Convention Report: Wizard World Fan Fest

I want to be able to report that we headed into Wizard World Fan Fest like gangbusters and came out swaddled in a warm Snuggie made out of cash.  Alas, that is not the case.

The weekend started off great.  Stephan and I headed into the city Friday morning to set up.  We were hyped up on caffeine and sugar (and no sleep on my part).  Set up was super easy.  We got there before most of the other artists and got to drive right into the show floor.  Between the two of us we got everything ready in a couple of hours and we headed back home in good spirits.  It was pretty much all down hill from there.

Viking Dad hard at work
The Viking Dad hard at work at Fan Fest. He had a few on site commissions Saturday.

When deciding on shows to vend at, you look at a lot of factors: attendance, timing, who is running the show, cost.  With Fan Fest, I knew I was going into a brand new show—it was originally supposed to be the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest, but Bruce Campbell had to pull out—but I figured that Wizard World wouldn’t have gone ahead with the show if they didn’t think people were going to come.  And with it being in Rosemont, it meant we wouldn’t have to travel, pay for a hotel, etc.  With all that in mind (and after looking up the average attendance for other Wizard World shows) I went into the weekend with what I figured was a respectable expected sales figure in mind.

We didn’t even make a tenth of that.  In fact we lost money on this show.  It’s been years since I’ve lost money on an event.  I’ve broken even, or made less than I was expecting in gross sales.  But to lose money?  On a local show?  The attendance just wasn’t there.  I was assured by both our booth neighbors that the Wizard World Comic Con in August sees ten times as many attendees, and has four times as many vendors.  But I also heard that Wizard world has expanded their events so much over the last couple of years that vendors are feeling the effects and sales are down.

Rich Kunz
One of our booth neighbors, Rich Kunz, from www.diligentvisual.com, was upbeat and helpful all weekend long.
Brian E. Baity
Brian E. Baity, of The Creation Crib, our other booth neighbor had very positive energy.

None of that is really helpful knowledge now.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.  I spent so much of my energy trying to remain positive leading up to Fan Fest that I don’t have much energy to combat the disappointment.  I am back to questioning the feasibility of my plan.  Jerk Brain keeps telling me that if I were smarter I would have anticipated this; if I weren’t lazy I would have researched more.

In struggling to find some sort of silver lining, I look to the time Stephan and I spent in the booth.  We had a good time with each other.  And when things started to get really bleak on Sunday, he made me a necklace in hopes of cheering me up.  Our booth neighbors were awesome and had lots of encouragement for us.  I saw some very cool and clever cosplay.  And I did have really cute convention hair on Saturday.

Also on the plus side, we won’t have to make up as much inventory for the next show in a couple of months.  Well, I won’t.  So far nearly every piece of chainmail jewelry Stephan has made has been bought.  So he might have to slave over some cold aluminum links for the next few weeks.

Cute Convention Hair
The best part of the convention was spending time with Stephan. Second best was my hair on Saturday.

The Making of Things

By bringing positive intention to the making of things and creating to soothe our own as well as others’ emotions, we can discover what it’s like to create for the greater good.  By making intentionally ugly things, we question conformity to media beauty standards, and we can see how difficult (and important) it is to create without pure aesthetics in mind.  Finally, by following our roots and connection to the DIY ethos, we see how our own work can unfold and allow us to find our best selves.

—Betsy Greer, Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism

Operation Overflow

There’s a mermaid who swims laps in the local rec center. I see her some mornings when Stephan and I sit in the hot tub. I’ve never felt the need to engage her in conversation, to ask her name, or compliment the green of her tail. I just appreciate her presence, the little boost of magic it gives to the rest of the day.

I feel the same way about our morning visits to the rec center’s gym. Or, more precisely, I feel that way after our visits.  Getting there is a struggle: the cold, the morning, the constant reminder of things to be done, they all work against me making the trip.  Stephan goes most days, taking Ben along so he can take advantage of the free childcare on site.  When I do make it, though, I am always happy that I did.

