Mable Tan


Facing Your Fears as a Surface Designer

I’ve listed and answered ALL your fears and gave it a dress down. Even though your fears are valid, the good news is, there is ALWAYS a creative solution to it.

Fear #1: Putting all the work in and not ever getting licensed.

Definitely a valid fear. I remember feeling this fear when I was working on my portfolio for Surtex. It felt like a huge weight on my chest. And guess what? It bombed. I DIDN’T get licensed. I was in tears. I was absolutely devastated. But life gave me that one lifeline. Hawthorne Supply Co. reached out to be on Instagram because they saw one of my designs in a Surtex newsletter and they loved my work.

But because I was represented by an agent at that time, I couldn’t give them the portfolio I worked on at Surtex (I won’t go into details, but basically my agent said no). So I started all over and within a month, pitched them three new collections.

Lesson here is: It’s kinda normal to have a collection that may not get licensed. I know it sounds terrible but there are options. You can re-work those artwork by recolouring it, put it up on a print-on-demand platform, work on completely new collections, and when the time comes, pitch old works to a new client that you may not have known of earlier on. Your artwork will never go to waste.

Fear #2: Giving away the copyright.

There is no right or wrong answers here. But since you are THE artist, it’s up to you to decide if you want to or not.

I’ve done this once and it’s ONLY because I’ve always dreamed of working with this company (let’s just say, when I got a contract, I did a happy dance that made my husband and son laugh).

You have complete control over this and it depends on how much you really want to work with the company. If you heart feels that it doesn’t represent your brand, and the price isn’t right, you have the power to walk away. Always.

Fear #3: Getting the most mileage from a design. How do we maximise usage of each artwork.

This is why I love art licensing. You can re-license an image over and over again. So the keyword is: NON-EXCLUSIVE.

Fear #4: Not being able to meet the client needs.

You will. And if you feel overwhelmed and pressured, let them know to give you some time. However, part of our job as surface pattern designers is to work fast and deliver on time. So it’s part of our job to develop that skill. Educate yourself, build your skill and your confidence will grow.

Fear #5: Client take advantage of our work and disappears.

Oh boy, I hear you. I’d always make sure that the client pays me first. When the money is safely in my account, I transfer the file to them. No pay, no work.

Fear #6: Knowing what to charge.

At the beginning, I had no idea what to charge for my work.

I’m on this great Facebook group called Advice for Artists. I’ve learned a lot from them.

The industry standard for an artwork is around $800 – $1200 for a hero art print; $400 – $700 for a complex coordinate. BUT before you determine how to price your work, you need to ask the client these questions: is it an exclusive or non-exclusive contract? What is the duration of use? How many units are they planning to produce? What industry will this artwork be used for (fabric will be different)? and etc.

Fear #7: Finding a company that aligns with your aesthetic and how to approach them.

The ball is in your court. Look at websites, Instagram, go to trade shows. These days, I’m always looking for contact even if it’s a recreational activity. I went to The Big Design Market with a friend and I saw a company I thought might be fun to work with and I went up to them and asked if they’d work with surface designers. I got a business card and a name and I emailed them the very next day.

Fear #8: Being overwhelmed.

I know this feeling very well. I’ve learned to give space to my feelings, I acknowledge it and then I address it (instead of pushing it away). When I feel overwhelmed, I take a step back and make myself a cup of tea (something calming and not stimulating) and make a list of things that is currently on my mind. Once I do a ‘brain dump’ (please excuse the term), I make little steps on how to get those things done. You’ll find that things are not as big and scary as you think it is.

Fear #9: How to prepare files once you get licensed.

Clients usually accept files as AI or PSD and the Pantone numbers listed on the side. But every client and company have different requirements. The good news is, they will tell you how to prepare the file and will in fact, even show you how. They’re really very nice and normal people, so just ask if you don’t understand something.

Fear #10: How to create a professional portfolio.

For a quick view, you can have a look at my Surtex portfolio here:

Fear #11: How to contact companies

Next time you go to the newsagent/ bookshop, go to the gift wrap area and look at the labels. There’s usually a website that you can check out. I’ll share my swipe files with you in another post.

Fear #12: Not getting a good deal with a client because of inexperience.

LOL, can I tell you my secret? Pretend to be a pro. First of all, education is key. When I took Bonnie Christine’s Immersion course, I learned what it generally involves to be licensed. I took note of all those art licensing terms and used them in my email to make myself look like an experienced designer. Always ask your client, how much do they usually pay the artists they work with. That would give you an idea what their budget it. However, it doesn’t mean it’s the only option and that you should take it. If you’re not happy with the deal, then negotiate.

Fear #13: Imposter syndrome – not knowing if you’re good enough to be licensed.

Say this with me sister, ‘fake it till you make it’. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of imaginary play. If you don’t believe that you’re an artist, or a surface pattern designer then how are you going to convince anyone else? You are good enough. You are worthy. Your art is beautiful and it DESERVES to be out in the world. Look in the mirror and say it loud and proud: I AM AN ARTIST.

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Hi, I'm Mable! I'm a surface pattern designer. I'm passionate about creating designs that adds prettiness to every day life.

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