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.