This article was originally run in EMG-Zine last year.
If you’ve never heard of a con badge, you’re missing out on some fun art exchange! This is a brief rundown of what a con badge is and why they are interesting. This is based mostly on my personal experience with them at fantasy art conventions, so any trends are probably just my own bias.
What is a Con Badge?
A con badge is portable piece of art that depicts your portrait or the portrait of a character that you identify with, and displays your preferred name. You wear this art like a badge to identify yourself, usually at art conventions or similar gatherings. It can have your name on it, but often it has your online handle or username that you use in forums or role playing. These badges are especially popular at conventions where role play or other kinds fictitious characters are popular, where folks might prefer to be referred to by their username, pen name or a specific character.
Con Badge Variety
There are two ways to get a con badge: Commission or trade one from an artist, or make it yourself! Let’s look at what we can make for ourselves, or what we can possibly get from artists that offer this sort of thing. All the badge image examples below are badges I’ve made.
The most popular form of con badge seems to be 3×4 inch cards in plastic sleeves, attached to you by either a clip or an elastic string necklace. These are popular because the badges that allow you entry to events issued by conventions usually come in that size, usually with generic art. The first chance I get I pop that generic art out and slide my own drawing in, or get someone else to draw something for me! The format is common even when you’re commissioning art with it’s own holder since the plastic sleeves for that size are easy to buy and not too expensive. It’s also a good size that isn’t so big it’s cumbersome, nor so small important details are lost.
This is my convention-issued generic badge from Further Confusion 2005. I use this for example because that year, my art was chosen for one of the choices for the free generic inserts. It’s nice and shows the theme of the convention, but it doesn’t tell us much about who or what “Tundra” is, does it? And there are probably a million other people with that same picture now. Boring!
Now we got some individualism going on! Now we know Tundra is a cat creature of some sort, with some anime influence in there. This badge also gives me something to show other artists if I want to commission or trade for more badges. This badge isn’t well executed though – I didn’t take into consideration the sticker on the plastic sleeve when I drew it! I later put it in its own badge holder.
There are a lot of alternatives to this style though! For example, some artists like to cut the character out from the paper and laminate it, giving the badge a unique and more interesting shape.
Here are two unusually shaped badges that haven’t been laminated yet. The first one is cut to shape from the white paper, pasted to black paper and cut to shape there as well. The second one is on an unusually long piece of extra paper I had around. I will probably wear it at the next convention I attend, but for now, it doubles as a bookmark!
Something else I’ve seen get popular recently is the production of what folks seem to like calling “ghetto badges,” but I’d prefer to call them “sketch badges.” These are usually very quick to draw and cheap to make. They are fast sketches on cheap card stock or scrap paper, sometimes even lined note cards or the backs of business cards. Usually these won’t have their own badge holders or clips of their own if someone draws them for you, so you might stick it in back of your “main” badge, or get a badge holder yourself.
A sampling of sketch badges I’ve done.
Badges can be crafty too. I bought a badge that was made out of a bottle cap once. Another badge I have is a very small laminated piece of paper that I put chainmaille on. I’ve seen artists make tiny sculptures out of clay and place them on key chains for badges, or to decorate badges one might already have. There are probably lots of crafty possibilities that haven’t been thought up yet – so go think them up!
Collecting Con Badges
Con badges are also a form of art collecting. Folks attending conventions will usually try to get badges done by their favorite artists first. Artists sometimes trade each other badges.
Badges are usually fairly inexpensive, while at the same time highly personalized, making them very desirable to fans of artists. While an artist’s original full-sized artwork maybe thousands of dollars. While this kind of art is forever out of price range for the common con-goer, badges have a much lower price range, I would estimate between $10 and $50, a much more affordable and personal piece for an avid fan to get a hold of. There are some badges that are significantly less or more, depending on materials used and time spent, but by and large – badges are a very nice compromise for folks that would like personalized art without having to save up for a full-sized illustration.
There’s enormous variety in what artists can do in the small space of a badge. Since badges are usually easy to acquire price-wise, folks will often collect more than one to see their characters in different styles. Artists will often draw badges for each other in trade as well to get to know different styles and character types. It’s also a great way to make some friends! Bored or shy at a convention? Go check out the creator’s lounge (or anything else where the convention designates a place to go and draw with other artists), and offer to draw a badge for someone in trade for a badge from them. Or sit down and draw a badge for yourself, maybe someone will look at what you’re doing and ask about it.
The Prettiest Business Cards
If you’re on the selling end of con badges, and you get good at doing them, it is not uncommon for folks you draw badges for to drag their friends over for a possible badge. This has happened to me a couple of times, and I’m amazed each time it happens. Sometimes someone likes what you do so much that they HAVE to show their room mate or something. It’s really sweet!
In this way, badges can be like business cards, giving folks a sense of what kind of art you do and putting your art and name in a place it might not normally go (like anywhere at the con you don’t happen to be!). Since con badges are such personalized visual things, folks will appreciate styles that they like that much more. If you draw a totally awesome badge of someone’s dragon character and other folks really like that style, chances are they’ll ask who drew it. Con badges also give folks a sense of what you can do in your non-badge art. Someone that sees one of your badges might come by to browse prints or ask about commissions. It might inspire someone to look up what else you do after the convention too.
Any way you look at it, con badges have the potential to bring folks you never met by your table or website. For the love of beans, please put your name or email or something on the back of the badge, or insert an actual business card in there with it! It’s not pretentious to sign such a small piece of art, and to want folks to remember who drew it. I have some badges from some lovely artists that didn’t sign them, and now I have NO idea who drew them anymore. It is such a bummer if someone likes the badge I’m wearing and I can’t even tell them who drew it for me, nor can I say if the rest of the artist’s art is just as awesome. Folks might not commission you again, but at least we’ll know who you are be able to bookmark your site, so sign that art!
Folks that get badges will generally stick to one character, but some folks have more characters and collect art for each of them. Wearing them lets folks know what character or name you want to be identified with. I mainly collect badges from my friends and favorite artists, and usually have at least one new badge for each convention I visit. They make extremely fun personalized mementos and there’s enormous variety in what artists can do in such a small piece. I’m sure there’s a badge out there for everyone. Now, get trading!
Active Con Badges Communities on Livejournal: