Art by the Sea
Surface Pattern Design

An Exclusive Look at Surface Pattern Design, 101

Surface Pattern D

Look around you? Do you see a pattern nearby? Maybe your sofa, a chair, shirt, draperies, rug, pillow, towels, bed sheets, journal, or book cover? Pretty much any product you buy may have a pattern on it. Surface pattern design is basically everywhere! It is a form of design that involves the creation of patterns usually for printed, woven, or knitted fabrics. It can also be used on paper, plastics, and other materials by creating repeatable designs that can be used in a variety of ways, from full-scale production to small-batch printing.

The History of Surface Pattern Design

The history of surface pattern design is a long and varied one, with patterns being used for both decoration and function since ancient times. In more recent history, the industrial revolution saw a huge increase in the production of printed fabrics, which in turn led to a boom in the surface pattern design industry. Today, surface pattern design is enjoying a resurgence, or renaissance of sorts, with a new generation of designers bringing fresh ideas and creativity to the field.

Why Surface Pattern Design?

I’ve been a member of the Surface Design Association for over 20 years, but never really realized there was actually this thing called Surface Pattern Design. You might be wondering why I’m telling you all about this particular art topic. Well, it’s because over the last two and a half years I’ve been doing some serious soul searching, trying to figure out where I want to go with my art. Plus, I’ve always loved patterns, fabric, and design, for as long as I can remember.

Reevaluating Life During Pandemic

I started thinking about where I wanted to go with my art when the pandemic hit in early 2020 and prematurely closed my solo art exhibition at the North Carolina Estuarium when I was living in Washington, North Carolina.

By the end of 2020, Derek and I decided we wanted a quieter and slower pace of life. With that, we decided to move to Nova Scotia, Canada. Boy did we find it! But, as you can probably guess, moving to a new country brings new challenges, including new business rules. Because I am not a Canadian citizen, I had to apply for my permanent residency and work permit. This meant I couldn’t sell my art for more than a year while I waited out the process.

In the meantime, I could make all the art I wanted, I just couldn’t sell it. This was good news, however, there was a problem: the majority of my art supplies were packed away in storage. This was a bit of a quandary. But, I did have my computer and my camera with me, so I got out and about and started seeing what Nova Scotia had to offer. I also took this time to really think about the type of art I wanted to make.

Needless to say, this province does not disappoint. It is, by far, one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived. So much to see and do. With camera in hand, I started taking all kinds of photos and turning them into digital art. This whole digital art thing got me thinking… “what else can I do with my photography and my computer?” Then I remembered this amazing artist I follow, Anne LaFollette.

I went back to my computer and started looking for Anne’s emails and found that she taught this course called The Pattern Design Academy. My mind was racing with excitement and I started to think about pattern design and how I could learn more.

While reviewing Anne’s website and emails, I found an email from Anne where she was promoting Juliet Meeks, another surface pattern designer who teaches Licensing for Artists. At this point the lightbulb came on, I had my AHA moment! I couldn’t believe my luck as both courses were offered at different times, allowing me to take both courses, one right after other. I learned so much and can’t wait to learn more.

If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.

~ Jen Sincero, Author

Fast forward nearly two years, I’m still chasing this surface pattern design dream, jumping into the deep end, and loving every minute. I love researching this topic. I even went down the Instagram rabbit hole and found The Print School. This organization offers some pretty awesome training. They focus on the commercial side of design, including fashion and fabric design. I’ve taken their Comprehensive Business for Surface Designers course and highly recommend it if you’re thinking about a career in commercial fashion design.

Instagram is a great resource for researching and finding amazing talented surface pattern designers!! I follow most of the designers I’ve found, and continue to learn as much as I can from them. This has been an amazing journey.

Speaking of amazing journeys, I recently found Bonnie Christine on Instagram and have basically devoured all of her free tutorials and PDF freebies! I even signed up for her Immersion Course, which starts on Monday March 13th. I am over the moon excited and can’t wait to share what I learn.

How to Become a Surface Pattern Designer

If after reading this, I hope you might be thinking: “How can I become a surface pattern designer?” Or maybe you’re thinking about what skills are needed, or wondering what type of computer and software are needed to learn surface pattern design. I will do my best to answer many of these questions in this post and in future posts. But in the meantime, please feel free to send me your questions.

The best way to get started is to consider taking some online courses, like I did, and also consider joining a professional surface pattern design organization or group. I even suggest spending some time researching Surface Pattern Design on Instagram and Google, as this can be the easiest first step. I’ll also provide some links below.

If you’re interested in a creative career that allows you to work with patterns and color, then surface pattern design may be the perfect field for you. It does require a certain skill set, including an eye for colour and composition, and the ability to use design software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. But, with that said, you do have easier options, such as Procreate and Canva. You can absolutely learn these skills, just like I am. You will also need to develop a strong portfolio and marketing strategy. If you have all of these things, or are willing to learn them, then you’re well on your way to becoming a successful surface pattern designer.

