Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Surtex Update

Oh, boy! I have not really had a chance to write a Surtex update! Mainly this is because I've just been making art, and if I had an update every week it would pretty much be "Made more art. Can't show you yet". Not very exciting, right? Rrrrrright. Moving on! Now it's the end of April, and I'm working on all that "other" stuff like booth banners, contacting potential clients, and trying to come up with Plan B (and C, and all the way to Plan K) if something goes wrong while I'm setting up in NYC the day before.

Let's back up. Surtex stands for SURface & TEXtile Design. It's a trade show/convention for the industry of art for products and manufactured commercial goods. Artists & designers will be there showing art that companies such as Target and Pier1 Imports can buy and then reproduce on items- from tote bags to shower curtains- in exchange for payment to the artist. Sometimes art is purchased outright from the creator, while other times it is licensed for a limited time and usage. I am tackling the licensing side of things, and will be there at trusty booth #252 May 18-20! It's truly been exciting and hectic because I am one of many artists that is coming from a different field (illustration in my case) and have been working on a portfolio that is appropriate for this industry. I haven't had to change my art so much as adapt it, and along the way I have made some pieces that I really enjoy and feel very "me". Needless to say, my experience as an in-house designer at my previous job has been priceless towards this experience, and the Make Art That Sells e-course helped me find my voice (which is silly, sarcastic, and…sarcastic). Thank goodness there is a place (and need) for that in the industry!

So for those of you who are curious about more of the logistics, here we go:

Quality, Not Quantity.

If you're doing Surtex, you definitely need enough art to actually show. Unlike other markets such as editorial and publishing, you don't just have examples of your work to show clients as examples of your skill…you make art beforehand that a company looks at and says "that would make a great XYZ! We'll take it!". Sure, there are still jobs in the industry that artists are commissioned for, but much of your work is made beforehand and is then available to license as you show your portfolio.

Because of this, some people have hundreds and hundreds of pieces (sometimes even more!) depending how long they've been in the game. There are a lot of opinions about how many pieces or collections of art a newbie should have. I have enough work, but not as much as some of my peers do. However, I know that each piece is solid and nothing is filler. So even if an art director comes up and only has time to see a few pages out of my portfolio, I know they are gonna see my best work. This makes me feel better than hoping that they will get through 30 pages of so-so portfolio pieces to reach that one home run piece of art I'm dying to have them see. (Can you imagine me chasing them down the aisle going "Waaaaaait!!! You didn't look at page 82!!!").

I'm Focusing On What I NEED, Not What I WANT.

I've read past blog posts and articles that echo this piece of advice, and it's important! There is SO much to handle while preparing for the show (and so many unforeseen speed bumps along the way), that it's important to consider what you really need and make sure you're not getting carried away by a case of the oh-wouldn't-it-be-cool-if's. Believe me, your sanity and budget will thank you. This has meant passing on elaborate give-aways and a fancy look book I wanted to make (Keith is very good at pointing out when I have ideas that are redundant, like a portfolio plus a "Look Book". Save it for next year, kiddo). The banners for my booth and last minute portfolio pieces are more important than me being distracted by all the extras like a surtex video and cool props. Don't get me wrong, those are awesome and effective tools and I want to do them for next year. BUT, knowing how overly-ambitious I can get,  I just need to make sure all my fundamental bases are covered in 2014. I can conquer the world next year. Let's just find it this time around and say "hi". Baby steps.

The Challenge Of Booth Design.

Like many artists, I was planning on the floor length banners that cover each panel of the booths (these are commonly about  37" x 89"). Tons of my friends and peers do this. I thought I was, too, until I remembered that my art can't be blown up to extremly large proportions that are pleasing to the eye. Furthermore, it may be beneficial to have some negative space around the art to give it some breathing room (if you have ever been to Surtex, you know it is VISUAL OVERLOAD.) In case you didn't know, my work always starts with a sketch. After that , sometimes it's 100% painted, and other times it's a combination of scanned ink sketches and coloring in photoshop…while other times it may be done 100% in illustrator and is a vector image that CAN be scaled up to very large sizes. 

If you ARE an artist scanning sketches or other hand done elements into photoshop like watercolor, etc, I recommend always scanning items at 600 dpi so you can scale up. This is helpful for two reasons. First, allowing your work to reproduce as large as possible will allow clients to put it on a larger array of products (like a 12"x 12" pillow or wall art). Secondly, you want to be able to reproduce art at a large scale for…oh, I don't know…maybe a SURTEX BANNER????  so that painting I did last month can now be comfortably printed at 24"x 24" for my booth and I won't have a problem with the image degrading. Usually 600 dpi will allow you to about double the size of the original art without loosing quality. HOWEVER, don't think you can just make it as big as you want like vector art. There is still a limit to how big the art can be enlarged.

With all this is in consideration, I still had my patterns at a very large scale, but decided they would read better as 3"x 5" banners instead of floor length. I am also bringing some original work, which I've learned is a great conversation starter and can invite people inside my booth space (this is an old trick from past art sales I've done). It's also super easy to just pack my large portfolio book since I paint on paper or throw the paintings on wood in my carry-on. No fragile glass! Ok, one will be in fragile glass…that one is going in my friend's car!


  1. Lauren, can you tell me what supplies are needed for the licensing class at Watkins before I sign up for it? Thanks.

    1. Hi Laine, I am out of town right now but Watkins will be giving you a supply list in May I believe. For the most part you can work in the media of your choosing. I add some basics like bristol pad, a sketchbook, etc, which you may already have. Watkins should be sending it pretty soon if enough students sign up for it. Looking forward to meeting you!

  2. can't wait to see photos of your booth!