Surtex 2014: Let's Break It Down, My Art Peeps!

I got a lot of feedback asking if my Surtex follow up post could be as honest and open as my pre-show posts, and I will try! So, here we go. Was it worth it?

Absolutely, 110% yes.

I met a lot of great clients and manufactures, plus I got to meet some wonderful people including Kathy Weller, Lilla Rogers and Margo Tantau (who may have been the Oprah/Gayle power tag team of Surtex 2014…I'll let them decide who is who), the lovely Ronnie Walter (I may have actually told her "I like the cut of your jib" but I was too star-struck to remember anything), some of the girls from Happy Happy Art Collective (finally!), Monica Lee of Smart Creative Women, and countless MATS people I've gotten to know through out the last year. I was there with Keith and my absolute secret weapon, my mother (because mothers can fix anything). And yes…many people would start talking to her thinking she was the artist! Sigh...

 My Mom and Keith. Back off, ladies.  He's mine! :)

 My Mom and Keith. Back off, ladies.  He's mine! :)

Let me say real quick that our hotel on West 39th street and right before 9th ave was a perfect location. It was a Hampton Express,  but there were a few more hotels right along there. We got the Surtex rate, and it was just a quick walk each morning to the show. There was a drug store along the way, and we had plenty of food options nearby, which was super convenient after a long day. Plus, we were still close to Times Square and other popular areas.

Ok, let's get to the good stuff!

My Booth (And The One Booth Design Tip I'll Give You)

Frankly? My booth was a little boring. I was completely wowed by many other booths on display (some who were first-timers as well and made me feel absolutely lazy!). However, this year I needed to get my work seen, and that meant thinking of my walls like a website, especially since I have a variety of work to some degree. This meant having more larger images with breathing room rather than trying to have every piece up on my wall and risk it being too busy. 

Kind of "eh", but the art is so colorful and full of characters I didn't want to over complicate it.

Kind of "eh", but the art is so colorful and full of characters I didn't want to over complicate it.

Also, have you ever seen Bar Rescue? Random question, I know, but stay with me. The show features Jon Taffer as he visits failing bars and fixes them up. He talks a lot about Bar Science and how people naturally flow in an area and how their eyes travel through a space. Let's call this Booth Science. As I was setting up Saturday, I noticed that as I passed booths I was naturally turning my head slightly to catch the panels closest to the aisle. As Keith and I set up, I realized that these aisle panels were going to make or break someone stopping and turning a full ninety degrees to see the entirety of my booth.

My point is, people are moving so fast through the aisles that sometimes "checking out the show" means potential clients briskly walking through the aisles and barely turning their necks, catching only a glimpse of booths in their peripheral vision (and only stopping if something catches their eye). SO, put something on the aisle panels that will slow down someone and get them to look fully at your booth. If you think people go to each booth and give each one a full look up and down, you're wrong.

Of course, your whole booth design is important, but something should be close to the aisles to call attention as people start to come up on your booth- products on shelves (whether real or mock ups), a bold piece of work that is one of your best, something like that. For me, this was my "Know Your Santas" collection which covered two hot topics for Surtex, Holiday and Humor.

When you walk up and down the aisles, the first banner you will see of any artist is the one facing you by the aisle. This makes a first impression to anyone walking the floor.

When you walk up and down the aisles, the first banner you will see of any artist is the one facing you by the aisle. This makes a first impression to anyone walking the floor.

It was almost like clockwork through out the three days- people would be cruising by at a pretty steady pace (almost completely passing my booth) but at the last minute they would see the Santas, slow down out of curiosity, and usually smile or laugh upon closer inspection. At this point they would turn to see what else was in the booth, talk to me, or even flag down the rest of their party so they could see it, too. It was a great way to start a conversation, especially since I could offer them a mailer of the same collection "to enjoy the santas year round". Even though that collection wasn't perfect for everyone who stopped, it led them to see other work that perhaps was a good fit. Plus, everyone knows someone in this business. I had a few conversations that started with someone saying "So-and-so says I need to stop by and see you". Network with everyone! 

My friend and fellow artist Tracy Mattocks had an equally eye-catching banner right off the aisle. 

You could see this artwork from far away- it's bright, bold, and has a great variety of characters and icons that are easy to see.

No One Used My IPad, But I'm Glad I Had It.

I had a three-ring binder and an iPad portfolio. No one opted for the iPad, but I'm still glad I had it as some of my print outs weren't perfect color-wise. What I DID like about the binder is that I could lay it flat and open, and it was just one more thing to catch people's interest as they walked up. Plus, many people came up with coffee and Surtex swag taking up one hand completely, so it was very easy for them to deal with flipping through the binder (instead of a bound book that maybe wanted to shut). The iPad will become more important as I build my portfolio, and I will probably keep older collections on it next year with only my newest work actually printed.

And speaking of people carrying Surtex swag, Keith had surprised me with 8"x 10" bags with my name printed on them this past Christmas, so we used them for the show (he witnessed me at one past art show putting items in crumpled grocery bags, so he figured I needed to step it up a little with my branding)! They were extremely popular and let's just say Keith is very proud of himself (thanks, honey).

