Thursday, October 23, 2014

Crystal Fair St. Louis: Review for Artists




Replaced all my displays with pony stuff. Looks weird.
Whew, I’m topped out on ponies for the rest of the year. Just got home from Crystal Fair in St. Louis, my first My Little Pony event. So I heard about this even about a month in advance from an artist friend, and applied fairly last minute. The application and payment was quick and painless, and communication from the staff were prompt. So let me say this, I did not realize this was a dedicated pony event until two weeks before the con. It hit me like a sack of dominoes. The two weeks between Archon and Crystal Fair were pretty much me frantically working on pony things until my brain shut down.

This was their second year and last year was pretty good, according to artists who’d attended before. I won’t say I walked into this convention with high hopes, but it was certainly going to be a new and fun experience for me. 

If you know me, I’m not a big pony fan. I mean I think they’re cute and very creative. If you read about my adventures at Anime Zap earlier this year, you might recall my being snowed in at the hotel with the lovely Alexis Hejna of Honeysuckle Rose Creations and being brainwashed with episodes and facts about MLP.
So a pony convention. Yeah.

Application and Pre Show

As I mentioned before, I applied just weeks before the show. I emailed them my app and paid over paypal. $75 for a 6’ table. Not bad. Artists who applied earlier said they were asked to send in a check.
So I’m not going to lie, after it dawned on me that this was a pony con, I wanted to back out. Like really bad. Their FB page was still seeking artists pretty much right up to the week before, and that made me nervous. Most conventions don’t have to hunt for artists that close to the actual event unless they’re having a hard time accruing them, which is bad news.

Well I figured it was still worth the shot and held my breath. I’d already paid and I didn’t want to be that jerk that paid and backed out all in the same month right before the con.

Location

Crystal Fair was held at the super ritzy Sheraton Westport Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. Wonderful hotel staff that went above and beyond to help us load in and set up. This is the kind of hotel people want to get married in… literally. We shared the hotel with an unhappy wedding party and this is a very important factor in how the weekend played out, in my opinion (and pretty much everyone else’s).

Anyway, the actual hotel entrance is around the back of the entire Westport complex, which consists of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, office buildings, and luxury accommodations. There’s also a McDonald’s in the parking lot. There was a parking garage as well as outdoor lot that was more than enough so parking was not an issue.

The inside of the hotel was gorgeous. Beautiful chairs, clean marble floors, weird hotel lobby sculptures.
This was a great location because it was easy access on and off the highway, with plenty of food options within walking distance.

Saturday night a few of us went up to Kobe Grill for hibachi and it was the greatest dining experience of my life. For real. I highly recommend to anyone that doesn’t mind dropping the money for exceptional food, chefs, and atmosphere.

Vendor Space

The artist/vendor room got changed at the last minute. We were supposed to be right smack up where all the panels and events were, but the wedding party booked parts of the hotel and somehow we all got booted down the hall with the room sliced in half because the other side was being used for the wedding ceremony. Talk about tight quarters. I had to request to move because I was afraid my backdrop would block too much of another artist’s table.

A few artists were in the hallway up by registration. I think this caused a lot of confusion because people seemed to not realize there was a whole other room with vendors down the hall. However, staff were quick to put up big signs and even direct people our way the best they could.

So the room locked up each night, which was nice. Vendors and artists were all mixed in the room, but it was fine. None of the vendors were the ones with giant displays and gridwalls, taking up several booths. Everyone had a table and it was pretty difficult to tell one from the other sometimes.

Variety

How do you have variety when everyone is selling MLP merch? That’s what I thought before I arrived. Granted, everyone was selling pony stuff, but it was all so different. Print artists all had their own unique styles, there were plushies, hats, bead sprites, and candles. Even Build A Bear was there with all their official MLP plushes. 

