Feel like a design chameleon? You’re not alone

Many designers assume that they need to find “their look,” or one pattern style which becomes synonymous with their name and brand. If you find that look, your calling, your raison d’être, then you can build a lifestyle brand similar to Orla Kiely by licensing your patterns and possibly manufacturing your own product line. On the other hand, if you never find this solitary style or if you get bored creating in one style, then breathe a sigh of relief, you can still develop a financially successful design business as a design chameleon, creating patterns with different looks depending on the client, the trend or simply your mood. Hundreds of designers, including some very dear friends and I, have done so, and you can do the same.

Pattern created by Sellable Sketch student Gayleigh Chester

The key to finding success is to know your limits. I can create patterns for a variety of customers, price points, industries and regions. I love to draw vintage-inspired detailed florals and then jump to textual patterns the following day. However, there are certain styles that I have never been able to master, such as cute animals and typography. When clients approach me with projects such as these, I pass the work along to other freelance designers. I know my limits.

When I walk students through The Sellable Sketch process, I recommend a similar technique. Start with one style for your first collection and see how it feels. If you loved every minute of the process, then use that style until you get bored and the pattern sirens begin to call your name. If the style feels awkward or uncomfortable then put it on the “No, thank you” list and move on to a new technique or style.

Being a self proclaimed design chameleon doesn’t necessarily mean that you should allow yourself to run wild, you may just want to focus your business in other ways, such as in the way you sell your patterns or the industries that you choose to target. Having a focus to your business will allow you to stay on track and will give potential customers some way of identifying you, “Oh, that is the designer who creates beautiful home decor patterns,” or “that’s the designer who rocks the childrenswear market.”

When developing patterns in a variety of styles, the key is to have each style represented equally. For example, you should not have one watercolor collection next to 20 vector based collections. You want to give the impression that your collections are diverse, not scattered.

If you have one style that you love, that is authentic to you, then run with it…if not, don’t force yourself into a design box. Instead, find your own way to focus and define your business.

Enjoy the process, Michelle

34 Comments on “Feel like a design chameleon? You’re not alone

  1. As a newbie to pattern design, this was the best advice I’ve heard.

  2. Thank you for that post Michelle, I have the same problem! Sticking to the same style ends up being too boring for me, but keeping a recognisable visual identity becomes harder when your work varies…

  3. Makes so much sense, Michelle! You continually write on the topics I need to hear about. Thanks for this latest confirmation and food for thought!

  4. Thanks michelle! Now I know what I am :-)great advice

  5. Hi Michelle, I agree with Heather as a newbie to pattern illustration your advice has been inspirational. Thank you :)

  6. Thanks everyone! We love hearing your thoughts and are glad the post resonated with so many of you!

  7. Thanks for your words of wisdom… I think the essence of our style is something we all face and trouble over!

  8. I had an interview a while back where a woman looked through my chameleonic portfolio, pulled out a tribal print and a photo-realistic floral (both vector files), and demanded I explain myself.

  9. Ha! Wow what an experience that must have been Sarah! I hope your versatility opened her eyes to wider possibilities? 😉

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  11. It’s so nice to finally get permission from someone in the business to be ourselves. I too like to bounce from one style and design to another. I often get bored and lose my incentive if I don’t. The stress of needing to find MY style was weighing on my shoulders and making me not want to finish my sketches for fear of not getting them to look alike. Thank you!

  12. You’re welcome! So glad you found this helpful and that you will be able to move forward working in the way that feels best to you!

  13. Such good advice! I hate to work in just one style, now I don’t need to stress over this and I can move forward with creating my portfolio. Thank you!

  14. This is great to hear Mariska, thanks for commenting!

  15. This issue is rarely discussed. Thanks for the post!

  16. so true! i branched out to try botanical drawing recently and discovered I LOVED it. I didn’t think it was my ‘style’ at all, so started to get worried I have too many styles. Creating like this gives us the freedom to experiment and enjoy the process and let ourselves be naturally drawn to our gifted areas. Thanks Michelle – reading this helps to ‘unlock’ me from the fear that I have to find my one and only hallmark style, and will fail if i don’t.

  17. Music to my ears! I like to float around trying different styles and illustration techniques (hand painting, directly in computer, drawing etc). In the past I have gotten a bit down because I don’t have a well defined “look” but as I get older, I care less and less (yeah for aging!). Also, I have noticed that sometimes designers who have one look will be popular for a few years but then struggle because their look is not as fresh anymore. I like to think that staying open to new styles and techniques will ultimately be more sustaining and interesting.

  18. These are great points Melissa, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  19. Thank you!!! I thought I was failing because I couldn’t stick to a style. I, too, get bored doing the same thing.

  20. It’s weird – I always tried to find my style for figure drawing, but just “did” textile design w/o trying to find a style – then looking over my work, I saw trends and styles emerging. I tend towards certain things. My eye favors certain color palates. It’s a lot easier when you don’t put the pressure on and just start creating work. Love your advice Michelle – it shouldn’t be a struggle, but it should be engaging!

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  22. I think This is a great advice for all new people who starting they career in the market including myself. I felt bit all over the place and also was not sure what exactly would i love to design best. So I guess its just go with the flow on the beginning and experiment with many different styles , and after some time, when time comes I am sure everyone will find they particular style. I guess this will come with time :-).
    Thank you Michelle & Chelsea. ( I have painted this amazing flowers in PS thanks to your tutorials Chelsea, but kind of can’t put them in print arrangement…. erghhhh, I guess it will come with time, I shall just keep trying.

  23. Thanks Joanna!! Have you checked out my design tutorial in The Lab about floral layout? It can be found under Tutorials > Pattern Design Tutorials. Hope it helps! :)

  24. Your words really resonated with me. I have never wanted to be boxed in to one style, even in my painting. When I look back over the years, I see that abstraction and then more graphic design work keep rolling over and over. I wanted to keep challenging myself with different approaches, but always heard that as an artist you need to focus on “one style”. I’m glad I didn’t, and it’s a welcome relief to hear that in the textile industry there is room for more than one style from one artist. Getting too bored with a singular approach kills my spark to create, so thanks for the encouragement on that topic!

  25. So different “styles” means different mediums i.e. digital, painting, watercolor, drawing, collage, etc.? Thanks for clarifying! :)

  26. Yes that’s part of it! And also qualities like how loose or detailed your artwork is, as well as subject matter and what markets you are targeting can all factor in. Sometimes it can help to take a look at different artists’ work and pick out the qualities that distinguish them from others, what makes them unique…for instance, what makes a Picasso a Picasso or a Monet a Monet (or a candogirl a candogirl!) 😉

  27. Amazing there is a name for it! Lovely positive article and just shows be true to yourself and go with your creative instinct. 😊

  28. Glad it was helpful! Thanks for your comment :)

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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.