I Actually Didn't Get The "Buy Outright" Question That Much.

I have read a few Surtex blog summaries from people, and I'm noticing one thing sticking out- only a few people asked if I sold outright. I'm not sure why? The only guess I have is that my stuff is more Illustration-based, and clients looking for that kind of work are in the habit of licensing it more. The show gave me the opportunity to think about it, however, and I figured out that I would consider selling outright in the future, but those pieces would probably not feature my characters so much (or be replaced with more mass-market versions). Coincidentally, for people looking to buy outright, that was perfect for them! For instance, my characters are a little too funky for baby apparel (which buys art outright for the most part), so they would want something more generic, anyway. Eveyrbody wins! 

I ordered fabric with my Tigers At Work design on it so I could make a shirt out of it. I mean so my mom could make a shirt out of it.

I ordered fabric with my Tigers At Work design on it so I could make a shirt out of it. I mean so my mom could make a shirt out of it.

Some Mailers Got To People…Annnnd Some Didn't.

I did a small run of promotional mailers before the show, and it was so exciting when people would bounce up saying "We got your mailer and wanted to see you!". At the same time, many dream clients visited my booth, only for me to say at some point "oh, I sent a mailer to you guys" and have them report that they never got it! Luckily, they still managed to discover me at the show. In addition, people did recognize me from Print and Pattern and other online sources (but they were mostly other artists, not manufacturers).

Hands Down, The Students Win The Award For Most Polite Floor Walkers.

There is a lot of discussion about artists walking the show, but you may not realize that college faculty and students are also invited to walk the floor at Surtex (you can see them coming a mile away because of the bright dinner-plate-sized stickers on their chests). These students were so respectful and shy to  the point of being absolutely adorable. My mom and I would see them walk by, and because of my teaching background I was always more than happy to strike up a conversation with them. Well, when I would say "hi", pretty much they would freeze like a deer hearing a twig snap in the woods. I could see them hesitate to respond, as if I would report them wasting my time and get them kicked out! Nine times out of ten the first thing out of their mouths was "Hi-I'm-just-a-student", but we assured them that we didn't bite and invited them to take mailers and ask any questions they may have. Truth is, most people do want to help you and share tips! Just find them at the right time. :)

I Do Have One Surtex Horror Story.

Many people exhibiting at the show had at least one horror story to share- whether it be a rude booth visitor or something that went wrong with their materials, etc. Mine involved- and you may have seen this if you follow me on Facebook- an individual who bought an artist badge so they could hire an artist for a personal project. This was not someone involved in the industry, and frankly I'm going to try to discuss it in a vague way. Basically, someone came to my booth saying they were a manufacturer and wanted to hire me for a project. Once we started talking, I could tell this person didn't know the industry at all after a series of normal questions. They could not provide any legit business materials or even a company name, so there were a lot of red flags. Afterwards, my mom pointed out that they were not even wearing a badge, but she noticed an artist badge peeking out of their bag. This definitely disturbed me. I had heard stories about people sneaking into the show as artists or even shop owners when they had other agendas, and I really didn't like the idea of this person trying to take advantage of me or any of my peers. 

So I did something about it.

I went down to the check-in point and explained the situation to a couple of Surtex personal, who immediately took the situation very seriously. They looked up the person and confirmed that they were signed up as an artist, not a manufacturer or company. Even weirder is the fact that the security person immediately recognized the name and proclaimed "oh, I remember them. They were obnoxious!". In the end they made a note right there in the file and assured me it would be taken care of if they tried to sign up again. It was pretty impossible for them to locate the individual on the floor, but I'm happy I prevented them from seedy business next year.

I have mix feelings about this. On one hand, I'm glad I turned this person in who was taking advantage of the show. On the OTHER hand, I knew I was giving Surtex one more reason to not want artists on the floor because of such fraud (again, I don't believe this person was an actual artist- it was someone taking advantage of the fact that artists could walk the show). Just know that if you are a legit artist just walking the show and checking it out, you have nothing to worry about. This is why people will tell you to not flip your badge over, don't hide it with your notebook, and please don't take it off because it clashes with your outfit. It's because of these rare bad apples that people have to be on their toes, but if you're just honest and open on the floor, you will be one more positive example to offset the negative ones!

So What Are The Quick Points?

Let's end on a positive note, shall we? So what was the most popular at my booth?

- People liked the fact that I did hand-lettering.

- It was a plus that I could handle contained illustrations as well as overall patterns

- I brought some original paintings which really connected with people.

- My background as an in-house designer came in handy when discussing production schedules and the needs of potential clients. They were relieved that I understood their concerns and how the process worked as far as building a collection, terms & lingo, etc. 

- Many companies who I figured were on a different planet than me were interested in introducing products that would attract a new, contemporary audience.

Now begins the follow-up process! Thanks for reading- before I know it I'll be planning for Surtex 2015!

And speaking of Art Peeps...