Hi!!! First a disclaimer - this is long.
I've had a relaxing few days since arriving home from New York and am finally able to to reflect upon my experience at Surtex. I was convinced that my second year would be easier. But it wasn't. In fact I think I was far more efficient at preparing last time round. The weeks preceding the show were difficult and I felt like I'd left everything until the last minute. Contributing to the stress was my decision to build a new website from scratch in March and a succession of projects since signing on with Jennifer Nelson Artists - both of which are wonderful developments and I'm not complaining - but things got a bit hectic.
I left Rome with a kind of exhausted shrug of resignation, seriously wondering if I'd pulled it off - if I could compete with the success of last year. My close friend Charlotte accompanied me from Rome. She came last year too and it was lovely to have her support on the journey. As we stepped out of the taxi at the airport she asked me what nice things I'd got in my suitcase and I won't write how I responded. All I'll say is that my poor work didn't deserve that comment and it made me pay!! I'd put all my most treasured, irreplaceable show materials (original paintings, business cards, hand-made booth trimmings, portfolio books) in my hand-luggage, thinking I wouldn't entrust it to the baggage handlers. I shouldn't have entrusted it to myself. I left it at Security. I didn't realize until a whole hour had passed and I was blankly staring at the lipsticks in Duty Free sensing that something was amiss. Charlotte said I went white. Thanks to her calm good sense and fluent Italian we got it back - ten minutes before boarding. I almost wept with relief. I'm so sorry paintings. I love you and I'll never be rude about you again!
Arriving in New York was as magical as ever - this being the view from the taxi - slightly enhanced!
Charlotte had booked a suite for us to share with Flora Waycott in a place called Off Bowery Suites in Lower Manhattan. We went for dinner with my friends Audra and Bret and later that evening Flora Waycott arrived from New Zealand! It felt so festive, traveling all that way to meet up with old and new friends in Manhattan.
Flora is so easy to get along with and down to earth (we first met when she helped me on my booth last year) and she, Charlotte and I spent many happy hours endlessly gossiping over the course of the week, though Charlotte was weary of 'shop talk' by the end of it.
I set up on Friday, helped by Audra, who is also an artist/designer. Like last year, the hall was almost empty. Most of the veterans whisk in and out on Saturday afternoon/evening, ready for the show opening on Sunday. By the end of the day we'd put up the banners, sort of baggily, and a few trimmings. I like setting up early because it gives me time to rectify any problems the following day.
On Saturday at midday I stood waiting outside the Javits Center and heard a voice shouting 'Victoria'!! It was Jennifer Nelson and her friendly sister in law, unloading interesting looking boxes from her car. We've only met once in real life once when she came to see my stand last year. It was lovely to see her again, having spoken to her on Google Hangouts almost once a week for the last few months. She's genuine, warm and enthusiastic - and so tall! Every online friend I've met at Surtex so far has been the wrong size. The ones I thought were tall are short, the ones I thought were little are big etc.
Shortly after, I met Ohn Mar Win for the first time. She asked me months ago if I'd like her to help on my stand and I jumped at the chance. She's professional and super-talented and I knew she'd be perfect. She even matched my artwork and I have a color matching compulsion so this won me over completely. We spent a happy afternoon, sticking up my paintings, assembling printed boxes, attaching paper butterflies to things. I felt like I knew her as we've been online friends for eighteen months. By the end of the day I was starting to feel less anxious and quite positive about my booth. It looked very pretty. I had the same booth anxiety last year (dreaming that my stand was made of wicker) and ended up being pleasantly surprised then too.
On Sunday the show opened. Last year I lacerated my feet in multiple places from three different pairs of 'sensible' shoes. This year I wore pointed, patent, heeled shoes in defiance. I NEVER wear heels. And they were like fluffy clouds attached to my feet. Unpredictably comfortable! Here are Ohn Mar and I in our co-ordinated outifts.
And so the show...What can I say? Was it good compared to last year? It WAS. It really WAS!!! It was so busy!!! I had a fantastic booth location, thanks to John Erich, the Sales Manager. About three weeks ago my friend (a fellow exhibitor) emailed me to say our allocated booths had vanished from the map. Shortly after John Erich offered me a replacement spot so close to the front and center that I could not believe my good fortune and I said YES immediately.
There appeared to be a continuous stream of clients sitting down to look through my books. I've held certain companies on a pedestal for several years now. They've featured in journal entries on 'goal' lists and I've worked on many personal projects with them in mind, steering my aspirations towards them like beacons on the horizon. This year I managed to engage with several of these companies and really feel there is great potential for building working relationships with them. The show was worth it for this alone.
Jennifer was hugely supportive and helpful, welcoming old and new clients, manning my booth while I attended seminars (very worthwhile), dashing off urgently every time she received a call from Lauren Lowen or Monika Forseberg and Jennifer Orkin Lewis at the Cloverly. We all had different booths this year but will exhibit together as Jennifer Nelson Artists next year. We missed Bee Brown but hopefully she'll in New York for 2016. Ohn Mar was brilliant at engaging passing clients, cheerfully greeting them and asking what they were looking for and whether they'd like to have a look at my work. Ohn Mar, Anne Bollman and I managed a leisurely stroll around the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at one point - and I have only one thing to say about that...Fractals!
There seemed to be fewer artists and students wandering the aisles this year, maybe due to the prohibitive cost of entry (nearly $500). There were, however, plenty of friends attending, either exhibiting, helping someone out or walking the show for inspiration. I enjoyed the social aspect of the show as much as anything else, chatting to familiar names and faces. One evening an enormous group of us ambled along the Highline, ending up drinking margaritas in the Meatpacking District. Another evening, we ate at Jennifer Orkin Lewis's brother's award winning restaurant on the Lower East Side. On another occasion, a large group of us ate at the Bowery Bar. I love visiting New York, experiencing all the things I took for granted when I lived there with a fresh perspective.
I didn't manage to visit the Stationery Show which was disappointing. I also regret that I missed a couple of favorite clients while I was away from the stand. I didn't walk away with 'cash' this year but I don't consider this a disappointment. I think the key objective of exhibiting at Surtex is to build relationships and cement existing ones and the show was extremely successful for me in that respect. The projects are already coming in and I'm anticipating busy weeks ahead.
'Doing' Surtex is a unique experience - from the extreme expense and exhaustion involved in the preparation to the mild euphoria of standing in your own booth, surrounded by your own work, talking to people you've dreamed about. Seeing months of intense hard work come to fruition is indescribably rewarding. That said, I'm quite relieved that next year I'll be participating as an artist/helper at Jennifer Nelson Artists, rather than doing it alone. The great thing about Jennifer is that she views her relationship with the artists as a partnership and I'm sure helping to do her booth will be just as rewarding. I know she'll welcome the personal touches and trimmings that make it fun!
I can't wait to go again and I can't wait to see the outcome of the show in terms of exciting developments with fabulous clients. I'll keep you posted!