Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Surtex, NSS and ICFF 2015 Shows - A Year of Flexibility and Transition

After 3 consecutive years of exhibiting at Surtex, this year we decided to take a break and take care of some personal affairs instead. However, we did walk the shows - Surtex, NSS and ICFF - as Press. Why did we do that?

Last year we started to publish some interviews and editorials in an On-The-Road Series and we will continue doing so as we travel around the globe. We also wanted to find out what's going on in the world of commercial art and share our findings with this very generous community of amazing artists. Many have asked me to report straight facts, so here we are, with no embellishments.

I also always advise to read up on all blog editorials to get the full view of what's going on. You'll find down below several links to posts I have found so far.


We walked the show all three days and the traffic seemed to be pretty much the same as last year and the year before. Yet some manufacturers said to me that they felt that the energy was different from earlier years, that the show was missing something this time around. Exhibitors told me that they had better quality clients approaching them.

So what changed? Several things changed and I will list just a few that were the most obvious. To begin with, Surtex was smaller and was sandwiched in between the NSS and the ICFF.

The Furniture show expanded and in addition to the first floor, it took over part of the 2nd floor where the Surtex Atelier section used to be. Many veteran and non-veteran artists chose not to exhibit this year, for whatever reason. The show management changed, manufacturers were newly qualified by the show management, and fewer artists walked the show because of the higher entrance fee.

We gathered some informal and rough data by counting the number of booths for the past three years out of the Surtex Directories for 2013, 2014 and 2015. Below is the chart that shows the results, and although this graph is not the only way to measure whether the show was a success, it does indicate that it is in a transitional phase.

I am not sure how this transitional phase will play out, but Surtex is indeed changing, for better or the worse.

In my opinion, the transition with Surtex is but a piece of the larger transition enveloping the whole design industry as there are many other ways to sell or license a design now. New technologies allow for faster communication but that's not the only change. Artists are collaborating more and more amongst themselves in the form of collectives or joining in an exclusive partnership with manufacturers.

Agents are in demand, as the costs to exhibit through an agent are generally less if they bear all the fees. And of course, if they do so, they want a guaranteed return, so they pick the best selling artists to be in their portfolio. Or, some also share the costs of exhibiting with their represented artists. Some don't show at all but they are internet savvy and do online marketing instead. Today, there are many different business models being used.

There are also other design shows that have successfully increased their marketing, affiliates and exhibitors. Take for example, the newly launched virtual world of the Art Licensing Show, where artists virtually show their work for a fee. There are many online POD sites as well as professional sites like Linkedin, Pinterest and Instagram, where visuals are the key to connecting with clients.

Yet Surtex has positioned itself as the premiere event for selling and licensing original art and design. Many independent artists still prefer to exhibit there in addition to the above venues or other shows, like the AmericasMart Atlanta or the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas to name only a couple. There are so, so many more. It would be interesting to do a survey of who sells, licenses or freelances but I think it would be safe to guess that some combination is the new business model for most artists starting out and perhaps for veteran artists who need to keep relevant.

In short, the competition is fearless and flexibility is the password for such transitional times. Even the trend conferences we listened to at the show stressed the mix of styles and trends, the transition, and the flexibility of doing business.

I took some quick notes about the themes and trends, although I am sure other blogs have done more in-depth analyses and more will be talked about in upcoming weeks - don't miss the Ask Paul Brent on May 27, hosted by Tara Reed - Paul will be doing his fabulous SURTEX trend review as usual.

Aside from the still going strong birds (including owls !!!), butterflies, sheep, dogs, cats and other cute animals are all over the market. Lettering and editorial art is still strong. Humor and cuteness was displayed by many. Abstracts, geometrics and florals are everywhere. Black and white, a classic, is again on the rise and adult coloring book line art is highly desired by the Publishing market. In short, nothing particularly new that I could tell with the exception of more hand painted art, which is finally strong enough to compete against the flat digital art that started flooding the licensing arena some years back.

The most exciting thing about Surtex this year was to meet with many artist friends, agents and exhibitors. Here are some photos, although I wish I have taken many more!

Kelly Ventura - Surtex 2015
Kelly's fine art is very fresh and colorful. Her contemporary take on florals and abstracts is for sure unique amongst the numerous hand painted artwork at Surtex this year.

Caleb Gray Studio - Surtex 2015
Caleb Grey's art is so much fun and uniquely modern in style with a fun, retro vibe. In Italian we say "simpatico"!

Giordano Studios - Surtex 2015
Bob Giordano is a veteran of art licensing. Every year he exhibits at Surtex, Licensing Expo and AmericasMart Atlanta. I will publish a full interview with him this summer. I can't wait to have him as our guest! You can find his lovely work here: www.giordanostudios.com.

Monika Forsberg - Surtex 2015
I recently interviewed both Monika (above) and Jennifer(below), who exhibited at Surtex as part of Cloverly Art Collective - such lovely and unique work!

