Four members of the Happy Happy Art Collective recently exhibited at SURTEX - a trade show where original art is licensed and sold. Lauren exhibited solo in booth 559, while Emily, Jill and Tammie exhibited in a joint booth (532). Here's their take on the show.
What expectations for Surtex did you have going in?
tammie :: Since this was my second year exhibiting, I sort of knew what to expect. I expected to see clients from last year in addition to meeting lots of new ones. I expected lots of baby apparel companies seeking to buy artwork outright.
lauren: I was hoping for the experience to be bigger and better in general. I felt like my booth design and overall portfolio was stronger and wanted to see the results of that self improvement pay off.
emily :: I tried to have realistic expectations going in. I have heard that it usually takes several years of exhibiting before it really starts to pay off - so I didn't expect to walk away from the show with buckets of cash. What I did want to gain was the experience of exhibiting and making some solid contacts.
jill :: Being a first timer, I went into it with low to no expectations. I saw it as an opportunity to get my stuff out there, gauge as to where my work could fit, make contacts, learn, and have fun!
What was most surprising to you at the show?
tammie :: I was surprised at how many people were interested in how our collective worked. I was also surprised at how many publishers we met with and how relatively few fabric and home decor companies we met.
lauren: This time around I had a lot more people stay longer and wanting to talk about specific projects they thought would work for me. Last year people came by with just a sense of general interest, more of a "We like what you're doing; stay in touch," attitude. My meetings this year felt more purposeful.
emily :: I couldn't believe how many stationery companies came to our booth! (though I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised with The National Stationery Show happening right next door...
jill :: The number of times we opened a conversation with,"We are three independent artists..." It all worked really well, but I didn't anticipate the curiosity of us showing as a collective. Also, the sheer variety of visitors, from mylar ballon companies, to department store window designers, to publishers, to gift market manufacturers, to stationery supply companies, toy manufacturers....the list was long and varied.
What product markets did you visit with?
tammie :: oh my gosh! so MANY! children's books, fabric, garden art, children's apparel, children's nursery decor, and lots more i can't think of right now.
lauren:: Off the top of my head there were many publishers, lots of companies working with greeting cards and stationery, home decor, children's wear. I'm sure there were more, but those are the ones that pop out at me.
emily :: stationery, publishers, fabric, and children's merchandise and apparel
jill :: all of the markets that Tammie and Emily mention. Everyone who visited checked out all of our work.
Was your show successful?
tammie :: although it will be a few months to see if it was a win on a purely financial front, i would definitely say it was a success! i got to meet lots of new potential clients, not to mention how many artists i got to meet. my definition of success is that i have fun, i work hard, i learn a lot and i meet a lot of people in the industry. i definitely did all of those things!
lauren :: It was! I left the show with a lot of good business relationships established and even a couple of deals in place already. Like Tammie mentions, it will take some time to see things come together.
emily :: Yes! I had sent promos to dream clients before the show, and a few actually came to our booth to meet me and look at my art. It was so nice to be able to establish relationships with companies that would otherwise be next to impossible to contact. One person told me she received hundreds of promos and only kept two - mine was one of them! That made me so proud.
jill :: I walked away with a bunch of new contacts, some deals and hopefully potential ones, which is far more than I expected. Most importantly, it was a lot of fun and a great life experience which defines success for me.
Were you happy with the format that you presented your work? Would you do it the same again or differently?
tammie :: i will definitely trim the fat next year. i'll bring fewer pieces of higher quality. i'm happy with the portfolio books rather than the iPad i had planned on using.
lauren :: Overall I have been happy with my "old school" 3 ring binder that I continued using from last year as it allows me to add art up until the last second, but I am looking forward to having a blurb book next year. I've been continuously impressed with the quality I see from other artists who have used them and think the presentation will add something to my portfolio.
emily :: I brought two portfolios for my available patterns and illustrations, which I will definitely use again. I am always a fan of physically turning pages. Plus it will be nice to rearrange/remove the pages for future use. Next time, though, in addition to the portfolios, I would like to put together some sort of look book to showcase my art on different products. I also had a couple requests for samples of my work - so I may consider a mini-portfolio takeaway piece for potential customers.
jill :: I was perfectly happy with the portfolio books. As Lauren mentions, it allowed me to add stuff up to the very last minute, and the sheets could be removed or moved around as necessary. That being said, the blurb books sure are pretty, but realistically, I need to start preparing for the show earlier than mid-March for that to happen.
Will you be back next year?
tammie :: anything can happen over the next year, but right now i'm leaning towards yes!
lauren :: Yes! The agency I'm represented by, Jennifer Nelson Agency, will have their own booth next year.
emily :: I hope so! I am still quite overwhelmed with follow-ups and client work that has been patiently waiting for my return - so when the dust settles I will be able to evaluate with a clearer head.
jill :: Who knows, but I hope I can swing it!
