Surtex Licensing Fair – New York By Jessica Hogarth

A Little About The Show

Surtex is an art licensing and selling fair that takes place every May in New York. The dates coincide with the National Stationery Show (NSS) and both events are held in the modern and airy Jacob K. Javits Centre between West 34th and 40th Streets on Eleventh Ave, making it easily accessible.

The fair has three sections – art and brand licensing, atelier and design district. I have exhibited at the show twice and have been in the art and brand licensing section because my main aim of the show was to make contacts with companies whom I aim to license my art to (rather than sell off the copyright to my art). The atelier section is for studios that do not license, they prefer to simply sell the artwork and all rights to it for a flat fee to the buyer. The design district section of the show is a small area towards the back of the hall, which is ideal for first-time exhibitors. The booths are all of equal size (albeit very small), but it’s an opportunity to showcase your work at a leading licensing fair for a cost that is perhaps more affordable.

Visitors to the show include art directors and manufacturers who are all looking for art that is going to allow them to stand out from the crowd in a competitive marketplace.

The image below shows our stand in 2016. We decided to showcase our work separately, so I had one wall, and Jules had the other. Many exhibitors opt to just use long banners showcasing their work, but we found the mix of product and printed lengths worked well and really drew attention to the booth.

My Experience Of Surtex

I was so excited in August 2015 to hear that my application to exhibit at Surtex had been accepted. Myself and a friend (Jules), had opted to share the booth, and exhibit under the collaborative name of The Pattern Social. There are numerous ‘collectives’ such as ours, which is a fab way to exhibit if you get the opportunity. It can only take one or two key pieces of art to really grab the attention of an art director so sharing the booth with one or more friends can help to bring costs down.

We had a fantastic time exhibiting in both 2016 and 2017, and of course, we got to enjoy being in New York during the time we had away from the exhibition.

Typically, you get two days to set up the show, if you want to use them. Surtex run for three days (Sun-Tues), so set up is allowed on Friday and Saturday. This year we aimed to get the show set up on Friday to allow us a full day off but we just weren’t quite done in time and had to pop back for a couple of hours on Saturday. Even though Surtex is the only art licensing show I have done, I have exhibited at numerous trade shows in the UK over the last five years, selling my greeting card product, and they always seem to take longer to set up than you envisage. Allow plenty of time to get your booth looking exactly as you want it!

The below two images show the booth during set up this year, and then when it was finished. Things got a lot messier than the first picture before it was all done!

We were even happier with the booth this year and we received a lovely reaction to our work.

Having done UK trade shows I have grown to expect periods of time where the footfall is quiet. However, right until the end of the show, I was impressed with the amount of visitors walking around. This made for an upbeat atmosphere and also made the show feel like it passed really quickly!

If you have researched this show before, or follow the social media accounts of people that have exhibited, you may have seen examples of artists ‘blurb books’. They are designed to give an art director a flavour of your work. I included full pages of repeat patterns, examples of previous collaborations as well as product mock ups, which can be seen on the Christmas example below.

If you are looking to sell artwork outright, then you should have separate sheets printed out, so the buyer can take this away with them at the time. I only had a small amount of work to sell flat fee, and it worked well having a combination of the individual sheets and the portfolio book, which has been useful when showcasing my work to people since returning home.

In order to try and maximize your exposure at the show, you may wish to research and send invites to art directors you want to work with or try to get some online coverage. The renowned Print Pattern blog promotes studio flyers in the run up to the event, and many other blogs do too. You never know who might just spot your work and come to visit you at the event.

You will, of course, need some kind of business card or flyer to take to the event to hand out to potential clients. We had a combination of business cards and little goodie bags last year, but for 2017 we just opted for a Pattern Social flyer, which worked just as well.

I was really pro-active on Instagram in the run up to the show and I think more and more people are now using this as a way of researching artists they might like to work with.

It is important to follow up contacts made at the show as soon as possible afterwards. Visitors will have seen an awful lot of artwork, you need to remind them why they visited your booth and what they loved about your designs!

A Few Other Things To Consider

If you aren’t based in the USA, then the exchange rates are something you need to pay attention to when booking an overseas show. The cost of attending was higher for Jules and I in 2017 than it was the previous year, due to the fluctuation of the pound against the dollar. There is, of course, hotel fees, flights and food expenses which need to be factored in too, so really research the true cost of an event like this before signing up to it.

We have always taken all of our luggage on the plane, and managed to get our clothes for a week, and everything we needed for the show into one checked in suitcase each and one small carry on case each. Some people use couriers to ship their goods, but a courier company failed to deliver on time to one exhibitor who was then left with nothing to display on the first day of the show. This must be heart breaking and of course incredibly stressful. It is vital to double check expected delivery dates when delivering goods to an exhibition centre, but also remember that sometimes things just go wrong and are out of anybody’s control.

Finally, enjoy it! I really enjoy doing trade shows and exhibitions because it’s a chance to have a really good face-to-face conversation with somebody that loves your work. I spend the majority of my time working by myself so it’s fab to get out there and be social with other creatives!

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Jessica Hogarth
Jessica Hogarth
Jessica Hogarth is a surface pattern designer and greeting card publisher. Jessica is highly sociable and loves hockey; she travels around the north of England to play every Saturday. Jessica also loves people, travel, cats and copius amounts of chocolate.