Only three or four artists, including myself, had non pony stuff mixed in at our tables. Talk about pony overload! Unfortunately, I didn't manage to grab cards or photos of everyone but here are a few of the artists that were right across from me :)



 Sales

As blunt as possible: sales sucked. And it was all around. Returning artists said they didn’t come close to last year, and everyone was just happy to break even by the end of the weekend. 

But I don’t want this to be a red flag for anyone interested in the convention. Crystal Fair did everything right, and I honestly believe everything would’ve been amazing if not for the wedding. So how does one wedding affect an entire convention?

The bride had a little meltdown that she was sharing the hotel for her special day with a bunch of kids dressed as ponies. Everything from having the convention move rooms so they could have their ceremony and reception in specific places, to wanting to take pictures in the lobby. At one point on Saturday, con staff came around to explain (and apologize) that things might die down for a while because the wedding party wanted clear halls for their photos. Seriously. So foot traffic got restricted and the room was essentially dead.
Also as I mentioned before, the vendors room was waaay down the hall where there were no panels, events, or even convention related decorations. Unfortunate.

Weekend breakdown for sales: it was just dead all weekend. You could walk away from your table for an hour and not miss a thing. I think I spent a lot of time chatting with other artists and just milling about. Honestly, it was like that point where everyone’s in the same boat not making money, so everyone just gets really social. I would say there were never more than 5-10 people in the room shopping at a time.
Some of it might also have to do with the fact that a lot of the attendees were young children with their parents, so not exactly people with a ton of pocket money. Also, Build A Bear was a big money sink for a lot of people. $25 for a big pony plush? Hell yeah, I’d spend it too. I do believe that BAB was hard to compete with, especially for the plush and hat makers. Ugh, I wanted a Spike so bad.

Note: I barely sold or traded and pony stuff. In fact, I sold almost entirely Pokemon and Studio Ghibli jewelry and original art prints. Weird. 

Staff

The CF staff are amazing people. All of them. Quick to reply to emails, they’re very active on their FB page. Polite, helpful, flexible at the convention whenever something needed attention. The poor crew was so exhausted trying to work out problems the wedding had caused, and do their best to direct traffic to vendors and keep things running smooth. They did everything convention staff should do and more.
I’d like to also point out that the volunteers were also amazing and very helpful. 

Final Verdict

Despite being the worst sales I’ve had since doing conventions, this was an incredibly fun event. I do believe that everyone broke even by the end of the weekend. And you know what? THE STAFF GAVE A DAMN. They came by and checked on us individually, asked for feedback, and even apologized for the little disasters that happened out of their control.

I had a BLAST meeting and chatting with everyone, doing art trades, and just hanging out.

There’s just something about artists that attend anime-eque cons that always seem to be more… cheerful. I’ve attended so many shows that are scifi, fantasy, or just more classic adult nerd oriented where I made good money but it just felt like crap all weekend. It’s like the people at those events are so jaded and “professional” that they’ve forgotten how to have fun.

Not Crystal Fair. Even the introverted artists were fantastic conversation and everyone was relaxed. By Sunday we had all resigned to, “Eh, I broke even. So other stuff blah blah blah.” I’ve only been to a handful of conventions that had such a great atmosphere and by the end of the weekend, I was in a fantastic mood coming home with my little bit of cash.

The convention was well run and with great staff, I think they just hit a patch of bad luck this year. I heard nothing but great things about last year and I believe they will have nothing but success in their coming years.
For pony fans and artists, please do attend. I highly recommend it, especially with such great staff. I want this convention to grow into something big and amazing. I, however, am not sure if I’ll be going back. Simply because I don’t know if I can gear my portfolio to sell that much pony stuff. XD It was really difficult for me to get enough pony stuff organized together and change out all my displays. Nevertheless, GO! Crystal Fair is a fantastic event and it’s guaranteed fun.

Con booty: the sole judge of how much fun I had. Candles, bead sprites, pocket watch, and a game mat. Yeah. All good stuff!


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