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.


My Journey to Surtex | April 2017 Update: Only One Month Left!

Exactly four weeks from now, I'll be hopping on a plane to New York and gearing up to exhibit at Surtex for the very first time – and it feels so surreal! This past month of prep has been very intense, but I'm happy to report that I've had a very productive and mostly positive month.

My Journey to Surtex April 2017 Update: Only One Month Left | shannonmcnab.com

What I've Been Up to This Month:

I feel like April was definitely my "in the trenches, get it done" month in terms of Surtex prep. Over the past three weeks, I've ordered nearly everything I need for my booth from fun giveaway items to sample products showing off my designs to the all-important booth banners (can't show those yet, I want to keep them a surprise!).

It was also a busy month in terms of marketing. I signed up for a trial month of LinkedIn Premium so I could track down the names of art directors for the companies I most want to work with. The scariest part??? Actually contacting them with an InMail message hoping for a response. It's a pretty humbling experience to put yourself out there, hoping that companies like what you do.

Social media is another thing I've been focusing on as I've started posting the previews I spent a lot of time working on in February (like the example below). It's important to post regularly to Instagram, so I'm sharing snippets of new work and trade show prep in-between Surtex previews. And because automation makes life SO much easier, I already have ALL my preview images between now and the show uploaded to Later.com with captions so I don't have to think about it. 

Shannon McNab SURTEX 2017 Preview | Booth 3037

However, I always strive to be honest about my artistic journey, so despite accomplishing a lot this month, I want to share my setbacks too. One place where I feel like I've "fallen behind" a bit is in creating new work for my portfolio. Since my March Surtex update, I've only managed to create five new pieces instead of the 8-10 I was hoping for. I know that my creative energy runs in cycles, but this past month has seen a dip in energy, even in my most creative periods.

It's hard to pinpoint just one thing to blame my lack of creative energy on as it's usually a combination of factors, but one important difference between this month and last is that I've started overthinking things. In times of extreme stress, I typically default to what I affectionately call "worry wart mode" and until now, I've been fairly good at managing my stress level and taking time off when I feel I need it.

Happy Hour Cocktails Illustration by Shannon McNab ©2017

But now that the show is actually right around the corner, I've found myself starting to nitpick and revisit every decision. From theme to color choices to the overall presentation of a design, I've been doubting everything. Sometimes I get so caught up worrying about what buyers and art directors might want to see that it's been almost paralyzing. So much so, that I took this entire week off from creating any new work to give my creativity tank time to refill.

Constant creativity is hard, so it's important to know when you need a break, and it's something I relearn over and over again.

I absolutely LOVE what I do for a living. That moment when I get a pattern to repeat perfectly or I finally master a new technique in Illustrator – it truly makes me giddy! But it can be easy to lose sight of that when I start to worry about what others think (art directors or otherwise). A very wise fellow designer recently said to me that I should "design for one", create the things that make me happy, and everything else will fall into place. It's great advice and I'm going to keep that in the back of my mind as I run towards the Surtex finish line.
 

Lesson Learned: It Takes a Village

I'm sure you've heard the saying "it takes a village to raise a child." Well, I believe the same is true when preparing for a trade show while also trying not lose your mind.

When I made the decision to exhibit at Surtex last year, it was just me. And you know what?? It was lonely first couple of months. I was still finding my footing, but I knew I needed help if I was going to be successful and stay sane.

First, I asked my husband for help and he could not have been more supportive – he'll even be working in my Surtex booth with me! And while my husband's encouragement has been wonderful, it still wasn't enough. I needed someone else; someone who knew exactly what I was going through.

That's why I'm so grateful for my accountability partner and fellow Surtex attendee, Lizzie Clark. She reached out to me at the end of 2016 and we've been in constant contact ever since. We schedule Skype chats every other week and email in between to keep each other on-track. She's been an incredibly supportive partner-in-crime and I can't wait to meet her in person next month (and luckily she's only 2 booths down from me!).
 

I've also been thankful to be part of Jennifer Nelson's Facebook group Advice for Artists. It's a large group of incredibly knowledgeable and encouraging group of designers where you get really thoughtful answers to your questions.

Another place where I've been able to connect with many fellow designers who are always eager to encourage each other is Instagram. And while I've heard many say that the industry can be very competitive and cutthroat, I'm lucky that my experience with other surface designers has been nothing but positive.

