Asking Artists for Sketches at Conventions

by Wayne Wong, July 18, 1994

[t--mp--n] at [] writes…

Anybody want to relate experiences they’ve had at American cons with sketches?

Having been on both sides of the table, as an arist and as a fan, I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

Free Sketches and Doodles

First you have to decide what you want at a convention. Most artists will be happy to do small quick doodles for free, time permitting, but these doodles are usually very loose and do not show a lot of detail. Often, these are head shots that the artist has done numerous times before.

For my freebies, I usually do head shots of the characters from my Sky Comics projects, Star Police and Darkness Chronicles. As Steve Lieber has mentioned, he does quick free sketches of Hawkman (full bodied, I should add). As another example, Norm Breyfogle does a great Batman head shot (or at least he use to - maybe he does Prime now?).


If you want something nicer that will take longer than a few minutes for the artist to draw, the artist will most likely charge for it. Usually (but not always), the more in-demand an artist is, the more the sketch will cost. The catch-22 is that the in-demand artists are probably already making a comfortable living drawing comics for a mainstream company, and in some cases, their traveling expenses are already being paid for by their company or the convention. The artists that are less in demand on the other hand, are most likely the ones that are working for smaller companies and are struggling to survive and who most certainly have to pay all of their own travelling expenses. In other words, the ones who need the money the most, are usually the ones who make the least. :(

John Byrne’s usual mode of operation is to pop out a marker sketch at regular intervals while he is signing. Upon finishing the sketch he does an on-the-spot auction for the piece. For this reason, a lot of times at big cons (I’ve only seen him sketch at bigger cons) you will see a crowd loitering around Byrne. They are waiting for him to draw a sketch so they can bid on it. Sometimes, the bidding can get fierce. Note, a lot of other big name popular artists no longer bother, or even have time for sketching, so if you get in a two hour autograph line for, say, Jim Lee, there is probably little point in asking him if you can commission a sketch.

For myself, I’ve received a variety of requests which I usually list in my convention reports, from characters that I’ve worked on already, to established “fan-favorite” characters, to buyer-created characters that the buyer wants professionally rendered. Unless the request is for a character that I’ve worked on, the buyer always provides a reference of the character (usually a comic which features the character in question or a simple design the buyer drew). At the Pittsburgh con earlier this year, I got stuck on a Wolverine sketch because I wasn’t sure how a detail on his costume looked. Luckily a person in a Wolverine costume was at the con entertaining the kids so I tracked him down and refreshed my memory on what he looked like.

The Artist

Unless it happens to be the first time the artist has ever had a table in artist alley, the artist will know what to do and how to handle the situation, so there is no need to feel embarrassed when talking about money. Most artists have signs indicating their rate. If they do more than one type of sketch (perhaps they also ink, or color, or do even larger more elaborate pieces), they will have these listed as well. If the artist doesn’t list a price, just ask.

At the larger conventions, there are usually a wide variety of artists in attendence, so regardless of your “style” of preference, you should be able to find someone who will be to your liking, from realistic, to traditional super-hero, to “kewl,” to cartoony, to dark erotica; from venerable silver age veterans, to the next wave of industry trend setters.

My first time on the other side of the table, I basically looked over at the artist next to me, saw how much he was charging for sketches and charged the same thing. I ended up getting more requests than I could handle because I am an irritatingly slow artist and spend a lot of time on each sketch. I started a list and had to turn a few people away. I even took requests on the condition that I would mail the piece to the buyer because I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish it at the con—something that I’m reluctant to ever do again.

The Lingo

(based on my limited experience)

The fan who just wants a free doodle usually hands me a sketchbook (or piece of paper, or program, or T-shirt, or cap, or cup… I even did a napkin once), and say something like, “Can you draw something real quick for me?” or “Could you put something in my book? an autograph or whatever?” From this, the artist will know that the fan is not interested in purchasing a sketch, and are after whatever free doodle the artist cares to make if any.

The buyers who want a nicer sketch and are willing to pay for it, don’t have to mince words. They’ll just ask if you have time to do something for them and then they’ll describe what it is they want, handing over a reference if it is necessary.

The Sketch Seeker

I would classify the sketch seeker into two categories. The first is for fans of specific creators who, upon entering the convention already have in mind the artists that they want to obtain sketches from. Usually, the artists that get targeted are more popular or at least have name recognition. The other category is for the fans who are looking for nice sketches regardless of the artist; if it happens not to be from a big name, it will probably cost them less. The way this works is most artists in the alley display their portfolio or other samples of their work on their table. The fans wander by and flip through the work. If the artist’s style is appealing to the fan, or if the artist has worked on a character that the fan likes, the fan will ask to commission a sketch from the artist.

Most of the people who have asked me for sketches have never heard of me or seen any of my work prior to the con. For me, it’s a great feeling when a complete stranger looks through my work and likes it enough to want to commission a sketch. It really is an honor and I find it to be a nice morale booster irrespective of the money involved.

The Money Involved

Normally, payment doesn’t take place until after the artist finishes the sketch. One reason for this is because if the artist develops a long list, the artist might not get to finish every sketch on the list. Also, I think most artists want to make sure that the buyer is happy with the art before they take the buyer’s money. The exception in which the buyer might have to prepay is if the artist agrees to complete a sketch and send it to the buyer at a later date.

There. Hope this helps those interested in obtaining sketches at a future convention but who have never done so before.

Wayne A. Wong

“I don’t own them. I just gave them life.”-Barry Windsor-Smith, regarding Archer & Armstrong