May 242013


I had the pleasure of attending Surtex this week. My head is still exploding from all the cool stuff that I saw. For those of you not familiar with this tradeshow, it’s the marketplace for selling and licensing original art and design. Surtex is concurrent with the National Stationery Show, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, and Creative & Lifestyle Arts, a new tradeshow introduced this year serving the art, crafting and creative hobby marketplace. For a visual artist, being at the Javits on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday was way better than being a kid in a candy store—and a lot healthier!

At Surtex, instead of simply walking the show—which is amazing in itself—I also signed up for three conference sessions about several categories: Textiles and Home Fashion; Tabletop, Gift and Home Décor; and Paper and Stationery. All three sessions were really informative, especially for a newbie to some of these categories like me.

Cherish Flieder, moderator of the Art of Licensing group on LinkedIn (and who will be launching this summer) asked me to blog about the sessions for you. Here’s what I learned at each one:

Category Spotlight: Textiles & Home Fashion

Moderator: Jennifer Marks, Editor-in-Chief of Home Textiles Today

Panelists: Andy Sylvia, President of Cranston Printworks; Julie Philibert, Senior Designer at Warner Wallcoverings; Pam Maffei-Toolan, Vice President Design at PK Lifestyles


Left to right: Andy Sylvia, Julie Philibert, Pam Maffei-Toolan, and Jennifer Marks discussed how and when manufacturers want to see new designs, collections, and artwork for the textiles and home fashions categories.

New artists

  • Buyers are always looking for new things, and welcome new artists. Cite past successes if applicable. Drop names!
  • Research brands first before you reach out to them. Doors close quickly when it’s obvious you haven’t done your homework.
  • Email is the preferred mode of contact for most buyers. Include one teaser image in the body of the email, and include a link to an online portfolio.
  • Be persistent, and follow up.
  • Surtex is a unique resource for buyers. It’s a great way for them to find new artists.

Rights and compensation

  • Some buyers like to purchase all rights to a design; others pay royalties with advances.
  • Royalties can range anywhere from 4% to 7%. Advances on royalties are about $300 to $500 per design.
  • Annual royalties paid to an individual artist can range from $10,000 to $300,000 and up.
  • Buyouts can range from $1,200 and up.
  • If a buyer purchases all rights, it’s okay for the artist to sell the original painting as art, but not to license it elsewhere!

Technical considerations

  • When submitting a design, repeats help but aren’t necessary. Be sure to do good repeats if you use them. Manufacturers have creative staff to help with repeats if it’s not your strength.
  • Number of colors in a design can range up to 16 or 18, depending on the country of manufacture. Gravure can handle full-color CMYK.
  • Don’t worry about number of colors in your design; manufacturers will work with you to adjust your design while keeping its essence.
  • Final art can be an original painting that manufacturer will scan and return; or it can be electronic.
  • For electronic designs, layered files, please! If in Photoshop, resolution should be 300 dpi.
  • Size of art doesn’t matter.
  • It takes about nine months from purchase or license of a design to its production.


  • New but same:
    • 70s retro
    • Global
    • Zig-zag
    • Softer, fresher, mixed with new contemporary influence.
  • Steampunk
  • Animal skins
  • Floral
  • Geometric

 Advice for artists

  • Be honest, be flexible, be respectful.
  • If you get a “no,” ask why?
  • Make it easy for a buyer to work with you. Relationship is at least 50% of the equation.
  • Believe in yourself, be confident, never give up.

Category Spotlight: Tabletop, Gift and Home Décor

Moderator: Allison Zisko, Managing Editor of HFN Magazine

Panelists: Toni Kemal, Senior Trend Analyst at Lifetime Brands; Ingrid Liss, Creative Director of Demdaco; and Sue Todd, President of Magnetworks


Left to right: Sue Todd, Toni Kemal, Ingrid Liss, and Allison Zisko shared their strategies for finding and applying great design to their tabletop, gift and home décor products.

New artists

  • Buyers find new artists at tradeshows like Surtex; through referrals from current artists and agents; blogs; social media; etc.
  • Buyers are happy to receive email from artists.
  • Create a brilliant website that gives a really good idea of what you do; keep it updated.
  • Buyers work with artists directly, or through an agent.
  • Send samples as JPGs in an email. Include link to your online portfolio or website.
  • Research is a team effort for most buyers. They spend between an hour a day to a full day researching new artists, depending on the time of year.
  • Artists should look at and follow submission guidelines, which most companies have on their websites.
  • Follow up in a few weeks; email is the preferred follow up method.

