I’m sharing my dream of being a surface pattern designer and my progress so far. Plus, find a free 8 x 10 art print that you can download and print at home.
Playing With Pattern
I have always loved experimenting with colour, texture, and most of all, pattern. When I was a kid, we had some old wallpaper sample books, and I loved cutting them up for crafts, and using them in homemade dollhouses.
When I was in my late teens, I discovered scrapbooking, and nothing delighted me more than to spend an hour selecting my favourite designs from the racks of beautiful papers.
Then, shortly after we were married, I discovered a whole world of bright, colourful, and modern quilting cotton collections. Those fabrics made me decide to teach myself to quilt.
I was so inspired by the fabric and quilt pattern designers I discovered. My favourites were people like Camille Roskelley (of Bonnie and Camille and ThimbleBlossoms) and Allison Harris (of Cluck Cluck Sew). It seemed to me that they had the most magical jobs, designing both quilts and fabric, and at the time, I had no idea how they did it!
Dreaming of Designing Fabric
Over the years, as I sewed and quilted more and read blogs by quilt pattern and fabric designers, I began to dream that maybe one day I could do what they were doing. But it didn’t seem very realistic. It seemed more like a statement you make as a naive child: “Oh, I’d like to do that one day”, like being an astronaut.
Discovering Bonnie Christine
Then one day, someone I followed on Instagram started sharing some daily designs they were creating, and talking about a surface pattern design class they were taking with Bonnie Christine. I didn’t know who she was at the time, but I started paying attention.
Bonnie Christine is an artist, a designer, and perhaps most importantly, an educator. Through a variety of intensive courses, mini classes, memberships, and Skillshare classes, Bonnie teaches the skills of surface pattern design. In addition, she also shares how to get into the business of art licensing and earning an income from art, as well as mindset and growth as an artist.
Late last fall, Bonnie offered a free mini class to design a repeating pattern which I happily signed up for. Her mini class taught me how to use Adobe Illustrator in such approachable chunks. Within days I had taken sketches I had drawn by hand and turned them into a fully coloured, digital repeating pattern. And within weeks I was holding fabric in my hands that I had designed myself.
Suddenly, a whole world of possibilities had opened up, and I was hooked!
What Is Surface Pattern Design?
If you’re not familiar with the words “surface pattern design”, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard them until recently either.
Basically, surface pattern design is creating patterns for the surfaces of products, typically repeating patterns. Think about everything around you that has or can have art or patterns on it. Fabric, wallpaper, stationery, rugs, wrapping paper, water bottles, phone cases, clothing, ribbon, washi tape, home decor items, and so much more! Someone designs the art for all of those items.
From Sketch to Fabric
There are many different ways to create surface pattern designs. But to better explain the process, I thought I’d walk through one example of how I took my very first sketches from paper to finished fabric that I can hold in my hands.
Designs can begin from simple pencil or pen sketches on paper. They don’t even have to be elaborate designs – they can be simple marks. Here were two pages I doodled for the mini class.
Next, those sketches are scanned into Illustrator. They need to then be vectorized by Image Tracing or tracing over them digitally with a Wacom Tablet. A Wacom tablet allows you to draw with more control of a pen rather than the mouse. (However, there’s a weird disconnect at first because you look at the monitor, not where your hand is drawing). Turning your designs to vectors means they are infinitely scaleable without losing quality.
Once they are vectorized, you can manipulate, add to, subtract, combine and recolour your designs in a myriad of ways to create motifs – or small chunks of designs.
Those motifs are then carefully arranged into a repeating pattern that can be tiled out infinitely and rescaled larger or smaller. When this works for the first time, it’s truly amazing!
Once you have a repeating pattern, you can recolour the artwork in any colours you like. This gets highly addictive.
And when your design is how you like it, you can upload it to a print on demand site, such as Spoonflower, and order samples. Here are the samples I ordered from all the different recoloured versions of my first repeating pattern.
I have plans to use some of this fabric to make some colourful zippered pouches.
After taking Bonnie’s mini class in late 2021, I was inspired to put in the work to start designing more repeating patterns, and building collections. With my newfound knowledge of Illustrator, I could apply my skills to design all sorts of things. That can include art prints, ebooks, printables, colouring sheets, journals, calendars, and so much more.
Then I was fortunate to be able to sign up for the 8 weeks-long, intensive Immersion 2022 course of Bonnie’s, which started in March. The 8 weeks just flew by – in fact, I just “graduated” yesterday. The course contains many modules, teaching everything from a deep dive into using Adobe Illustrator, designing patterns, building collections and portfolios, licensing, and creating multiple revenue streams.
There are many exciting bonus modules, three live Q&A sessions each week, and a thriving community forum for questions, expert help, and feedback. Best of all, Bonnie and her team are so inspiring and supportive, and the community is just the best.
While Immersion was going on, I was simultaneously preparing to release my first quilt pattern. When it came down to the crunch time, I had to shift my attention to the pattern and away from the class. Luckily, I have lifetime access to the lessons and materials. That’s also beneficial because I’ll need to refer back to the information over and over.
Continuing on the Journey
Even though I’ve “graduated” from Bonnie’s Immersion program, it’s really only the beginning of my surface pattern design journey. I’m so excited to take the knowledge I’ve learned and start to apply it. Just as I’m learning to experiment and grow as part of my 52 in ’22 Art Challenge this year, I want to take the time to experiment and create with surface design.
I’m currently just beginning to work on my first collection and the inspiration and planning phase is so much fun. It’s far too early to share that work, but I will when it’s farther along.
“I’ll Always Pick You” – Print Your Own Free Art Print
Today I’m sharing a simple art print that I created during the Immersion course. I created the flowers in the bouquet during my first ever attempt at painting with watercolours (before they were vectorized). Underneath the bouquet, it says “I’ll always pick you”.
I was thinking about my husband when I added those words to the print. But the sentiment could also be appropriate for Mother’s Day, to put in a child’s bedroom, to give to a friend, or even the sentiment when thinking about a beloved pet.
Subscribers will receive an 8 x 10 version of the art print file that they can print at home or at a printshop. Get your free art print below!
Does Surface Pattern Design Interest You?
If surface pattern design is something that interests you, I cannot recommend Bonnie Christine’s classes highly enough. Taking her free mini classes is an excellent place to start. Or you can try some of her Skillshare classes on a free trial. You might just get hooked like I did!
I can’t wait to share more of progress with you in the weeks and months ahead!
All the best,