a (baker's) dozen observations from a SURTEX first timer


i exhibited at SURTEX for the first time last week.   i've had so many people call and write to ask how the show went.   it's really hard to tell if you want an answer that is based purely on results.  it's very rare for actual contracts and sales to take place on the show floor (at least in the licensing section where i was located.)  i have lots and lots of follow up to do, meaning sending images to clients.

what often happens at SURTEX is company representatives ask several artists for images that the company may want to use on its products.  some of those  artists follow up and send the images.  some do not.  the company will then look over the submissions and make its decision on which art to use.  not every artist makes the cut.  so even if the company rep expressed interest at the booth, it doesn't mean it's a done deal.  

i have loads of artists friends (mostly from Make Art That Sells) who are thinking of exhibiting next year, so i thought it would be helpful to put forth my observations.  it will also be helpful for me to look this over next year as i'm preparing to exhibit again.  yes, i'll be exhibiting again.

1. other artists are super nice :: i was amazed and inspired by how friendly and supportive the artists are to each other.  we helped each other with exchanging booth supplies like command strips, baby wipes, a stepladder, binder clips, chocolate and more.  we also helped each other with advice and pricing suggestions.   we helped support each other emotionally, cheering on our small victories and boosting each other when we needed it. i had an amazing corner surrounded by super friendly, fun and talented artists and it made the days more enjoyable.  i would list here all the artists i met and enjoyed getting to know, but it would take up the whole blog post.  

2. lots of companies want to buy outright ::   almost every single company visiting my booth asked if i license or sell outright.  i heard from lots of other artists that many companies were interested in buying outright.  i had TONS of discussion with fellow artists on this topic, and i think that could be a whole other blog post.  lots to think about on this one.  i definitely have some images i would like to sell, and next year i will have a special stack of these images handy when the buyers ask.   you will need to know your price range because if you say yes to selling you'll need to know how much you're selling it for. 

3. i'm proud of myself for jumping in after fewer than 3 years of art-making.  i just used illustrator for the first time about 2.5 years ago!  i learned more in those 3-4 days at SURTEX than i did in the first 5 months of 2014.  i learned about art, licensing, selling, exhibiting.  i learned about myself.  i'm proud that i took a really big, really scary step.  and survived!  i had a lot of artists tell me they would love to exhibit but aren't sure if they're ready.  i say work hard and go for it.

4. surtex is physically exhausting.  my eyes freaked out from the bright lights and dusty and dry air.  my smile muscles hurt.  my feet ached despite my super comfy shoes.  my arms were sore from lugging a suitcase full of 6 portfolio books.  i didn't eat well and didn't sleep well.  i stood for over 8 hours a day.

5. i need to be even more outgoing.  some of the very best connections i made were due to the fact that i started a conversation with someone who glanced at my booth as they were planning on walking by.  this takes a lot of energy and a lot of guts.  i sometimes took breaks from being so outgoing and i let people walk by with only a smile.  i'm sure i missed several opportunities by not reaching out to someone who looked interested but didn't stop. 

6.  sit higher ::  i had a low table and chairs.  next year i think i'll go for the high table and stools.  i felt really low down when i was sitting with a client.  (and i'll be able to lean against the stools next year and take some of the pressure off my feet.)

7. portfolio :: i spent hundreds of dollars on paper and ink printing over 350 images.  i put them into artist portfolios that had clear plastic sleeves. i wanted to be in control of the colors and wanted to be able to rearrange and regroup, so i didn't want a  printed blurb book.  BUT ... people didn't want to flip through 6 books of art.  next year i think i will have all of my art on an ipad and just bring my newest and best collections printed on loose sheets.  that seemed to work for the booths around me.  i ended up taking several of my collections out of their plastic sleeves and had them on the desk.  i had much more interest and people liked flipping through small stacks. as stated in #2 above, i will also have a special stack of images i am willing to sell outright.  

8. get your online portfolio ready :: as i was printing those 350 images i realized i hadn't updated my online portfolio in a very long time.  i didn't have time to do it before the show.  big mistake.  lots of buyers just wanted to grab a quick card and asked if i have an online portfolio. (many also asked for the password).  they didn't want to sit and look through books.  next year i will make sure my online portfolio is up to date and easy to navigate. i'll start updating it after i finish the followup this week and will update it more frequently all year 'round.

9.  lilla rogers was spot on when she said icons sell.  by far, my most popular work had lots of characters and icons.  people loved them and asked for more "like that."  i need to add more work with icons and characters.  and images for boys.  there's a need for lots of boy stuff.

10. you'll learn a lot if you listen (and ask questions) :: i was really happy to hear feedback on my art.  i learned what is easy to mass produce, i learned what is selling in the baby apparel market and what is selling in stationery.  i was told my swan was too round, one of my turtles was weird and some of my flowers were too small.  but i welcomed this advice and didn't take offense because these people know what sells for them.  if i want my stuff to sell, i have to be open to feedback.  selling your work as-is with no adjustments to color, size, etc is extremely rare.

11. i should have used fabric printed with my art in my booth.  i had huge plans to do all kinds of stuff with my fabric printed from spoonflower, but didn't get around to it.  i spent 3 days at the show kicking myself  for not doing it (not literally, my feet were too tired).  i really want a fabric licensing deal, so i should have used fabric!

12. bring booth help!! i was alone in my booth for 3 days except for a 30 minute period when i was in a meeting.  i had to leave my booth several times to use the bathroom, eat, and quickly say hello to a couple other artists.  why spend all that money on a booth if you aren't going to have someone in it when your dream client comes by?! it would have been so nice to have someone help me setup, take notes when clients were visiting, and help when i had more than one client in my booth. 

13.  have a follow up system ready.  i spent an entire day after the show trying to find a customer relationship management system to keep track of all the emails i was exchanging with the people that came by my booth.  i used to use daylite but had specific problems with the software.  i now am using insightly and super duper love it so far. 

that's all for now.  my mind is going bananas with all the things i want to create and be a part of.  i talked with several people about future collaborations aside from the selling and licensing of my art and i am so excited about those possibilities.  i look forward to being here on a blog a couple days  a week on a more consistent basis.  see you soon!