Surtex: the Good, the Bad

Another Surtex, another good show. Actually, a really good show.  We had a steady stream of attendees throughout the 3 days, although Monday was definitely the busiest, and we were still showing work at 6:15 on Tuesday as the place was being dismantled around us. I LOVE that. Traffic had the appearance of being down despite the fact that show management reported their registrations were up significantly over last year. One difference we did notice was that the clients were very focused, not many “looky-loos” this year. Almost everyone seemed to know what they wanted, what holes in their lines they needed to fill and what categories they wanted to expand upon. It was actually very refreshing – a yes or no answer is always better than a maybe.
We did not talk to many newbie artists this year, there were plenty in evidence but only a couple stopped by to ask about submitting, and as a group I have to say they were very respectful of the exhibitors. Kudos to you all.
I wish, however, I could say the same for some of the experienced ones.
It seems that a number of the artists and agents who have previously exhibited have arrived at the conclusion that, because of their many years of exhibiting, they now are entitled to walk the show and meet with the attendees. One even suggested to us they should be exempt from the fee charged to walk the show. Seriously? These are, mind you, the very same people who complained for years about the slew of artists who did exactly what they are doing before show mgmt finally made some effort to control it. Baffled only begins to tell you how I feel about this logic.
And then there was this: an artist (who has been in the business for 15 or 20 years but no longer exhibits) walks up to say hi to a client – who had just arrived at our booth  – then proceeded to park herself there and chat. Eventually our client ran out of time and had to move along, and to add insult to injury the artist offers to walk with the client and off they went. Our meeting? Didn’t happen. Hard to believe we’re seeing this from our “professionals”.
On another note, the decision was made last week to discontinue the License and Design section of the Atlanta gift market. The unfortunate reality is that the AmericasMart is just not set up to accommodate a show of this type without it being a five day location in the temps – and a show that long was an unacceptable option for most exhibitors. It is a shame since the timing and location in THE major gift market of the year had huge potential, but the showroom structure of the market just didn’t work.
All for now, I need to get through this big stack of work that comes with a great show – and it’s how many (how few actually…) weeks till Licensing?

How Difficult Could THAT Be?

We were more than a little amused some time back when somebody asked in one of the art licensing forums if there was a course available on How To Be An Art Licensing Agent.
Seriously? You’re going to learn how from a book?
After paging through a few of the new licensing magazines that are just out, I am starting to wonder if maybe that course IS out there somewhere because I am amazed at the number of new agencies that are popping up. Seems that somewhere along the line it has been decided that, after trying their hand at art licensing, the next logical step is for an artist to become an agent. Certainly some of them are eminently qualified to do the job, and everybody has to start somewhere, but there is an underlying promise being made by any licensing, or branding, illustration, editorial, media, etc. agent: that they are qualified to perform in this role and have the market knowledge, experience and relationships IN PLACE to justify their cut of the royalties. It used to be that the main concern in selecting an agent was whether your styles (personal and artistic) matched up well enough so you could work together, however now I think you are better off starting with “are they qualified to do the job?”
I don’t want to say this is only artists, we are seeing brand agencies, former execs from big licensors/licensees, previous art directors and more deciding to represent art properties for licensing. I’m going to call it the Agency Bubble. Again, some are going be great at it and others will definitely be learning as they go. I am not completely sure there is a severe downside for a newbie artist signing up with a newly minted agency other than losing that time it takes, in years not months, for a new agent to build their business. (I prefer to believe that a person who feels qualified to act as an agent has accumulated enough experience so they will not be dispensing bad advice on contracts or markets. I would prefer to believe that…). I do realize how difficult it is for most artists to get an experienced agent to respond – we’re as guilty as the rest –  but you need to think long and hard about whether that justifies going with someone you are not sure of.  
Inexperienced people taking even less experienced people’s money is always cause for concern, so do me a favor and examine, carefully, the reasons you are signing with any agent.  

You want what when?

It was a recipe for potential disaster with a client. A recent occurrence:
Our client had finally picked up a collection for an upcoming catalog after a week’s worth of back and forth modifications with the artist. We all allowed ourselves a big sigh of relief – till the next shoe dropped: they wanted the production work done asap, by the artist, and it had to be uploaded in the next few days. But her booked-up schedule would not allow it. The project was in danger of falling apart but we managed to work out a compromise by splitting the work with the client and getting it done.
Production work is the layout and finalizing of all aspects of the product, sometimes to fit customer templates, to make files that are factory (print, sculpt, cast, whatever the process is) ready. Depending on what the process is, this can involve fronts, backs and sides, borders and backgrounds, even 360 degree views which include tops and bottoms.  Layers, bleeds, design positioning, Pantone color matching – it is very detailed and time consuming, and it has to be done right. And it was rarely done by the artist, but instead was the domain of the production people at the factory – of course that was then and this is now and my, how things have changed.
It’s important to know what will be involved in delivering files for a project before you make a commitment to do it. Not many companies require this type of “production ready” art, but it does seem to be popping up more often as client staffs have been reduced and manufacturers continue to look for ways to cut costs. We got caught up in the aforementioned situation because they had changed their policies and somehow we missed it. (It really makes you appreciate those manufacturers who will take the art “sketched on a napkin” and run with it…) The question becomes not only WILL you have time to do it, but also will it be WORTH your time to do it? Give that some consideration, because laying out the production files for a giftware line, or a paper tableware collection, or even a line of greeting cards can be complicated, tedious work – it can take many hours to get it right and would cost hundreds of dollars to hire it out.
So just how much are those royalties going to be?