2017 Christmas Art Challenge

When I posted my completed Christmas art challenge last year, I wasn't sure if I'd be bringing back the challenge for 2017 because I had no inkling of how the following 12 months would play out.

Fortunately, 2017 has been a tremendous year! I crossed my biggest artistic goal of exhibiting at Surtex off my list and am looking forward to a bigger and better year in 2018.

And that's where the Christmas Art Countdown comes in! Just like last year, I'm utilizing this challenge as a way to create lots of new holiday art in a short time period. From the designs I created for 2016's Christmas Art Countdown, I added 16 of them to my portfolio; I'm hoping for a similar outcome this year.

2016 Christmas Art Countdown: A Christmas Advent Challenge by Shannon McNab

For those of you who followed along with this challenge last year, you may notice two big differences in this year's list:

  1. There's no difference made between illustration/pattern and hand lettering prompts. That's because I'm focusing on illustration and pattern work since I already have a fair amount of typography based designs in my portfolio. Of course, typography will inevitably creep in on some of them because I love hand lettering so much!
  2. The prompts are simpler. The reason for this was two fold: 1) I'm looking forward to sketching out multiple ideas for some prompts and hopefully a few of the final designs will be unexpected, and 2) I tried to choose words that could be interpreted in a number of ways. Variety is the spice of life after all!

Now you may be wondering why I'm bothering to post the challenge so early, but if there's one thing I learned from doing the Christmas Art Countdown last year it was: 

Being prepared pays off!


I firmly believe that the only way I was successful in posting daily images for the entire challenge in 2016 was all the pre-planning I did. And because I'll be on vacation (at Disneyland, of course) for the first week of the challenge, this year it's EXTRA important that I plan ahead!

As a matter of fact, I've already sketched out ideas for the first third of the list and hope to have most of my prompt ideas in my sketchbook by the end of the month. My plan of attack is that by the time Dec 1st rolls around, I'll have at least the first 8 designs completed and ready for Instagram (which will make leaving for a week long vacation at the beginning of the challenge a little less stressful).
 

Now I'm Challenging You!

While I really loved doing my own Christmas Art Challenge last year, what made it even better was seeing all the designs my fellow designers posted on Instagram. So with that, I'd love to encourage you to join me! Maybe you see a few prompts that inspire you or you want to challenge yourself to tackle the entire list – either way I'd love to see what you come up with!

Feel free to pin the image above to Pinterest or share my post on Instagram so you'll remember the prompts for each day. And be sure to use the hashtag #christmasartcountdown2017 anytime you post your work so I can see your lovely designs!

Surtex 2017 Recap Part 3: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Today's post is the last of my three-part Surtex recap series and it's probably the most important one of all! Because while exhibiting at Surtex was a huge step for me, it doesn't matter much unless all the time and money I spent towards it helps propel my design career forward.

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Three: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show | shannonmcnab.com

That's why this post is all about the monetary costs of exhibiting at Surtex. Cost is such an important factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show as it can literally make or break your business finances for the year, so I wanted to make sure to include it in my recap blog series.
 

My Costs to Exhibit at Surtex 2017

Trade show costs will always vary and what I've posted here are my own real costs associated with preparing for Surtex 2017. And while it's a bit nerve wracking posting something this personal, I feel it's important to be completely transparent with all the expenses related to exhibiting at a trade show. Since I started this series as a way to help others in their own journey, I felt it would be disingenuous to talk about costs without providing actual numbers.

On the right is a screenshot of a cost analysis spreadsheet I created to track my 2017 Surtex expenses, broken up into four categories. And as an analytics nut, I also calculated the cost percentage for each category (to see where my money was going).


Now before you shout "There is NO way I could afford to spend that much!" I want you to know that it is possible to exhibit at Surtex for significantly less than $9K.


