I often get asked how I started out in Surface Pattern Design, how I get my work, where I get my inspiration from and much, much more. A lot of the time these questions are asked by students studying Surface Pattern Design or Graduates who have just finished their courses and are stepping out into the industry. I also get lots of emails and enquiries from students about work placements (I’m afraid I can’t offer any at the moment) and questionnaires for their projects, so I thought it might be useful to dedicate a whole (long!) blog post to it!
Some of the information below is from the questions I’ve been asked in interviews I’ve done and some is based on the most common questions I get asked. I’ve also added some new thoughts and advice in here too, so I hope you find it useful.
What I’m about to share is only my experience and journey in this very competitive industry and is how I’ve found my way. I also feel I’ve still got a long way to go on my journey which I still find exciting and I’m constantly learning. I don’t have all the answers and I’m certainly not saying that this is the only way to do things (I might have changed some things if I got to do it again but we learn from where we’ve been!) so please do lots of research about other designers too and only do what feels right for you and your work.
Ok so here’s a little background about how and when I got started…..
I originally worked in admin and accounts roles after leaving school but being creative and always feeling the need to express my creativity, I knew deep down this kind of work just wasn’t for me. So I made the huge decision to leave my job and take some time out to go travelling, where I realised I had to pursue some kind of career that would fulfil my creative needs. On my return I enrolled on an Art and Design degree at York St John University.
During my first year on the course we worked on a module about pattern and texture and this is where I discovered the world of Surface Pattern Design. I couldn’t believe that you could have a career creating patterns every day and immediately I was hooked! I then went on to specialise in Surface Pattern Design for last 2 years of the course and loved every minute of it, so much so that I gained a First Class Honours Degree at the end of it!
I worked a lot in wet print and fell in love with the screen printing process but I also learnt how to develop my designs and artwork further in CAD which has been invaluable since leaving University. I then went straight on to complete an MSc in CAD for Textile Designers at Huddersfield University where I learnt a lot about the industry itself, how trends play such an important part in the pattern design industry and also how to use different dedicated design software packages.
I graduated in 2005 and was immediately accepted onto the Visual Enterprise Scheme which supported Arts Graduates in setting up their businesses within the Creative Industries. It was during this time that I set up my business and exhibited at my first Trade Shows- BCTF and Top Drawer. Initially I began designing my own fabrics and manufacturing products such as cushions, bags and home accessories from them but after a few years I began to focus purely on the Surface Pattern Design side of my work. Gradually I began doing more freelance work for companies and also carried out a lot of Public Art commissions.
I work from home and I have a dedicated room which I use as my studio. I have two desks – one that I do all my computer work on and another desk which I do all my ‘messy’ work on, like drawing, printing and mark making.
My inspiration, my style and how I create my designs…….
I am inspired by all different things in everyday life. I’m particularly drawn to botanical inspiration such as flowers, grasses and plants but I often find inspiration for patterns and colour palettes in the most surprising and unexpected places. I love the countryside and the outdoors and I’m always snapping photos of things that catch my eye when I’m out walking or visiting different places so I have a visual reminder of it when I’m back in my Studio.
I also love Pinterest! I think it’s a great place to discover gorgeous imagery, research trends and create moodboards. You can see all my boards here.
I would say my style is quite organic, detailed and often delicate. I use a combination of hand drawing and hand printing to create my designs. I love colour and I enjoy spending time experimenting with different colour palettes. I begin most designs by sketching out ideas and motifs in pencil and then when I’m happy with where it’s going I start drawing over them in black pen.
I then scan these into the computer and take them into Illustrator or Photoshop where I can start constructing the actual layout of the design and colouring it. Sometimes I’ll hand print some textures or motifs using different techniques and then also scan these in and use them in the same way.
Developing your style, sharing your work and licensing…….
I feel there was quite a defining moment last year when I decided to not be afraid of sharing and showing my designs anymore. I think within the design industry there’s a temptation to feel like you have to keep your work a secret, which to some extent is true, especially if you’re working on client’s projects but I’m also a big believer in getting your work out there. With that in mind I developed some collections just for me that I could promote on my website and social media.
I’ve also spent time developing my craft as a designer. Taking time out to create a full portfolio of designs and work on your style may feel indulgent when all you want is the work to come in but I think it’s a really valuable investment that you can make in your business. It really helped me to become focused on what I wanted to do and where I wanted my business to go. The feedback I have received from companies is that they want to be able to see a Designer is comfortable and confident in their work and their style and for this to be apparent when they look through their portfolio.
I work on new designs and collections on an ongoing basis but this depends on what other work I have on, for example; if I have client work to do or a licensing project with a specific company or a commission that I’m working on then my own designs tend to get worked on in between this work.
I try to keep in touch with existing clients and potential clients regularly just to let them know what I’m working on and if I have any new designs coming out. I also use social media to promote my work and use my blog to keep people up to date with what I’m doing too. Being featured on design blogs is also a great way of getting your work out there too. I’ll post a list of recent interviews I’ve done at the bottom of this post.
When approaching companies don’t get disheartened if they say no to start off with. No doesn’t always mean never, it might just mean, not now and that could be for a number of different reasons, not that they don’t like your work. A lot of the time it could just be about timing. When I first approached Dashwood Studio about working with them they said they liked my work but they were full at the time and to keep in touch, which I did and that’s how Prairie came about. I feel this is a real lesson in not giving up at the first hurdle. I’ve really learnt that rejections are just part of this industry and you have to try and keep positive and use any knock backs to make you stronger.
Goal setting, commitment and developing a thick skin………
I think to work hard goes without saying but to work hard with a definite focus on what it is you want to achieve can really help and make a huge difference. I found that setting myself goals to work to really helped me. I began by writing down my big main goals and then breaking those down into smaller, more achievable goals that I could work towards on a daily basis. It made it feel much less daunting and I gained a sense of achievement each time I completed one. Never lose sight of your goals, no matter how hard it becomes and how many rejections you might face.
Passion and determination are other huge factors. I think you really need to have a passion for what you do because that is what is going to push you though all the tough times and rejections. It may sound like I’m painting a negative picture of the Surface Pattern Design Industry and you might just be lucky but it really is competitive out there with lots of new designers launching every day, so developing a tough skin is so important!
Try not to take rejections personally, which I know is such a hard thing to do and counter intuitive to us as Designers but just because your work isn’t the right fit for one company, it doesn’t mean it won’t be for another one. If you really believe in what you do then keep pushing it and keep knocking on those doors!
A sense of community, support and enjoying the journey…….
Having peers or a community of like-minded Designers around you, whether it’s forums from online courses or friends you have that do similar work can be a great support. I’m part of an online group of Surface Pattern Designers who I ‘talk’ to most days. I’d certainly be lost without it!
And lastly, enjoy yourself! I really believe this shows in your work. The designs and collections I’ve enjoyed creating the most (like Prairie) have so far been the most successful. I really think this comes across not only in the actual designs but in the way you talk about your work and people will pick up on that.
I really hope reading this post has helped some of the questions you might have had about working in Surface Pattern Design and given you an insight into this wonderful industry. Here’s also a list of recent features and interviews I’ve been fortunate to have taken part in which you might also find interesting and helpful.
I’d love to hear about your tips on how you got started or what you struggle with the most. Or are you just starting out in Surface Pattern Design? Let me know in the comments below.