What is surface pattern design?

Think about your favorite notebook, decorative pillow, wallpaper, rug, or wrapping paper. Chances are each and every one of those items is decorated with some sort of pattern, and that pattern was designed by someone, a surface pattern designer.  Surface pattern design is any artwork, illustration, repeat pattern, or hand-lettered element that is applied to a surface. Designs can vary in complexity and style, but any element applied to a surface can be categorized as a surface pattern design.

Once I realized this was an actual job with an actual name (surface pattern designer) my mind was blown. Suddenly I could see patterns everywhere and they became more alive than ever before.

How do you become a surface pattern designer?

Like most fields, there are plenty of ways to enter the surface design world. Some surface designers are also graphic designers. Some surface designers are watercolorists, illustrators, or doodlers. If you can create a mark on a piece of paper or a screen for that matter, you can turn that mark into a surface pattern design.

I started creating surface pattern designs in 2005 as an undergrad. At the time I longed to be a wrapping paper designer, but the internet was far less helpful in those days and so I worked as a graphic designer for a brief period before changing direction completely and entering the field of book conservation. Over ten years later I decided to take a leap and signed up for Bonnie Christine’s Immersion course (which I highly recommend). She taught me how to make repeat patterns and helped me brush up on my Adobe Illustrator skills. Thanks to her help and encouragement, I’ve been making patterns ever since.

If you’re looking for resources to get started I can’t recommend Skillshare enough. There are lots of great courses on surface pattern design, including several from Bonnie.

If you have any questions about surface pattern design I’d be more than happy to help. Just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.


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