Mable Tan


In an Instant — Everything Changed

A few months ago, after dropping my 4-year-old off at kinder, the postman and two very heavy boxes were waiting for me outside my front door. I had no clue as to what was in the box but my heart skipped a beat when I saw who it was from — Paintbrush Studio Fabrics!

Opening those boxes was like Christmas! No, even better, because it contained my hopes and my dreams. Those fabrics, with my name printed on it, the magical ideas that inspired me to create, were now in my hands. I was officially a fabric designer! It was only a few years before, I had planted that seed in my heart. And it’s a wonder, how life has really changed for me.

Before I was a surface pattern designer, I was a fine art photographer. My income was mainly through Etsy, and I was earning okay. I was doing my own printing, marketing, packaging and post office runs.

When the season of motherhood arrived, I took a break and put my Etsy shop on holiday mode for eight months. And that, was a HUGE mistake. It literally killed my business, and so, for the next three years, I struggled to re-gain traffic and momentum.

It never happened.

For three years, I contributed minimally to the household expenses. I’m very lucky to have a patient, supportive husband. But part of me felt I should be more than a mum. Part of me was dying to be financially independent. I was fighting off the anxiety of never finding another creative source of income.

The truth is, I am not the sort of gal who could be happy in an office job. I thrive in a creative environment. A corporate life would just kill me. Before I was a fine art photographer, I’d waitressed and worked in retail and I knew deep down, if I did that again, I would be miserable.

On top of that, I was adamant not to get a job just to send my baby to childcare. I would rather be home with him. Those early days are so short and precious. So I knew, deep down inside, I had to find a way to make ends meet with work that I love, and one that would feed my creative soul.

After three years of ‘soul-searching’, doing courses after courses, I was at breaking point. It was a string of failures. At the end of 2017, I set up a market stall at an Etsy Christmas event.

And it was a MASSIVE flop.

There is nothing worse in the world than having your market neighbours, on your right and left, swamped with customers and none at your own.

I cried for weeks after that.

I was depressed.

I was angry.

Angry at myself, angry at my husband and angry at my son. I mourned for my past life. Before I became a mother, I had a business. It paid the bills. We could go on holidays. Now, I had nothing. I was nothing.

One January in 2018, an Etsy buddy forwarded me an email. It said, “I hope you are doing well! Below is a course I thought you may be interested in. I have been following Bonnie for 10 years now, she’s a really good graphic designer!

Great.” I thought. “Just what I need. Another course.

But I read the email anyway. And the more I read, the more intrigued I was. I had been living off my royalty from DENY Designs for years at that point. It was my only source of income and it was gradually getting smaller and smaller. I knew I had to do something quick. But what?

I was very hesitant to take another course that may not work. And I waited till the very last minute before I signed up for Bonnie’s course. It took every bit of courage to make that leap. I prayed hard that it was exactly what I needed.

And it was.

When I took the dive and jumped into Bonnie Christine’s Immersion Course, it was like an A-HA moment. I discovered that this wasn’t an option anymore, it was a calling. It was an unshakable feeling down to the very last cell in my body that I had to be a surface pattern designer AND share my passion for it with the world. I had no idea, in that moment, that my life would change forever. Or even more shockingly, just how much it would change my life.

After I finished Immersion, I worked hard. I practiced making patterns around my son’s nap times. I made patterns after he went to bed. I worked during weekends. I stopped having a social life. I stopped watching TV. Everything I did, it was related to surface pattern design.

I practiced on my seven-year-old laptop and an entry-level Wacom Intuous. It wasn’t ideal because Adobe Illustrator crashed all the time.

When my husband saw how hard I worked and struggled with my tools, he bought me a brand new 27″ Mac. I cried big, happy tears.

I met an agent who represented artists at Surtex. The cost was just a fraction of what it would be compared to doing it on my own. I didn’t have the funds so I had to borrow the money.

Anyone who has had to borrow money will know that this is the hardest and most embarrassing thing that one has to do. But my sister and her husband gave me their blessings. Again, I cried big, happy tears.

I did SURTEX in February 2019. But I didn’t get licensed. My only thread of hope came from Hawthorne Supply Co.. The art director had seen my work in a Surtex newsletter and she reached out to me on Instagram.

I couldn’t use my portfolio from Surtex due to some agreement with the agent. So I started a collection from scratch. I finished a new portfolio with three collections within a month. Hawthorne Supply Co. released two out of the three. My FIRST fabric collections!

