Hello everybody, I just got back from New York where I exhibited at BLUEPRINT, a new and exciting boutique surface pattern and print show. It was the first time I exhibited there and the first time I exhibited solo after exhibiting as part of the Forest foundry collective at Surtex the past 2 years.
It’s been a very interesting experience. I’m really happy that I took the step to exhibit solo this year. Blueprint was a risk, I had no idea what the show was truly like, I only heard some positive reviews from people who visited it last year, that the atmosphere was wonderful and the quality of work great, but that was it.
Blueprint is organized by the people of Cinnamon Joe Studio, they’ve managed to keep the costs down (I paid $1950 for my booth) so it’s much more affordable than a booth at Surtex. There are also no extra costs for insurance, electricity or extra furniture like at Surtex. All booths are the same size, you get 2 tables, 6 chairs and you bring your own roll-up banners to create a wall behind you. Because of this set up it’s more open and relaxed. This Blueprint show ran for 5 days with the last 2 days overlapping with Surtex. Blueprint had 38 (36 + 2 contest winners) booths this show and is not planning to expand, they like the boutique aspect of the show.
the set up at Blueprint. My lovely assistant Grace is looking very serious too ;-)
So how did it all go? Well, I have a little bit mixed feelings about it, but I believe the things that bothered me will be improving with each new Blueprint show. I think the location (the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th str) and set up was wonderful, the organization is friendly and if you have questions it’s easy to get answers (unlike Surtex where it’s often impossible to find the right info or catch the right person to get the info). The atmosphere is great, very relaxed, the other studios that exhibit there are friendly too and I think the quality of the art exhibited there is very high and fits well together. The biggest downside of the show for me was that it was a 5 day show, which is too long, we had several very quiet moments, so it could easily have been a 3 day show. And that Blueprint is not all that well known yet so it does not attract nearly as many buyers as Surtex does. Having said that, it does seem that the buyers that do come to Blueprint are good leads and the ones that visited my booth are all truly interested in my work (definitely an advantage of exhibiting solo). Another interesting fact is that a lot of the studios showing at Blueprint mostly sell their work outright or do a mix of licensing and selling outright. I’m still pretty new to selling outright, but was open to it and managed to sell several designs outright but within the product category, which to me is a perfect middle way as it still gives you the opportunity to sell or license those designs for other product categories. I also got some interest of companies that may want to license some of my work and others that might commission me to create work specifically for them.
my custom wrapped Belgian Chocolates, always a hit with the visitors.
And how does this all compare to my SURTEX experience from the past 2 years? Surtex is an established licensing show, this year was the 30th edition, it’s much bigger and well known than Blueprint, but it seems it’s been getting smaller again the past few years. Less people want to exhibit because booth prices are so high and the licensing business is changing too, which means it’s harder to make a profit. Surtex focuses mostly on licensing, though there is an Atelier section where studios sell mostly outright too. I really enjoyed doing Surtex the past 2 years with the Forest Foundry girls. We always had a buzzing booth with lots of buyers visiting us. It was exciting and there was lots of positive energy. We definitely got way more leads than I did at Blueprint but because I was part of a group some of the leads were more interested in the work of other artists in my group and there are also also a lot of what I like to call ‘junk leads’, people you would not want to work with anyway.
Another thing about Surtex is that the quality and the styles of the work exhibited there is very varied. There are some really wonderful artists with the most gorgeous booths but there’s also a lot of ugly art (pardon my french), the type of conservative art that probably sells well in big part of the US but is very different from what I and most of my artist friends do. While writing this I just had a great idea for Surtex, ha ha, they should organize and group the booths by style instead of mixing it all up. I think that would improve how the show feels and make it easier for the buyers too cause the type of art they look for would be together.
A great thing about Surtex is that the National Stationery Show runs next to it in the Javits Center. This is a great bonus cause a lot of the buyers visit both shows and a lot of the exhibiting stationery companies send their art directors to Surtex to buy art.
But of course the biggest problem with Surtex is the cost of a booth, if I remember correctly (it’s been a couple of months since I last checked the prices, so I could be a little bit wrong) a small booth (10’x8′) with 1 counter and 3 chairs costs about $3500, they charge $400 extra for a corner booth, insurance will cost you about $65, and any extra furniture, electricity, shelves will cost you extra and it won’t be cheap. This year they introduced a ‘cheap’ booth solution for newbies, for only $2000 you could get a phone booth sized booth. They looked pretty horrible to be honest, so tiny and no privacy to talk with clients at all. So it’s definitely not worth the money.
the forest foundry booth at Surtex in 2014
So what’s my verdict? It’s actually very difficult to say which show is better. Both have their advantages and their downsides. There are studios who did both shows this year and want to keep on doing both, some that want to keep on doing just Blueprint, but there are also some who don’t want to do Blueprint again and prefer to go back to Surtex next year.
To become truly successful Blueprint needs to attract more buyers, which I’m sure it will over time as word gets out how wonderful the show is, the question is just how much more time it will take. Blueprint is also not planning to expand so the booths will be hard to come by, but they plan on doing several shows a year, the next one is already in August and it runs simultaneously as Printsource (Blueprint will be in in 404NYC on 10th Avenue, Printsource in the Metropolitan Pavilion), so that could be very interesting. There are still booths for the August Blueprint show available, so this might be a good time to jump in. But if you’re not open to sell outright Blueprint would probably not work for you.
Surtex definitely has the advantage of being the established show that attracts more buyers, but it’s more of a mixed bag and it is very expensive, especially for an artist who’s just starting out. If you only want to license your work, this would probably your best option.
But for any show you’d like to exhibit at, remember that it will probably take a couple of shows before it all really pays off. Clients don’t just like to see you once, they want to know you’re dependable. So they might like your work the first time they meet you but not buy anything or just one design. While after seeing you a couple of times they know they can trust you’ll stay around and they might buy much more.
I’m going to do some research now to exhibit at a European show next, there are plenty and I’ve walked a couple of them (Indigo Brussels and Premiere Vision) though I’m not entirely sure yet which one would work best for me, but several people have advised me to go to Heimtex. I think it would be good to do one European and one American show each year. Any advice would be welcome…