Tawn has been my accountability buddy for a few years now, but because she lives in Canada and I'm from Austria, we've never had the chance to meet in person. This all changed when I decided to exhibit at Surtex 2023 in New York. Of course I asked her if she wanted to be my booth buddy and helper and she said yes! :D Read about her experience and see what she has to share:
Which Trade Show did you attend?
I attended Surtex in New York City in 2023.
What’s the show's main focus or theme?
Surtex is one of the leading North American tradeshow events where artists and art licensing agencies get direct contact with art directors and buyers allowing them to gain valuable insight into what art companies are actively looking for. This annual event provides a platform for artists to showcase their artwork and open the door for buyouts, commissions, as well as licensing opportunities.
In what role did you attend the show?
I was a booth buddy/helper.
Why did you decide to participate?
My accountability partner, Nina, invited me to be her booth buddy. I decided to go because I had never been before and it was the perfect opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at Surtex and what it’s all about. I wanted to walk away from the show knowing if it was really worth all the hype and most importantly the investment.
Like many, I heard about how amazing it was from many who had participated in previous years. With designers walking away having sold enough to pay off their booth costs, with notepads full of interested company contacts, and non-stop networking amongst peers, art directors, buyers, and agents alike. Sounds pretty amazing! So I wanted to find out if this was still true.
Because this was my first time going and the first Surtex event since 2020, I was uncertain of what to expect. It could have been one of two scenarios, either it would be bursting at the seams because people were excited to reunite or it could be quieter than in previous years because people weren’t comfortable going to large events yet.
Ultimately, I was expecting something similar to previous years but toned down a smidgen.
Tawn and Nina in Nina's booth at Surtex 2023
What did you gain from participating?
My main goal for the show was to help Nina gain as many leads as humanly possible! My secondary goal was to naturally, market myself while I was there. I wanted to network with companies and start reaching out to licensing agencies because I was considering the possibility of representation.
At the end of the day, Nina and I got a good handful of leads for her creative business and I gained some contacts as well and chatted with several agency representatives. Some of those discussions are still quite active so we’ll see where it leads me going forward.
In terms of experience, I’ve definitely walked away from the show with a much better idea of what to do and not do if I were to ever exhibit. For example, make sure your banners will fit in your luggage for easy transportation. Consider how you plan on attaching your banners to your booth so that it’s quick and easy. Make sure to bring not only a pricing sheet and invoice but also intake forms for taking contact information from those who visit your booth. Make your portfolio accessible to passersby so they can easily stop and browse through it. Folks seemed especially enamoured with artwork that displayed some personality and character. These are a few of the things I probably would have had to learn the hard way had I not had the opportunity to see how others set themselves up.
How did you prepare for the show?
I didn’t do much, honestly, since I was just going as a helper, but I did get professionally printed postcards with samples of my artwork with my contact information. I wanted to hand these out to prospective leads and licensing agencies.
And as silly as it may sound, internally, I practiced talking through various scenarios and situations to familiarize myself with not only talking about Nina and her work but also my own. (Not something I’m personally accustomed to.)
Tawn's beautiful and colourful promo cards for Surtex 2023
What's your must-have to bring to a show?
First, the obvious, bring water and food that’s easy to munch on! From the perspective of the helper who also happens to be an artist, do yourself the favour of bringing postcards or business cards with your contact information to hand out and market yourself when you walk the floor. So that you can walk away knowing that you put yourself out there and that maybe something can come of it in the near future. You never know if you don’t give it a shot!
Did you notice any trends at the show?
I didn’t browse any other artists’ portfolios because I didn’t want to be in the way in case a prospect showed up. But just from looking at all the booth setups, I noticed a lot of bright colours, florals, seasonal themes, and animals.
Although there were a lot of similar themes, there was also a wide variety of art styles present. Continuing to prove that you should follow your own artistic gut when creating unique work because all styles are needed!
Have there been any challenges you had to overcome?
We had only 4 hours to set up our booth before and after the show. I wish we had had way more time to prep, so we didn’t feel rushed to put everything up. It was also pretty exhausting, especially after being a tourist all day in the city!
During the show, I noticed that many art directors/buyers were staying in the front section of the show, where all the agents' booths were located. Some buyers trickled in but tended to walk the rest of the floor in deep conversations with each other and only glancing momentarily at the artwork in artists’ booths. By day two, it became clear that we needed to grab their attention so they would stop at our booth long enough to look through Nina’s portfolio and for us to get their contact information. Having a more active presence really helped to make day two a more successful day overall.
MilkyRosa booth setup for Surtex 2023
How much did you invest?
Because I was there as a helper, I had no Surtex expenses per se (no booth costs, no insurance costs, no banner printing costs, or portfolio printing costs) What I did pay for included:
- Flight in from Canada
- Room and board
- Transportation (I took the subway and walked everywhere)
- Postcards for the show
- All other expenses were of a tourist nature
Ultimately, my expenses totalled $1690, give or take a few bucks.
What's your résumé of the show?
I think overall it was a really great experience, and because I was the booth buddy I got to enjoy it relatively stress-free. I feel like attending the show as a booth buddy, whether sharing a booth or just helping, is a really great way to get your toes wet. Your investment will be significantly more budget-friendly as well.
Attending allowed me to meet many fellow artists I hadn’t known before the show and I managed to hand off my postcards to a handful of prospects. There were also many designers present whom I admired for years, though unfortunately, I didn’t muster the courage to say hello. Maybe next time!
It’s hard to know if Surtex is worth it right after the show because the main thing you walk away with are contacts whom you have to follow up with and start to foster a relationship with. It can take a while to get any commissions or licensing agreements from a prospect as well, because, again, you have to build that relationship first. You might have to wait a good 6+ months before you really know if Surtex was successful for you and your creative business. So, time will tell.
Surtex 2023 Entrance at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York
Are you considering attending again?
I would love to attend again, but the investment is steep for someone like myself who is in the early stages of my licensing career. A booth can range from anywhere between $4k-$5k plus all other related expenses (transportation, materials, meals, etc…)
I might consider going to an alternative event if the pricing is more budget-friendly. Or if Nina decides to go to Surtex again, I’d be more than happy to be her booth buddy or helper once again, if she’ll have me!
(And yes, I would ;) Tawn was a great booth buddy to have!)
Written by Nina Schindlinger
Interview with Tawn Moore
I’m a Canadian surface designer and illustrator who loves creating colourful, feminine illustrations and patterns. I draw inspiration from life’s special moments, while often infusing a touch of humour into my artwork. My vibrant designs can be found on a variety of products from greeting cards to puzzles.