A lot has happened in the month and a half since my last life update post, and especially in the last two weeks! Let's get right in to it:
Winter settled in to Santa Fe early compared to a lot of the country. It's been interesting seeing the environment transform, sometimes overnight-- above is the birdseed plate in our backyard, criss-crossed with the tracks of an eager songbird trying to find their usual meal under the blanket of fresh snow.
We adjusted quickly enough, though; Apart from taking the time to write The Hurt of Knowing You Can Help (which was really difficult to write but very worth doing), November was mostly a several week long work grind, getting our footing back as we built towards our upcoming convention. Since we had Thanksgiving (my family's main annual get-together) in Austin the week before Midwest Furfest, we had to be completely ready for the convention an extra week early and have the car packed and ready to go.
Con prep included creating a better organization system for Jonathan's prints, which I was also printing at home for the first time. I also built a set of 3 small collapsible shelves and a fold-out table top extension our of extra-thick foam core to improve our convention displays. This made a big difference in our ability to get sales with super limited table space, but it also means that our combined convention setup is at the absolute limit for what can fit in my little Honda Civic with a roof box. Having crossed the 150,000 mile threshold on this trip, planning to buy a larger used vehicle within the next year is a big, scary priority.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Thanksgiving in Austin was a quiet vacation for the most part, though anticipation about the convention and a few other factors made me feel restless about being out of my usual rhythms for a week. I set up a little work area on the first day there, and got a few mini originals done that week, but I still felt restless.
Things were better once we got back on the road. We stopped in at the Texas Tech campus in Waco to visit my cousin, Dr. Andrea Button, who works there a sociology professor. After hanging out in her office and catching up, we went and sat in on her class, which happened to be Animals in Sociology. At the end of the class, she invited us up as guest lecturers, and we gave a off the cuff crash course on the furry fandom and the social and cultural forces at play within that. By the end of the day, Andrea had received six emails from students asking when we'd be coming back and if they could get a research project going on the subject so that they could be assistants on it. W're planning to try and do a more formal scheduled lecture in the future, whenever we'll be passing through again. Making connections in the larger sociological world is something we've both wanted to do for a while, so it's exciting to see the first seeds of that!
After overnighting with a friend in Kansas, we made it the rest of the way to the hotel we were staying at for the con, where our usual convention buddy Eric had already arrived. We also hired my dear friend Julie (who I like to introduce as 'my other best friend besides the one I'm dating') as an assistant for this con, since she has a ton of experience, and there's a lot I still want to learn from her own sales knowledge.
She was a tremendous help through the entire convention, and it was great getting to see her experience a furry con for the first time. She also brought some makeup and extra shawls and things for me to experiment with, since I've been wanting to experiment with working on my personal appearance at conventions a little bit more, in an effort to bring it closer in with the feel of my artwork, which went great. We'll definitely be trying to hire her whenever we get the chance going forward!
And honestly, I wound up needing the extra support this con, too.
While we did well overall, this was a hard con for me to work, because this is a convention I did not actually make it in to. You might have heard me talking about this a bit before, but if not, here's the low down:
From various sources, I know that the Dealer's lead for this con does not actually look at the artwork. MFF says the Dealer's Den is juried, but they only go based on written description, and the lead doesn't actually click the link you provide in your application to look at your work. I know this because Jonathan also failed to make it in in a prior year, and when he asked the Dealer's Lead in person about it, they told him that's how the process works. Once they saw his work, they apologized and put him on the top of the list for next year.
When I went and talked to the Dealer's lead about my not getting in for the same reason (two years after Jonathan first talked to him, by the way-- so this issue has been known and not worked on!), he pulled up my file, but still didn't want to bother with clicking the website link to look at my artwork. He just kept making excuses and dodging any actual responsibility.
