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!