My Adventures at Surtex


I have just gotten back from Surtex, an art and licensing show in NYC, that happened between May 18-20. There were so much to learn, so many great people and wonderful artists to meet, and so much to see! I was a nerd and I was there for 3 days in a row (all half days), and I wanted to recap on what I have seen and learned.


We flew into NYC late morning. After eating lunch with my family and arranged Connor, my 2-year old to nap, I went out to Surtex. I am glad I was able to meet with a few MATS classmates (Arpi, Sara and Marta) and walked together. We talked to many artists from several booths, mostly booths from the fellow MATSies, and see their wonderful work. Some of them were first timers while others were experienced veterans. We also walked by Lilla’s booth (but didn’t interfere because they were always busy!).


Picture taken in front of Lilla Rogers Studio’s banner
From left to right: Marta, myself, Sara, Arpi
So glad to walk with you guys, or I’d probably be too overwhelmed and intimidated
that I’d either break down and cry in the corner, or leave within an hour. Thank you all!

A few things I noted on Day 1:

  • First day is usually slower. Clients and buyers usually use the first day to scout, then start talking to you on the later part of the first day onwards.
  • It was apparent that Lilla could be the best art agent in the industry, just by comparing her booth and her artists to the other agents’ booths. And her booth was always busy!
  • Most artists were very nice. They wanted to talk to you even though you are not a potential buyer.
  • You should automatically vanish when client-looking individuals came by and wanted to talk to them.
  • Exhibiting at Surtex is EXPENSIVE. I was chatting with Marta and she did some research. A booth costs USD $3,000 to rent. With the printing, booth set up, transportation and accommodation combined, it can easily go to 10K.
  • Sara and I talked to a non-MATS artist, Lesley Grainger, and she gave us such wonderful advice. One of the things she said was, as an artist, you should focus on reaching your goal rather than looking at what others are doing. The moment you turn around and look at the people who runs beside you, you’d lose focus, gets intimidated, slow down and may trip and fall. Focus on your journey.
  • She also said some customers can be mean. One of her potential clients recognized her work, and sat down to see her work. After flipping through her work, she started saying her work was too “sweet” and wasn’t what she was looking for, amongst other mean comments. Then she stood up and left. When things like this happen, don’t feel discouraged. There are these occasional individuals with insensitive comments.
  • We walked the National Stationery Show too. It was so helpful to see artwork on products. We copied down names of some of the shops that produces great products and licenses artwork, so I can hopefully get in touch with later when I am ready. I walked a bit of the Gift It show but the three shows (NSS, Gift It, Creative & Lifestyle Arts) combined were just way too big. Not to mention my feet were really killing me at that point.
  • If you were shy like me, it’s a good idea to walk with a buddy. If I were walking by myself, there is no way I’d be able to talk to anybody.
  • Don’t forget to take a copy of the Surtex and NSS/Gift It/C&LA directory!
  • Wear super comfortable shoes. I thought mine were comfortable UNTIL I walked Surtex.


There was an official Make Art That Sells meetup organized by the Lilla Rogers Studio. There were 150 MATS alumni signed up, but only 50 spots were available. They had to pick 50 applicants via a raffle style draw, and I was lucky enough to have gotten selected! That was the highlight of my trip. I have met up with yet another lovely MATSie, Dar, briefly before heading to this meetup.


I went into the room, and I was star-struck. So many of the “MATS-celebrities” were there: Zoe Ingram, Daniel Roode, (both winners of the Global Talent Search) the Forest Foundry girls, Anne Bollman (Anne Was Here), Barbara Chotiner, Rachelle Panagarry the founder of Cultivate Art Collective, amongst many many others.

Then, of course there was Lilla Rogers. I squeezed through the crowd and introduced myself to Lilla, and I was star-struck. She was the kindest, sweetest, funny, and the most delightful person. I acted like a complete idiot and my jaw probably was dropped on the ground the entire time. Either that or I’d be shaking and couldn’t control my face. Lilla actually knew my name which I didn’t quite expect (out of 50 people!). Then, she looked at my work (I printed my MATS A assignments all on one sheet), and she recognized all of them. Then she turned to someone and showed my sheet to them saying, look, she was in all five of my reviews. Wow. It was like an unbelievable good dream that was actually reality. Lilla would ask me something, and I just gave her very short answers because I kept thinking there were 45 other ladies wanting to talk to her and I didn’t want to take up her time (at least 8 ladies were circling her at that point). I am such an idiot. Lilla, if you are reading this by any chance, I am actually not really like that. I am capable of being more normal than that. Ha ha.


The photo that makes it all worthwhile!
Yes, I look a bit weird because honestly, I was shaking and I couldn’t control my face.

I enjoyed this meetup very much, it really makes it worth every penny I paid for my Surtex trip. It is like a real life MATS A/B class for free! We had an hour-long Q&A session, and I’ve learned so much from it.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned. Of course I might have misheard things so please step in and comment if I were wrong!

