Friday, February 14, 2014

Top Tips from the Top Surface Pattern Designers

I'm amazed and excited when I see fabulous and stunning work from designers I admire. They inspire and enthuse me to work harder and aim higher. Which is great when some days just seem so overwhelming with everything there is to learn and do! Not only do we have to be fabulous designers, but we have to be instinctive with regards colour, shape and choice of design too. Sounds easy, but it's not!
ali benyon
Being new to this area of textiles, I'm finding this part hard. As I'm still just taking baby steps, it's tricky to boldly take confident leaps and design straight from the heart and from the core of where all this creativeness comes from........ from ME! I personally think being confident in ourselves and in our design choices is at the centre of great design. I'm only just starting to feel a teeny bit confident, but deep down I know I have to just grip on tight and trust my creative instincts!

In this blog I've asked a number of designers I really admire to come up with their top tips to being a successful surface pattern designers. I just want to say thanks to each of them for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this for us. Thank you

Lotta Jansdotter

* Stick with your own style. Embrace what comes out of your hand, try not to look at what others do too much: develop your own mark and style.
* Just start! Just start creating: making, doodling.....and from that comes inspiration.
* Don't be such a perfectionist. If you wait or are not completing some things because they are not "perfect" then a lot of things never get done.

Rachael Taylor
* Use your own initiative - don't wait for things to fall in your lap
* Networking - Connect and surround yourself with like minded people
* Don't underestimate the power of social media
* If you are not business minded it is important to get savvy and go on training courses - be prepared for more admin than you would like
* Just go for it. It is only yourself holding YOU back!

Rachel Cave

* Stay in touch with current trends and always keep an eye out to see what's popular and selling in the shops
* Being commercial, but staying true to your own design style is really important.
* A really good website/online portfolio with regular updates and a blog

Sophie Honeybelle

* Be true to yourself. I was given this advice by my A Level art teacher and it's stayed with me throughout the years because it's so important.

*I think a lot of new designers may be apprehensive about sharing their work online because of the plagiarism horror stories. I'd say watermark your work and share it whenever you can. The world wants to see your talent!

*Setting goals and making plans is very useful - stay as focused as you can on your chosen direction. Put off procrastination.

*If, like me, you're a bit of a perfectionist, try to change that way of thinking because otherwise you'll keep waiting for everything to be 'perfect' before you take a step forward and in my experience few things are ever perfect, so just go for it!

*Self-belief is vital. Believe in yourself and your work and this will take you to where you need to go.

Mel Smith Designs

* It's hard. Really hard. Sorry to scare you. It's a lot of work, a lot of learning, a lot of hours…but it's so awesome! There are so many routes you can take - freelance, studio, manufacturing, licensing, blogging, teaching…endless opportunities and it might take you a while to find out what your true calling but you learn so much on the way…enjoy it!

* It's ok to get it wrong! I hate making mistakes, and I kick myself for it. But it's gonna happen, of course it is - there's so much to learn - so don't beat yourself up about it. Learn from it and move on to the next task.
* Be patient. It won't necessarily come quick but if you love what you do and you work hard it will happen. And it'll be so worth the wait.

* Design, design, design! Create as much as possible. Try different things. There is no 'wrong'.

* But perhaps most importantly - just be YOU.  if you are you your work and personality will shine. Don't try to act the way you think you should be acting, or design the way you think you should be designing - do what comes naturally. You'll be awesome!

Now go get 'em!

Elizabeth Olwen

Vimeo ad for Surtex :

* Your personal style is everything, so work hard at developing a style that is unique to you, and recognizable. Always think, is this unique, is this original, is it“me”? That’s what will set you apart.

* The internet is your friend! You have to put yourself out there as much as possible and share your work in order to get exposure. How is the world going to know about you if you don’t tell them?

* Submit, submit, submit. Compile a list of companies that you’d like to work with, then try and track down their design director or buyer. And don’t be shy… these people are busy. If they don’t write you back at first, it doesn’t mean they’re not interested, they’re probably just busy or they don’t need artwork at that point in time. Send artwork again and maybe you’ll have luck the next time.

* Make sure that you’re submitting artwork to companies you feel are genuinely a good fit for your artwork. If you send really bubbly, cute illustrations to a company that specializes in modern sophistication, you’re not likely to find an opportunity there.

* Keep your chin up! You may experience rejection at the beginning, but keep working at it and try and use that as fuel to create better work. Perseverance is key
Jessica Wilde Designs

* Be original. This might sound obvious but it applies to so many aspects, whether it’s your signature style or how you decide to build your career or business. Everyone's story is unique, embrace it and find a direction that is truly you.

* Be nice to yourself. So many designers are super self-critical (me included!). If you’re feeling negative ask yourself why? Are you being a perfectionist, are you comparing yourself to others, was the goal realistic? Don’t be hard on yourself and remember sometimes things just don't go to plan. Learn what you can from every experience and give yourself credit for every effort even if you don't consider it an obvious success. - 

*Be organised (and realistic). I thought making a load of lists was being organised, but actually that can just send your head in a spin! There's a time for brainstorming exciting possibilities but remember to be focused and think about actions you can prioritise and tackle in a realistic time frame. When working on your own venture you also need to cost this out.

