HURDLES OF BECOMING A SURFACE PATTERN DESIGNER

When I left my day job I had a plan: Get enough freelance to get by, and make new prints every day. That plan, as it turns out is wildly naive. (shock) Its been amazing to be my own boss and to go out there and hustle, but its not all sunshine and rainbows. About once a week I get the sinking heavy thought that my work isn’t good enough, or that I’m just another drop in the bucket of an oversaturated market, etc. Its easy to be afraid of going out there and doing your own thing, after all you’re risking your livelihood and betting 100% on yourself. After two months of being on my own, all I can say is HELL YES. Hell yes to making my own schedule, hell yes to feeling like wonder woman every time a get a new client, and hell yes there is alot of anxiety and confusion surrounding all of it. There have been a lot of hurdles in these first few months. If you are looking to transition into surface pattern design and freelance, watch out for these bad boys:

No one will understand what you are doing

My friends and family nod and smile and congratulate me, but no one really gets it. Surface pattern design is kind of an odd ball market. Like Wonka’s chocolate factory, no one really knows whats happening on the inside. Most people have never heard of print trade shows or considered that companies will buy or commission artwork. Some common responses I’ve gotten are:

“so like, an etsy store?” or “you’ll figure it out” or “good luck in your search (?)”

Its easy to re-explain until you are blue in the face. Those who want to understand and support you, will eventually get it. The shortest elevator pitch I’ve been able to come up with is “artwork/designs that are for license or outright purchase at trade shows to buyers for a variety of markets, like home goods or fashion or greeting cards.” Not everyone will see this as a viable career path. To some it sounds as ludicrous as being the person who names nail polish colors, but that person exists!! Dream jobs exist and real people do them.

It is hard to say no to freelance

The universe has seen fit to bestow me with A TON of freelance. It is great. I am learning a lot, gaining a client base, and making my rent money. (yay!) What I’m not doing though, is focusing on my prints. This has been a bigger hurdle than I would ever have imagined. It was easy to leave my desk job because I was unhappy. As hard as it was to turn down my salary, it was harder to endure the work culture. Freelancing on the other hand, is WAY harder to turn down. It’s flexible, I set my own rules, I benefit from my blood sweat and tears, and I’m making money. The only thing I’m not doing is fully focusing on print design, which was what I left my job to pursue in the first place. I am having to be strict with myself about not promising too much, and not spending 100% of my creativity on clients. It is a tricky balance game, but is ultimately helping to redefine what my “dream job” is.

The fear is real

About once a week I wake up with the gut feeling of just not being good enough. I see beautiful prints on instagram and see artists I admire with 100k followers and think its just not achievable, I’m not good enough, my work isn’t special enough, and I’ll never get there. UHG. The fear is real. A great combatant for this mindset is something I heard in the Bigger Pockets podcast, which is by the way an excellent podcast for anyone wanting to venture into entrepreneurism. In this interview, they are talking about dominos. One domino can push down 2 others, those 2 can push down 5, 5 pushes 10 and on it goes. The idea being, start small. Don’t focus on the behemoth project or get overwhelmed at the artists who are 10 years ahead of you. Just focus on the small dominos in front of you and eventually you will knock down the big ones. In other words, baby steps friend. Baby steps.

Defining your style is one thing, designing with intention is another.

A big thing I’ve read over and over again is that you have to find and develop your own style. So true, couldn’t agree more, but… the bigger thing, that no one talks about, is designing with intention. Who are you trying to land? I for example, want to see my prints in Free people, World Market, West Elm, and Sundance Catalog. I knew this from the start, but never thought about it while actually making my prints. My prints then, have been turning out “cute.” Cute for kidswear or greeting cards, which was never my target. When I realized this was happening I decided to change course rapidly. One of the first things I did was initiate a re-do on my instagram. I now have over 3 months of content planned and curated in the tone that would attract my dream clientele. The second thing I did was scrub every beautiful fashion or houseware brand I could find and see what prints they actually buy. I did an audit of the prints they use throughout their product, and I made myself a game plan. Not to say, “I’m going to remake these prints”, obviously, that wouldn’t do anyone any good. The audit is more of a benchmark. Its great to have a visual index of the prints that have succeeded in my goal.

File management

The jury is still out on this one. Someone help! I have a system built with pre-fixes, print numbers, and specialized gallery folders, but no time to actually implement. While this is not the most complex hurdle, it is a daunting one, and one I’m really not looking forward to doing. If someone could stop time for a week while I organize my computers that would be great.

Thanks for reading and happy print making!