Surtex 2016 Recap

My work has a specific look, it either works for someone or does not, so I’d imagine my experience will be quite different than someone who has a popular/fresher style. I am an oil painter and that look has a niche. This was also my first year exhibiting, so I have nothing to compare the show to in terms of traffic etc. 

Booth Design:

So let’s start with the actual booth design. I knew when I signed up for the show I wanted to focus on my booth reflecting my little world. It certainly helped having a husband that designs trade show booths for a living (on a much bigger scale, but still). I loved how everything came out and it was exactly as I envisioned, that being said I’m not sure I would go that route again. At the end of the day it’s about the work, and if people like your work they’re stopping, regardless of how you set your booth up. So that was an interesting thing to take note of. It was a lot of work and prep that didn’t necessarily bring people into my booth. And on another note, if you want to test your relationship, try seamlessly wallpapering 6 panels into the wee hours of the morning, fun!

 A rendering of my booth plan.

A rendering of my booth plan.

I had a corner booth, it’s a $400 premium but it’s also one less wall you have to pay to get banners printed for, so it pretty much evens out. The interesting thing about my location was that my booth was the very last booth in my row (before the design district), and it was the first aisle of the show. Meaning the perpendicular aisle started there so there was not much traffic at the intersection. The tough thing about that location is that there were people coming down the aisle that didn’t even turn their head. I think if the booth opened from the other direction, where you would be walking towards it, it would have worked better. But being that there was no far wall (because it was a corner, which would have been the first thing you saw of the booth) as you came down the aisle, I felt like a lot of people missed me. My strongest wall that had the most artwork people didn’t see as they came down the aisle because it was behind them. On the flip side, the overflow from NSS came from the opposite end and there was more exposure from that direction. In short, loved having a corner booth but would definitely pick a different location.


I probably went with about 250 takeaway cards and 100 business cards and came home with half of the takeaway cards and maybe 30 business cards. I read so many times that you do not actually go through that many cards, but of course running out would be terrible, so…

I did send out a smallish mailer a few weeks before the show. While some of those contacts did stop by, it was by chance not because of the mailer. They get so many cards leading up to the show, so I would definitely rethink that.


The Artwork:

I first walked the show back in 2011 when I was in-house for the Christmas Tree Shops, and I’m going to be perfectly honest, it was an eye opening/heart breaking experience for me at the time. I was new to the industry and SO much work looked the same, it was visual overload. I quickly learned that companies go to purchase new artwork that works for them, but also to take home a ton of notes of what they can just do in house. 

I went to school for illustration and struggled for years finding the right place for my work, it wasn’t quite right for editorial but also didn’t fit in the fine art world, even though at the end of the day I would love to sit in my studio and paint ships all day. When I discovered the licensing world everything clicked for me. But there is still part of me that wants to make the type of pictures I want to make. SO that was a tough thing about this show. I pay attention to trends, and some certainly do not fit in my style. But the number one thing people stopped for were my pet portraits, a very specific assignment I was asked to do by my wall decor company, a concept you see often because its been a huge trend the last few years. And that’s what people wanted. There will always be a part of me that wants to make my type of pictures regardless of trends, and I always will, but I have to be prepared that those just aren’t going to be the thing that people gravitate towards, and they call them trends for a reason!


My favorite thing about the show was meeting so many people and seeing old friends. I have a lot of friends in the industry, old co-workers and college friends that I got to connect with, not to mention meeting all the clients I already work with that I have been emailing for the past year. So in that regard, I feel like that face to face time is really invaluable and also makes you relevant. I also got so many good contacts of companies I would have never came across from my online research. I heard from a lot of people that the show was quite slow and smaller than ever. I have nothing to compare it to but there were certainly lulls that happened everyday. Tuesday was not nearly as quiet for me as I would have anticipated and more than once I got a good contact within the last 20 minutes of the day.

And one last little thought, man am I exhausted! I thought I would still work this week but take it easier, I have literally been sleeping 10+ hours a night since I’ve gotten home!