To Surtex or not to Surtex?
That is a question I have been asking myself lately.
It sounds like a Shakespeare quote but this phrase has been rattling around in my brain over the last few months. I am an Artist and Surface Pattern Designer and have been trying to figure out whether I should exhibit at Surtex, a major design and Art Licensing show held every May in NYC at the Jacob Javitz Center
I have attended Surtex many times in various capacities during my design career. First as a Stylist,then Design Director for Waverly Fabrics to review and buy designs from Design Studios from all over the world. I went back years later as a freelance designer to meet with prospective clients and walk the show. Now I wanted to go back and find out more about what it would be like to be an exhibitor.
So this past May I cleared by schedule and made plans to attend the show.
I have been taking numerous online design classes over the last year which has lead me to meet artists and agents in this amazing industry. Many of them are so generous about sharing their knowledge, which has been a huge boost to me as a solo designer. It’s really hard to stay motivated and focused when you have your own business and work at home alone. But I feel I have a whole network of coworkers and cheerleaders ready to lend and ear and offer advice when asked. It’s awesome….
I have been taking The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design classes with the Make It In Design team and they had asked if any designers were planning on attending any tradeshows and would we be interested in asking some question to exhibitors and report back our findings to them. I thought oh how cool and what a great way to meet people. So I signed my self up. I was sent a simple questionnaire that I could use at my discretion.
I am a member of a Facebook group called Heart 2 Art and I saw a post this winter from watercolor designer Corinne Haig asking for artists to help her man her booth at Surtex and in return she would give you a pass for the show. (The passes to walk the show over $300.00) so I contacted her and she replied back that she would love to have my help during the show! This was perfect and I knew it would offer me first hand experience to see what it was like to man a booth, set up a booth, meet with clients and help me decide if I should do the show myself. It’s a huge investment and I wanted to see if it is for me or not.
On May 15, 2016 I boarded the Long Island Railroad to Penn station NYC then headed via bus the the Jacob Javitz Center. Got my badge at registration and headed to find Corinne at her booth in the design district. Surtex runs in conjunction with the National Stationary Show and ICCF. So there are tons of people coming and going, it’s all very exciting and overwhelming at the same time.
I found Corinne’s beautiful booth and introduced myself. She gave me a quick orientation and the traffic started flowing. There was a steady stream of Art Directors and Buyers coming to see her look book and inquire about her beautiful designs. We had a handy worksheet to fill out with each prospective client that kept everything really organized.
When we had a rare quiet moment I asked Corinne a few questions.
I asked her how she prepared for the show and she told me that she made a huge list of to do’s for the show.
Then broke it into a timeline. Items included order banners and product mock ups, do her look book on blurb.com and create new designs. Corinne said she would start sooner next time to prepare now that she knows what to expect.
She was thrilled with the show and she met lots of new contacts in categories she never imagined such as Fashion and fragrance packaging.
Overall Corinne said “It exceeded my expectations!!! Everyone was so nice it was delightful.”
She loved meeting Artists face to face that she knew from social media.
Her advice if it’s your first time exhibiting is to keep it simple that way there are fewer things to keep track of at the show. She said she would absolutely do the Surtex Show again.
I had a great time working and learning from her. She was so generous with her knowledge and her talent speaks volumes.
I also had the honor to meet Jennifer Nelson she is the Agent and owner of Jennifer Nelson Artists. I had done a one on one consultation with her a few months prior via Skype and it was great to meet her in person and say hello.
Here is her booth from the show.
She graciously agreed to answer some questions about the show. I found it was better to email the Designer and Agents after the show because they are at the show to find business leads and network, they have paid a lot of money to do so. I wanted to respect their time and investment.
Jennifer Nelson’s thoughts on Surtex
MH: Jennifer how long did it take to prepare for the show?
JN: 4 months of work.
MH: How did the show go?
JN: “GREAT! We were delighted with the response both fiscally and socially.”
MH: Was it busy, did you get out of it what you hoped you would?
