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Surtex Prep and Planning - Counters


So it's been embarrassingly long since I've posted here but I'm just starting to plan for Surtex (yes I'm freak out crazy late to being so!).  I'm sure you all are headlong into your planning but I've gotten some questions about the counters that are provided with your booths and as I sat down to work on my own I realized the measurements aren't very helpful.  At one point I jotted down some more accurate measurements (its all those years in interior design coming through) and thought they might be of use.

These are for the counter height version which is the only type I've ever had but this year I'm switching it up and going table height so I'm subtracting 10" from the upper measurements.  If you are doing the show for the first time you might also like to know there is also a wooden shelf on the interior.  This way you will have room for any suitcases or extra materials you have brought.  There is a storage room available but through the years I've become more comfortable with leaving things overnight.

Counter Height Pro's 

  •  non committal - attendees feel comfortable walking up to your counter and browsing and being able to walk away just a quick
  • Easy to perch on your stool and stand just a quickly
  • more visual room to display art on 
  • if your short (which I am) keeps you eye level with attendees
  • Lots of space for storage and easy to duck behind for a quick bite to eat or emmotional outburst (hey it can happen!)


Table Height Pro's


  • Invites people to come and sit down to look at your books, possibly causing them spend more time browsing
  • Let attendees see more of your walls (less height means less blocking)
  • If you are tall, as a friend told me, it allows you to sit and therefore not tower over people


As I'm sure you've seen there are a million ways to address this surface.  Table cloths, booth wraps, banners, to a full on paper sculpture!  One year I wrapped my booth in one of my fabrics and for the others I've printed a banner which wraps the outer perimeter.  Both were fine but I've liked the ease of the banner wrap since it can be applied with command strips.  Left to right Stunning paper creation by Very Sarie, one of my Vinyl banner wraps, clean patterned panels by Carol Van Zandt, Logo fabric table drape by Sorry You're Happy, Stitched fabric fabulousness by Josephine Kimberling, Ditching the whole thing and bringing her own gorgeous creation Melissa Ybarra.

 There is really no wrong or right way to address these things so I'd say pick the one that fits your personality and how you feel the most comfortable talking to people and then design away!  Hope these additional measurements will help on that front.


Surtex 2015 - Under New Management

I wanted to get my thoughts down this year before I got into my follow ups from this year's Surtex show.  There was a lot of unease from veteran exhibitors regarding the change in hands from GLM to Emrald Expositions and many chose to take this year off to see how that transition went.  I can say it was, in a word, bumpy, not the show, just the lead up.  Invoicing was random and communication could have been better but you could pay by cc this year which was nice change.  From reaching out about specific promotion ideas and never responding to a very small social media presence, things felt very delayed if not dropped completely.  I know I didn't mentally engage with the fact the show was coming up because payments and webinars were so late, no fault of theirs of course but the rhythm I had been used to was just off.  I think the point of the webinars may have been lost as well and I wasn't all that impressed this year.  Even though I have exhibited in the past I have listened to all of the speakers every year and have ALWAYS picked up on good tips.  Beside the ones given by Tara Reed (who has done them for many years) I could have done without and if it WAS my first time I don't think I would have taken much away at all.  Some were aimed at Atelier exhibitors when most of the people on the calls are individual artists rather than studios and others felt like a sales pitch for all the ad-ons they offered.  I hope they spend some time thinking those through next time.  

There are some exciting changes I see, which granted, need work but the potential is there.  The biggest is a new planner tool which allows you to upload 6 art images rather than the singular rotating image previously offered in the marketplace.  I had trouble using it well and I don't think the attendees (or many exhibitors) had any idea it was available or what they should do with it but its also the first time its been used so it may take a while.  The planner allows you to create a profile of the work you do and business you are looking for and will develop "matches".  Every time you log on, you can see who has registered that fits your profile and you have the ability to email them through the system to meet with you.  I had no luck in this area but I'd be interested to hear if any other exhibitors did. There is also the ability to add booths you want to visit and create your own custom map of the show.   

