On the Surface


Got talent?  It’s a merciless blessing.   Any creative person knows that the real question is not, do you have talent? The question is, does talent have you? Does it get you out of bed to make notes at 4 a.m.?  Assail you in the shower?  Exhaust you with endless demands that you make something new, something better, something, ahem, original?

Where to find the inspiration to meet those demands?  It’s an old question that’s forever fascinating.  So we put it to some of the new talents you’ll be seeing at SURTEX in a few months.

MARTA BERK, New York – Born in Belarus, raised in Brooklyn, Marta is an illustrator, surface designer and painter now living and working in New York.

Q:  What made you an artist/agent in the first place?  
A:  “I feel that if I’ve always been an artist. I’ve spent my childhood doodling and painting… I majored in graphic design in college because I thought that was a more practical career choice.”


Marta says she discovered the world of selling art and licensing after taking Lilla Roger’s MATS (“Make Art That Sells”) class and meeting other successful designers like Helen Dardik and Elizabeth Olwen, who gave her “the confidence and inspiration to push myself toward this career path.”

Q:  Has that changed your style?
A:  “In the past year, I tried to include more textures and a variety of weights in my work. I’m also constantly experimenting with color and Pinterest is my greatest secret weapon.”



Q:  What do you think is the biggest challenge for artists in the surface art industry?
A:  “Themselves. We’re often so hard on ourselves and that fear of not being good enough keeps us from even trying. For a long time I was afraid of showing my work because I thought it wasn’t good enough. I still battle with that, but other artists from online communities have been very supportive…”



Jon Q Wright, JQ Licensing, LLC, Walker, MN – A leading wildlife artist in the 1980s, specializing in fish, Jon saw a new future in the agency that now combines the talents of in-house artists, including himself, and others who adhere to the agency tag-line: “We believe in challenging the status quo and creating differently.

Q.  What inspired that motto?
A: “I saw a way to make my art business more lucrative through licensing. I began licensing my own images back in 1990…. (and) as my licensing business grew, I saw a need for additional art categories and talents and began representing other outdoor wildlife artists.”

Q: Why and how has your art changed (in style, colors, techniques, etc.)?
A: “At JQL, design is essential. Taking the beautiful art from our represented artists, and enhancing it through design to fit the manufacturers’ product shapes and retail markets is key to large volume sales for us.”



Q:  What do you see as The Big Challenge to the surface art industry this year?
A:  “Copyright infringements.”


Annie Chen, Lemonni Design, Vancouver, BC – With a background in graphic design, Annie “loves pattern so much,” she says, “it wasn’t enough just to create patterns:  I wanted to see them in application. So I started Lemonni – a stationery and home decor line.”

Q:  How did you become an artist?  What/who inspired you? 
A:  “I guess you can say that it runs in my family. My mom was a graphic designer and now a painter; my sister is an interior designer. My mom taught me drawing and color theories since I was little”

Even so, Annie didn’t pursue a creative path in school (she studied science and psychology!). “In the end, I still chose a creative career because creating makes me happy.”

Other sources of inspiration? Self-taught designer Lotta Jansdotter and singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. “They’ve proven that you can still make art without a degree in art school if you work hard and persevere.

“My photographer husband also inspired me to follow my passion…I have learned so much from him.”
Q: Has your art changed (in style, colors, techniques, etc.) as you have grown in your career?  
A: “I came from a background of graphic design where everything is carefully controlled.’ Surface design is very free, so I’m definitely learning how to let go and be more unpredictable.”

Q:  What big challenge do you see facing the industry?
A:  “How to promote your work online while avoiding copycats. You can’t stop showing your work just because you’re afraid someone would steal your ideas.

“I’d say transfer the energy from trying to protect your work to creating and showing more work.”


""Mitsushige Nishiwaki ( Etching Artist ), Tokyo – Early travels in charge of European business for a Japanese industrial company, followed by postgraduate studies in graphic design in Arizona and work as a graphic designer in New York City, inform Mitsushige’s singular, humorous images.

Q:  So it was seeing the world that first inspired you?
A:  “Yes. I got inspirations to create my works from my experiences going around the world.”

Q:  What has influenced your style since?
A:  “I worked for books and advertisements mainly, and started to work in the apparel industry. I made etchings for tee-shirts at a Tokyo-based fashion brand last summer and sold 40,000 tee-shirts in Japan. (Now I have) made a new contract with Paris-based fashion brand…and I am also going to have an opportunity to create show window displays.”

Q:  The biggest challenge? 
A:  “To keep art projects going.”