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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Welcome! I'm using Monsters, Tea and Art Licensing to record some of the useful art licensing resources and info I've found. My background: children's book illustrator investigating art licensing as a second source of income. You can find out more about my work and current projects at

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Surtex & The National Stationery Show, and why I'm starting this blog


Just came back from attending my first Surtex and National Stationery Show! I'm a newbie and this, and only found out about these shows during a workshop at the SCBWI Conference in NYC earlier this year. During the conference, Penny Sikalis, Suzanne Cruise and Priscilla Burris recommended that children's book illustrators interested in finding out more about art licensing should check out Surtex.

In prep, I found the following post useful:

Advice from an experienced exhibitor for artists wanting to walk the shows

(posted on by Tara Reed)

I tried to follow the advice in this post, which included the following tips:

- Walk along the middle of the aisle and don't approach exhibiting artists' booths.

- Don't take photos. "We don't want people taking photos because we have struggled to dream up something that's ours- we don't want you to copy it. You must find your own vision, dream up your own wonderful and unique booth, not copy mine."

- Don't look at exhibiting artists' portfolios unless you're invited.

- Don't engage exhibiting artists in conversation unless they make the first move.

"...Because if you are standing at our booth, proper show etiquette means that nobody else will approach us. Others do not know this is just a friendly, non-business conversation and if we're just having a pleasant chat, prospective clients will walk by because that is politeness in this industry. They will not interrupt what might be a business meeting. You may unintentionally be wrecking our show. We may be wishing you'd leave but too polite to ask and make it awkward."

I also came across a bunch of quotes from artists with opinions about whether or not artists should be allowed to walk Surtex, and quite a few seemed to feel quite strongly against the idea.

Conscious of all this, I have to admit I felt pretty intimidated as I walked up and down the aisles. Even if I came across a booth that displayed art I really would have like to admire some more, I didn't want to linger because I was worried the artist would think I was trying to steal their ideas. I was aware of many exhibitors' eyes dropping to my chest where my badge proclaimed me to be an Artist, not an Exhibitor or an art buyer.

I did work up the nerve to speak VERY briefly to Tara Reed to let her know how much I enjoyed her blog, and she was courteous and friendly.

Thanks to the research I did before the convention, I was prepared for the event to be solely for observation and research, not for meeting people. I think it would have been more fun, though, to be walking the convention with another artist. I also would have LOVED to be able to take a few pics of some of my favorite booths to help promote the artists via my blogs and other social media, but I can understand the "no photos" rule.

I paid $50 for my Surtex registration, which I thought more than fair for the privilege of walking the show. I'd love to exhibit someday, but I think I have a lot of research and learning to do before then.

Hence, this blog.

There are already many excellent blogs out there about art licensing, and it's not my intention to compete with them. This blog is going to be mainly for my own reference, keeping a categorized and tagged record of resources I've found for those just beginning in art licensing, and will be from a children's book illustrator perspective.

It's not my intention to give up writing and illustrating children's books for art licensing. Rather, I'm hoping to generate enough income through art licensing to enable me to drop short-term one-off illustration assignments, make more efficient use of my time with the end result of giving me more flexibility and time to work on children's books.

Wish me luck. :-)

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Reader Comments (7)

Hi Debbie,

I am an artist ,too who went to SURTEX to walk the show. I paid a little more ($150) . Maybe we should have walked the show together. I didn't take any photos for the same reason but I did talk to a few artists who were so kind to me. They even encourage me to exhibit next year. It was an amazing experience but a bit overwhelming. I noticed a few artists with the wrong idea that we were there to copy their work. How wrong was that! Thank God was jut 1 or two. I learned a lot and that was my main reason to go there. I wanted to have a sneak peek of how to exhibit my work. The best lesson learned is that they are just like you and me...we just have to make it happen. Thanks for sharing your story. By the way, I will be walking the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, too. I am taking this seriously. I can't wait anymore time just dreaming. I am not as young as I wish to star thgos business, but I know, the possibilities are there! Same to you! Go for it!

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Hi Debbie! I too, had just learned about Surtex recently. I can imagine how overwhelming and yet inspiring it must have been to walk the isles. I'm also an illustrator/writer and will be following this blog with interest. Thanks!


May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Elizabeth: I would have loved to walk the show with you. Good luck with your art licensing!

Julie: Thanks for posting, and thanks for following this blog. :-)

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Ohi

Debbie, thanks for starting yet another wonderful blog! I look forward to learning with you along the way.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEliza Wheeler

Debbie - I walked Surtex myself for the first time and I enjoyed chatting with many artists there, all very very friendly, most of them not upset at all to be talking to me. In fact, they all seemed to share the same experience when they first walked the show, so they liked to share with newbies :) - I'll post my own review of Surtex soon...

I wish you good luck with your own business. I am an illustrator, too, and I host an art blog called The Moon from My Attic - if you're interested in some free exposure please let me know, I'd love to do an interview with you!


May 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralex colombo

Hi Debbie,
I too went to the Surtex Show to walk the show and attend the art licensing seminars at the suggestion of my teacher. After taking several pattern and product design classes at MCAD, I found the whole experience to be so enjoyable. I have a degree in painting and sculpture serious work, but this does not help pay for daily living expenses. I love being creative so I just figured this was a necessary expense to be able to move forward on a better career path and just dive in. I would have loved to walk the show with you also since I was there by my lonesome. There was so much to see and take in. It was a great experience.

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia Gluba

Hi Debbie

I think you are very brave to have walked the show on your own, I would have loved to have gone, but think I could only do it if I had another artist to go with, I am based in the UK so it would have been an expensive trip for me, but it sounds like it's worth doing.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, I look forward to reading more, I too am at the beginning of my licensing career.

Good luck! x

June 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Lincoln

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