So my lesson learned this month is that if you're considering signing up for a trade show or embarking on a big new business endeavor, don't go it alone. The journey is way more fun (and A LOT less stressful) if you have a village of support around you.


My Journey to Surtex | March 2017 Update: Two Months & Counting

I'm back with my March Surtex update and there's exactly TWO MONTHS LEFT until the show... eeeek!! And even though my last update was only five weeks ago, I've tackled lots of items on my to-do list since then.

My Journey to Surtex March 2017: 2 Months & Counting | shannonmcnab.com

What I’ve Been Up to This Month: 

My preparations for the last month have run the gamut from "mundane" tasks like creating invoice forms and securing booth insurance (something I didn't even know I would need) to more "exciting" endeavors like building the pages of my printed portfolio and booking my flight to NYC – both of which make my dream of exhibiting seem much more real!

And of course I've continued to create new work – 8 pieces since early February. I decided to spend most of my time this month focusing on character design and stand-alone illustrations to help round out my pattern-heavy portfolio.

Flowers for You Greeting Card Illustration | ©2017 Shannon McNab

I've also been developing my Wacom tablet skills, since I've had one for two years and barely used it for anything more than finishing touches. My "old" way of designing (especially with more complicated illustrations) was usually a long process:

  1. Create a rough pencil sketch
  2. Use tracing paper to trace over the original drawing in pen
  3. Scan the pen drawing into the computer
  4. Use Live Trace in Illustrator to vectorize my pen drawing
  5. Tweak, color and refine the illustration
  6. Add texture with my Wacom using the brush tool, if needed

However, I've realized that if I intend to make this a full-time career (which I do), I definitely need to become faster at creating work and that means getting quicker with my design process as much as I can.


Enter my Wacom Intuos! For the past three weeks, I've challenged myself to create every new design ONLY using my tablet and pen in Illustrator. To make things more exciting, I bought a fantastic AI Brushes bundle from Retro Supply Co. to help create more depth in my work (like the flower vase illustration above or the space collection below).

Space Dogs Collection | Copyright ©2016, Shannon McNab

And I'm happy to say I'm REALLY hopeful after looking at my progress in less than a month! As long as I have a clear initial design concept, it now only takes me half as much time to complete an illustration versus my "old" process. Here's a look at my new design process:

  1. Create a rough pencil sketch
  2. Scan the pencil sketch into the computer
  3. Trace over sketch in Illustrator with brush & blob brush tools
  4. Tweak, color and add texture to the illustration

I know that as long as I continue to practice, I'll only get better and faster. That means I can create more work and take on more commissions, but it will take less time. It's a total WIN-WIN!

Lesson Learned: Don’t Get Too Precious with Your Art

As I turn the corner towards the "finish line" of exhibiting at Surtex 2017, I thought it would be helpful to share some words of wisdom I've learned through my journey towards my first trade show.

This month's Lesson Learned is from Jennifer Nelson, a successful art agent. I was lucky enough to schedule some one-on-one time with Jennifer in December. We spent the entire time looking through my portfolio pieces and strategizing ways to make my designs stronger and more appealing to buyers.

One thing she reiterated (both in my one-on-one session and in her monthly Prep Talk series) was that you can't get too precious with your designs and that you should go to Surtex ready to sell the majority of your work outright.


That's not to say she's against licensing contracts (on the contrary, she believes licensing to be an important aspect of generating income on your work), but her point was that it's better to sell a design rather than letting it sit on your computer unused because you weren't ready to let it go. I mean wouldn't you rather see a piece you created out in the world on amazing products instead of staring at it on your desktop?!? I know I would!

Herb Garden Illustrations by Shannon McNab

One caveat to this is to not "give your items away" and take the first offer you get on a design. You need to know what $$ you're willing to let each design go for before you show up on the trade show floor. Then when someone has an offer for you on your work, you're in a much better place to negotiate because you've already thought it through.

Another thing to think about is although you should be ready to sell most of your art, consider keeping your most "unequivocally YOU" designs only available for licenses (especially if they are character designs). To be 100% honest, I'm still trying to identify what those pieces are in my own portfolio, but I know it's something I have to stay aware of as I'm creating new work and getting ready for Surtex.

But no matter what, the absolute best part about this business is you can ALWAYS create more work! So even if one of your favorite pieces sell, you can still create new designs you love just as much. And that just makes my passionate surface design heart go pitter-patter!