SURTEX 2012 Conference Recap

May 25, 2012
Earlier this week, I attended the SURTEX conference & tradeshow for the first time. I felt like a kid in candy store. Here in one place was all my favorite art. With more than 300 exhibitors, there was so much art to take in and so little time! I attended all ten workshops and each was packed with great information and insights. Here are a few takeaways from the workshops.

Basics of Art Licensing Part I

  • Create mockups for the category you are pitching: horizontal rectangles for rugs, circles & square designs for tabletop, vertical rectangles for greeting cards.
  • You have an advantage if you can digitally manipulate your artwork to create mockups, packaging and product comps (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are your friends!).

Basics of Art Licensing Part II

  • The book How to Understand Art Licensing Contracts by Maria Brophy and Tara Reed is highly recommended for learning more about contracts.
  • Have at least 15-20 collections completed to exhibit at a tradeshow or to approach an agent. This indicates that you are not a “one hit wonder.”
  • One artist indicates that 75% of her new business comes from tradeshows. Out of all the shows, Surtex gets her the best results.
  • A good marketing mix includes tradeshows, website, email marketing, direct mail and personal phone calls.

Understanding Legal Basics

  • Protect your art by registering it with the United States Copyright Office/Library of Congress.
  • You should register within three months of first publication or before infringement. Get in the habit of registering your new art once a quarter.
  • You may register several collections at once for $35 (current price as of May 2012).
  • Registering several collections at once vs. one piece at a time provides less protection as the infringement will go against the whole collection, not the individual piece. However, it is still better than no registration at all!
  • Want to share your work with the public with some restrictions? Explore Creative Commons licenses, which work alongside copyright enabling you to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice.

Artists Speak – Licensees Listen

  • When making follow-up calls to a manufactures or retailers, consider preparing a written voice mail message in advance. This way, you’ll leave a concise professional-sounding message with all the relevant details.

New Legal Strategies

  • 89% of all royalties are underpaid
  • The reasons for underpayment include: questionable license interpretations, royalties from underreported sales, royalties from disallowed deductions, etc.
  • Audits typically start at $5,000 and up. If your royalty earning is $60,000 or more, you should definitely consider a formal audit as you have a good chance of realizing additional income.
  • Worried about people misusing your art on the Internet? Use reserve image search tools such:  Google Search by Image or

Strategies for Working with Manufacturers

  • It’s all about the art! Strive for quality and quantity. Manufactures and agents want to see a full body of work.
  • Don’t be overly concerned with personal branding. Focus on the providing fresh, creative, original art. If the art gains popularity among retailers and consumers it will grow into a brand organically. You can still have a tagline and a logo but just remember it’s “the tail not the dog.”
  • Most prefer receiving one PDF containing your collections or images, rather than several JPGs or a web link. Be sure to include your contact information on every page.

Business Trends in Licensing

  • In 2011, the average royalty rate was 6.4%
  • We saw a really cool interactive app from Dena Designs for a T-Shirt. Consider the opportunities for licensing and marketing that exist with digital applications (Apps) and augmented reality.
  • When the economy is tough, themes stick around for a while longer because they are safe.

Retailer-Manufacturer Relationships

  • Manufacturers and retailers look for art that has a unique point of view, design or color direction that can drive traffic and in some cases bring exclusivity to the retail partner.
  • The product life cycle is 2 to 3 seasons’ max. The focus is offering fresh, new products (and art).
  • Providing mock-ups to show your art on product is critical. Also consider offering packaging and merchandising ideas that tie into your art.

Digital Opportunities & Challenges

  • Carefully review all Terms of Use on the social media sights that you participate in.
  • You can add greater protection by adding your own Terms of Use (TOU) to your FaceBook page, Twitter profile, etc. Enforce the TOU by taking down inappropriate postings.
  • Be sure to include contact information so a copyright owner can notify you if someone posts an image that doesn’t belong to him or her.
  • DMCA is an effective weapon for copyright owners whose rights are infringed on the web.
  • If you hire someone to design your website be sure to clarify who will own the content and html code used to create it. Unless specified, the developer will own it by default.
  • The most important thing you can do to market your art is to have a marketing plan. A multichannel approach is best. It is not the platforms you use (website, FaceBook, Twitter, direct mail, etc.); it is how you use them that matters most. Each should reinforce the other.

 The Evolving Retail Scene

  • Subscribe to retailer blogs to spot trends and learn their lingo.
  • Listen to earnings calls or read the transcripts of key retailers on They provide great insight into what drives the company and their marketing positioning. It will help you align your messages and images with theirs.

Themes Mentioned: Cupcakes, food, wine, chefs, coffee/tea, coastal including seashells, coral, shorebirds, and sea turtles, roosters, owls, butterflies, floral, birds, orange is still hot.

For a complete description of the workshops and speakers, visit the Surtex 2012 Conference page. I love to hear from readers. Please comment or share a takeaway of your own.


  • Hey Natalie – thanks for the overview summaries of some of the Surtex 2012 sessions. And thanks for linking to my blog in a previous post! Hope you had a great learning experience at the show – too bad we missed you. See you next year!

  • I wasn’t able to attend Surtex. Thank you so much for sharing this information.

    • leap4joy

      You’re welcome Darlene & Lisa. I’m glad it was helpful.

  • Fabulous info and recap! Thank You 🙂

  • Thank You! Thank You! Great recap:-)

  • Great share. Tweeted it. Love a generous artist – you rock!

    Rhonda Schaller

  • Thanks for sharing. I tweeted it @Createmeditate . You rock!- Rhonda Schaller

    • leap4joy

      Thanks for the tweet Rhonda!

  • Great information that I can use. I’ve walked the show several times but never exhibited. I’m exploring options for my life after retirement. Thanks for sharing.

    • leap4joy

      Walking the show is a fantastic experience. I’m glad I supplied some tidbits you can put to good use. Good luck!

  • You’re a trooper attending all ten workshops. Thanks so much for sharing what you learned!

  • thank you for sharing! Helpful…

  • Natalie,
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and helpful information. Wishing you much success.