At comic (and other) conventions, many fans like to take the opportunity to approach their favorite artist and ask for a sketch.

Looking at this from an outside perspective, it seems like a strange request. Drawing is how this person makes a living and here you are, asking for a (usually) free sample. You don't go up to your favorite musician and say "hey, will you play me a few notes?", nor do you ask a writer "can i get a small short story out of you?" But amazingly, most artists are willing to oblige.

That being said, there are a few guidelines to follow when making a request:

  • BE POLITE. Aside from the usual temperament of artists, cons are often crowded and filled with noisy and often smelly* people. Politeness will earn you the gratitude of s/he who sketches for you (whether or not they show it).
  • Some artists do realize that this is how they make a living, and will charge for the sketch. Most will tell you so up front. Some newer or more popular artists may ask for a sizeable donation; this is occasionally a result of ego, but often because unscrupulous types have been known to sell these pieces of original art without recompensating the artist.
  • Bring your own material. The default standard at comic cons is the board from the bag and board that comics are often protected in. Artists tend to bring an adequate supply of pens and pencils. Sketchbooks are becoming more approved in recent years, possibly because they are both more personal (so they're less likely to be sold), and can be themed...
  • A lot of artists like to work with themes; rather than having to draw 50 consecutive pictures of The Tick, they can experiment more. Themes can be in a sketchbook set for that theme, on individual pages (i.e. a book with "Thinking" as the theme), or on a larger board (a "jam") where a group of artists contribute several sketches about the same idea on the same board, occasionally working off each other.
  • BE POLITE. Some artists won't do sketches at all (due to fatigue, lack of equipment, lack of time, or just being crotchety at that moment). Others bring work on the road with them, and will only sketch at certain times. Still others will accept requests until a certain limit is reached, and then will decline. Accept this politely, perhaps inquiring if s/he will be doing sketches at a later date, thank them for their time, and leave.
  • If there is a huge line in front of the artist (and behind you), they probably will not have time to do a sketch. This is probably most true in the booths of the big publishing companies, since big name artists can hang out at small press booths and not be noticed for hours.
  • Be patient; some artists take a decent amount of time in doing their sketches and you want them to take that much care when it's your turn, don't you? You can miss out on a really great sketch if you think the guy in front of you is monopolizing the artist's time. (plus, it's fun to watch.) Also, these artists (ok, most of them) are human and require time to eat, drink, socialize with their friends (old and new), smoke, or even go and bug other artists, and will probably not be very friendly if you interrupt them.
  • Most writers will not do sketches. The point being, make sure you know who people are.
Politeness really can't be emphasized enough. Treat the artists well and (in most cases) they'll treat you well.
wow, that sounds cheesy...
Sources: (what to do) (what not to do)
Also, see Nekojin's writeup under July 22, 2001 for his take on the San Diego Comic-Con and his sketchbook experience.

* because the con is hot and filled with people. not (necessarily) because they haven't showered in days. really.

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