There are times to be stoic, grit your teeth and recite the “this too shall pass” phrase over and over in your head and wait for it all to be over. Sometimes it’s better to come clean because it’s cathartic to get things off your chest and because you can pass on a lesson you’ve learned. Today is the right time for the latter. And it’s not a coincidence that this comes at the same time Surtex is going on in NYC. In fact, it’s what has inspired me to finally let this all out.
For those of you that don’t know: Surtex is an event that takes place in NYC once a year and it is a chance for artists (licensees) to show off new work for manufacturers to place on wall art, decor items, toys, fabric, stationery and whatever else they need in order to sell their products.
This is the story of my experience.
I exhibited my work at Surtex 2013 and to say that it was a flop is an understatement. My ROI was abysmal. I got one contract out of the whole thing and that’s it. That contract is still in effect and it’s nice to get those quarterly checks. Aside from that – nothing. That’s it. Dreadful and painfully simple.
I attribute these disappointing results to several things, each of which had varying degrees of effect on the final outcome. In no particular order here they are:
- The booths, of new attendees like myself, were located in the back of the show — way back. The first day my neighbors and I were very concerned that visitors weren’t making it all the way to the back. Attendees were busy visiting the artists they had previous relationships with and the veteran artists were doing what they do best, networking with everyone that walked by, leaving the rest of us in the back very alone.
- I didn’t set up enough appointments before the show (which obviously didn’t help in the foot traffic department).
- After the show, I did follow up with the contacts that I made, but I don’t think I was very good at keeping the relationship and information flowing.
- This is a maybe… I don’t think my style was a good fit for the show. My work was too graphic and the opposite of most everything I saw. I don’t have that textured, handmade look that so many artists have and that is in high demand right now. It’s just not part of my repertoire. Having said that…
- The hardest thing to admit is that I failed in the one thing that trumps all else. I don’t think my work was ready for the show. And if I’m hard-core honest, I already knew that going in but I willed myself into believing I was ready. I don’t base that on anything other than my own retrospective critical eye. Ouch. Gulp. Yes, it still is, by far, the hardest thing to admit.
Why share this at all? Well, why not? Everything I read before going to the show was about the positive impact the show has on an artist’s business. If there was a post about a bad Surtex experience out there I didn’t run across it before exhibiting. Because one thing I did do, was read a lot of other blogs before signing up. I kept wanting to find reassurances that it was all going to be worth it.
Why wait until now to tell my story? I simply wasn’t ready for any of this to be out there sooner. My husband, Gustavo, has certainly gotten an earful from me (patient man!). But this is the first time I post anything about my experience and thoughts.
I wasn’t ready to share because it took me a long while to face the flop, head on, and call it what it was – a failure. It certainly was a monetary failure but more importantly, I felt like it was a personal and professional failure. My designer heart was hurt big time and I needed some time to process everything.
I was also tired of talking about my Surtex experience in an incomplete way. When asked about the show all I’d say was that it was a fun experience and I’d cringe about everything I was leaving out of the story. Yes, it was a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t have fun in NYC?! I was thrilled about visiting a city I hadn’t been in since I was a kid (I was born in NJ) and I really enjoyed meeting so many artists that I’ve admired from afar and seeing online friends that I’d never met in person. Yes, it was great fun. But I was there on a business trip and the business side of things didn’t go as planned.
Thankfully, as all lessons in life, the silver lining was there too. Even if it took me a while to see it in its entirety.
- Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just go for something that you really want — or think you want at the time (more on that below) — and go in knowing that it can go either way.
- Just because this leap of faith didn’t work don’t let that stop you from taking the next leap (I’ve already taken a few since then).
- A reiteration of the lesson we all learn: it’s ok to make mistakes. It goes along with being human and breathing. Yes. It happens. You just have to keep going.
- I’m glad that after allowing myself my moments of self-defeat (with the occasional “what could’ve I done differently?”) I proved that I am resilient and that I kept the right frame of mind. I’m not curing a disease here. This is not the end of the world stuff. Move on already!
- “It is, what it is” is a phrase that a friend uses a lot. It worked for this, just as it does for so many other situations in life. Proven again. Same message… just move on.
- I’m not turning my back on licensing. I’m still very much open to it. Why wouldn’t I want my designs on products that are produced through a great relationship with a manufacturer that believes in what I’m doing? I just learned that my hard pivot to center my business exclusively around licensing was not the right direction for me.
- Surtex isn’t the only way. There are many other ways in which I can continue to get my artwork into the hands of people that appreciate it.
- Watching other artists’ experiences at Surtex and seeing all the images on my social media feeds still smarts a bit but I’m not there by choice. I could go again if I wanted to. But I’ve decided that I’m going down a different path for now (never say never, right?). Happily, there’s something very comforting and empowering about that.
- Most important… There is nothing more valuable than being surrounded by people that completely believe in you and only hold you in a warm embrace of support. My family has always been by my side. My brother went with me on the trip and was an enormous help. Gustavo has never ever said a negative thing about any of this. Not once. He just keeps cheering me on. Yes, he’s awesome and yes, I’m the luckiest girl ever.
- I need to keep dreaming big. Every day I try to be that little girl in the cape. I want to be her. Zero fear.
When I exhibited at Surtex I didn’t have a full-time job and now I do (that’s a long it-just-landed-in-my-lap kind of story). So, I’ve learned to go easier on myself. I want to make good art and that only happens if I allow myself the right amount of space and time for it to develop. The job has given me a way to step back from my freelance work and given me the opportunity to think all these things through and to explore new ideas. It almost feels like I have a clean slate and that really feels amazing.
Why share it here? This may not be directly related to my A Little Hut work but it’s all part of my experience as an artist and designer. I want to let you know that behind all the pretty pictures, there’s a lot of work that sometimes isn’t as successful as it may seem. I’m a real person, doing what I love and making mistakes is part of the journey. It’s all real.
Before I end this I do have to add a big disclaimer. This is not a post against Surtex or against anyone going to Surtex. This was just my personal experience and as I said, for the most part, the outcome of my experience was caused by my own mistakes. I have nothing against the show. I know that it has and will probably continue to offer countless of opportunities for other artists in the field of licensing. It just didn’t work out that way for me.
The whole purpose of writing this was two-fold.
- I needed to get this off my chest and feel transparent about my experience.
- I hope that anyone else that goes through something similar finds some solace in the fact that they’re not alone. It can happen to anyone of us for reasons like the ones I mentioned above and/or many others. It is what it is – move on!
So there you have it.
Phew. That was long. But very worth it.
Thank you to those of you that made it to the end!