The Cost to Exhibit at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I made several thoughtful decisions that contributed to the overall costs you see above, however, many factors can heavily impact the overall cost (and make it higher OR lower). Here's just three expenses that deeply affected my overall costs:

Booth Size

There were 3 standard booth sizes available for Surtex 2017:

  • 5x10: $2,700
  • 8x10: $4,120
  • 10x10: $4,900

The 5x10 booth is part of the Design District which is only available to first time exhibitors. And while I did initially consider the 5x10 booth as a newbie, after seeing the 2016 booth configuration and the lack of privacy those exhibitors got, I decided on the 8x10 instead.

It was absolutely the right decision for me, however, I know a few designers who exhibited in the Design District this year that are not only on their way to securing deals with buyers, but one has already received representation from a well known agency. So you could potentially save almost $1,500 from exhibiting in a 5x10 booth or even split an 8x10 booth like the girls at the Pattern Social and save about $2K.

My 8x10 Booth Mockup for Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

Choice of Accommodations

You may have noticed that my hotel cost seems incredibly high. But there were two major reasons for this:

  1. My husband joined me for Surtex, however, since accommodations are a necessity when traveling for work, the entire hotel bill during the trade show qualifies as a business expense (and can be deducted from my taxes).
  2. I'm a Best Western rewards member and although I could have stayed at a cheaper hotel, I decided to reserve a room at the closest Best Western to the Javits, which just happens to be one of their Premier hotels. So while it was more expensive than other hotels, I also benefited by racking up lots of reward points.

Next year I will probably do things a bit differently and stay at a hotel that's much closer to the Javits. Also, a friend and fellow designer will likely be accompanying me which means we'll split the cost of the room 50/50. In the end, that will save me around $900.

Marketing Materials

All of my marketing costs associated with Surtex 2017 add up to less than 10% of my overall expenses, however, that's still nearly $800! If I had to do it all over again, I'd make some changes that would have saved me about $300:

  • Business Cards: I mentioned this in the last post, but I panicked and bought 550 cards yet I needed WAY less than that! I wouldn't bother purchasing more than 200-300. 
  • Press Kit Cards: I felt like these were a waste of time and money. Instead, I'd rather just print a few more promotional postcards to have at my booth.
  • Mailing Charges: I spent $70 just for 2-day shipping to get my initial set of banners to my friend's house (read the entire horror story here). Next time I know not to waste money with quick shipping and instead ship my stuff much earlier.
  • Giveaways & Product Mockups: While I didn't go overboard with either, I still feel like I didn't need nearly as much as I had. Next year I plan on getting less product mockups made and only having 100 buttons to give away.

While my costs for 2017 were nearly $9K, I plan to spend less for 2018. But I want you to know IT IS possible to exhibit at Surtex for around $5K (if you are in the Design District or share a booth with someone).

Of course I realize that $5K is still A LOT of money and not everyone will have the business resources to immediately pony up that kind of cash. However, if exhibiting at a trade show is something you're seriously considering, I'd encourage you to spend a year or two saving up for it (like Nicole Tamarin did for her first time at Surtex in 2012).
 

My ROI: The Value of Exhibiting at Surtex

It's been exactly 3 months since Surtex and I purposely waited to discuss the show's cost and value last so I had a much time as possible to track how well I did as a result from exhibiting. So the real question is what did I gain from the $8,712.34 spent on exhibiting at Surtex?

In the 3 months since Surtex, I've already secured contracts and commissions with more than 5 different companies and the income received will easily surpass my costs associated with Surtex 2017.

So yes, the financial gamble I took when I decided to exhibit has DEFINITELY paid off!

Stuck on You Collection | ©2017, Shannon McNab

However, I feel that the value of exhibiting at a trade show extends beyond just my generated trade show income. Here are just a few other reasons I feel Surtex was worth the cost I paid:

  • Company Contacts: Hunting down contact info is a tedious process. And even if you find it and cold call or email them, there's no guarantee you'll hear back or that you've contacted the right person. But at Surtex, you are literally in front of hundreds of companies in the span of 3 days AND you can actually get their correct contact info.
    Also, in the fast paced, internet age we live in, there's something to be said for having in-person conversations. I feel these connections make all those who choose to exhibit, much stronger candidates to companies looking for designs.
  • Great Market Research: Not only do you get to see what trends are dominating other designers' booths, you also get to hear what themes companies are looking for. My favorite question to ask buyers was "What are you looking for?" People who are interested in your work will be really candid and specific with what they want, so I came home with a list of motifs I'm hoping to add to my portfolio over the next year.
    For example, several companies asked for cacti and so the first new portfolio piece I designed after I got home was a cactus themed pattern (see above). I'm happy to report that it's already been licensed to a Brazilian fabric company.
  • Building Community Ties: 90% of the time, I work at home. Being constantly by myself can get lonely and that's why I am so thankful for all the connections I made with fellow designers at Surtex. Since we're all dealing with the same challenges, exhibiting at a show brings you together in a unique way. I was happily surprised to bond with several designers and look forward to seeing them at the show next year!

I realize that was a lot of information to take in, so if you made it to the end... bravo!!! I hope you've enjoyed my post-Surtex blog series and that it's given you some insight into how to make a trade show experience successful.

I'd like to continue blogging about trade shows and touch on things I haven't had a chance to yet, but I think I'll take a few months break from it for now so I can once again focus on building up my portfolio for next year's show (yup, I'm already signed up for 2018)!

If there's anything you'd like me to discuss in future posts, please feel free to post them in the comments below.


Surtex 2017 Recap Part 2: Was it Successful?

I want to start off by saying that I hope you're finding this blog series helpful! I created it because when I went hunting for information last summer, there were lots of details and aspects of the show I simply couldn't find. So for me, if I can help make someone else's journey to their first trade show a wee bit easier, then that makes me happy!

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Two: How Successful Was it + Complete Vendor List & the Best Advice I Received | shannonmcnab.com

Well, it's been a few weeks since my last Surtex recap post and I thought it was about time I get to the "good stuff" (ie. talking about how exhibiting actually went for me). If you missed my last post, I discussed my pre-Surtex booth setup and shared lots of things I wish I had known ahead of time about setup.

And because I cover A LOT in this post, here's a breakdown of each section, with links so you can jump straight to what you want to read about:

Exhibiting at the Show: Discussing how I did with my three pre-Surtex goals
The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received: Nuggets of wisdom from some very smart people
Complete Vendor List: Services I Used for Everything Surtex related

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

Exhibiting at the Show

Deciding to show at Surtex when I am new to the surface design industry felt like a huge (and expensive) gamble, but I also knew it was likely the best option to get my art in front of many companies in a short amount of time. So I'm not surprised that the most common question I've received since showing at Surtex has been "Was it worth it??" And my answer is: HECK YEAH!!

If you've read my May pre-Surtex post, you might remember how I gave myself 3 goals for exhibiting at Surtex. As I mentioned in that post, having these pre-determined goals was an easy way to be able to measure my success after the show. Here's how I did:

Goal #1: Attempt to strike up a conversation with at least 50% of the people who walk past my booth.

About 70% of the people who walked by were either fellow exhibitors, buyers looking for art in a completely different style, or people going to the adjacent furniture show. The other 30% were companies/buyers who were actually interested. Of those that seemed interested, I made it a point to strike up a conversation with nearly all of them. And those that weren't? I attempted to at least give a warm smile and hello if they looked into the booth. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #2: Come home with at least 20 solid leads of people/companies I'd like to work with. 

After tallying all the intake forms I came home with, I ended up with a total of 37 leads. Of those, I'd consider 24 of them solid leads (and 9 that I'd be over the moon excited to work with). Will all these great leads pan out? No, but I'm ok with that. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #3: Sell/license 3 portfolio pieces during the show.

By far my most difficult goal to accomplish, especially as a newbie, but I'm happy to say that I mostly completed this goal. What do I mean by "mostly"? Well, a company purchased licenses for two of my illustrations at the show, but wanted another to complement it, so they commissioned me for a third piece. So while I didn't technically sell 3 licenses at the show, I felt confident I would achieve it within a few weeks. Goal accomplished: Let's say YES!