Rights and compensation

  • Most buyers prefer to license artwork; some purchase outright.
  • Product lifecycle has changed; licenses average about two years. Holiday is shorter, one year.

Technical considerations

  • Layered files!
  • The same design can sometimes translate across all three of these categories.
  • Buyers like to work with artists who can manipulate art to different formats.
  • Don’t put watermarks on your samples; makes it harder to present to retailers.
  • Hi-res files are preferable; vector is even better.


  • Woodland creatures: hedgehogs, foxes, badgers.
  • Nature-inspired (butterflies).
  • Scandinavian
  • DIY, flea market, eclectic
  • Owls (“Is there life after owls?”—Allison Zisko)
  • Shabby chic is back!
  • Typography as art

Advice for artists

  • Be flexible.
  • Be confident, but not arrogant.
  • Know yourself. Let the right manufacturer find you.
  • Submissions are all about timing; sometimes it will take a year for a buyer to get back to you!
  • Bring back old designs, because they may be on-trend now.

Category Spotlight: Paper and Stationery

Panelists: Susan January, Vice President of Leanin’ Tree; and George White, President and COO of Up With Paper


George White and Susan January talked about the unique opportunities and challenges when designing for the paper and stationery categories.

New artists

  • Email sample with a link to your portfolio.
  • Do your homework. Understand manufacturer’s product. Read their submissions guidelines and follow them!
  • Some manufacturers also post their submissions calendar; follow it!
  • You should have between 18 and 24 designs in a collection.
  • Most people need help expressing themselves; best greeting cards express the “universal specific.”

Rights and compensation

  • Flat fee or license; depends on the project.
  • Flat fee ranges between $200 and several thousand.
  • Royalties range from 4% to 7%; advances range from no advance at all to $300 or $500.

Category and technical considerations

  • Greeting cards are woven into American culture; they’re not going away.
  • Layered files! Exceptional Photoshop skills. Illustrator is good, too.
  • Leanin’ Tree works 12 to 18 months in advance; Christmas 2014 is coming up in next three weeks.
  • Up With Paper has a shorter cycle: six to eight months for everday; 15 months for Christmas.
  • 60% of everyday is birthday cards.
  • Top holiday cards are Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day.
  • Lots more selling time for Easter next year because of the lag between traditional Easter and Orthodox Easter; this will impact Mother’s Day, “Dads & Grads.”


  • Woodland creatures: foxes, squirrels, owls, chipmunks
  • Humor
  • Mixed media collage
  • Words as art
  • Special occasion
  • Personalization

Advice for artists

  • Be mindful of deadlines and budgets.
  • Do your research! Look at retail outlets to see what’s out there already.
  • You’re never going to be all things to all people; know yourself.


So there you have it: excellent advice and direction from ten industry experts. Use it well, and you’ll have great success in licensing your art. And maybe we’ll see you at Surtex next year!

  11 Responses to “surtex 2013: art + relationships = success”

  1. What a great article Joanne. It is full of information that is helpful to even seasoned licensed artists like me. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Joan! I’m particularly flattered that an experienced licensor like you found it useful.

  2. Great post, Joanne. The most helpful information from SURTEX that I’ve seen so far.

  3. Thanks so much Joanne, this is great information. It has really given me some thoughts for future projects. I love the way you have summarised everything here for us artists. I have been contemplating doing a series on the cheeky squirrels that visit me daily and this article is nudging me even further. They quarrel amongst themselves in the tree tops and run the same path along my fence and garden shed every day, its so funny! Thanks again for a fantastic summary here, much appreciated. cheers!

  4. Thank you very much Joanne for taking the time to do this. Really informative and easy to digest. Trina Esquivelzeta

  5. Thanks for all the positive responses. Glad to know so many are finding the info useful.

    • Wonderful summary article Joanne. Your enthusiasm and attention to detail is inspiring. Thank you again for sharing this with the group. See you in class and at!

  6. Good information. Thanks.

  7. Enjoyed your very informative, and detail-oriented, article. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thank you for doing such a thorough write-up. I wasn’t able to attend Surtex this year but your details are really helping me to set some goals for next year. As well as for some interim projects! Thanks!

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