SURTEX Stories: 4 Student Competition Winners Get Seen In NYC

SURTEX, now in its 26th year, has long recognized outstanding art & design students for exceptional surface design work through its annual international designext competition.

SDA member Melodie Flook from Sheridan Institute in Ontario (CA) was among the 4 talented design students from 4 different programs who won the top spots in 2011. Challenged to create a collection of designs for commercial interiors in the year 2020, students from around the world applied. The 4 winners were awarded the opportunity to have a booth at SURTEX, the trade show for selling and licensing original art and design that happens every May in NYC. Keia Barua from Savannah College of Art and Design (GA/USA) and Jane Bridges from Bradford School of Arts and Media (UK) were also winners along with Louise Tiler from Leeds College of Art (UK) who won the Grand Prize of an additional $1000 plus letters of recommendation. All 4 have their names displayed on the SURTEX website for 1 year.

Invitations to enter the 2012 competition (Deadline is January 25, 2012 – for a collection of designs for outdoor fabrics for tabletop, decorative accessories, wall coverings, floor coverings, and lighting) have already been sent out. For more information, go to

For some straight talk about being seen at SURTEX – and getting design training at 4 top schools – each winner generously shared these insights with SDA NewsBlog:


Lives in: Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Enrolled at
: Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning (also in Oakville)
Majored in:
Crafts and Design program, Textiles
Graduated in:
May 2011
Taught/Mentored by:
Thea Haines, Rachel MacHenry,
Isabel Stukator
School/program website:
Contact her at:

SDA: How well did the program at Sheridan prepare you for a career in design?
The textiles program at Sheridan is amazing! We hit the ground running the very first day by actually printing on fabric and starting our training in design. This hands-on, intensive approach continued for the full 3 years of our program. We learned to design as well as to explore various application techniques. Our design skills became informed by actual printing experience as we shifted back and forth, adjusting our designs as required by the technique, or vice versa. The faculty really encouraged creativity and innovation so we had a lot of freedom, which was great. We learned felt-making, heat-setting, resist printing, photo image transfers, silk-screening, sewing, paper-making, 3-dimensional construction, surface embellishment, 2-D and 3-D design, and of course, digital design, which I love, and which is where I focused my SURTEX submissions.

SDA: What was it like to be an exhibitor in a booth at Surtex?
This was an unbelievable opportunity for the 4 of us. The SURTEX team (in particular, Penny Sikalis) helped us to bridge the gap between designs created for school assignments and designs created for potential clients. People viewing our work gave us valuable feedback (either verbally or, inadvertently, by body language) and the private interview sessions with each judge provided us with invaluable feedback, too. (Thanks so much to judges Ronald Redding (wallcovering designer), Violet Brandwein (formerly of Kate’s Paperie), Henny Lakin (VP/Creative Bath Products, Inc.), Diane Piemonte (Revman International home products) and Eddie Ross (Eddie Ross, Inc.; former senior style editor at Martha Stewart Living) for taking time out to come and give us advice!) I was also lucky enough to be beside Louise Tiler who was the Grand Prize Winner, so I learned vicariously through her what it was like to have a stream of people interested in your work. It was great to see how it all operates and be a “vendor” at SURTEX without the huge financial outlay at the start of your career when you are still a poor student.

SDA: What contacts did you make?
Well, luckily, I was situated right by the men’s washroom, so I got to chat with lots of people!  Just kidding–it was great to meet students from other countries and continents and find out what their programs were like and where they were heading. It was also great to get to know some of the vendors and find that they were so willing to give us advice (Marilyn Robertson was especially helpful to us all and spent one evening describing the industry to us—and thanks to Marilyn and Philip Goodman!) The people who came by to look at our work were so encouraging.  And of course, the SURTEX admin team (Penny Sikalis, Stephanie Leon-Santiago, and Rachel Veach) were very accessible, helpful and welcoming. I hope I can contact these people in the future for continuing advice.

SDA: What was the most important lesson you learned from this opportunity?
I learned that innovation is the key to opening doors. Some of the judges mentioned that my work was innovative, and I think that is probably the main reason I was successful in the designext competition. At a number of the workshops I attended, the importance of innovation kept popping up just like a safety pin in a tin of straight pins.


Lives in: Mumbai, India
Enrolled at
: Savannah College of Art and Design,
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Majored in:
Graduated in:
2011 (Class of 2011 Valedictorian)
Taught/Mentored by:
Jeremy Noonan
School/program website:
Contact her at:

SDA: Describe how the SCAD program prepared you to become a designer.
The Fibers program at SCAD is unique in its breadth. It covers the areas of fine art, studio production and textile design. The range of classes offered gives students the opportunity to explore various techniques, materials and processes before deciding on a stream that bests suits them. Students are continually challenged to think beyond the obvious. I started off as a Graphic Design major but then found I was interested in Fashion, Interiors and Accessories areas as well. While exploring various courses I discovered the Fibers department and thereby found a place for myself in the design world. The SCAD program fit my wide-ranging interests.

I feel my SCAD training has not only equipped me with the necessary skills required for the real world, it has also given me a preview into professional life through the emphasis on collaborative projects. SCAD teaches students to design with a purpose, not to design in a vacuum. Interpersonal and communication skills are also addressed in the curriculum. It has been the perfect ground for encouraging creativity while also grounding us in design functionality and practicality.