Which is exactly what I expected him to do, so I had already come prepared with the contact info for the guy above him. So while the Dealer's Lead wasn't helpful, the Art Lead was very much so, and I got to talk to him in a constructive context about each of our concerns and hopes for the con, and for how furry cons are going to need to adapt to their continued population growth in general. MFF experienced a 30% growth in attendees this year, leading to yet another record-breaking level of popularity for what is already the largest furry con in the world. The Art Lead confirmed my hunches that generational divides cause some of the challenges involved in running fur cons, and that part of why the issues with Dealer's Den weren't remedied this year was because their focus was on correcting the really significant issues with Art Show from last year as the bigger fire to put out. (Which they did a great job of, this year!) So he did a great job of providing me with optimism about the system improving.
I was sure to frame things as 'I want to improve the situation for everyone', which is true; I talked to a lot of other artists first to confirm this was a shared experience of frustration, rather than calling attention to me personally as someone who felt wronged.
...That said, I know I belonged in that Dealer's Den, because when I showed up anyway (taking part of one of Jonathan's two tables), we wound up having the best display in the whole place, which I don't say to boast, but because I worked hard at it and it's been a long path to get here. I deeply, earnestly want to help out other artists at doing the best they can, and part of that is bringing a level of professionalism to my work that I find common outside of furry but rare within it.
Still, it was a bit of a blow to my ego to know I wasn't given a chance for this con, and since I only had 1/3rd of the space I usually do for a convention, I wound up making 1/3rd of the sales, which had me feeling miserable through much of the con. Since I don't have the ease of enthusiastic engagement that my partner does, I've always relied on the impressiveness of my display to draw people in to my work. Since we decided to allocate most of our available presentation space to Jonathan (as he tends to make better sales), my usual leg-up wound up reinforcing his work and detracting from mine, and I also seemed to have more sticker shock than usual for some reason.
Our combined sales overall made up for it, and Jonathan was sure to remind me that the only reason he's able to make such good sales now is because of all the huge improvements I've made to his convention table presentation. But still, I hit some really tough lows. On the last morning of the con, during the drive in to the con, I had Julie and Jonathan's confident assurances in their belief in me bouying me up while my physical and mental energy felt so drained that all I wanted to do was cry and nap under the convention table. But I knew I couldn't do that; I steeled myself and kept busy with taking care of Art Show pickup while waiting for the coffee to kick in.
The rest of the day was a slow upward climb, and again, having Julie there to help out made the entire thing far less stressful than it could have been. By the end of the day, I was feeling a lot better, and we ended things on some really good notes.
On the two day drive back home, Jonathan and I talked back and forth about what's next, especially in regards to upping our convention game and being more effective than ever in the year to come.
One thing we'd really like to do more of going forward is to attend conventions as Guests of Honor, since we're constantly working hard to invest in the fandom and individuals alike to improve people's understandings of themselves and encourage self-actualization. But in most cases, we can't just ask to be GoH; that's a little presumptive, even though we know we work hard enough. From what we currently know, GoHs for furry cons usually tend to be based on recommendation to staff and on popularity. So if you have any leads in this regard, let us know! We're really pumped to do a great job and can definitely engage a crowd, which is something a lot of other artists understandably struggle with.
That aside, there are a ton of other things we have on the docket to get ready for our next convention in mid January. Part of these plans involve my getting a membership at the local Makerspace here in Santa Fe, so that I can physically assemble better upgrades to our setup. I've already done the woodshop certification, and laser cutting is coming this next weekend!
I'm also working to do some visual rebranding, especially of my own work. If you've been to my website within the last week, you'll have seen the initial results of this, though I feel I still have a long way to go in improving such.
All of those goals make for an exciting momentum, though. Upon arriving back home, we sprang back into our ideal early morning schedule more quickly than ever before, and are back to working out daily to improve our health and capabilities. I'm starting to take a few stream slots per week again, so if you aren't already, follow me on Twitch to get notifications as to when I go live.
And finally, thank you once again for your support. Having people supporting my work at cons, online, and on Patreon has made this year possible, and I'm exciting for the coming year to be better than ever.
I'll talk to you again soon-- already I've got some great posts queued up on Patreon for the week ahead, so you won't have to wait very long at all!