After that I kept going. I kept creating new work, and I kept pitching to companies on my own. I used every single lesson that Bonnie taught and applied it to get licensed. Gradually, I made progress.

By the end of 2019, I had managed to license with three major companies and I was negotiating with another. It took me two years since taking Bonnie’s Immersion to get to this point. And I know it is ONLY the beginning.

Taking Bonnie’s Immersion course has changed everything for me.

It hasn’t just made me a surface pattern designer. I have a thriving creative business. I am so much more confident with myself. I am empowered. And most importantly, I am happy again. My son knows me as a loving and joyful mother. My husband and I have a wonderful relationship. My family is whole.

Early last year, after Surtex, someone asked me, “What if you fail? What if after all you’ve done doesn’t get you licensed? What then? When do you quit?

I fumbled for an answer.

Not because I didn’t have one or didn’t know.

But because deep inside of me I knew, that THIS is what I was meant to do. I knew I would never stop or quit. Every fibre of my soul knew I would make it. There was no turning back.

Bonnie, if you’re reading this, from the deepest depth of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you for everything that you do.

If you’re curious about the Immersion course, it is offered only ONCE a year. It is an intensive course about surface pattern design and there is NOTHING like it in the world. Yes, there are more courses about surface design now, but no one teaches like Bonnie Christine. You can click on this link to know more, or be on the waiting list for the next opening. FYI, I am a proud partner of the Immersion affiliate program because I know it works.

And I am confident that it will work for you too.

Bonnie Christine is teaching a FREE Masterclass on crafting a career in surface pattern design from February 8th – 16th 2021.

In this 4-part video series, Bonnie will be sharing: 

  • How to craft a career (and life!) you love in surface design
  • The essential stages to becoming a designer
  • Mapping out your personalized road to success
  • Creating income as an artist and adding multiple streams of revenue

If you’d like to register for the FREE Masterclass, you can do so right here:


comments +

  1. KRISTIE WONG says:

    Hi Mable, Thank you for sharing your story! You are an inspiration. I took Bonnie Christine’s course in 2019 and I am so happy I signed up! I am still working through her courses and trying to design as much as possible. I hope to be successful like you and Bonnie soon with a fabric collection. Can I ask you how you got in touch with the agent for Surtex?

    • Mable Tan says:

      Hi Kristie,
      Thank you for dropping by the blog. Haha and thank you for putting me on the same pedestal as Bonnie (I’m not remotely close to her level). It was a workshop that they did in Melbourne. They’re an Australian based agency. And while it seemed like a good idea at the time, I would say in hindsight, it was not my best decision. There is no guarantee on getting licensed at Surtex, and if I know then what I know now, I would have probably licensed if I just approached companies myself from the start. When you’re exhibiting at Surtex, you are in competition with thousands of other surface pattern designers. Art directors are spoilt for choice and specifically looking for a certain look. If you don’t meet their criteria, your work is very easily overlooked. And that is an expensive experience to have.

  2. Kate Frances says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I’ve followed you for a while now, and it’s great to know a bit more about your journey to where you are now. honesty and vulnerability is a good thing, and gives newbies like me hope that one day we might make it too
    Creative love xo

  3. Lyn Williams says:

    Thanks so much for your open and generous information Mable. I stumbled across Bonnie just two weeks ago and jumped onto her website and signed up for Immersion Live which finished today. I know it’s all back to front considering I’m just about to embark on Surface Pattern Design but everything on her website resonated with me and I saw the LIVE course was there and took it (the early mornings due to time zones just about killed me). I am super keen to do her 8 week Immersion Course when it is on offer again. By the way, I love your work and am enjoying reading your eBook. Keep kicking goals x

    • Mable Tan says:

      Hi Lyn,
      It’s so lovely to meet an Immersion Live buddy! Did you know, my husband’s family name is Williams? I decided early on not to take on my husband’s name but otherwise, I’d be Mable Williams. Anyways, I digress.
      Welcome to the world of Surface Pattern Design. It’s a fabulous and a little bit overwhelming world but it is marvellous nevertheless. I see that you’ve joined my art licensing group, welcome too!
      If you have any questions, feel free to DM me on Instagram. I’m much more responsive there. Thanks for investing in my ebook and your kind words. I really appreciate it.
      P.S.: The hours nearly killed me too. I’m a total zombie. It was totally worth it though. 🙂

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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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