Monday, May 19, 2014

Walking the floor at Surtex

...looking for chocolate.. by @schulmanArt, Miriam Schulman

If you ever thought about Art licensing pin this article!
Surtex is a big conference held at the enormous Javits center in New York City each year that connects designers and artists with manufacturers looking for art for their products. This year "I walked the show" meaning that I didn't have my own booth but paid a ticket to come inside. This blog post shares some things I learned and saw.

What is art licensing?

For those who are completely unfamiliar.. art licensing is a big business. If you go to Target or Bed Bath & Beyond you will see art and designs on products ranging from dinnerware to bedding greeting cards, calendars and more. Each of the designs are made by artists and the rights to use their art on products are achieved either by purchasing the copyright or entering a "licensing" agreement. Including licensing as part of my business model is definitely one of my 2014 art goals I made this year...attending the Surtex show was one giant step toward reaching the goal.

Artist Megan Duncanson shows a buyer her designs

Purpose of the show

The purpose of the show is to connect designers with buyers of designs. Artists and artist agents pay a hefty fee to maintain a booth on the floor. Manufacturers and buyers can look at designs from hundreds of artist portfolios in one place and make decisions on designs to put on their products. At this show, the agents don't want to look at artists portfolios ( I knew that) but I could quickly see what type of art they have in their portfolio and if my art would fit in with the other artists that they represent. In addition, I took into consideration if their booth looked good or shabby! So I saved myself lots of hours of online research to figure out which agents to contact.. I also learned what I would need to do if I wanted to have my own booth next year.

About the chocolate

So let me explain about the chocolate. Nearly every booth puts out a bowl of chocolate or candy. After the plastic boxed "Javits" salad and bitter coffee I much needed chocolate. I stopped at the first booth I saw with a bowl. Now when an artist goes to one of these trade shows without a booth, it is called "walking the show." So I started joking that I was walking the show for chocolate.
Lisa Rogers' Surtex booth from 2010
Agent Lila Rogers' Surtex Booth

Get an agent or represent yourself?

I also thought there would be more agents and was pleasantly surprised to see there were lots of artists representing themselves. All the artists I spoke to who had a booth last year said the booth pays for itself. {then again, artists who did not have a successful year did not come back!} I did talk to a few agents and there is one in particular I plan to contact this week about representing my peacock art and mixed media collage art. Why did this agent stand out? They were easy to talk to and I could see myself working with them and most importantly I recognized (with respect and admiration) a lot of the artists who they already represent which was a huge vote of confidence. In this blog post I share several booths..can you guess which one I am going to contact?

Painted Planet Surtex Booth

Artist Collectives

There were groups of artists showing together as an "artist collective" which basically is a group of artists who split the work and the fees and show together. This allowed them to get a larger and more prominent booth. Their booths were buzzing as manufacturers are always looking for new, different and the next best thing. The artists has each other to feed off the positive energy. This is definitely an option I want to seriously consider next year.

Educational materials

When I plunked down the $275 it cost to buy a ticket for the show I had thought that it included the educational conferences they hold in connection to the show. (it does not) Each panel lecture costs $90 for a 90 minute discussion. Since the organizers said they are taping the series again and they would be available later for much less I decided I would wait until then. I had watched last year's panel discussion in my studio while I painted which is a better use of my time. I am still happy I spent the money... I learned a lot more in one day then in any online class or reading any book.

Carol Van Zandt

Trend Forecasts

There was a free lecture series going on upstairs on the main trade show floor where Pantone and other booths presented their trend forecasts. This was fascinating but deserves its own blog post ( are you subscribed? and have you checked your spam folder for If you are subscribed to blogs via email using the blogger platform, many of their post updates may be landing in your spam folder due to changes made by yahoo and other email service sure you mark them as not spam! Here are all the ways you can follow my blog: by Email / RSS / BlogLovin / NetworkedBlogs)

I always love comments to let me know that you stopped by!{Do you think I should get an artist agent or represent myself?}