It was a great feeling at the end of the show to know that I had accomplished all of my goals, most especially because I had made enough to pay for part of my booth fee!

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received

I have a notebook full of notes for Surtex from my entire trade show journey, but some advice I received was better than others. Here are my absolute favorite words of wisdom, plus two pieces of advice I wish I hadn't followed:

Best: Register Copyrights for Your Work Prior to the Show

Who Said It: Emily Danchuk ESQ during a Surtex Copyright/IP Webinar

In order to protect your work as much as possible, you need to file copyright applications in a timely manner. According to copyright.gov, "timely" is considered within 3 months of publication of/offer to sell your work. So I registered all my designs in early May so I am protected in the event that someone copies the work that I presented at Surtex.

Worst: Have 20-25 Personalized Press Kits Available in Press Room

I mentioned this a bit in my May Surtex post, but felt it deserved to be mentioned again here. I printed 50 of my press rack cards; we left 25 in the press room and had 25 at my booth. My husband checked Tuesday morning (the last day of the show) to see how many were left in the press room and only ONE had been taken

Next year, I think I would completely forego creating press kit cards and instead just focus on a promotional postcard or small booklet that showcases my work. I'd probably still put 5 or so in the press room (just in case), but would keep most of them in my booth to hand out to the buyers.

Best: Use an Ergonomic Mat for Your Booth

Who Said It: Sandy Dumais, Illustrator

There was a big discussion in the Advice for Artists FB group about what types of shoes were best for the long hours of standing at the show. Many had great suggestions, but my favorite recommendation was from Sandy; she uses an anti-fatigue mat in her booth to stand on.

As someone who suffers from arthritis in my ankles and hips, I knew orthopedic shoes wouldn't be enough for me so I scoured Amazon for the best, compact mat I could find (see direct link below in vendor list). It fit perfectly flat inside my checked baggage and was so helpful at making my legs and feet less achy at the end of the day. 

Best: Sell Designs in Small Groupings (main print + 1 to 3 coordinates)

Who Said It: Jennifer Nelson, Art Agent

This is something Jennifer mentioned often in her Prep Talks and I'm so glad I heeded her advice. Coming from a scrapbooking design background, I'm used to creating large collections usually consisting of 6-12 patterns. However, such large groupings can be tough to sell simply because you have to sell them at a higher price (to make your time investment to create them worth it).

Most buyers I talked to had fairly specific budgets for purchasing work, so having smaller collections made it easier to license and sell my work. Plus, by showcasing one main illustration or hero pattern with a few coordinates makes the customer feel like they are still getting a lot for the price. At least that was my experience at the show.

Worst: Have 500 Business Cards with You (minimum)

I initially purchased 250 business cards from Moo, but heard that you need to have at least 500 cards so you don't run out. So I panicked and purchased 300 extra cards from Zazzle as a precaution. Now I don't know if it's because of where I was on the show floor (I was near the back) or if it's because attendance was down for buyers, but only about 120 were picked up at my booth.

That means I came home with 400+ leftovers and never needed to purchase extras from Zazzle. Especially when flying from CA where space in my luggage was precious, I have to say I was a bit annoyed I wasted so much of it on business cards. Next time, I'll probably just buy 100 new ones and then supplement with my extra Moo cards from this year (which will save me money too).

Best: Categorize Your Intake Forms During the Show

Who Said It: Anne Bollman of Anne Was Here, Surface Designer

This was hands down, the most useful piece of advice I received, so thank you Anne! Her tip was to categorize each intake form you receive into 3 groups:

  1. Companies you absolutely want to work with.
  2. Companies that you could see yourself working with. 
  3. Companies you may or may not want to work with. 

Over the course of the three days, you talk to so many people and all the details and excitement will start blending together. So after the end of each interaction with a new buyer at my booth, I would mark which group they fit into on the top of the intake form. I had a file folder for each grouping so everything stayed organized behind the counter.