We have a week to go until Wizard World’s Fan Fest.  It’s our proof of concept convention: where we will peddle our wares to a larger audience than before.  We’re excited and nervous and scrambling to take care of the final details.  In all the hustle and the bustle it would be easy to loose sight of why we are doing this.  I’ve been there before, so wrapped up in getting to the convention that self-doubt gains a foothold when I’m not looking.  The next thing I know I’m heading to the event convinced I’m going to fail.  It’s a mindset that not only undermines my ability to sell, but it makes me miserable the entire time.

To combat those negative thoughts and feelings I’ve adopted a new strategy: Operation Overflow.  The idea is it fill our lives with so much joy and positivity there’s no room for negativity to flourish.  I have made an effort to concentrate on what is going right in our lives, to keep the house lit with candles and clean and good smelling, to feed us food that is good and warm.

It takes a concentrated effort to remain positive, while also working to get ready.  It’s an effort that has paid off so far.   The atmosphere in our home has been relaxed and happy.  We’re looking forward to the event, rather than dreading the looming deadline.  Even facing uncertainty as to whether this plan will work or not, our confidence has grown.

Over the next couple of days, should I lose that positive state of mind, I’ll head over to the rec center and watch the mermaid swim.

Eighteen Panel Skirt

Stylish Skirts by Sato Watanabe
Stylish Skirts by Sato Watanabe. Look at the prettiness!

I was walking through my local Jo-Ann Fabric store a couple of months ago when was seized with a fiery passion of the sort that overcomes a baron for the new stable boy.   Usually it’s a piece of embroidered linen that stirs my creative lust.  This time it was a skirt.  More specifically, the panel skirt show on the cover of Stylish Skirts: 23 Simple Designs to Flatter Every Figure.

Just look at it over there, all stripy and swishy, with french seams!  Now, that skirt is swoon-worthy on its own, but my mind was going off into another direction.  I had, buried in my stash of fabric, several yards of soft, knit fabric in three colors: grey, heathery-purple, and a smokey-blue.  They had been sitting in a cardboard file box for years, waiting for the time when I would get around to making them into something awesome.  Well, their time had come.

It has been years since I’ve made any clothing for myself.  Which is funny as I originally got into sewing for just that reason.  So, it was with a lot of giddiness, trepidation, and wine, that I set out this past weekend to make myself a new skirt.  The skirt started off very close to the original pattern, which is where I ran into the first obstacle.  Stylish Skirts is translated from Japanese, and there are some glitches in the transition. Fortunately there’s the internet, and I wasn’t the first person to run into problems.

Creating the pattern took about half an hour once I figured out the issue.  I didn’t take into account any changes to the pattern with regards to using a knit fabric.  I drafted it to my waist and hip measurements, and drew it much longer than the book calls for.  I like long skirts.  I don’t care if they’re not supposed to look good on short girls.

Skirt Panel Pieces
Skirt panel pieces, assemble!

The actual cutting out of the pieces took an hour or so, due to the fact that I wasn’t working with intact yardage.  At some point in the past I had cut out two one-piece tunic style dresses for Charlotte out of the blue and purple fabrics.  As such I had to take some extra care to get it all cut out.  Even so, I ended up with only four panels of the blue, six of the purple and then ten of the grey.  The original pattern calls for six of each, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop me.

Sewing the skirt together took a couple of hours.  The original pattern calls for a zipper closure, but because I was using knits my plan was for an elasticized waistband.  Remember how I drafted the pattern as suggested by the book?  That didn’t take into account the need for the waist to fit over my hips with an elastic waist.  So when I sewed the panels together I dropped the seam allowance down to 3/8″ of an inch, which gave me the necessary room.

I gave the hem a rolled edge because I was tired of sewing by then, and also I didn’t want to sacrifice any of the length.  (Did I mention I like long skirts?)  The resulting skirt is soft and swishy.  I have to kick the hem out of the way when I walk, or pull it up—a bonus in my book.  I have been twirling around the house in it for a few days making little noises of happiness and satisfaction.

Skirt Selfie!
And here is the finished skirt! Super soft and comfy and requires me to kick my feet out when walking.
Lounging in my Skirt
Lounging in my comfy skirt.