What are your biggest lessons / takeaways for next year?
tammie :: my takeaways for next year :: do more work before january. stay off the internet in the weeks leading up to the show. stay focused on what style of art i do best. create a better promo to send before the show. have fun swag to giveaway at the show. create art geared towards holiday and greeting card!
lauren :: It pays to invest in some good shoe inserts! Start work as early as you can...I'm looking forward to having more "collections" next year...Keep pumping out holiday and birthday art if you feel like it.
emily :: 1) I spend a lot of time developing collections - and I was disappointed in how little interest there was in these large groupings. There was a lot of interest in individual pieces from the collections - but not as a whole. Perhaps if more fabric companies would have stopped by it would have been more beneficial - but in the future I may focus more on standalone illustrations with a couple coordinates as opposed to large collections. 2) I will definitely do another promo mailer next year. 3) Designing a booth beyond the standard vertical banners was key in bringing us some attention. I heard comments such as our booth "was a breath of fresh air" and was "so fun and happy". We also had some interactive elements that kept people at our booth longer (photo props). If nothing else, people tended to walk by slowly, taking it all in - which gave us more opportunity to start a conversation with them.
jill :: 1)The obvious answer is start earlier! Do more of what I most comfortable with...lettering and characters and not worry if it's in a pattern format or not. 2) Christmas. Christmas. Christmas. 3) Do a super fun, stand out self promo mailer, even if it only goes to a handful of dream clients. 4) As Emily mentions, make the booth stand out.I think if you are showing in a collective, you have an opportunity to brand yourselves as such to get yourself some attention. Once they are in the booth, they will look at your work.
how would you approach your work for the show differently next year?
tammie :: i will definitely start earlier in the year. i will continue to improve my craft and i will make sure i have fun exploring new media. i'll make sure i have more placement prints and not solely focus on surface pattern.
lauren :: I would like to do more collections in general and try to focus on more popular subject matter. This year, for instance, I found out that I can actually do pretty florals. Who knew! I want to see that work grow and continue to do my hand lettering which was also very popular this year.
emily :: Like I said earlier, I probably won't spend so much time creating large collections. I will focus on developing more Christmas/holiday art. I will do more hand lettering and standalone illustrations that can be applied to greeting cards.
jill :: Do more work that could be directly and obviously applied to the stationery market. More lettering, more Christmas and hopefully more time to do all the above.
What was your biggest positive and biggest negative?
tammie :: the biggest positive was being in the booth with two other amazing artists - jill and emily! we had so much fun! the biggest negative was not feeling as prepared as i would have liked, but i'm sure almost everyone exhibiting feels that way to some degree.
lauren :: I felt like my booth this year was waaaaay more professional and exciting than last year. From far away you could see everything and I was really satisfied with it overall. Negative? I never have enough time to check out The National Stationery Show, which I think always gives artists a great overview of what's happening in the market.
emily :: I am a big believer of scaring myself or making myself uncomfortable in order for big things to happen. And Surtex was probably one of the scariest, most stressful things I've experienced during my illustration career. And THAT is why it was such a positive experience. I learned SO much - from the exhibiting to the business stuff - from being able to get a person from the aisle into our booth without being pushy to being able to talk about (sell) my work - to meeting some amazing people from artists to potential clients - to sharing not only a booth but a hotel room with the same people for 4 days (and loving every minute of it!) - SO much good came from this show. Sorry! I guess I can't name one thing...
As for the negative? I had a really hard time balancing work and life in the few months leading up to the show. I didn't get much sleep, I hardly worked out, my social life was at a stand-still and I made very little time to hang out with my family. Thankfully my family is uber supportive and encouraging - I owe them so much.
jill :: I'm gonna keep it short and simple on the positive... just the fact that I took the plunge and did it! And I could not and would not have ever done it on my own without the planning and support of tammie and emily! We made a great team and I came away with only positives on showing within a group. The negative? Way too many late, late nights trying to make up for the fact that I had such a late start. Not having the time to do a decent self promo... I had to prioritize and just concentrate on making enough art.
How is it exhibiting in a collective versus exhibiting individually?
tammie :: i'm the only happy happy artist who has done both, and there is no comparison! being in a collective is great during the down times and during the hectic times. at times, the show traffic was quite slow and we would use that time to give each other recaps of the client conversations we had. we would also use that time to compare observations of the show. when i exhibited solo, i wasn't really sure what to do during the down times. i didn't have anyone to talk to and i didn't want to look bored or sad.
during the times when show traffic was heavy (and thankfully there were many of those times!!), it's great to have other artists in your booth because you can all talk to clients and take good notes for each other. we had a lot of work to show people and therefore they stayed longer in the booth and we were able to make better connections due to longer conversations.
exhibiting as part of a collective helps with the logistics, too! collaborating on the booth decor was so fun! and it's nice that if one of us wanted to leave the booth for a lunch break or bathroom break, we had the other artists to cover the booth. and obviously it's easier to set up and break down the booth with other artists.
lauren: I really felt like the collectives had some of the more exciting booth designs this year! I didn't know what the happy happy booth was going to look like until I arrived, and I was totally blown away by how creative and fun it looked. Forest Foundry brought back their colorful and stream-lined presentation, and Cloverly Art Collective also had a charming and really beautiful booth. I'm guessing all the creativity and sharing of responsibilities really allows collective artists to work together on exciting new ideas! When you are working solo, it's easier to say "I just gotta get through this" and focus on the basics instead of tackling a challenging presentation.
emily :: Since this was my first time exhibiting, I only know what it's like to exhibit as a collective. During the planning stages we did have trouble coming to a consensus at times - but we worked through it and always came to a fabulous solution. Honestly, I was a bit nervous about the competitive aspect of exhibiting with two others - since I knew we would often be vying for the same jobs. But we did a good job familiarizing ourselves with each others' work - and in those moments we had similar themes/styles - we shared the love - we were generous, encouraging and helpful. We worked SO well as a team and I really thought we brought out the best in each other. Because it was such a wonderful experience, I don't think I would ever exhibit as an individual.
jill :: Well, since I've obviously only done it with a group, I only know one way. That being said, I can honestly say, that it was a truly positive experience and I have no desire to go solo. It's important to be with a group that is both homogenous, yet distinctive in terms of art. I think our work all looked great together and was impactful as a whole, without losing our individuality. Also, we all had each other's back in terms of note taking, listening in on conversations, so we never missed anything, etc. It wasn't a battle of egos or personalities... we all genuinely worked together as a collective to ensure our individual success!