What it was like to have your own booth at SURTEX?
It was an unforgettable experience. It was a little nerve-wracking, as I didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time thrilling to showcase my work and be surrounded by such quantity and quality of work. At this transition point, when I am just stepping out of college and into professional life, it gave me both the opportunity to see what was being done and to preview my own future of possibilities. It was wonderful to show my work – but even better to get feedback from professionals ranging from artists to representatives to buyers. It gave me the chance to talk about my work and articulate my design philosophy and aesthetics. The entire exercise bolstered my confidence in my work as well as in my career choice. It was an immensely rewarding experience; one upon which I will continue to draw.

What contacts were you able to make?
I made a number of contacts for freelance projects as well as with artist’s representatives. I also networked with other designers and artists who had booths.

What was the most important lesson you learned by being there?
The boundaries are mine to set! Buyers approached me to use my work in ways that I never imagined, so I do not need to limit the scope and the potential application of my designs. SURTEX also opened my eyes to the world of licensing – something I had not really considered earlier. Having the Stationary Show and International Contemporary Furniture Fair going on at same time under the same roof made the experience all the more eye-opening.


Lives in: Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
Enrolled at
: Bradford School of Arts and Media
Majored in:
Contemporary Surface Design and Textiles
Will graduate in:
School/program website:
Contact her at:

SDA: How well is the program at Bradford preparing you for a career in design?
Bradford is at the heart of the UK’s traditional textile manufacturing industry.
David Hockney is a famous past student of the college! Students are encouraged to experiment with different techniques through courses that cover a broad range of disciplines – weave, print, knit, embroidery, ceramics and laser-cutting. This approach is giving me a solid background and understanding of how textiles are constructed, manipulated and embellished. The course is very forward thinking; projects involve investigating trends. In the final year we have to produced a final collection with an emphasis on commercial viability and making the step from student to designer.

SDA: What was it like to be an exhibitor in a booth at SURTEX?
It was amazing! It was quite daunting to put together a display – but invaluable experience. The show was very busy but a lot of fun, too. As a student you can’t buy an opportunity like this, so to have this exposure was truly fantastic. It was a springboard to the future. There is so much talent around it just spurs you on to work harder to stand out!

SDA: What was the most important lesson you learned from the experience?
My work starts with hand-drawing which I then take into CAD (computer-aided design). I am inspired by flowers and the beautiful landscapes of Yorkshire. There are many stately homes nearby which I find endlessly inspiring. I love taking quirky old objects and creating something fresh and interesting. Seeing the variety of surface design in the market really helped me to pinpoint the direction I want to take my work in the future.

(SURTEX 2011 designext Grand Prize Winner)

Lives in: Leeds, England
Enrolled at
: Leeds College of Art
Majored in:
Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design
Graduated in:
June 2011
Taught/Mentored by:
Paul Sunter and Julie Bland
School/program website:
Contact her at:

SDA: Describe how the Leeds College of Art program prepared you to become a designer.
Leeds College of Art has a excellent reputation; it is well know as one of the leading courses in England for printed textile design training. The 3-year course starts with a year of learning new skills via modules that offer a wide variety of workshops. Students are introduced to printing methods such as screen printing, mono printing, etching, etc. as well as more modern processes like laser cutting. The college has excellent facilities – such as digital fabric and paper printers for wallpaper and textiles – which allows students to create professional-level design work while also developing technical skills which can be taken forward into the industry.

The 2nd year allows further refinement of skills along with more freedom to explore your own ideas and interpret a brief. Students are encouraged to apply for placement and work opportunities which can be taken simultaneously with course work or during the summer months. The program is well-connected to working professionals in both the interior and fashion industry. The tutors emphasize the importance of practical industry experience to help clarify career focus. They believe that to get a job after college you need to show that you’ve already had relevant placements in the industry.

Year 3 means that you can set your own briefs and are free to create professional finished designs for the commercial market. The tutors are very supportive and available throughout the course; they encourage students to think of themselves as young designers, not students, and to be the best they can be. This really helps you to develop a professional approach to designing.

Students from LCA have won many awards over the years including New Designer of the Year
(2 times in 3 years!), 1st, 2nd & 3rd prizes in the
Bradford Textile Society, Tigerprint Winner 2011, SURTEX International Student Competition and Texprint, among others…..

What it was like to have a booth a SURTEX?
The booth was in a very good location and we had a lovely big space in which to display our work. It was also nice to be right in the same area as the professionals to see how they worked and traded at the show.

What contacts did you make?
I made many and have followed up with most. I have been offered interviews in the UK and abroad. After having meetings with many of the UK companies, I found interest in licensing my designs and also in representing my work as a independent designer. I am currently signing contracts to license my work for both cards and stationary and hope to create my own brand of interior wall coverings and wallpaper.

What was the most important lesson you learned by being there?
I learned how to present myself and my work professionally to a new audience of worldwide licensing agents, companies and other designers. Since SURTEX, I was delighted to be named Business Design Center New Designer of the Year 2011 at the New Designers event in London – where each year graduates from all around the UK exhibit their designs.

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