I’ve already settled on the next skirt I’ll be making from the book. I’ll post pictures and a write up when that happens.  In the meantime, please enjoy the playlist I put together for the skirt:

  1. Not an Addict – K’s Choice
  2. Got You Where I Want You – The Flys
  3. Creep – Radiohead
  4. Linger – The Cranberries
  5. Iris – Goo Goo Dolls
  6. Soul to Squeeze – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  7. Who Will Save Your Soul – Jewel
  8. Building a Mystery – Sarah McLachlan
  9. Celebrity Skin – Hole
  10. Santa Monica – Everclear
  11. I Don’t Need a Hero – Concrete Blonde
  12. Happy Phantom – Tori Amos

 

Making it Work: January Earnings

I promised I would make it a regular thing to blog about how much, or more accurately, how little we’re making from our creative endeavors.  To that end, I present the report on our January earnings.

Etsy Sales $26.42
E-book Royalties $1.73
Midwinter Convention $284.47
Total $312.62

The numbers reflect our net earnings.  In the case of Etsy sales that means less shipping and various selling fees.  With regards to Midwinter, the net takes into account expenses for the booth, for getting to the convention, hotel costs, etc.  On the plus side, we made almost three times what we did in December.  On the down side, no one is getting rich off of this.  I’d say we shouldn’t quit our day jobs, but …

We are closer to our goal of getting a new fan for the Jeep, though, almost halfway there.  And we have a convention coming up in March that promises to be more lucrative.  We’re only a month into this whole grand scheme, so I can’t really say if sticking to one or two large conventions a year is feasible.  We may have to add in more events, or I might have to open up to commissions again.  Or, we might have to put in a better effort to market our books, and finish the one that is in the works.

I did add a page to this site for e-book design services.

As always, we continue on.  February is the shortest month and we’re making the most of it that we can.  I’ll keep updating our monetary progress as the year unwinds.

 

Setting Fire to the Past

I’ve made so many moves over the years it’s hard to keep track of them all.  Besides the physical moves I’ve made—from Wyoming to Chicago and various suburbs thereof—I’ve made personal, emotional and relationship changes.  It is surprising how much distance one can cover without ever having to take a step.

Through all these moves I’ve carried a trunk with me.  It was a high school graduation present from my grandparents.  The trunk has been a bench, a footstool, and a table, as well as being the holder of those things I couldn’t bear to toss, but had no need to be out in the open.  Journals, letters, cards, old ids, and other ephemera.  For the past couple of years it has sat under my desk, home to the garbage can and a laptop that I don’t use any more.  I haven’t opened it, partly because I haven’t had anything to squirrel away (e-mail, Facebook and WordPress has digitized much of my correspondence and thoughts); but also because it is full.

In mid-December I dragged the trunk out.  I was looking for a notebook, and was certain it had to be there.  This happens on occasion. I’ll be seized by a need to find something and I tear apart the house in search of it.  Usually, I fail to find whatever Lost Ark I’m chasing; if it were still around I would have found it easily.  I’m then stuck with a mess and a heavy weight of frustration that my quarry managed to escape the nets of my organization zeal.

This time was no different.  The notebook, and the information therein, was nowhere to be seen.  In my digging through the trunk, I flipped through the dozen-plus journals there.  They were varied: cloth covered ones bought in a three pack from Sam’s Club in the early 90s, spiral bound ones from Borders, “leather” covered ones, five subject Mead notebooks, even a manila envelope stuffed full of loose-leaf paper.  This represented more than a decade of my life: from about 1995 to 2005.   There were some random pages from earlier and later, but the bulk of my regular journaling ended shortly after Charlotte was born.

As I flipped through the pages all I read was misery.  Every randomly picked page was a chronicle of how desperately unhappy I was.  Did I write only when I was upset? Or did I only write of my unhappiness because that’s all there was? I think a little more of the former than the latter, but there was no denying that what I had committed to the pages was unpleasant.  I wanted to reach out to my past self and tell her that it was going to get better … in a way.  I can’t reach her, though.  She is in the past and trying to cast back would only slow down the momentum I have gained.

But I didn’t have to keep carrying the millstone of unhappiness.  What did I gain by keeping these journals around? Evidence of my unhappiness during that time?  Did I really need it?  I had my memories, if ever I wanted to revisit them.  Which, again, wasn’t going to help me move forward.  I had learned all I could from that time.  There was nothing more these journals could tell me about myself.

