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9 Important Lessons I Learnt from Last Year as a Surface Designer

I had many, many plans for 2022, but not all of them panned out as I’d hoped, obviously. As I tried overcoming all the stumbling blocks along the way, I learnt a lot–the hard way, at times, but they were valuable lessons nevertheless. This post is all about some of those lessons that will hopefully help shape this year for me as a surface designer.

Last year I’d hoped to design prolifically, stay consistent on social media, snag a few licensing deals, successfully launch my online shop, and share some amazing content with you. What I’d consider a win is the part about sharing good content. My blog posts for both my blog and Sketch Design Repeat were well-loved and I enjoyed writing them for you.

I also had many lows–a long-drawn battle with postpartum depression, impostor syndrome, anxiety, and burnout leading to many teary, sleepless nights. I’m glad I haven’t given up, and that I get to share with you what I’ve learnt along the way.

Lessons I Learnt from Last Year as a Surface Designer

Identify your why

It has happened so often that I try to do everything that others seem to be successfully doing. Starting from running an online shop to posting every single day on social media to selling yards of fabric on PoD sites. I’ve tried everything but most times I’ve failed to stay on track.

On reflecting on my learnings in 2022, I realized that the times I’ve failed to see traction are the times I’ve momentarily lost sight of ‘why’ I am a surface designer. Now more than ever I know how important it is to identify my purpose in this industry and then keep that purpose in mind to stay laser-focused on my goals.

Invest in learning and growing

I started learning all about surface design in 2020, but it wasn’t until last year that I realized the value of being picky about the teachers and courses that I wanted to trust my career with. Did I have FOMO when I saw everyone–literally everyone–promoting a particularly popular teacher’s overpriced course? Of course, I did. But I don’t have a lot of money to throw away and thus had to make some careful decisions about the classes I wanted to invest in.

Put your learning into practice

I don’t know about you but I’m a course hoarder. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from taking a gazillion courses, it’s that you need to sometimes stop watching and start executing what you learn.

It’s easy to go down the learning rabbit hole, where you feel like you're using your time smartly but it can, in fact, take away a lot of time that you could instead use to implement what you’ve learnt.


Experimenting can be fun

As surface designers, we want to make the most of our time. We want to create new work that has the potential to get licensed or purchased, and we want to do it fast. To do this, we rely on a style or a medium that we’re most comfortable with. However, this can at times get monotonous and boredom is bound to set in.

A good way to combat the monotony is by scheduling some time in your calendar solely for experimentation. If you’re a digital artist, maybe try some gouache or coloured pencils in your sketchbook. If you're a traditional artist, factor in time to practise digital art or maybe use a medium different from your go-to.


Consistency is important to see results

Decide what your priorities are and stick to a regular practice to bring them to fruition. Want to become a better artist? Sketch everyday. Want to grow a following on Instagram? Post consistently. Whatever it is that you set out to do, be consistent if you want to see results.

Don’t listen to all the advice out there

People are going to give you advice. I’m giving you advice right now, because it works for me. But you have to decide for yourself if that advice works for you. If you were to listen to all the advice out there (think having a signature style, participating regularly in spoonflower challenges, using only Adobe Illustrator for your patterns, and the likes), you’re going to pretty soon burn out and lose the joy in being a creative business owner.

Burnout is real, even in a career you love

This brings me to my next lesson–burnout is real and can be crippling. Since I have a hectic day job, I try to squeeze in as much art making, portfolio building, and pitching as possible in the rest of my hours. Sometimes, I forget to eat or sleep on time. While working like this can seem productive in the beginning, it is bound to be counterproductive pretty soon.

The trick here (this was a tough lesson for me) is to find balance and ditch the hustle mentality. Take frequent breaks, set up out-of-office auto-responders for your time off, and learn to enjoy the breaks.


Not everyone will support your endeavours

So often we start a newsletter or a YouTube channel or an online store and assume that our first subscriber or customer will be our own family or friend. While it’s a safe, positive outlook to have, things don’t always work that way.

I started my online shop with a limited run of my 2023 calendar, and while I did have some takers for it, few were my immediate family and friends. Was I disheartened? Initially, yes, but soon enough I realized that their support was beyond my control, and that’s absolutely fine.

Don’t go down the comparison path

I often have this habit of going through fellow designers’ social media profiles or their websites and pondering over how talented they are, how consistently they create artwork, and how much success they’ve seen in the surface design industry. This train of thought, however, has been detrimental to my productivity as an artist.

With time, I’ve realized, and I can’t insist enough on this fact–my journey is different from yours, where I am on my path is different from where you are on yours. What success means to me differs from what it means to you. And that is why comparison does not get us anywhere.

Now that we’re into 2023, here’s hoping that all these lessons can help determine how I want to take my career forward this year. What are some of your reflections from last year?


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