A great inspirational quote comes to mind:

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

~ Arthur Ashe, American Tennis Player

Benefits of being a Surface Pattern Designer

Being a surface pattern designer offers a number of benefits, including:

  • The ability to work from anywhere as freelance artist
  • The opportunity to see your designs come to life on products
  • The opportunity to work in a creative career that is in demand
  • The freedom to be your own boss and set your own hours

Online Training Resources

  • Skillshare — as an affiliate for Skillshare, the link I provided will give you a risk-free 30 day trial of Skillshare Premium. Their courses are great! Juliet Meeks, Bonnie Christine, and so many others, offer courses on surface pattern design. Including Adobe Illustrator, Procreate, and Canva on this platform.
  • Creative Live — another excellent training platform.
  • YouTube — research training on surface pattern design & Adobe Illustrator.

Professional Organizations

Surface Pattern Designers to Follow

Below are my top 10 favourite designers. They often offer free resources on their websites.

Trends in surface pattern design come and go, but there are always a few timeless looks that remain popular year after year. Floral patterns, geometric shapes, seasonal themes, and nature-inspired designs are just a few of the classics that continue to be in high demand.

The Future of Surface Pattern

The future of surface pattern design is bright, with new technologies and printing methods opening up even more possibilities for creativity. Designers who are able to keep up with the latest trends and technologies will be in the best position to succeed in this ever-evolving field. Bonnie Christine shared an amazing video called 60×60 which is all about 60 artists sharing how they create income from their artwork in 60 minutes. It’s truly eye-opening. I hope you’ll watch it.

Becoming a surface pattern designer is easier than ever before, thanks to the proliferation of online resources and courses. However, it is still a competitive field, and those who want to succeed will need to develop a strong portfolio and marketing strategy. If I can do this, you can do it too! I’ll leave you with two of my favourite inspirational quotes. One from Anne LaFollette: “It’s Never Too Late to Create”® and the second from Bonnie Christine: “I Believe There Is Room for You!”. Great inspiring thoughts from two amazing women.

Where to find inspiration for surface pattern design

Inspiration for surface pattern design can be found anywhere and everywhere. Take a walk in the park, look through a stack of old magazines, or even taking a trip to the grocery store or local farmers market can all be sources of inspiration for new patterns.

How to make a living as a surface pattern designer

Selling surface pattern designs can be done in a number of ways, from licensing to selling physical products. The best way to sell surface pattern designs will vary depending on the designer’s goals and audience. Below are just a few examples of how to market your designs:

  • License your artwork. License your artwork to clients, who produce products with your designs. 
  • Sell your designs by Print-on-Demand.
  • Sell original artwork.  
  • Take commissions. 
  • Teach.  
  • Sell digital design assets such as downloadable PDF guides, e-books, prints, notecards, stickers, and print-on-demand fabric. These are just a few options.

Surface pattern design is a fascinating and ever-evolving field. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the FAQ section below for answers to some of the most common questions about surface pattern design.

Frequently asked questions about surface pattern design

Q: What are some common challenges faced by surface pattern designers?

A: Some common challenges faced by surface pattern designers include maintaining a consistent workflow, staying up-to-date with trends, and marketing their designs to potential buyers. However, these challenges can be overcome with a little planning and perseverance.

Q: What are some common myths about surface pattern design?

A: Some common myths about surface pattern design include that it’s only for women, that it’s easy to do, and that it doesn’t require any formal training. However, none of these things are true! Surface pattern design is a creative and challenging field that is open to anyone with the right skills and mindset.

Q: Do you need a degree to be a surface pattern designer?

A: The short answer to this question is no. I’ve discovered a lot of successful artists – surface pattern designers, illustrators, fabric designers who don’t have a degree in art or design. Many have some kind of graphic design background, but just as many have degrees and experience in fields totally unrelated to art, and some have no formal training at all. You just need the courage, confidence, and the creative desire to make your dreams happen.

Q: How much do Surface Pattern Designers make? Salary?

A: It varies, and it is definitely not a get rich quick career. I do know of several surface designers who are making 6-figure incomes and others who are making multiple 6 and even 7 figure incomes. But they have been working hard for many years at their careers and have multiple streams of revenue.

By varying your sources of income through licensing, print-on-demand, teaching, selling original artwork, and even working as freelance designers for other creative agencies, there are many ways to make a living as a surface pattern designer. Note: even though licensing is the most popular route to make money with your designs, you need to remember licensing is more of a marathon, and not a sprint.

Q: What are some common mistakes made by surface pattern designers?

A: Some common mistakes made by surface pattern designers include not researching the market, not having a clear vision for their designs, not having a strong signature style, and not promoting their work effectively. However, these mistakes can be easily avoided with a little forethought and planning.

Q: What are some tips for success in surface pattern design?

A: Some tips for success in surface pattern design include staying inspired, being willing to experiment, create consistently, master Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop, and networking with other designers. However, the most important thing is to simply never give up on your dreams.

Interested in learning more from me? Please subscribe!

If you are interested in following me and learning more about my future topics on art and adventure, please consider subscribing below and I will send you an occasional email keeping you up to date on my latest adventures. As always, I am interested in hearing your comments and views, please post your comments below. Wishing you and your families all the best for 2023!

Jackie Weatherly-Cadzow



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