On Portfolio Building:

  • Portfolio Size: 20-50 pieces of strong work that shows diversity
  • Style Diversity: It is better to show diversity rather than a very consistent style. Art directors and agents want to see an artist being versatile rather than being consistent. This makes the artist more valuable to the client. This is something that I was truly surprised to hear because I’ve been worrying I don’t have a defined style and my stuff is all over the place. I guess I am sort of on-track.
  • Portfolio Building Strategy: Pick 3 out of the 10 markets covered in A and B that you genuinely love, and build your portfolio focusing on these 3 markets first.
  • Set a theme of the month/week/day, and create art toward that. For example, the theme of this month is succulents. Then you doodle all things related to succulent in that month. Set small goals, and big goals will happen.
  • It is OK to show personal work. Art directors and clients want to see who you are. Sometimes if they see something they like, it may inspire them to create a product just for your personal work/doodle that they love so much.
  • If you’d like, display half of your portfolio on-line, and half hidden and only send out to potential clients via email, or password protected.

Surtex Booth Strategy

  • Actively invite people into your booth instead of passively sitting and waiting for people to notice you;
  • However, don’t be pushy.
  • You can make private appointments with clients during Surtex.

Licensing “Buy Outs”

  • Apparently many buyers offered to “buy out” an artwork at a one-off price. Lilla suggested us to negotiate. Ask, “How long would you need this for?” – suggest buy out for a limited time (good for product’s life).
  • If the buyer is adamant about “buy out” and wouldn’t take negotiation, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it makes more money than getting a royalty, and it offers upfront cash.


  • Personal quotes can be used freely after the person was dead for 90 years
  • Don’t sell yourself short. When a client offers a price, always ask for more. When someone offers $500, ask what about $650? When someone offers 2%, ask how about 3%. Don’t undersell. This will bring down the whole business, and words will get out that you offer high quality work at low price, which wouldn’t be beneficial to you in the long run.
  • If an agent lock you down for a year and there is no work, that is very bad. In fact, it would already be very bad if a new artist doesn’t get any work within a few months at Lilla’s agency.


I went in the morning to meet up and walk with Rachael, another MATSie. This time I was able to talk to multiple artists at booths that I missed out, including The Cultivated Art Collective, The Forest Foundry, Victoria Johnson, amongst others. Things I have learned:

Cultivated Art Collective:

  • It was founded by MATS alumni Rachelle Panagarry. Members pay a yearly membership to get a set of services and goodies, but the part that really speaks to me was the opportunity to exhibit at Surtex without the crazy price tag and hassle. For USD $2,000, it includes the booth rental, and the collective prints and installs your banner for you. All you need to do is to show up and present your work during the 3 days. I am not sure if you need to bring extra material yourself (printed books…etc.). If you do decide to show at Surtex, the collective will refund your membership fees. The only issue is, since more people wanted to join the collective and wanted to show at Surtex through the collective, there will be a jury system to control the quality of work displayed at the booth. In other words, you need to be good enough to show, and you may not get to show even if you wanted to.
  • And I must say, they did a great job with the booth! Their presentation was actually better than some of the agencies I saw.

Forest Foundry:

  • What a wonderful group of ladies with extraordinary talent. To be honest, I walked by their booth for the first two days, but I was quite intimidated. They were always busy talking to customers so I never got a chance to interfere. Things quieted down quite a bit on the last day, and I got to meet and chat with the lovely Miriam Bos, Ine Beerten, and Katy Tanis. I saw Neiko Ng too, but she was busy talking to someone else. They were such nice, down to earth people. They talked about how the Foundry was founded, and how they were in the top 50 in Lilla Rogers’ Global Talent Search, and how they weren’t sure if Zoe Ingram (the winner of GTS) would still become part of the Foundry because she was going strong at the Global Talent Search back then. I looked at the booth, and the quality is so strong that it can really be another booth by the Lilla Rogers Studio, and these people lost in the GTS! How is that possible? How could people like me have any chance at all?

Victoria Johnson:

  • She is another seasoned illustrator from MATS, and her booth was always busy. There I met her helper, another MATS alumni Melissa Iwai. They only met for the first time at Surtex. I am a fan of Melissa’s work but she’s not exhibiting. Then we met Victoria. She flew in all the way from Italy, and she packed everything: The banners, the bunting, the booklets, all in one small carry-on suitcase. Her booth looks pretty and very well decorated though. Before we were able to chat more, there were customers and we shooed ourselves away.

That pretty much concludes my Surtex adventure. It was more productive than I had expected, and I learned so much!



To conclude this post, I must post a few shots of what was happening on the other end of my world. Big thanks to my husband who took care of Connor while I walked the show! They went to the New York Transit Museum, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, and we all went to the American Museum of Natural History together. What an amazing time we all had!

Let’s see what next year brings….!