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Samples Shelf | shannonmcnab.com

Complete Vendor List

Something that I felt was really important to share was who/what I used to get everything ready for the show. While a few things get discussed a lot (like banner printers and business cards), other things can be tough finding information about (like where to print carbon copies). So here's a complete list of all the great vendors I worked with and all the things I needed: 

Booth Design & Setup:

Portfolio & Marketing Materials:

  • Portfolio Sheet Printouts: Colorprint (my favorite local printer)
  • Business Cards, Press Kit Cards, & Promotional Mailers: Moo.com

Giveaway Items:

Product Samples:

Also included on my product shelf were samples from scrapbook products I designed from Becky Higgins LLC & Echo Park Paper Co.

Miscellaneous:


I hope you enjoyed my second Surtex 2017 recap blogpost. The third and final post will be all about the costs and value of exhibiting at Surtex. Since cost seems to be the #1 factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show, I feel it's a really important topic to address.

Finally, if you missed any of my previous Surtex blogposts, here's links to the entire series:

September 2016: My Journey to Surtex Begins
February 2017: 100 Days to Go
March 2017: 2 Months and Counting
April 2017: Only 1 Month Left
May 2017: Ready or Not, Here I Come!
June 2017: Booth Setup as a Newbie


Surtex 2017 Recap Part 1: Booth Set Up

Wow, what a whirlwind the past month has been! After spending a week in New York for Surtex, I came home and immediately hit the ground running with my post trade show follow up. . . and that's what I've been doing for the past four weeks.

Surtex 2017 Recap Part One: First Impressions as a Newbie | shannonmcnab.com

I've had lots of time to reflect on my first trade show experience at Surtex and, not surprisingly, I have a LOT to say about it! So instead of trying to cram all my thoughts into one blogpost, I've decided to write a few posts over the next month or so, where each will cover a different topic.

In today's post, I'll be focusing on my booth setup, plus share my own personal Surtex prep horror story. I hope you find the information helpful (especially for all you future exhibitors out there).
 

Surtex Booth Set Up

My husband and I arrived in New York late Friday night and tried to make it to the Javits Center as early as we could manage Saturday morning.

The moment we stepped onto the escalator of the Surtex entrance, I was immediately full of excitement! I've been dreaming about exhibiting here for so long and I think it finally sunk in at that moment that I was living out one of my dreams.  

Surtex 2017: My First Trade Show Experience | shannonmcnab.com

Finding my booth was easy, but then came the major task of actually setting up the booth. I'm sad to say that in all my excitement, I didn't actually take any pictures on setup day, something I regret.

Also, the lighting at the convention center is awful, made even worse by the vibrant orange carpet; it cast a weird, orangey glow on all my photos of the booth. So of few photos I managed to take with my phone during Surtex, most of them are unusable. No joke – the two photos you see below have been HEAVILY color corrected in Photoshop.

Tip #1: If you want to get great photos of your booth, bring a quality camera. I have a Canon dSLR, but didn't bring it since I was trying to pack as lightly as possible. Lesson learned!


Ok, photo rant over! Let's get back to booth set up.

I'd say 85% of setup consisted of getting the banners hung into place. I had an 8x10 booth, so I had 9 banners for the booth panels and 3 for the counter.

Now you would think hanging 12 banners wouldn't take too long, right??? I thought so, BUT I WAS WRONG! After borrowing a step stool from my across-the-aisle neighbor, Virginia Kraljevic, and having the help of both my husband and my good friend, Kirsten, it took us over 4 hours just to hang the banners.

It probably doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist which meant several banners needed to be repositioned multiple times so the horizontal breaks I designed into my banners lined up.

Luckily, we still managed to finish hanging the banners with about two hours to spare, which gave me plenty of time to set up my sample products (seen on the shelf in the image below) and decide how I wanted my counter laid out.

Tip #2: If you have an 8x10 booth or larger, have at least one helper with you during setup day. I saw a few exhibitors putting up their booths solo and have no idea how they managed to pull it off!