JN: Yes and more!
MH: Who did you meet? Other exhibitors/visitors/brands
JN: Anthropologie, Demdaco, Pier One ,Kate Spade (to name a few)
MH: What will you do differently next time? Will there be a next time?
JN: Yes! Next time we will have 2 sets of prints and 2 sets of books when we do two shows at once! (She also exhibited at Blueprint, which overlapped days with Surtex!)
MH: What are you top 3 tips for doing the show?
JN: 1. Plan to sell work outright
2.Bring loads of Christmas designs
- Take some R&R time before the show-because the real work comes when you get back to your studio and have all the follow up work to do!
I met a fellow designer Jennifer Speer while taking Rachel Taylor’s Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design classes online. She was also helping out Corinne in her booth. She graciously shared her impressions and photos of Surtex with me. It was her first time to the show.
Jennifer Speer’s thoughts on Surtex -
“Overall, I’m happy about what I’ve learned and who I met for the first time and who I was able to meet that I had only spoke with over social media!
I can’t name just one booth that I loved the most, but I can say some of the practices that I noticed were best… Go big with the artwork. I found the smaller work to be busy and not so eye catching. That might work if you are well established though so that there’s plenty to look at. You just need something that will draw them in to your booth to then browse your portfolio.
Another best practice that I saw was having a sheet to take notes with the buyers. They may try to run off quickly, but if you engage with them and ask pointed questions about what they are looking for they will appreciate it! Then staple their business card to that page. If they start to run out of business cards, ask to take a picture of it for them.”
Another Designer that exhibited at Surtex was Jennifer Mercede and she had some answers to my questions too!
MH: How much preparation did it require?
JM: I started preparing around Christmas time 2015, so about 5 months.
MH: How did the show go? Was it busy, did you get out of it what you hoped you would? Any successes you can share?
JM: On one hand, I didn't know what to expect in terms of busy-ness. I felt there was a steady stream of interested people connecting with me and my art pretty consistently throughout the show.
I don't think it was as AMAZING as I had hoped for, but if I do my follow up and keep connected, I'm hopeful that some projects will come out of it :)
I got a lot of interest from wall art companies and a variety of other products, some quite obscure.
I'm grateful for all the wonderful compliments and great energy I received at my booth :)
MH: What will you do differently next time - will there be a next time?
JM: Yes, in a dream world I would go back with a little bit different branding .. different approach. I think I would spend time making more designs that I can sell outright.. maybe work that is a little less edgy. I'd try that for fun. I'm not sure if that will be next year though, mostly due to booth cost and other creative endeavors I want to focus on.
MH: 3 top tips for exhibiting at a show for the first time
JM: Parking! If you're driving.. figure our where exactly you have to go and when before you drive into the city! It can be insane!
Its true what they say that most of the work is after the show.. so really be prepared, ready and interested in doing that!
In general, I say.. do art that you love. For you, that makes you happy. I say, follow your own voice.
And finally I met Illustrator Claire Picard who was visiting from England. She is represented by Agent Brenda Manley. She assisted Corinne Haig as well. It was her first time to NYC and Surtex.
She said it’s been so colorful and exciting to be in NY and felt it was a great place to network. She also loved meeting up with social media connections face to face. Coming to NY has been “Lovely! A dream come true!’
Thanks to Corinne, all the Jennifer’s (I just realized I interviewed 3 of them!), Claire and the Make it in Design Team for inspiring me to ask the questions! I love all the knowledge and experience I have gained.
I have a lot to consider and many questions to ask myself. Am I ready to exhibit at Surtex? or do I want to find and Agent to represent my work? Do I have enough designs to show at a trade show? Can I afford the $7-10,000.00 investment of Surtex? Do I consider another smaller trade show like Printsourse or Blueprint?
It’s scary and exciting all at the same time. For now I am going to keep on painting, either way I’ll be sure to write all about it in an upcoming Blog. Thanks for reading this far!
Find out more about all the fantastic Designers and Agents I interviewed here: