Designer Con (DCon) is just around the corner and a perfect convention endcap to close out the year and prepare for 2020. If you haven’t been before, Designer Con is an annual Southern California art and designed goods (toys, clothing & all things pop culture) convention that has its humble roots in the designer vinyl toy scene. The convention was started in 2005, I suspect as a way for the founder Ben Goretsky, to bring together his favorite vinyl toy artists under a single convention roof. To be clear, this isn’t some get rich quick jump on the convention scene money grab. This guy legit loves toys and pop art and wants to promote these artists (Check out the youtube channel for The Toy Geeks Network and his story 3DRetro in Burbank, CA).
The annual convention was held at the Pasadena Convention Center until last year when it moved to the much larger Anaheim Convention Center. While less intimate than Pasadena, and no longer a “just park on a local street and stroll in” convention, it had been growing rapidly in size and was clearly beyond what Pasadena could accomodate.
If you’re going for the first time, here are some tips to maximize your time.
Step 1: What to do today
- Finish this blog entry!
- Go to Designer Con website and buy a ticket
- Single Day : Great option if you’ve never been
- Weekend Pass : Best deal if you aren’t trying to rush for any particular exclusive
- VIP Weekend Pass (Best Value) : If you want exclusives and need to get in earlier than regular attendees to get to that booth, get this. It lets you in 1 hr early and ALSO gets you into preview night Friday. It also gets you access to the little lounge areas where there is seating to rest (I never saw anyone really checking badges though). If you are into Bearbricks you will want this pass as it includes a free Designer Con Bearbrick! Last year’s Bearbrick is still available for anyone to purchase for $15 on line. The cost has gone up significantly cmpared to the standard weekend pass, but it’s worth it if you want to go Friday night. Do the math that makes sense for you!
- MVP Weekend Pass : Only get this if you really want the 2 exclusive Mark Hamill Funko Pops included in this pass. Frankly, I think it’s super expensive (but I might get it anyway!).
- KIDS 12 and under are free
- Scour their facebook page, instagram and twitter accounts for announcements.
- Start making a list of people you want to meet, products you want to buy or events you want to participate in.
Step 2: What to do the weekend before!
- Go to the Designer Con website and checkout the interactive floor plan. you will see the shear size of the convention as well as links (where available) to the vendor sites. Create a list of people and booth numbers you want to hit up.
- If there is a particular item you want, reach out to the vendor and see if there are limited quantities or a way to get on a reservation list.
- Start getting prepared for the Awesome:
- Do you have good walking shoes? If not, get some!
- Do you have a good carrying bag or case that can protect what you plan to buy?
- Art stores and Daiso carry extendable poster tubes with straps.
- Re-useable bags can hold alot and scrunch down to tiny sizes.
- A backpack with padded shoulder straps is handy.
- If you plan to buy Funko Pops do you have protector cases?
- If you plan to buy large original art on board (vs poster), do you have an art folio to carry it?
- Do you have a water bottle?
- Many of the artists are very approachable to talk about their work and the craft. some will even be willing to sketch in a sketchbook for you (especially if you buy something!). Do you have a good sketchbook? I recommend something with a smooth white surface.
- Thinking about getting something signed? Consider bringing your own preferred pen so that you don’t get a random pen color/quality. Lots of folks like Sharpies but I’ve had mixed experience with some Sharpies bleeding/discoloring overtime. I prefer acrylic paint pens now that can also be used to sign on vinyl.
Step 3: Day of the Convention
- Get there early if you want to park at the convention center off of Katella. If you miss that there is a free shuttle off site, but it takes more time and is inconvenient if you want to “drop stuff off” at your car mid-day.
- Cash is King! You are in a better position to haggle with cash when buying several items. If the vendor says they can’t, please respect that, there is a reason for the term “starving artist.” Many of the artists pour their time and soul into the work and just make ends meet. Most people take square/paypal these days but bring your ATM card if you think you’ll run out of cash.
- Be friendly to people, you will likely find kindred spirits and can learn more about the art and artists, thus getting more out of the convention.
- Food. Bring snacks and a water bottle, both of which you can bring into the convention. There is food in the convention hall that is surprisingly decent (much better than San Diego Comic Con). There will also be food trucks available. There are a few restaurants across the walk way at the hotel (Sbarro, Baja Fresh, Sandwich shop, etc…)
Here are some short profiles for artists that I make a point of visiting to give you an idea of the quality and variety of vendors at Designer Con.
George Gaspar – Accomplished toy sculptor. He sculpted a really cool vinyl/plastic version of the Designer Con mascot Vincent and produced them in a bunch of colorways including GID. He also was involved in the October Toys O.M.F.G. figures which are a throw back to M.U.S.C.L.E. He has a ton of industry credit. You probably have a toy that he sculpted! Follow him on instagram @doublegtoys.
Nychos – Austrian Graffiti Illustrator that has work all over the world. Known for anatomical exploded views of characters. Sells clothing, prints, empty sketchbook and last year a Vinyl Jurassic Park TRex collaboration with 3D Retro. Check out the documentary Deepest Depths of the Burrow and his site Rabbit Eye Movement.
Amanda Vissell – Cute and dark artwork. Something about her style I just love! Simple, cute, edgy. In addition to vinyl toys she makes stuff out of wood and resin. I love the work she has done with Kidrobot and COARSE to bring her illustratins to life. I’ve only met her once but apparently she loves Disney stuff. I got the feeling that she’s a total bad ass in real life… the kind of person that you wish you were! Check out her site. She has a design brand, Switcheroo, with artist Michelle Valigura.
David A. White – Professional designer and illustrator. Travels all the way over from Western Massachusetts and brings his amazing 3D printed and hand finished toy designs. I have 2 pieces from the Mechanauts line displayed with my Transformers. This guy not only has the passion and creative vision but the smarts to keep improving his designs. He has gained quite a following in the last few years and even visits schools to teach kids! Check out his site and follow him on twitter @mechazone and instragram @mechazone.
Nate Mitchell – Creator of the So Analog 10-doh vinyl toy platform which is a throwback to the NES cartridges from the 80s. I love the design and that there are two sizes. Nate updated the figure arms a few years ago to better hold accessories (zapper gun!). I have a dozen or so of the small size figures and a few of the larger… just need more space to display them all. Check out his work at Squid Kids Ink.
Christopher Lee – Dude is prolific. I met him at the first Designer Con I attended and now run into him at San Diego Comic Con. When I first met him he had done some really cool toy action figure cartoon posters that I picked up. Since then it seems like his career as an illustrator/designer has just exploded. His work is always super high quality and has a certain retro asthetic. He also has an amazing toy collection! He runs Night Cake Press and The Beast Is Back
Sket One – Graffiti Artist and Professional Illustrator Andrew Yasgar. A legend in the vinyl toy scene. A fellow New England to West Coast transplant! His Sket product mashups are amazing. He is probably most well known for his Sketracha Dunny, but he does so much, including recent collabs with Hite Beer and the Dodgers. His low production run resins are on another level. I have a set of resin Dripples… but pln some day to get a Kikko-Sket! Check out his site where there are links to all social media.
Other: Stuff I Look Forward To Discovering
Unique Products – I like buying gifts at Designer Con because in many cases they are very limited/unique compared to Black Friday Big Box Retailer products.
Sketchbook – When I buy something from an artist I try to get them to make a small doodle in my sketchbook. In many cases I value the sketch more than the product itself. The product catches my eye and can serve as a reference for me in my creative endeavors… and likely a display item for my home! But the sketch serves as reminder and a creative inspiration for me. There is nothing quite like flipping through a sketchbook and it bringing back the memories of all the conventions and people met. Try it! I use a Moleskine Carnet Large Storyboard. The small squares provide structure that allows the artists to sketch something very small in seconds and not be guilted/threatened to fill an entire empty page.
Pins /Patches– Always on the lookout for cool enamel pins. I don’t have a huge collection but I appreciate nice simple artwork that would look good on a backpack or work lanyard. They have an entire ENAMEL PIN MARKET at Designer Con. You can bring pins to trade also.
Stickers – Definitely into vinyl stickers, in particular, those from Graffiti artists.
Resin/Vinyl DIY – Love being able to see something visually/tactiley appealing and speak to the creator about it. Brink something to take notes!
Shirts – Lots of unique, custom shirts you won’t find at Target or Kohls. Stand out! Support an artist. I got a hoodie from Nychos (Rabbit Eye Movement) a few years ago and I still treasure it! Outside of Designerc Con I have not seen anyone else wearing it.
Pictures – Love taking pictures. Bring a camera or use your phone. Bring a backup battery and a charger (there are some outlets). Also, take pictures with the artists!
That’s about it for now.
Check back for a post-show dump Thanksgiving week.