An Introduction to the World of Surface Pattern Design - Plus, a Glimpse Into My Own Artistic Process!
Today I want to share a little bit about my own artistic process and what I do as a surface pattern designer and mixed media artist! But first, let's start at the beginning by explaining exactly what "surface pattern design" is all about!
The phrase "surface pattern design" may seem a bit confusing or vague to some, especially to those who live in the USA, where this term is not frequently used. Often, when I tell people that I am a surface pattern designer, they look at me with a variety of baffled expressions. I usually get asked a few questions while I am explaining the concept to them, such as: "What type of surfaces do you design for", "Are you a graphic designer?", or even "Is that a real job?". I am sure that other surface pattern designers can relate to this experience!
In order to clear up some questions and give you a glimpse into my work, let's start at the beginning, shall we?! So, first thing's first...just what does a surface pattern designer do, anyway?
A surface pattern designer is an artist that creates a variety of designs and patterns that are used to decorate the surfaces of various objects or products. Very often, the artwork that they create needs to be designed in such a way that the images can be repeated over and over again across the object's surface so that the design appears seamless (as on a roll of fabric, gift wrap or wallpaper). Other times, the artwork that they make does not need to be repeated and can merely be designed to fill the entire surface itself.
Surface pattern designers create artwork that can be used on an extremely wide variety of products - including stationery, product packaging, greeting cards, paper goods, ceramic items, glass pieces, pillows, clothing, accessories, textiles and various home decor items. Virtually any product that features artwork could be designed or embellished by a surface pattern designer! Oftentimes, companies that make products will license or purchase artwork directly from independent or freelance surface pattern designers. Other times, companies employ their own artists and designers in house to create product artwork. Many surface pattern designers also make and/or sell some of their own products, which feature their own designs.
So, now that you understand the basics, you're probably asking yourself...so how does this career path differ from being a graphic designer? Or an artist? Or a textile designer?
The world of surface pattern design lies in a hazy place, somewhere between graphic design and fine art. Surface pattern design is more focused on creating visual artwork and, in particular, with putting that artwork onto various product applications, while graphic design can also include other aspects of design, such as project and text layouts, design work for print and web communications, advertising and web design. Surface pattern design is a specialized field that includes aspects of both graphic design and fine art. While many surface pattern designers have graphic design skills, not all graphic designers create surface pattern designs.
Similarly, textile design is a specialized type of surface pattern design that focuses on designing patterns and artwork specifically for textile and fabric product applications. Textile designers are typically involved in the fashion, apparel and home decor industries, which include a variety of sub-markets that are each heavily influenced by their own seasonal color and style trends. While, surface pattern designers can also be textile designers, their artwork is often used for a variety of other non-textile products as well!
Now that we've discussed what surface pattern design is...I'd like to give you a glimpse into my own artistic process as a surface pattern designer!
Each surface pattern designer creates artwork in their own unique way. Some create everything on the computer from start-to-finish, while others create everything the old-fashioned way (completely by hand) using their own drawings, paintings or sketches. Others paint fabulous watercolor designs and then scan them into the computer, where they manipulate them digitally. There are also some designers who use photographs, mixed media artwork or textural collage as a starting point, then they edit and enhance these pieces to create digital pattern designs. While some designers work very fast, others work slowly and take a great deal of time to produce intricately detailed designs. Each designer has a unique design process and their own signature artistic style, which is why you will see such a great variety of artwork styles used on the products you see in stores.
My own unique design style is a contemporary fusion of my original drawings, machine and hand-stitched elements and digital manipulations. I like to create designs that are playful, happy, energetic and whimsically modern. Though I finish creating my patterns using the computer, every design that I make begins the exact same way: with an original hand-drawn sketch! I like to research and immerse myself in the subject matter before I sketch, then I relax and think about what I am trying to draw and just see what happens! I am a very emotionally driven person, and I feel that my emotional energy is very evident in my designs.
My background in fashion design and my love of sewing is a crucial element of my unique style. I often use motifs that I have stitched onto paper or fabric when I create my surface pattern designs. Adding stitched elements to my designs allows me to fuse my love of textiles, fashion and sewing into my artwork. It might take a little bit longer for me to create a design, but I love the texture and contrast that the stitching creates in my work and the unique quality that it lends to my patterns. I especially love to layer various hand drawn elements and stitched textures within my designs in order to create a feeling of playful energy.
If you know me, you will know that I am many things...but a morning person is definitely NOT one of them! To compensate for this on days that I design, I follow a morning ritual that gets me ready to make artwork and puts me in a creative mindset. I recently discovered the importance of having an artistic ritual process while reading a wonderful book by Lilla Rogers called "I Just Like To Make Things" - I highly recommend this book to any artist or designer that is thinking about freelancing or going out on their own! Having a morning ritual really helps me get in the mood to create art and allows me to wash away any stress or other thoughts so that I can allow myself to be inspired by the world around me.
Regardless of the weather, my morning ritual begins with a short walk outside! I love to take early morning walks around my neighborhood and just observe what is going on - whether it is the people moving about, the flowers that are blooming, the color combination that I see in an oily rain puddle, or a unique texture on a weathered wooden fence - I wait and see whatever pops out at me and I take pictures whenever I feel inspired. I am very lucky to live in a neighborhood that is both walkable and also home to many artists and creatives. These walks are both relaxing and a great source of inspiration for my work, as I have quickly gathered a great deal of photographs, color palettes and new ideas that I can reference whenever I need inspiration for my new designs. I never know what I will find on my morning walks and that is part of what gets my creative juices flowing!
Next, I eat a light breakfast, turn on my scented wax melt warmer, make a cup of coffee or herbal fruit tea, turn on some tunes and grab my sketchbook. I find it immensely helpful to activate all of my senses while sketching (another tip that I received from Lilla's book). It helps me to focus on putting pen to paper and allows me to tune everything else out. I especially love listening to music on Pandora because you never know which song is coming next! I enjoy the surprise and the variety of emotions that you get when listening to music - when I look back at the drawings in my sketchbook, I can definitely tell which emotion I was feeling at the time by looking at my sketches.
Afterward, I turn to my trusty sewing machine or a needle and thread to create some extra textures for my work. I also occasionally use watercolors or create my own block prints to add extra texture and interest to my designs. I love experimenting with different artistic techniques. Once I have all of my sketches and other artistic elements together, I digitally edit them using my trusty MacBook Pro and get to work creating several pattern designs and artwork collections.
For me, the best feeling in the world is seeing a pattern that I created on a product and knowing that it helps bring someone else joy. Whether I am designing a new print for bolt fabric, a design for a handmade journal, or a pattern for a nightlight, I love every bit of the process from start to finish.
My designs may not save lives...but if they make one person smile they are worth all the hard work! After all, sometimes something as simple as a smile, a good laugh, or renewed energy can be the thing that turns your whole day - or life - around!