It's been well over a month since I returned from Blue Print in New York! My calendar has been full of follow-ups, catch-ups, a vacation here and there, and some much needed "brain break" time. I'm now on my summer schedule, which is always a little scattered, but I wanted to give a little re-cap of the show and let you know how it went!
First of all, you should know that I've been very cautious about exhibiting at a trade show and I felt strongly that I didn't want to exhibit before I was ready. I think sometimes the rush or pressure to do a trade show can be premature. There are a lot of ways to get your work in front of clients and a lot of ways to get yourself a client base without attending a trade show. The time and money spent in preparation for a trade show is significant and for myself I wanted to feel like my work was ready for the market and that I had some experience in the industry to help guide me. So when my fellow art collective partners from Pencil Parade expressed an interest in doing Blue Print this year I was still hesitant. It took a lot of processing, thinking, and a lengthy pro/con list to make my final decision. In the end I'm really happy I decided to jump in, but I don't think I would have wanted to do it any other way (which I'll explain in a bit).
If you're not familiar with Blue Print, it's a trade show for artists, studios, and agencies to sell and license artwork, textile design, and surface pattern design. It's similar to Surtex with a few exceptions: it's smaller (exhibitors are capped at 30), the venue (it's held in smaller gallery style areas vs. a large convention center so the show set-up is considerably less complicated), the up front cost (it's significantly less expensive for a booth at Blue Print), and finally, it's newer to the scene (the first Blue Print show was in 2015). You can learn more about Blue Print on their website but I was extremely happy with the show itself. I thought it had a great feel about it, the other exhibitors were exceedingly friendly and helpful, and the buzz around Blue Print seems to grow every year. That results in a higher number of attendees and a great quality of buyer - so you get your work in front of the people you want to connect with most.
We decided early on to exhibit at Blue Print (which is necessary because spots fill up fast) so we had about 9 months to prepare for the show. This gave us a lot of time to work on our portfolios (filling in the gaps, rounding out collections, doing more and more - and more Christmas designs) and do ALL the other work that's involved in getting ready to exhibit. For me this included sprucing up my website and online portfolio, printing promotional items and banners, figuring out a pricing strategy and plan, and then promoting the hell out of our collective and the show. There are a lot of great resources out there if you plan on exhibiting and I just started bookmarking everything I could find online about trade shows. Jennifer Nelson's Advice for Artists group and Prep classes were fantastic, and the Shine Circle Guest Expert Webinars from Dari Design were also helpful. I've always been someone who wants to go into something new OVER-prepared but at a certain point you just have to trust in that preparation and jump. The most stressful thing about the show was easily the anticipation. I definitely had some nervous moments, hesitations, weird dreams (!), and excitement. In the end, once I got TO the show, I was good to go.
It feels rather ridiculous to skip now to the show itself because most of the work of exhibiting at a show happens before you ever step foot in the venue! That being said, the show itself was pretty great. Starting with meeting my art collective friends! We've been together as a collective for over two years now but we've never met in person. It was kind of surreal and of course really exciting to see each other face to face. We got along really well and we work together SO well that it made the event much less stressful and incredibly fun (reason #1 I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way). We all stayed together near the venue and I thought the venue itself was great: near the convention center, bright and open, and right next to a small cafe (hello, lunch!).
Overall we felt really good about the connections and contacts we met at the show. There were times when the show was slow (how long a lunch break do people need?!) and times when we had to tag-team talking to clients. There were a lot of promising opportunities, some immediate and others that might take awhile. We've been told, and I think we (Pencil Parade) would agree, that your first year at a trade show seems to be a bit of a testing ground. A lot of this industry is about forming relationships and as the new kid on the block a lot of us being there was an introduction to who we are. A couple things did surprise us: we had been told that clients would be more interested in full-buyouts at Blue Print and we found it to be more 50/50 with buyouts and licensing. We also learned a lot about this business: what's typical pricing (p.s. It's all over the place!), what are companies actually looking for, what's the best way to present your work, when are companies looking for specific art, etc. etc. All of that information will definitely inform both how I make my art and collections in the future and how I approach companies.
Finally, some of the fun tid-bits from my time in New York. I got to meet so many online artist friends and mentors! That was really fun and there were a number of meet & greets and get-togethers where I got to meet people from all over the world who do what I do (!). I had a total fan-girl moment when I met Lotta Jansdotter, who I've admired for years! I also got to meet Rachael Taylor from Make It In Design, who gave me a scholarship to one of their courses years ago and got me started on this path. Being in NYC at the same time as Surtex gave me a chance to walk that show (as well as the National Stationery Show - hello, heaven!). Special thanks to some of my fellow Blue Print exhibitors: Dot & Flow, Kerrie Satava, Abby Zweifel from Pomelo & Pomelo, Anne-Marie Byrd from Dusty Pony Design, Nikki Upsher, Ine Beerten (Zesti), Nastja Holtfreter, Muffin Grayson and Kim Hawes (there with Cinnamon Joe), and of course Cinnamon Joe Studio (Andrea & Paul Turk) who started Blue Print and do a LOT of work to make it happen every year.
There you have it! My trade show experience in one big wordy nutshell. I said earlier I wouldn't have done my first trade show any other way and there are a few reasons for that. Exhibiting with a collective was a fantastic way for me to exhibit. Everything from the preparation to the nuts & bolts of daily exhibiting was easier with a small group. It helped tremendously that we could help each other with everything from pricing strategies to artwork critique to "what shoes are you wearing?" Of course we were also able to share the cost of exhibiting as well. Secondly, exhibiting at Blue Print was a wonderful introduction to a trade show - like wading into a pool vs. jumping in the deep end and that made it easier for me to feel both prepared and successful.
I came away from the show having met some wonderful artists and some great potential new clients. I'm already working on a couple new things which I'll be sure to share with you in the future! I also think it might take 3-6 months to see how everything shakes out and to have a better idea of how much the show will pay off in a professional sense. One important thing I DID learn from exhibiting at a trade show: my work is ready for the market. It's really easy for me to be timid and think that I'm "not quite there yet," but this proved to me that I'm ready to go. I still have LOTS to learn and many ways to improve, but I'm ready.