Jennifer Orkin Lewis (August Wren) - Surtex 2015
Sarah Frederking - Surtex 2015
Sarah has done Surtex for the 3rd year, although she also exhibited many years ago. Her textile books are really cute and fun! You can find out more about her patterns and designs here: http://sarahfrederkingdesign.com.

Kate Austin - Surtex 2015
Kate has exhibited in the Atelier section of Surtex last year and this year decided to be in the art licensing section instead. Her colorful patterns stood out at the show. You can find out more about Kate here: www.kateaustindesigns.com.

Ashley Rodriguez Reed - Surtex 2015
Ashley walked the show a couple of years ago and this year took her designs to Surtex - her lovely hanging wall planters and patterns looked very playful! Her website: www.ashleyrodriguezreed.com.


It was fun to walk the NSS this year. Of note, letter press and hand painted art were nicely displayed by large companies as well as small businesses and independent artists.

I took some pictures with the exhibitor's permission, although the lighting wasn't the best. I will publish more interviews and articles in future weeks.

Katharine Watson - NSS 2015
Katherine hand painted her backdrop wall and has block printed her images on paper. Her stationery and textile products are fantastic in both quality and design. You can find her work here: www.etsy.com/shop/ShopKatharineWatson.

Our Heiday - NSS 2015
Patricia Shen walked away from a legal career to pursue her dream and launched her own business in June 2014. Her work is colorful and fun! You can find her designs here: http://ourheiday.com/.

Mara-Mi - NSS 2015
This display was one of the best at the NSS, although my photo doesn't do it justice. The design was lovely. You can find more about Mara-Mi here: www.mara-mi.com.


I loved it! It was so much fun to see some of the trends coming in from Europe and how the interior design in the 21st Century is influenced by many trends and the flexibility of emerging designers who are also artists. Small businesses created by them exhibited here amongst large or well established businesses. Very brave indeed!

The eco outdoor/indoor themes were very present and it was great to see how they were incorporated in interiors to play together.

We saw more of exotic and sophisticated rustic textures, vibrant and neutral colors, and hand painted art was also visible at this show, along with natural fibers and other innovative concepts.

Fom Icon Mag 2015
Sylvie and Mira of Lisa Peck's home accessories company.
Sylvie's method reproduces her watercolors for interiors, curtains, rugs and wall paper - made in the USA.

Valerie Laudier
Valerie created these Japan-inspired interiors with a European twist, featuring some of her exquisite hand stitched artwork - made in France.

Ronel Jordan
Ronel has been a textile designer for 26 years. Inspired by nature, she featured these beautiful hand crafted felt florals - made in South Africa.

La Fabbrica del Lino
La Fabbrica del Lino manufacturers a beautiful stone-washed linen and other high-end goods - made in Italy.

Garden on the Wall
Garden on the Wall exhibited real plants treated with non-toxics chemicals to adorn interior walls of houses and buildings. Really nice work made in the USA.

Antolini showcased some beautiful marble textures in geometric forms - made in Italy.


Here some of the best promo kits we picked up from the Press Room. There were many, many more but we couldn't get them all. Watch out for upcoming interviews with artists who did have a Press kit!

Fox & Fallow & Design Design

One Canoe Two

Kelly May - Krenz

Printable Wisdom

Our Heiday

Miriam Bos

Neiko Ng


We think Surtex is still a great show and per what we gathered the quality prevailed over quantity, however since the attendance of the exhibitors significantly dropped this year in all three categories of exhibitors (Atelier, New Exibitors, Veterans), it will require some stronger and innovative marketing to draw an increasing number of qualified manufacturers to make it worthwhile for independent artists to continue to bear the high costs of future exhibitions. Manufacturers are the clients, true, but without the artists there is no show.

We will continue to go to shows and explore the increasing landscape of possibilities for designers and artists. Trends are not as important as the quality of the art itself and the connections between the artist and the manufacturer. We did talk to several of them after some of the conference workshops and we will write more editorials on those topics as well in upcoming weeks - we just couldn't condense everything here.

The NSS is still strong although it also seemed smaller compared to other years. I don't have the directories for 2013 and 2014 though, so I can't say for sure. We liked the more sophisticated letter press mixed with hand painted art. It looked fresh and very crafty.

The housing market is on the raise and so therefore is the demand for good Interior Design. It's now another venue for creating and selling art on a commercial basis through manufacturing your own home decor and accessories. The combinations are infinite! Wall art, curtains, wall paper, small objects, eco-friendly accessories, you name it!

In short, it seems there have never been more opportunities for artists to find ways to get their art into the hands of their public - though this means that the world of art and art licensing is growing even more ambiguous and challenging than ever before!

(I will add more as they get published)

by Nicole Tamarin

by Annie Troe

by Anne was Here

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