Having discovered this industry more recently I am not coming from the days of large release programs and lifelong royalty checks but even in this short time, I can see that the world of licensing is changing.  Surtex is not the only way to get in touch with manufacturers, people are reaching out online, traveling to Atlanta and Vegas for Gift Mart and this year even got a little competition from a designer developed and run show called Blueprint.  Many exhibitors have felt the cost of the show is not worth the deals that they are getting specifically from exhibiting and feel the show has not done enough to get new business in the door.  All of these factors had me second guessing my decision to exhibit this year but a very dear friend said if I planned to make art licensing my full time income then Surtex was a non negotiable.  I still feel, if you are new to the industry and do not already have a steady client list that you are reaching out to in other ways, it is a worthwhile show.  It is also the easiest way to show a large quantity of work, in a short time to a receptive, interested audience AND get a read on how someone is to work with.  After all, it is about finding companies who are as good as a fit for you as you are them!  After this, my fourth show, I'm starting to realize that the companies and people that seem like a match for me are not only interested in my work but are really enjoyable to talk to and were more focused on how we might work together vs picking an image and asking for it to be sent.  It may just be a personality thing but isn't that exactly what makes relationships easy or strained?  My experience this year was that new companies are coming in, and they seemed to be a much higher quality than I have encountered prior.  I had read that they were asking companies for financialsbut maybe that was the difference?  The show felt very slow at times, the aisles were defiantly not packed but the general consensus from those I talked to, was it was a very good show.  

I know there are mixed opinions on this but the fact that the price tag was so high for artist to walk may have contributed to the show feeling a bit empier than usual.  Surtex was turning into a social event of sorts, and not that that isn't one of the very fun parts of attending the show, it is not the REASON for the show.  For the past few years, there have been packs of students and artist and it made it a bit hard to decipher potential clients from interested artist.  I do think it is very important to be able to walk the show before jumping into such a large investment but in general people do tend to walk year after year to be a "part of the show" rather than as research.  It sounds like that concern is being addressed for next year so that artists are able to come affordably.

What everyone needs to understand here, is that transitions are messy, imperfect and difficult for everyone whether its personally, professionally or in an organization.  The show still opened in time, booths were ready for banners when we got there and I don't think a single attendee would have noticed anything different.  I think they are still coming out of a restructuring but plans are already happening for next year's show.  Surtex photographers and videographers were on the floor, John Erich was walking every day checking in on things, and panels were held which included artist, design studios and Emerald employees to improve across the board.  I'm glad I took the risk; the smaller overall floor plan, slower but more qualified attendees and placement of the show (more central to entrance escalators) contributed to my most successful show yet.  Normally I don't think I'd say that, since relationships started or business discussed can take months and sometimes years to move forward but the conversations were very intentional this year so I'm excited to start in on my follow ups.  I look forward to seeing how the show improves and develops to accommodate this ever changing market.   




Slimy Monster's Gift Bags

Aren't these adorable?  My new gift wrap and bags with Jillson Roberts.  I'm over the moon about the little attached google eyes!  What a cute addition :)




Outright Sale ISN'T for Everyone

I had my first outright sale experience at this past year's Surtex and thought it might be of use for those preparing for this coming show.

I set up a meeting knowing the terms the company offered ahead of time and wasn't quite sure it was a fit but from the previous years experience I was trying to be open to the process.  I thought it would give me an in person opportunity to find out more about how it would work, the type of art they would be looking for and if it worked out, the money up front doesn't hurt either!  I wasn't quite prepared for the experience.

At the time of our meeting there were seven individuals in my booth with multiple books out pulling sheets from their sleeves.  It felt very chaotic to me.  I loved the art director, who after several emails back and forth, was in fact the only reason I had considered it in the first place.  The rest of the team was very hard for me to handle.  I'm used to talking with more than one person but this was different.  Somehow I had my head on enough to ask some of the questions that I had about outright sale and was not that happy with the answers.  

Forgive me if this is basic knowledge but I learned they are buying the rights to everything in the pattern.  Meaning, if you work like I do, with lots of details and icons, they could take any of the pieces and using them in other arrangements or colors.  Essentially, they could potentially create the same greeting card design or coordinate patterns that I would be able to, so you are competing, or worse, infringing on your own work without knowing it.  In most cases it felt more like selling an entire collection rather than a single pattern.  

The art director kept having to remind the others in her group that I was licensing and they couldn't pick from my collections.  When it was all said and done I did sell one pattern, to which I was offered $100 less than I had arranged before the meeting and what felt like a car salesman line of "you really are going to let me walk out of here without these other five?"  Somehow I calmly replied "yes, because I know their value".  I was given the max of their range as previously agreed and the knowledge I would need to think this through before doing it again.  Despite my less than ideal experience, here are some reasons you shouldn't just say "no".

Sometimes companies say "outright sale" but what they mean is "flat fee".  Kind of a you say tomato,  I say tomato scenario.  You always want to get more details.  Even in my situation it was technically a license agreement because it was only for the category of paper, meaning I could still use it for fabric, ceramic, etc, but considering the amount of work I do in stationery, greeting cards, and bags "paper" was a pretty large piece to be selling off.  The most important questions to get answers to are still going to be:

  • category/categories they are looking to use your art for 
  • length of time they want to use if for (term) be on the lookout for the word perpetuity which means you are selling your rights forever
  • Fee you are agreeing to

After asking a few questions you might be able to find out that the company is really not in need of all categories or has plans to use the art beyond a year or two.  Its these questions that help you to find out what is really important to the company or what they are trying to protect against.  Its a conversation and a negotiation. Sometimes, this is where you can change the agreement from Outright Sale to a License.  Its in the details that you arrange.  A few things I'd suggest if you are planning to be open to outright sales at Surtex.

  • Have a designated group of patterns and images that are kept separate from the work you license, things go very quickly and it can be a bit confusing if you are having to denote between what you license and what you sell.  
  • Print single sided sheets that are in sleeves or presented in a stack.  If an image or pattern is selected, the purchasing company expects that you take it immediately out of what you are presenting so that no other companies see it
  • Be prepared to take payment on the spot.  I was able to invoice and send digital files after the show but companies are ready to write a check right then. 

Outright sale can be all, part, or absent from your business model, I think it's just a matter of figuring out what works for you.  For now, I'm holding off on that area of my business but there are many artists who have incorporated it successfully.  






Radio Silence

I know its been forever since I posted and just as long from my last post to the post before that.  In the fast pace world of the internet, radio silence means you do not exist.  Well, I am, still here, still pursuing art, but I wasn't sure that was going to be the case.

Its been no secret that the time and energy to launch not only into art licensing but into the art industry as a whole had been wearing on me for a while.  As much as you want to keep going, reaching for what at one point seemed like the bottomless pit of energy and drive, it isn't always possible.  I had come to the reality that I couldn't do it any longer and without my concious intent, things came to a screeching halt.  

When you put everything you have into achieving a goal, even to the expense of other areas of your life, it is crushing when you don't see it happening.  Up until that point I had kept everything afloat, the job, the child, the house and changing my career, but what gets given up when things start to fall?  If you haven't "made it" on 150% effort, how on earth do you make it on less than that?  I had a million thoughts running through my head and advice from all directions but in the end the only thing I saw as a possibility of putting down was the art.  This realization was crushing to me since in truth, it was the desire to pursue this industry that fueled all those extra hours.  

The funniest part of all this is nothing had particularly "happened" that made me think I was failing.  I think it was things not happening in the time I had allotted them to that caused this instant unraveling.  So although everything had been going well, if I didn't have the energy to do basic things I didn't have the energy to keep up the almost super woman existence I had been leading. The truth is that I pushed very hard to get to and  through Surtex this past Spring, hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that didn't come.  What I came away with is I may have another 2-3 years of very hard work until I start to see the tide changing.  It was a crushing blow and I spent many months grieving the life and career lost.  That probably sounds extreme but its really the only thing I can equate it to.  

In the end it was my Husband, who I think would have to admit, has not always been a fan of this pursuit of mine, who said maybe it was time I put down the day job to concentrate on art.  It was that comment amidst the "not everyone gets to do what they love for work", "art isn't a reality for MOST people", "you gave it your best shot" that stuck.  I decided to create my own light at the end of the tunnel.  So January 1st, the date that I had set with hopeful timidness last February, will be the end of my steady employment.  It is not something done lightly, I have been with them for eight and a half years and have been working to get them settled in a way I will feel good about leaving.  Its a very difficult thing to explain to people as job offers have presented themselves to take its place that although they are great options, I am leaving for what I believe to be my BEST option.  It is most definitely the one with the biggest unknowns but as many risks as I have taken in the past four years, I can't say I really ever took a financial one.  

I want to think I will sleep more, blog more, create more, do more, but I suppose I won't really know what my days will be until I get there.  I am the antithesis of my previous planning self!  I really don't know what is ahead in terms of things to worry about or to be excited about but that's all "future thinking" as my dear friend says, there is just as much a chance of success as failure.  I still have a few weeks left (seven, but who's counting!) until my new schedule takes affect.  Its a mix of relief and worry as it nears but I'm ready for this.  Ready for the leap.