I grabbed two cardboard boxes and filled them.  The letters, cards, notes, pictures and miscellaneous bits and bobs stayed.  The journals went.  For the first time in years there was room in the trunk.  Room for more pleasant keepsakes: love notes from Stephan, birthday cards from my children, perhaps even a letter to my future self, telling her that I am okay.  She can let me go and move on.

The first of January I took the journals out to the fire pit and burned them.  The day was sunny, if cold, and windy.  Despite the helpful nature of the weather, burning a decade’s worth of misery isn’t easy, even when it is bound in paper.  You can’t just set fire to your past and walk away.  You have to tend to it, or else it won’t be fully destroyed.  Blackened bits of paper constantly tried to escape, flying high and forcing me to run around the yard to catch them.  Some were still burning and had to be stomped out.  I had to open up the journals with a poker to make sure all the pages burned.  I got a surprising, and disturbing, insight into just what goes into a book burning.

The whole process took three or four hours.  As I worked I kept thinking, “This is who I was, but it is not who I am now.”  As the paper turned to ash, I felt the truth of it more and more. I returned to the house cold, smelling of smoke, my hair peppered with ashes.  I can’t say if I have completely divorced myself from the misery of those past years.  However, I won’t have those words sitting at my feet, their ambient unpleasantness influencing me.  And if that isn’t a solution, it’s at least a start.

 

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Last week we headed up to Milwaukee for the Midwinter Gaming Convention.  We had a booth there, and had plans to get some gaming in.  This is Midwinter’s fifteenth year, and our third, and it has grown larger and better every year we’ve been.  This was the first year both Stephan and I had wares to peddle, and the first year I had so many booth helpers.  It all added up to a lot of fun.

What made the biggest difference, I think, is that I had two booth helpers throughout the convention.  Our friends Denis and Chrissy came along, and with them on hand, we had four adults to cover the booth the entire weekend.  That meant Stephan wasn’t stuck on Ben patrol the entire time.  It meant we both got to go to lunch together one day.  It meant I got to spend time with my son outside of the vendor’s hall for the first time ever.  I can’t thank the two of them enough for their help the entire weekend.

SCA costuming at Midwinter.
SCA costuming at Midwinter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gaming cons.  Midwinter’s focus is on LARP, but it has programming dedicated to board and video games, as well as a strong reenactment presence thanks to the SCA.  So while there is a costuming contingent, it isn’t a costume heavy convention.  And the convention has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I found myself joking and laughing, things I hadn’t done in a long time.  I managed to deal with the little anxiety that cropped up throughout the weekend, which means that medication and therapy is working for my mental health issues.

The Milwaukee Hilton is a beautiful hotel, with lots of ornate staircases and decor, as well as hallways and seating areas for hangouts.  I spent most of my time in the vendor hall, which was placed in a baroque fantasy of a ballroom with chandeliers and gold molding on the ceiling.  The hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, a big plus when you are attending a convention where there can be tension between fans and non-fans.

That same weekend there was a girl’s volleyball conference in the hotel.  This led to lots of interactions with non-gaming people.  I witnessed an abundance of stares and whispered comments, but I was never the target of them.  In fact I had several women approach me to ask about what was going on.  I think the pink hair establishes me as part of the “weird people” but that my size and gender makes me non-threatening enough to be approachable.  This isn’t the first time I’ve played ambassador for the geek community.  Back in 2002 at ConJose in San Jose, I fielded questions from people on the street who saw me wearing a badge, but not a costume (no pink hair back in those days).   And the fan side of things gave as good as they got on the passive aggressive front.  I overheard one LARPer bragging about having invented “Trolling: the LARP” where he and his friends paraded past groups of volleyball players and parents in their costumes and played their characters to an exaggerated degree.

Creeper
This was Ben’s favorite costume, by far. “Next year I want to be a creeper, too. And then we can creep together!”

I only ran into one instance of bad customer behavior: a woman incredulously demanding to know if “that ruffle thing” truly was $75.  When I confirmed that, yes, I do charge $75 for my bustles, she huffed off.  I know that prior to her asking she had snapped a shot of the bustle (the flash is a dead giveaway) and suspect she’ll show the picture to a sewing friend and ask if said friend will make one for her.  I wish her good luck with that.