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31 thoughts on “My Adventures at Surtex

  1. Hi Irene! Walking surtex with you was fantastic and I’m so glad we met up. Also, thanks for this insightful wrap up. I’m absolutely bookmarking this post to come back and jot some notes after my jet lag has subsided (we got back late last night). You must give yourself way more credit, all five reviews–that’s huge! and…you look darling in your photos with Lilla!

  2. Hi Irene! Thanks for this long and insightful review. I really want to go to surtex next year. But that means I shall save all my pennies to go half accross the globe. Hope Lilla will hold another meeting next year

  3. Wow great post! I agree, great photos with Lilla! I really wished I could have walked with you all. How fantastic! Thanks for the detailed post I learned a bunchfrom it! xx

  4. Fabulous post Irene ! Thank you so much for sharing so many details. You look fab on the pictures and I know what it means to be star-struck ;) I hope I will meet you one day in person as well – always love your blog posts.

  5. Great post Irene! Such a shame I didn’t meet you there. I was floorwalking alone on the first morning (Sunday) and didn’t speak to a soul until I met Lolita and followed her around. I completely understand what you’re talking about. Very good to read your notes on the Lilla meet up as I wasn’t one of the lucky 50. Thanks

  6. That was a lovely read Irene, but like I said, you should take part in the next GTS. You never know, and it’s great experience plus the right people will see your stuff and it’s always nice to add things to our portfolio right?
    Don’t feel discouraged, just do it, that’s the first step to take ;)
    It was lovely meeting you too by the way :)

  7. Thank you so much for this post Irene! Really great information. SOunds like you had such a great time. Your little boy looks about the same age as my little boy. I bet they would get up to lots of mischief together! Oh and your work is fabulous – you should go for it! xo

  8. Loved reading everything Irene! As always, you make such funny little remarks I love reading :) great info (thanks for writing everything down and sharing with us) and I think Lilla remembered your name cos she sees the potential in you amongst other things….I honestly don’t know anyone who managed to be reviewed by her all 5 times!!!? And last but none the least-you look great on the photo!!! :) smile :)

  9. Thanks for sharing your Surtex experience, Irene. You have so much talent, and such a good feel for what the brief (i.e. the client!) wants, that I feel sure you’ll be an exhibitor with lots of eager clients clustered around you before long.

  10. Hi Irene :-) Thank you so much for sharing your insights from Surtex this year….this has been such a lovely and informative post to read….It sounds like you had so much fun & you look so charming in your photos with Lilla. :-)

  11. Hey Irene, I’m so sorry I didn’t get to chat to you. I know we briefly said hi at the meetup. I did see you walk past but i was locked in conversation at the time. Great to read your review of Surtex :)

  12. Thank you everyone! I am so glad you enjoyed the post and it was helpful in some ways! Not sure if you can see my reply but I’d try anyway:

    @maryrachael: You are the sweetest!

    @Arpi krikorian: So nice to have met you – you really broke me out of my shell that first day, or I would have never talked to anyone!

    @Lucy B: Wish I were able to meet up with you too!

    @Petra Hämmerleinova: I know, I am super lucky!

    @Maike: I would love to meet you one day as well! You know I love your work!

    @Antoana Oreški Illustrationa: Thanks – You are always so kind to me ! I hope I’d be able to meet you one day! Maybe the next Surtex? ;-)

    @Miriam Bos: You know, I went home and revisited your website, and I still can not understand how Lilla isn’t representing you right now. But then you’d be successful either way with all that talent. It was so nice to have met you – you are the kindest !!

    @Lisa Firke: Thanks! You are one talented lady yourself!

    @Bee Brown: Thanks! I would love to meet you one day Bee :)

    @zoe: No worries Zoe– To be honest I was intimidated talking to you too ! *star-struck* I wanted to talk to you at the end of the meetup but you were chatting with someone and I had to run. Then you probably saw me walking by the booth for 50 times like a stalker!

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this info on Surtex. I must admit, I’m still intimidated by all of this. I hope I can walk the show next year or join a collective and exhibit with experienced artists. Great info.

  14. Excellent recap, Irene! It was a pleasure walking the show with you on Sunday and while you may have felt shy to approach the artists, as soon as we engaged you kept the conversation going with great questions. I got so much more out of my tour walking with you (and also with Arpi and Greta). Thank you for sharing the rest of your Surtex experience with the rest of us, especially the meet-up with Lilla (I will be saving your notes for future reference)! I am so glad you had the opportunity to meet her and the other talented artists there. One more thing, you don’t give yourself enough credit, you are a talented and productive artist, extremely competent, have a terrific personality, a generous soul, and your hunger for information will take you far! I hope to see you again, maybe I’ll be visiting your booth next year!

    • Oh Sara, aren’t you the sweetest?! It was really nice meeting you and walking with you all, but I’ve already raved about it in my post! ;-)

  15. What a fab post, thanks so much for your insight. I would love to show at surtex, hopefully in the next two years. one way or another! great pointers from the MATS chat too, thanks for that. hopefully i will find the cash to do Mats soon!

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