Hi prototypix! This took a while to put together, because we went off on a little (okay, a big) philosophical tangent. Your question is a bit vague/general, so this answer is taking a broader approach.
You know, you’re in a pretty exciting situation. The fact is, the world is your oyster because you’re basically starting from a blank slate!
The short answer:
Research, plan, and draw.
When you say something like “For the moment, I don’t have anything that’s worthy of being sold as a print” that’s a qualitative (subjective) statement - all I can say to that is, keep drawing/making your art till you have things that you would be comfortable making into a print. Look at your work objectively, get feedback from others (bearing in mind that not all feedback may be relevant for your goals/situation), etc. And remember - the more time you spend doing something, the more you are honing that skill. Even if you aren’t 100% happy with what you’re turning out at the moment, it means 1. you have enough skill that you can tell something can be improved and 2. you’re working towards an even more improved state. So keep at it!
The long (and even more philosophical) answer:
But there’s a lot more to your question, I think, than that. There’s a lot of great info about getting started with artist alleys (including tumblrs besides this one!), and I’ll touch on a bit of that, but I always want to cover some thought about attitude and mental approach/frame of mind.
I think many artists kind of fall into artist alley a bit like this: They go to a con, or several, and think, “Wow, look at all the artists drawing and selling cool things at artist alley! Looks like fun!” Then they realize, “Hey, I’m an artist! I like cool things! I could do that!” They might convince a friend to join them, sign up for a local event, think, “Oh crap! I don’t have anything to sell!! WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO” then fall screaming and crying into the next few months (or weeks) figuring out how to get ready (usually lots of asking around and internet research), drawing and making stuff, get ridiculously stressed out, go to the event feeling wholly unprepared, and more often than leave the event ridiculously addicted to doing artist alleys for the next while (or next few years). And the cycle starts anew!
In other words, many people get started with lots of enthusiasm and excitement and not necessarily much vision for the future. And that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. That’s certainly how I got started! And sometimes you just need to start doing something
to start going somewhere. (On that tangent of getting started, I posted a rant a short while ago here: http://aatoast.tumblr.com/post/94950934510/maiji-ok-to-whomever-submitted-this-i-dont
howtobeaconartist, another great AA info tumblr, reblogged it inviting people to share their first time AA experiences, and their stories make for interesting reading to get you into a headspace of realistic expectations. We get so caught up in what we are doing and whether we are doing it “right” or not that it’s always good to get some perspective and realize almost everyone is in the same boat!)
It’s usually not till after a few years of doing artist alley events that people start to think more long term or more practically/proactively about sustainability and where/how their artist alley activity fits into some sort of vision for their creative path or personal creative goals. And to be perfectly honest, for some people, maybe you don’t necessarily want or need to go beyond drawing and selling cool things and having fun at artist alley. It’s rare and difficult to make this your whole life, and it’s not everyone who does art for a living. But since you’re asking if we have any recommended procedures, I want to talk a bit about thinking in that vein.
WHAT ARE MY EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS?
There are two main parts to this.
First, why do you want to do artist alley?
What do you want to get out of it? Is it to try it for the experience? To challenge yourself/take yourself out of a comfort zone? To share your work or create a bigger audience for your work? Build your skills? Make money? Meet other like-minded people?
Usually it’s a mix of a number of different factors! And your reasons for doing it can change over time as your interests and priorities shift. But it’s always good to think a bit about it to understand yourself, where you are now, and what you value the most!
Second, what would you like to be known for?
What are you passionate about? What do you like or want to draw / make? What are your own creative / artistic goals? What would you like others to see/recognize about the work that you do? What do you want to work towards?
The purpose of this question is to identify where it would make the most sense for you to concentrate your efforts, and how to manage your own expectations and evaluate what a successful, worthwhile artist alley experience is for you. If your goals are to have fun and draw fanart, that indicates certain things to focus on. If you want to create your own things and establish your own particular type of work, that creates a different sort of path, one that involves a more long-term approach and possibly more tempering of your expectations.
