Six Mistakes I've Been Making in my Surface Pattern Design

I've been making patterns for several years. Even now, I feel I still have a lot to learn. Though I have had a formal art education, it was not specific to textile or surface design—I discovered my love for patterns later on. In addition, I don't have a ton of professional experience when it comes to pattern design—mostly I create for my personal POD shops, like Spoonflower, and to build my portfolio. Obviously, it is a goal of mine to take my designs as far as I can go. I've been evaluating my process lately, and I think there are some mistakes that I always make that I need to work on. I thought I'd share my thoughts, in the hopes that my fellow pattern lovers can learn from them, too!

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1. Skipping Research

I'm just awful at this. Like many others, I'm sure, I get excited about an idea and dive right in. I barely even do any sketching! I think a lot of my patterns could be a lot better if I'd taken the time to soak in some related imagery, experimented with forms and compositions, and worked things out in sketches. Considering trends would help make my work more marketable as well. With all this in mind, I've been working this month with my Inktober project to learn about different flowers and plant structures. Since I do a lot of florals, I'm hoping this will improve my work overall.

2. Making my repeats too small

A lot of the time I make my repeats the size of Spoonflower swatches (8x8 inches), or sometimes 12x12 (a standard scrapbook paper size). Lately, I'm beginning to realize that perhaps I am making my repeat swatches too small. Having a larger size base pattern has the advantage of avoiding obvious sections of repeats within the bigger swatch. According to this excerpt from a textile handbook, repeats should be scaled to the width of the fabric (24 inches and above). This could be divided into a smaller division of the total size. Somewhere between 14 and 16 inches is common—still larger than my usual. Of course, this all depends on the end goal of your pattern and the process by which it will be manufactured. Which brings me to my next mistake...

 3. Having no end product in mind

There are many questions I should be asking myself when I approach a new design: Is this design for stationery, apparel fabric, upholstery fabric, wallpaper, gift wrap, etc.? Who is my ideal audience/customer and what do they like? Mostly I just tend to draw something pretty and make a pattern out of it, but if I plan to sell my designs, I need to think beyond that. Knowing what the end goal is will inform many choices—style, scale, colors, and limitations with manufacturing, and so on.

 4. Designing single patterns and not collections

My portfolio is full of single patterns that were done for challenges or quickly done for fun, and never thought of again. My approach needs to change to focus more on creating fully conceived collections. I've written about this previously. I think I have a hard time with this because of my short attention span. It is hard for me to stay devoted to one project for too long. I need to work on my artistic endurance, so to speak!

5. Not turning my work upside down

When considering all-over patterns that are meant to be viewed from any direction, it makes sense that we should make sure the patterns truly work from any view. It seems obvious, yet I've hardly ever turned my design around as I'm working. And it's so simple just to turn your paper, or rotate your digital canvas. Usually, I just place my elements in random directions and call it good, but I came to the realization one day when looking at a printout of one of my patterns that you can recognize new issues when you turn your design over. And this brings me to my final point...

6. Not printing out my patterns

I don't know how many times I've uploaded a design to Spoonflower and ordered a swatch only to find that I did not like the scale, colors, composition, or something else. I finally had an "Aha!" moment and started printing out swatches on my inkjet printer. I don't know why I never did it before—laziness? saving paper?—but it really helps to see your design printed out, especially if you work digitally. You can recognize issues that you might not see onscreen. Sometimes I just print a low quality "draft" version (because ink is ex-pen-sive), and though that won't help as much with color, you can still get a sense of the scale and overall composition of your design. (Make sure you print at 100% to get an accurate representation.)

So those are six things I'd like to work on in my surface pattern design process. I hope this is helpful to you as well! Please let me know what advice you have. I’d love to hear from you.

Sincerely, Nicole

Inktober 2018 and How I Approach Art Challenges

October is upon us, which means Halloween, colorful leaves, cooling weather, and INKTOBER.

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For those who do not know about Inktober, it is a drawing challenge created by Jake Parker where artists create illustrations using ink and share them throughout the month of October. (You can learn more at the official site HERE.)

There is an official prompt list provided, but usually I use my own themes. One year, I did little pattern doodles on index cards, and another year, I worked on my brush lettering. This year, I've decided that I want to focus on learning about types of flowers and plants. If you know anything about my work, you know that I LOVE to work with floral designs. However, I usually make them up as I go. I've always been meaning to dive more in depth into the structure and forms of actual species of flora.

I thought I might take this opportunity to further explain my personal approach to art challenges. I love to participate in various art challenges across the web and social media. (Some of my favorites include Homwork and Spoonflower.) Many of these challenges are daily or weekly. It is such a fun way to engage with other artists, learn new skills, build habits, and get your art seen. However, it can be overwhelming, especially with all the different ones out there!

I've really been focusing on making creative habits this year, so art challenges really help with this goal since it gets me drawing and painting on regular basis. The thing is, it's easy to fall off the wagon. These are some of the guidelines I follow as I participate:

  •  Don't be discouraged if you miss a day/week. It's not the end of the world. In fact, I really only participate in those that inspire me personally. And if I miss one because of time, I just continue with the next. Don't feel the need to "make up" the ones you miss—that just adds unnecessary pressure.

  • Find a way to be productive with your art challenges. In the past, I haven't been great at this and just did whatever. Now I am realizing there's a better approach. Yes, you can just use challenges for routine sketching exercises and social media exposure, but why not go further? Use your daily sketches to work on a skill you want to improve, or develop an illustration or collection idea you’ve been wanting to work on. Perhaps even aim to sell your original artwork or prints. Have a purpose going in. For instance, I am using this year's Inktober to study plant species. I have an end goal that is specific to my work.

  • As always, follow the usual advice: Plan ahead and set aside a specific time—the basics to success with art challenges.

  • Oh, and have FUN!

So with all this in mind, I've come up with the following list for Inktober 2018 and mapped out each day with the various plant life I want to explore. And because it's October, I'll be adding some Halloween elements as well!

In addition, I took the extra step to hand craft a sketchbook specifically for my Inktober drawings. I used THIS old tutorial from my sister Dani Jones. I decorated the cover with floral scrapbook paper and added in some spider details with ink. The paper is heavyweight Bristol, so the ink won't bleed through. I might have gotten some blood on the pages when I poked my finger while sewing up the signatures, but that just adds to the whole Halloween theme, right? Haha.

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Follow along daily on my Instagram (@nicolejonessturk). I'll be adding my own unique hashtag #njsinktober2018 as well. If you use any of my prompts, please tag me so I can see!

Happy October!
Nicole

Everything is Made Out of Magic Available Now!

It’s here! Today is the official release day for Everything is Made Out of Magic: A Seasonal Creativity Journal. You can find it HERE on Amazon.

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(You can also go to THIS blog post to learn more about the book, view preview images, and read the official description.)

I hope you all enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

Sincerely, Nicole

New Shop Page

I’ve added a new section to my website to make it easier to shop for the various products I have for sale in various online shops. There are links to go to my specific shops—such as Spoonflower, Society6, Shutterstock, and Amazon—as well as direct links to featured products. Take a look by going to the SHOP link in the navigation menu or click HERE!

Sincerely, Nicole