merch. From what I heard through the grapevine, Naka had a small issue with theft last year and they made quick work to prevent a second incident.

In the center of the artist alley, Nakakon also set aside a fairly large space with couches, pillows and tables. I assume they were just a place for people to chill although it looked like there was some furious scribbling going on all weekend at one of the tables.

Variety & Shopping
Naka definitely had a big vendors area. A ton of great artists and dealers. Normally at a similar sized con, you still get a handful or new artists and first timers. This was definitely not the case. Every artists here knew what they were doing, with great displays and plenty of experience doing the AA thing. It was actually nice to see an entire alley of people that had their shit together. Is that a fair thing to say?

I didn’t get much chance to meander the room since I was alone again and barely got a break to even eat a snack. From what I could see, there was a great mix of print and craft artists. The different styles of prints were astounding. There was everything from anime, semi-realism, to macabre/fantasy. Crafts were also pretty prominent. I and one other artist I saw sold polymer clay jewelry, although we both worked in very different ways. She painted her clay pieces (and did a damn good job). I didn’t see many plushies but there were plenty of buttons, nerdy things like dice bags, trinkets, bead sprites, amigurumi. Wish I had the chance to walk around more but that didn’t happen. Here’s why:

I have never experience sales like this. Even at Anime St. Louis where my husband and I are both trying to answer questions and do transactions at the same time, we still had small breaks here or there. This weekend was nonstop. Nakakon is definitely a convention no artist should attempt alone. I don’t believe there was ever a moment that I didn’t have a crowd around my table. It was the same at almost every table. There were so many people actually buying things that I watch a line form of people trying to pay. The awesome part is that everyone was buying, not just looking or talking.

I was handing four transactions at once for most of the weekend because people were ready to move on to buy things at the next table. Talk about exhausting (but sooo fantastic). Every once in a while I’d see someone who would stand behind the crowd, waiting to come take a look, and give up and move on. Quite a few people came back later in the day when it was less crowded (forming a new crowd) to take a look. I had a lot of people who knew what print they wanted from my display, and just flat out waited anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour to get it. I’m not complaining about sales, I’m just saying those poor souls were pretty dang patient.

Clearly you understand that sales were great by now so let’s talk content. Everything Studio Ghibli
I had was gone by Saturday morning. Jewelry, bookmarks, buttons, everything. Other trending fandoms received similar sales but Ghibli stuff was consumed en mass. By Saturday evening, I was pretty bare and a few other artists were down to their last bit of merchandise. I sold very little food jewelry but anything game related was wiped clean. Prints were a good mix of fan art and original art, so I was really happy about that.

Naka also let “con supporters” into the vendors room about 30 minutes before everyone else and if you want to shop, this is definitely something to get. Many artists were sold out of X or Y by Saturday that if you didn’t pick it up early, it was gone. I had quite a few people say they’d come back later and by later, everything they wanted was gone. No one took it too personally, that was nice.
Aside from a couple oddballs, Naka had a really good crowd. No major problems with attitudes and everyone was friendly. If they didn’t have a question, it was because they were already throwing money at you. :D I did have a photography issue where some people would come and take a dozen photos of everything at my table. You get this at every show though, so it’s not so weird. It just irks me when they go as far as to move your displays to take the photos. Oh yes, I had a girl MOVE MY DISPLAYS out of her way so she could lean in and take a bunch of pictures of my bookmarks. When I asked her to please stop, she snapped one last picture and rushed off.

By the way, awesome cosplays. Bigger cons tend to attract some seriously amazing cosplayers and I fell in love with quite a few. Man I had my camera and everything but I didn’t even get a snap of my table because sales rolled from open to close without pause.

A show that's been running strong for 10 years requires some serious organization and Nakakon's got it. There were easily identified staff everywhere. All were courteous and professional and made for smooth sailing. I had no problems that needed addressing or any run-ins that required staff mediation. My overall experience was fantastic, especially due to the great work behind the scenes from diligent staff.

Nice touch that I really enjoyed: artists got a small goodie bag during check in. I've only had one other convention do that and sadly, they've quit the practice. In the Nakakon goodies, we got an assortment of much needed candy, a pen, and a Nakakon anniversary patch :) I'm a patchaholic so that was quite a bonus for me.

At the end of the weekend, vendors and artists received a survey to fill out about our likes and dislikes. That shows desire to make the next year better and a willingness to remedy problems.

My final verdict: a fantastic show. The application process is juried and they clearly pick and choose artists very particularly. They want artists with good portfolios and probably some experience. They also sort by variety very well so there's a good range of items on the AA.

I'd say apply if this show is in your radar. There's always a chance to not get accepted; I'm sure they get a floor of apps every year. Do it anyway. This is a show worth the wait.


  1. Other Polymer Clay artist? You're talking about meeeee! :D
    Did we get the chance to talk at all that weekend? I absolutely cannot remember.

    I just wanted to mention that my pieces are primarily just the colored clay (like yours), and only some fine details are painted~ >u<
    I used to 100% paint everything after molding them, but it just got too exhausting, and the brand of paint I use isn't cheap enough to keep doing that. ._.;;

    1. No, I didn't get a chance to talk to you. Whenever I got a chance to get up I always had to make it quick :/ but I didn't know you didn't paint! Your colors were so smooth that's what it looked like from a distance ^_^ Hope to get a chance to chat at another show. I rarely get to meet other clay artists!

  2. We're definitely few and far between! More and more artists that used to do clay are tackling resin, and I'm just hesitant since that's an infinitely more sensitive medium than clay.

    You should apply for Anime NebrasKon sometime! That's my home-con, and their attendance is comparable(maybe 500-1000 people less) to Naka. They had their applications in February this year, so they're not accepting any more for 2014, but that definitely gives you more time to plan for 2015 if you don't already have an end of October/early November event you go to! The vendor hall is quite a bit claustrophobic compared to Naka, too, but it'd be nice to have another clay artist in attendance since the other one I know locally has decided to quit Artist Alleys for a bit. :U

    1. Nebraskon's definitely been on my radar but it's quite the drive for me so I'm looking for a travel buddy still -_- but if I make it one of these years I'll definitely come HUNT YOU DOWN... er, find you and say hi. :)

    2. I hope you can find a travel buddy! It's almost literally 4 hours north of Naka-Kon, but I know that can be quite a jaunt for some. (I'm travelling 6.5 hours North to Anime Detour this weekend. ._.)

      I'm also hoping that the convention changes venues in the near future. I know they're contracted with the current one at least through 2015, which can put a damper on things since they had close to 4500 attendees, and the vendor hall -- let alone the convention hallways -- was cramped. (Vendors and Artists are in the same room, and it's about 1/3 of the size of Naka's vendor hall, which barely makes it 2-person wide pathways.)
      If you want, I can message you on dA to swap facebook info and I can definitely let you know a prime time to put NebrasKon in your application list!