* Be even nicer to yourself Work aside, this should be at the top of your list! Look after yourself, take time out to socialise, enjoy getting outside and travel when possible, even if it's just a fun day trip. You'll feel most creative when you're refreshed and inspired.

Jessica Hayman – Rosa and Clara Designs

* Give yourself time. I think it can take a while to develop a portfolio and find your style. When I have tried to rush a design, I have sometimes regretted it. Which leads me to...

* Trust your gut instinct. If you feel that a design is not quite right yet, you're probably right - keep working on it!

* Try to limit the time you spend looking at other designers' work. Sometimes easier said than done, and it is important (and inspiring) to see what's out there, but it can be really distracting.

* If you are having designs printed yourself, always get physical samples. This can be expensive (with digitally printed fabric, for example) but I think it's crucial as the colours and the lines can look so different once printed on to fabric/card or other products such as coasters.

Gillian Arnold

* To sum up in one key word "perseverence" - you really need to have a loads of this - even when you've run out of money, and are exhausted from working long hours, you need to keep going! I know a lot of people would disagree with that, and say to only spend what you have, but a business needs time and money invested in it for it to grow, before it will make money for you.
* Belief in your own abilities, and yourself, and surrounding yourself in other people who believe in what you can do. Don't be tempted to disclose your business details to people who aren't supportive (or understand) what you do and why you do it.
* A practical tip would be to get out there and sell your work as soon as possible, so you know if your work is marketable - setting up at a market or craft fair, where you can meet your customers face-to-face.
* Know your numbers - know your costings, and start with a pricing structure and profit margins that work well for you for both wholesale and retail.
* Although, as mentioned, you will need to work long hours, be wise with your time - don't get sucked in to spending all your time online, looking at others work, what they're doing, and comparing with yourself - it's too easy to procrastinate into this, and not get any of your own work done!
* Your passion for what you do and to get your designs out there and express yourself underpins everything that you do and everything I've mentioned. It's your story that will continue to drive you, and you have to keep going back to what it is, and revisiting it.
**Keep Going!**

Mary Tanana - Groovity

* Don’t compare your Beginnings to someone else’s Middle.
I am so new at this business, and I find myself comparing my work to others that have been doing this for years, resulting in suddenly not feeling good about anything that I do. I’ve actually written this quote on a card and taped it next to my computer to remind me not to ‘go there’ anymore!  Comparing can be dangerous. Find your own course and stick with it. Good things will happen.

* Surround yourself with like-minded creatives that will support you and keep you moving in a positive direction.

 *I've found my "art-tribe" while taking Rachael and Beth's courses - The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design. We have a large group online where we share ideas and keep each other focused. While most of these friendships are technically "virtual", I have met up with some of these fabulous designers at various trade shows. Their advice and friendship is priceless.
* Nothing happens overnight. Patience is required in this business!

*Everything takes time. We all want instant answers to our emails and work submissions, but that usually won't happen as quickly as we would like. I just had a company contact me this week to say I was accepted to sell on their new site. I applied 9 months ago. It was a nice surprise, as I had completely forgotten that I had even applied!

Bethan Janine Designs

* Be yourself, try working with different materials to help develop your style.
* Be open to learning new things, there are lots of great courses out there and they can really help you focus.
* Work hard and keep the creativity flowing, always have your sketchbook and camera to hand, design new things to make sure your portfolio looks fresh.
* Put yourself out there, I'm a visual person so I mostly use pinterest and instagram to promote my work, posting pictures from my sketchbook and images from my portfolio website, which can help generate interest in your work.


Thanks so much to all the designers who have taken part in this truly inspirational blog, I really appreciate them taking time out of their super busy days to do this for us new surface pattern designers.

I just also want to say that I would not be here today if it were not for the fabulous surface pattern design course I have been doing since August last year with Beth Kempton and Rachael Taylor. I couldn't highly recommend it enough and in fact a lot of the designers on this blog have also completed the same course. So if you have a passion for pattern, check it out! The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design! Cheers - Ali xx


  1. Lovely post Ali. Thank you so much for putting it together and thank you to all the wonderful designers.

    Have a Beautiful Day, Kathryn

  2. What a great and helpful post! Thank you so much.

  3. That is awesome. Thank you for this valuable post with all those good informations.

  4. No worries. I think supporting each other in this industry is really important and I was amazed at just how many designers wanted to share their knowledge with us all. Ali xx

  5. This is awesome!! Thanks so much for putting this all together! And thanks to the designers for contributing their tips!

  6. What a GREAT post!! As a ABSPD new grad it is comforting to hear all of these valuable tips from wonderful designers!

  7. I'm also a graduate from ABSPD. These are top tips from amazing designers, they're really giving me courage! Thank you for sharing!

  8. So glad you all enjoyed reading the tips. We now have part 2 if you would like to read that :)

    Thanks - Ali x

    1. Truely inspiring. Especially about not comparing you to others. Thanks