Here’s a personal example. Artist alley is a fun pastime for me. I love sharing my work and things I love and getting to talk in person about them. I have no interest in making my art a full time job. I love meeting other creative people and being inspired by them. I’ve never really been actively involved in any super popular fandoms, but I’m passionate about some small, older, obscure fandoms.
What does all this mean? For me, a successful artist alley is one where I meet people who like my work, expose more people to my work, have fun with my friends, get to buy awesome things from other artists and chat with other artists. When I make things, I care less about how profitable it may be, and more about whether I want it to exist/I want to make it. Of course I still care about trying to cover my costs and not lose a ton of money, but I’m less focused on, for instance, figuring out what series or products will be most popular event to event. If I don’t break even but still achieved my other goals, then I can still consider that a successful event by thinking of it as paying a fee to go and have an experience.
If your situation and your goals are different, your approach will be different. For example: if you are prioritizing short-term money making, then trying to figure out what is popular/will sell easily and maximizing profit will be more important to you. If your goal is to make art your living and to be recognized for a distinct visual style, then your focus will not only be on developing that distinct style and working beyond fanart, but also on building a business and an audience for the long run.
Now that you’ve set a vision for what you want to get out of this, you can really start to plan and research with those goals in mind!
Take a look around artist alley information resources (our tumblr, other tumblrs we’ve reblogged/linked, artist alley forums and posts). Figure out a direction, and then start working towards that direction in developing your art/craft, making the things you want to sell, creating your display, and also gathering what you need to make sure you’re ready when application time comes around.
I’ll be a bit more brief in this section (or try to be anyways), because a lot of these things are covered by great artist alley guides.
A few things to think about:
You’ve already identified Anime North as a target event. Great! Now you need to do your homework and make sure you know what’s involved in applying for the event. Read up on requirements. Know what’s permitted and not permitted, and what you need to prep in advance. Have back up plans if you need them. For example, Anime North Comic Market is now a lottery system. If you don’t get a table, what do you plan on doing? Just wait for next year, or try other areas of the event or other events? Do you have friends who may also be interested and could table share?
One thing I often suggest for people starting out is to try smaller local events over bigger events. They may be less profitable (smaller crowds, slower), but they are almost always cheaper, closer to home, less intimidating, and great for trying things for the first time. We talk a bit about that in our FanExpo vs Anime North post: http://aatoast.tumblr.com/post/93341701579/hey-so-im-a-total-beginner-at-conventions-and-fanexpo
Not to say that not making any sales at a small event won’t leave you feeling discouraged, but making nothing at an event that cost you $20 versus one that cost you $300 is a big difference in tempering your expectations and the extremeness of a positive or negative reaction over the long term of your artist alley “career”.
The other benefit of smaller events is that you have more time to interact with other artists, which is a powerful way to make new friends and build a great support network as you do more and more events. I’ve often seen many experienced artists comment positively on the vibe of smaller events and how they enjoy getting to chat with people.
(The above actually generated a bit of a discussion for us on small versus big events and the psychology of event scope and event interactions - I think it’s worth sharing so we may put out a separate post sometime with some thoughts on that!)
The goods / The display
As mentioned before, when you start out, you have no old inventory/products or legacy things that might be holding you down in terms of what you want to make or what you want to display.
What is realistic for you to create based on your resources (time, cost, knowledge, experience)? What kind of quality are you looking for in your products? Are there people you can turn to for support/advice/assistance? And of course, if you’re doing something for the first time, it’s always good to have a trial run before doing it for real! Make sure you incorporate that into your plans/schedules!
Hope this helps. And all that said and done about planning - sometimes the best plans go awry, and sometimes you just won’t think of something till you get there and everything is happening for real. Take it in stride and learn from it! We’re all figuring it out as we go along :)
Hope this answer was at least a little what you were looking for, and I hope this is only the beginning of some great artist alley experiences for you! :D
As always, if anyone has more food for thought/things to add, we’d love to hear from you!