So you may have already read my summary about Surtex 2014 and what it was like to have a booth there. I’m so excited to be working on several new projects resulting from the show and hear that so many of my artist friends are gonna sign up for next year! As creative colleagues and myself help others plan their Surtex attack, I realize that I’m getting much more into the nitty gritty of how to prepare for Surtex and, most importantly, MAKE ART for the show! Yeah, we’ve talked about where we get our printing done…or which candy seems to attract the best clients (mine is laced with dollar bills and vodka), but sometimes you just have to see the man behind the curtain.
For those of you not familiar with the all-encompassing surface design trade show call Surtex, this is basically a year-round thing. Even if you’re not actively making artwork for it, you’re already planning your booth design in your head or taking note of new trends while shopping. Experienced people start gearing up in early Fall for the May show, if not sooner (like the day after the previous show ends).
So if YOU’RE thinking about doing Surtex 2015 or are just curious about the whole darn thing, I’m gonna tell you some extra thoughts about what you can expect and how you should approach this new adventure:
You will NEVER be 100% ready.
Let’s just get this point addressed right out of the gate. I didn’t think I was going to make Surtex in 2014. In fact, I was aiming for 2015, but the more I thought about what else I wanted to do in my life (like starting a family somewhat soonish after I got married this Fall), I suddenly realized that I had to do it NOW to make sure too many life changes didn’t pile up at once. So I signed up with 5 months to go until the big day. In the end, you will not make as many portfolio pieces as you planned. You will have to abandon one or two booth design dreams. You will be there on day one of the show with coffee in hand and lots of questions still weighing heavily on you.
And that’s totally ok. You gotta start somewhere, and much like learning a foreign language and landing in a country that speaks it all the time, you learn REALLY fast when you get thrown into the thick of it.
I had about 60 something pieces of art, which included 12 “collections”.
Yup. 12. Not a BUH-ZILL-EEE-UHN. Just 12. But I had 12 solid collections that showed my range, skills, and what I like to call “flavor”. The other images were illustrations that I felt like would work for the licensing industry. Also, I didn’t throw everything I had into my portfolio- don’t be afraid to edit! Clutter in your portfolio is just distracting.
Think about having art to sell outright if possible
Now, my first year I didn’t have enough work to warrant a separate category of “buy outright” art (art and designs that you sell the copyright to in exchange for a flat fee from clients), but next time I will have art for this purpose because it helps bring in a significant amount of money for some artists I know (and money is important, let’s be honest). Many people ask how you do both licensing AND selling your work outright without it being confusing for you or your clients. In general, my “buy outright” work tends to be a little more mass-market friendly (I don’t want to say “generic”, but let’s say some of the characters aren’t as developed as my art meant for licensing). It might be a little simpler, maybe less characters, or the characters aren’t as unique. This actually works out because the couple of clients at my booth who did want to buy outright said that my characters were too specific for them and would need to be changed anyway! So hooray- everyone gets a pony!
I think a good way to make art for this category is to consciously tell yourself when you sit down to work, “I am making art today that I will sell outright”. If you start a new piece with that in mind, it helps a lot.
A final note on this subject: many colleagues mention a good point about not giving away your “signature look” in a piece that you sell outright, because you technically are giving up your copyright and that could cause problems in the future if you keep making the exact same icon or motif in future designs. For instance, one friend of mine draws these cartoon clouds a very specific way. She would draw a slightly different cloud for a piece that was being sold outright, while still having it fit in her style comfortably.
Use trends that make sense to you and your art.
It’s easy for artists to get paralyzed when thinking about their brand and what they’re “suppose to have”. Most likely you will start looking for trends and other hints in the market to help you develop new pieces that will attract clients. This is smart. However, there are a lot of trends out there, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to tackle every single one. Some trends right now are things I’m very interested in; others, not so much. Don’t try to force any trends, styles, or subject matter in your art if it’s not meant to be- you’ll be miserable and the work will probably suffer, too.
On that point…
Don’t try to be someone else
With the web, pintrest, blogs, podcasts, and other numerous sources that expose people to new art and artists every day, it’s normal for everyone to have their idols and inspirations. The trick is to not let these inspirations scare you into trying to be something that “you think clients will want”. If someone is really big and you want to be just like them, or you aspire to be the next so-and-so… don’t. I’m not talking about broad strokes and trends, like you do vector hedgehogs and that other artist does vector hedgehogs. That happens. What I mean is…have faith in your skills and the uniqueness you can bring to clients. I know deep in my heart that I have the most fun when I focus on my quirky, humorous characters, like an 80’s themed unicorn wearing a jetpack delivering a birthday pizza (© Lauren Minco!). At Surtex, clients definitely noticed this side of me and that’s what they were interested in. So even when you see someone on the biggest design blog, or being carried by your dream client, don’t look at them and say oh, that’s the kind of art I should be doing- that’s the answer! If you like to work in watercolor, work in watercolor. If you love nature-inspired imagery, do that. We all need to grow and experiment, but there is no need to completely reinvent who you are.
Everyone’s journey is different, but I hope this helps. Take care and let me know if you are thinking about being at Surtex next year for the first time!