My Surtex 2017 Booth | shannonmcnab.com

Besides setup taking longer than I anticipated, I encountered a few other minor hiccups during the day. However, by Sunday morning my booth looked great and I'm happy to say I got lots of compliments on it from exhibitors and buyers during the show.

Here's just a few more things I made note of during setup day (in no particular order):

  • The Javits Center doesn't turn on the air conditioning until the show opens on Sunday, so plan on wearing breathable, summer clothing. I had heard this rumor ahead of time and made sure to wear a tank top, but I still got too hot! Next time, I know to pack shorts.
  • Buy more Command strips than you think you'll need. I purchased two packs (96 strips total), but somehow we still ran a few strips short. Luckily, my friend Lizzie (see the two of us in the photo below) was two booths down and gave me extras she had. If I had to do it all over again, I'd buy 3 packs.
  • When designing the banners, avoid any horizontal breaks that need to match up on adjacent panels (like I mentioned above). Also, light colored backgrounds make the Command strip "bumps" more visible than dark colored backgrounds. I'll definitely change the way I design banners in the future.
  • If you're going to cover the counter sides, consider one long banner that wraps around the entire thing instead of one banner for each of the sides, like I did. The measurements we received didn't match up with it's actual dimensions; the width of the front and sides were smaller so I had to improvise and overlap the banners. Next time, I'll just order one long banner for the whole thing.
  • If you're coming from more than 1 time zone away, consider arriving a day or two early. Coming into NY from CA late Friday and then having to get up at 8 AM (5 AM to us) on Saturday was ROUGH! Looking back, we should have arrived on Thursday. BONUS: That also means I would've had two days for setup and could take my time.
  • Right before you leave the Javits on Saturday, take a quick tour of the show floor. Once the show starts Sunday morning, there's very little time to saunter through the aisles and see other exhibitors' work. We walked the floor before we left and I'm glad we did! Not only did I get to see beautiful work and what motifs were trending, but I could also make note of booths I wanted to visit during the show (mostly to meet fellow designer friends I "met" on Facebook or Instagram over the past year).
Surtex 2017: Lizzie and I - Accountability Partners | shannonmcnab.com

Lesson Learned: ALWAYS Have a Backup Plan

Several of the exhibitors I talked to who were Surtex first-timers had at least one horror story during their Surtex prep. Here's the story of mine – and it's rather loooong:

About six weeks before Surtex, I had my banners printed at SmartPress. They arrived two weeks later and looked AMAZING!

Because I was traveling to the show from CA and didn't want to lug the 30lb box of banners through the airport, I shipped them via my local post office to Lizzie in Virginia who had graciously offered to pack them in her car.

I paid extra for 2-day shipping to make sure they arrived with two weeks to spare before the show, but 7 days later they were still "in transit". So I went to post office to get more information only to be told that there was no guarantee the package would be delivered in time. I broke down in tears.

After the initial panic subsided, I called SmartPress to order a second set of banners and have them delivered directly to Kirsten's office in NY. They were very sympathetic on the phone and guaranteed delivery on May 18, one day before I left for the show.

Not surprisingly, the original box of banners arrived at Lizzie's house two days later. I initially told her to recycle them, but then decided she should still bring them "just in case."

Then the morning we're flying to NY, Kirsten texts me to say the package of the 2nd set of banners never arrived at her office's mail room. So I double check the tracking information only to find SmartPress accidentally sent them to my house again (instead of to the new address I gave them).

Sure enough, the FedEx guy shows up with my new set of banners 30 minutes later. Since I knew Lizzie was already driving up to NY with the first set, it wasn't the end of the world, just a final twist in a crazy turn of events.

SmartPress immediately called me after I alerted them of the mix-up and they couldn't have been nicer. Not only were they apologetic, but they refunded me the entire cost of the 2nd set of banners.

Moral of the Story: Always have a plan B, C, and even D, plus give yourself ample time to execute secondary plans if need be! I'm just grateful I ordered my banners as early as I did.
 

