My Top 3 Secrets To Surface Pattern Design Success

Do you see patterns everywhere you look? Have you always wanted to create your own and put your designs on fabric or other products? Well, I’m excited to share my top 3 secrets to surface pattern design success.

Secret #1: Embrace the tech

Do you remember learning to ride a bike? I love to use this analogy because it might help you get over your fear of technology. Professional surface pattern designers use Adobe Illustrator as the default program for their work. It’s the industry standard and you’ll need to learn how to use it if you want to be successful in the industry.

Start slowly just like you did when you learned how to ride a bike. You started with a tricycle. Then you graduated to a bike with training wheels. And eventually, one of your parents took the training wheels off and ran beside you, holding onto the bike until you had enough momentum and they let you go.

Remember that feeling of joy and elation when you could go around the block by yourself? The wind was streaming through your hair. It was magical and so very empowering. You can experience that same feeling of elation and accomplishment with Adobe Illustrator if you start slowly and increase your skills step by step. You’ll build muscle memory just like you did on a bike.

Give yourself grace when things aren’t working. If you fell off your bike, you’d get scrapes and bruises. Maybe you even broke your arm! But you got back on the bike and went on your way. When you struggle to make something work in Adobe Illustrator, you may get frustrated and want to throw your computer out the window. That’s okay. Take a break. Get up and walk around. But don’t give up. Keep going. Your end goal is worth it.

Celebrate every small victory. Think of that moment on the bike when you said: “Look ma, no hands!” I actually never achieved that feat but I’m a decent bike rider. When you create your first successfully repeating pattern, you are doing to scream with delight. Just like you did so often, and with such joy, while riding your bike.

Okay. I think that’s enough with the bike analogy…

Secret #2: Start simple. Get fancy later.

I see this over and over again. Students get really frustrated because they try to make a repeating pattern with a REALLY complex design even though they are just starting out. Take my advice. PLEASE don’t try to create a geometric pattern that requires advanced skills on your very first try. Keep it simple. I generally demonstrate the process with a simple flower. Once you know the steps, and can remember them, in the right order, you can create patterns with more complex designs. You’ll enjoy the process a whole lot more, get to the finish line faster and experience a lot less frustration.

A few key things to keep in mind that will make creating a successful repeat quickly are:

·      Closed shapes. If you are designing a flower, each petal needs to be closed. No open-ended shapes to start. This will make adding color a lot easier.

·      Dark line work. It’s best to sketch in pen or in ink when you are first starting out. These dark lines will render easily in Adobe Illustrator and will require less clean up.

·      A photo taken in decent light. When you take a photo of your sketches, try to be in a well lit area. If the photo is dark, you’ll need to make more adjustments once it’s in Illustrator.

Secret #3: Enjoy This Special Creative Time

Learning something new can be frustrating at times. But if you really want to achieve your end goal, it’s totally worth it and the journey to get there can be enjoyable. With surface pattern design in particular, once you have mastered the basic steps, the sky’s the limit. And it’s so much fun to design and create and design some more. There are so many possibilities!

Try to remember this when things aren’t going exactly right or when a particular technique is challenging. Go back to secret #1 and remember that feeling of freedom that riding a bike gave you. The fits and starts while learning were worth it, right? Go back to secret #2 and simplify. Add new techniques slowly but always remember the basics so the pattern will repeat properly.

The patterns you create during this early stage of your surface design journey will always be very special. They represent the beginning of the development of your own unique style. These early patterns may become some of your all time favorites. Embrace how new and fresh everything is and don’t rush. Take your time and savor the journey.

If you’ve always dreamed of creating your own fabric or other products with your very own designs on them, I’d like to personally invite you to join my FREE live workshop. Enrollment is OPEN. You’ll learn the key steps to making a successfully repeating pattern in Adobe Illustrator. Don’t wait. Grab your spot. Seats are limited. The workshop starts on May 9..

I’m super excited about it because, for the first time, I’ll be using new technology (See? Tech can be our friend!) that enables me to share my screen with you. You’ll be able to watch my step-by-step process inside Adobe Illustrator. It will feel like you are looking over my shoulder.

Grab your spot TODAY. This new teaching technique is a game changer. Students who’ve experienced it with me say it’s the most transformational method they’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait for you to see it in action.

I love to close by saying…


It’s Never Too Late to Create

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Hi…I’m Anne!
My creative inspiration comes from a lifetime of observation living in, and traveling to, beautiful environments in the United States and abroad.


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