I did overhear another customer ask the vendor next to me if they would get a discount on a $20 item if they carried it around the convention and told people where they would get it from.  There seems to be this belief among a certain set of attendees that vendors are starving for marketing and will give away their wares for word of mouth advertising.  I have never once met a vendor who has done such.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one or two who have, I just have never encountered them.

The only other annoyance was the number of times people congregated in front of my booth and blocked access to it.  That is easily dealt with.  I whip out my phone and ask the people if they could move because I want to get a shot of my set up.  Nine times out of ten the people realize they were blocking the way and move on apologetically.  The tenth time, the people move, but with resentment at having been asked to move.  Either way, it’s not skin off my nose, I got them to clear the way.

The final attendance count was just shy of 1100 members.  Not a bad showing.  I made just over 50 cents per attendee (which is about what I plan on making at any convention).  It was less than I had hoped, but I didn’t have any big items with me this time around.  There’s time before the next convention to get plenty of coats made up for off the rack purchases.

roach and the orc
I found an orc!

According to those we talked to, Midwinter has seen an average of 10 percent growth in attendance each year.  It’s clear that they do a lot of work not only in planning great programming, but also in advertising their presence.  They do a lot of social media work, have a strong Facebook page, and got the convention covered by local TV press.  It is a lot of work, but it is paying off for them.

I mention this because over the course of the weekend I was approached by two different conventions about vending.  Both are brand new, both are asking for $200 for booth space.  One mentioned on its website that they expect anywhere between 350 to 2,400 attendees at their first con.  Think about that for a moment.  Presuming that they reach their minimum number, and that I make 50 cents per attendee, I will lose money attending that convention.  The other is one  could see slightly better numbers, but it is still the first year, still untested, and still not worth paying that much for a space.  When conventions charge that much for a space, with such low numbers, it is clear they are looking to cover their costs on the backs of their vendors rather than through ticket sales.

We’ll be back to Midwinter next year for sure.

 

Examine your patterns.

Examine your patterns. Consider first if the pace and the pattern of your life are of your own choosing.  Take the measure of your life, honestly and logically.  Determine which patterns are imposed upon you from external sources and which are self-imposed (or self-inflicted).

Make an honest assessment of what you have to do, what you don’t have to do, and of what you have consciously chosen to do, regardless of whether it is required or not.

Now reach a little further within to take a deeper measure of your personal life patterns. In doing so, realistically determine what it is you are striving for. Reexamine your life patterns in the clear light of personal truth and choice. Ask yourself what it is that you truly want from your life, from yourself.

If you are fairly clear on what you really want, then you can effectively determine whether or not your life patterns are structuring your success.  If you are uncertain about what you ultimately want, then you must ask yourself who or what is actually determining and managing thee patterns of your life for you and why.

These are hard questions, but necessary ones if you want to take more power over the patterns in your life. Know that you do have the ability to choose far more in the matters of your life patterns.  The first step—and the last—is taking your personal measure.

Amber Wolfe, Elemental Power

Backyard Garden Project: Raised Beds

The idea started off simply enough: to turn the backyard into a garden.  The indecision, however, is in the details.  While we could, theoretically, pull up all the lawn and plant right into the ground, we have two dogs who have no regard for boundaries.  Enya, a German short-haired pointer, will trample over plants, push over fences and chicken wire, and steal cucumbers right off the vine.  We also have our share of rabbits who trek through the yard, despite the wooden fence and the presence of the dogs.  I’ve lost more pea shoots than I can count to bunny thieves.  Taking all of those factors into account, we decided raised beds throughout the backyard would be our best bet. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Raised Beds

I Had to Believe

While I was learning to work with clay, I made a lot of pots and had to believe that even if they were less than perfect the making of them was worthwhile and important.  To continue, I needed to find faith that the expression of my inner forms would become easier and that it had intrinsic value to me as a process of growth.  I had to believe that my vision and its pursuit were valuable to me and to those around me even though the world didn’t necessarily need more mediocre pottery.

—Rheya Polo, “Spinning from the Center—Creation & Transformation”