Well, I hope you enjoyed my first Surtex recap blogpost! In the next post, I'll cover some of the best (and not-so-great) advice I received, plus share a complete vendor list of who I used to get everything printed and ready to go. Look for that post sometime within the next two weeks!

In the meantime, I'd love to hear any Surtex question you may have in the comments below. Feel free to ask me anything and I'll answer as best I can!


My Journey to Surtex | Let's Do This!

It's hard to believe that Surtex, something I have been working towards for nearly a year, is less than a week away now! I've had lots of friends ask me how I'm doing as the show approaches and my response is always the same, "I am completely prepared, but I don't feel ready." 

My Journey to Surtex May 2017 Update: Ready or Not, Here I Come | shannonmcnab.com

Although to be honest, I don't think there is a way to feel completely ready for something like this. It's a huge milestone moment for me in my surface design career, so I'm just trying remember that all these trade show jitters mean is that I care a whole heck of a lot about what I'm doing!

Surtex Booth Prep

Up until this point in my Surtex blog series (if you missed any, I've linked them all up at the bottom of this post), I've talked quite a bit about my show prep in general terms, but haven't actually shown and explained that much.

The reality is that there are many moving parts to prepping for the trade show, so today I'd thought it would be helpful to show you just a few things I've done to prepare and explain my reasons behind them (which also means today's post is longer than usual).

Marketing Mailers

Exhibiting at Surtex is wonderful because it puts you in front of hundreds of companies who may want to use your designs. However, there's no guarantee that just because people from your dream companies are attending, that they'll make it to your booth. And that's why marketing mailers are an important part of trade show preparations.

Surtex 2017 Marketing Mailers | designed by Shannon McNab

The first and most time consuming part was compiling a list of potential buyers/clients, but then I had to decide exactly what I wanted to send them. After researching what people have done in the past, I came to the conclusion that the simpler and more straightforward I could be, the better, so I opted for a 5x7 double-sided postcard mailer.

The reasons behind that decision were three-fold. 

  1. Simple means less time. I could have come up with a more complicated, multi-piece mailer, but that would mean taking time away from other trade show prep that needed my attention. 
  2. Many mailers end up in the trash. It's a sad truth, but I've heard this from several other designers and art agents. And as much as I would love to have everyone save my mailers and meet up with me at the show, that's not realistic.
  3. Environmental impact. I'm a bit of a recycling nut, so I hated the idea of creating complex mailers with lots of resources, especially when many will end up in the trash (reason #2). By sending out a single postcard, I saved paper by not needing envelopes.

Now you may notice in the picture above, that I designed three different mailers and may be wondering why. My reasoning is that the companies I'm contacting are from a variety of markets and cater to different audiences. By sending them something that is a bit more catered to their overall product aesthetic, I'm hoping I increase my chances of success.

Press Kit

There's lots of debate on whether press kits are needed as much as they were in a pre-internet age. For example, in the Surtex hosted webinars, the presenter reiterated the importance of having lots of them to hand out.

Yet on the other end of the spectrum, I've heard from several designers that they spent loads of time and money on press kits for Surtex only to end up with dozens of them leftover. So I decided to approach my press kit much like I did with my mailers, by keeping things simple. For me, that meant creating a digital press kit.

Especially nowadays when most press opportunities are online, it made sense for me to create my press kit online (not to mention the environmental savings of doing so).


However, even with a digital press kit, I knew I needed something tangible to leave in the press room and hand out in my booth. It also needed to hold a decent amount of information and needed to be sized accordingly.

Surtex 2017 Digital Press Kit Rack Card | shannonmcnab.com

So I opted for a double-sided rack card (it's roughly the dimensions of a letter-sized envelope). On the front, I included a good representation of the art I create (see above) and the back has my contact information along with a brief introduction to me as an artist. However, the most important part of the rack card is the QR code I included which when scanned with your phone, takes you to the digital press kit on my website.

The best part about this solution is that as I add to and update my press kit, the URL will remain the same, so I won't ever have to "reprint" press kits. When I get a press request, all I have to do is send them to that webpage. It really felt like best solution, especially for longevity sake.

Portfolio Prints

Another source of debate among exhibiting designers is what form your portfolio should take to best represent your work in your booth. There are three options that are the most popular and oftentimes, designers will choose to have more than one option with them at the booth:

  1. Loose Portfolio Sheets: They can be stacked directly on the table, corralled into a binder with page protectors, or collected by category into folders. The advantage is that if you sell a design outright, the buyer can leave with the print.
  2. Bound Portfolio Book: A bound book can either be used to show your entire portfolio or a "highlight reel" of your favorite work from the year. The advantage is that it's a lot less cumbersome to travel with and look through than loose sheets, but it may also be harder to keep track of which pieces are no longer available.
  3. Digital Portfolio on a Tablet: Definitely the simplest and most travel friendly option, especially if the app you use allows for keyword searching (you'd need to add metadata to your images ahead of time for this to work). However, I've heard that many clients/buyers still like to look through physical pages.
Surtex 2017 Portfolio Loose Sheets | shannonmcnab.com

Personally, I decided to go with options 1 & 3. I'll have 11x17 loose sheets of my designs organized into three stacks (Christmas, floral, and other) and also have a tablet where people will be able to search by keyword. I originally had planned on also having a "highlights" Blurb book, but since it's my first year and I don't yet have a portfolio consisting of hundreds of pieces, I didn't feel it was worth the time investment to create the book.

Lesson Learned: Setting Goals

One aspect that I feel doesn't gets discussed very much concerning Surtex and trade shows in general is goal setting. Understanding your expectations for a trade show ahead of time is crucial step if you want to grow your art business. I mean you put all this effort into creating new work and exhibiting, so you need to make sure you know what you'll be happy to leave with. 

The goals you set should be based on what you hope to gain from your trade show experience, but be sure to not make goals too general. They should be specific enough so at the end of the show, you can easily assess whether the show was a success.


Everyone's goals are (and should be) different, especially when it comes to how long you've been in the industry. Someone who's been a surface designer for years will have a much different experience and be focusing on completely different goals than I will as a first timer.

Here are my three specific (and somewhat lofty) goals for the show:

  1. Attempt to strike up a conversation with at least 50% of the people who walk past my booth. This is the most challenging and nerve wracking goal I've set for myself, but it's very important. Personally, I've never been that comfortable talking with strangers about myself, but that's a big part of being an artist. In order for me to get better at that, I need practice.
  2. Come home with at least 20 solid leads of people/companies I'd like to work with. I have my intake forms ready to go and will be writing down the information of any buyer/client that's interested in my work, but I also know that everyone who's interested will not necessarily be a good fit. So while I plan on filling out way more than 20 intake forms over the course of the show, I'm hoping that I'll walk away with a stack of company contacts who I feel are an especially good match for my art.
  3. Sell 3 portfolio pieces during the show. This is the most lofty goal of all. Why is that?? Well, I've heard that many companies are cautious to do business with first time exhibitors. It makes perfect sense – I'm a completely unknown entity to them.
    So while I know it's a risk to set a goal knowing full well I may not achieve it, I'm still going to make selling my designs at the show a priority. Not only will selling work bring in income to offset some of the costs of Surtex, it will also fuel my confidence and make it easier to talk to art directors and buyers after the show (basically it makes goal #1 easier).

Although I have these goals in my head, there's no way to know whether I'll actually achieve them all, but it's ok. And that's because I can walk out of the Javitz on Tuesday evening, knowing I put a lot of heart and effort into exhibiting and can feel good that I took such a take a huge step forward in my surface design career.


If you'd like to follow along my journey during the show, be sure to follow me on Instagram. I'm hoping I'll have time to post at least one daily update! And before I forget, here's the links to the rest of my 2017 Surtex preparation series:

Part 1: My Journey to Surtex Begins
Part 2: 100 Days to Go
Part 3: 2 Months and Counting
Part 4: Only 1 Month Left

Also, I'm hoping once I've handled all the immediate follow up from Surtex that I'll have time to share a recap of the show sometime in June.