10 Reasons You Should be Taking Surface Pattern Design Mastery

I know you’re busy. With so much on your plate, it can feel challenging to achieve mastery in any one thing; especially pattern design. Surface Pattern Design MasteryThat’s why I am excited to share an upcoming course developed for artists, designers and illustrators who want to learn how to quickly develop eye-catching surface pattern designs.

In the Surface Pattern Design Mastery course you’ll:

  1. Speed up your design process,
  2. Discover new ways to get inspired,
  3. Find inspiration to improve your design process,
  4. Download professional design templates,
  5. Watch comprehensive video tutorials,
  6. Learn from step-by-step instruction,
  7. Complete assignments to help you grow your portfolio,
  8. Build confidence in your design skills,
  9. Create eye-catching presentations,
  10. Have a chance to be featured on the Pattern Observer blog and social media

In the past it has taken years to understand why some pattern layouts work and how to develop a process to quickly develop eye-catching artwork. In Surface Pattern Design Mastery you are going to speed up your ability to create the impact you want with your patterns so you can get them out there sooner. Plus, they’ll be better than ever, certainly as superb as your sketches, paintings, and illustrations.

Surface Pattern Design Mastery is a 6-week course which can be purchased a la carte for $79 or it can be accessed for free through our Textile Design Lab. Grab your spot here.

Don’t deny yourself this excellent way to become a Surface Pattern Design Master!















Interview with Kat Karnaky, Guest Expert for January in the Textile Design Lab

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We are thrilled to introduce our first guest expert of the year in the Textile Design Lab, the multi-talented Kat Karnaky! Not only is Kat an in-house textile designer for Williams-Sonoma Home, she also keeps two side businesses running to feed her passion for textile design. We can’t wait to share Kat’s guest expert training on designing for home textiles later this month in the Lab (this training will be available exclusively to Textile Design Lab members–join here to gain access!) Today we invite you to learn more about this inspiring designer in the interview below. Enjoy!


Please tell us a bit about your design background and career path. What drew you to the world of textile design and designing for home decor in particular?

I went to CCA, California College of Arts in Oakland, CA where I graduated with my BA in Textile Design. Right after school, I did an apprenticeship at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, PA. Once I came back, I attended College of Alameda, where I graduated with my AA in Fashion Design and, I worked various jobs for local hat makers, fashion designers and even taught art to children. Eventually, I felt it was time to go to grad school and I enrolled at Philadelphia University, in Philadelphia, PA and worked at the Fabric Workshop as a Print Fellow and Part-time Apprentice Coordinator. I took an internship at Anthropologie and designed prints for the wovens department which led me to a full time position after I graduated. I worked at Anthropologie for a while and then with a few friends, left to start ANONA, a print studio that sold original designs and vintage to the industry.  I left the studio to go back to California so my husband could attend grad school. I started working at Pottery Barn and eventually moved to Williams-Sonoma Home. There I create the prints for bedding, pillows, rugs and decorative accessories. I also have a side business which I work with my sister on. I have an 8.5-yard table where I hand screen the fabrics and then my sister who is a fashion designer/tailor makes and sews the dresses. It is called Miss KK Sister, www.misskksister.com. My new other side business is called, Baby Cats of California, www.babycatsofca.com.  I also hand print fabric for 0-2 year old children on organic cottons with dyes and pigments with my original designs. All labors of love but well worth it.

Anthro work

Kat’s work done for Anthropologie

Can you tell us a bit about your position as a full time textile designer for Williams-Sonoma Home? What do your responsibilities include? What are your favorite parts of your job?

At Williams-Sonoma Home, I am responsible for creating original designs, recoloring existing or purchased designs, putting prints into repeat, keeping track of the freelancers and their work flow, working with cross functional departments and keeping them up to date with our work flow and of course keeping the printers working!

My favorite part of the job is the people I work with. I have been really blessed to have fun, creative and passionate people around me. I can’t work somewhere where there is too much drama or lack of respect for one another. Seeing my work online, in a house or on someone is a close second. Nothing makes me happier than someone loving what you do.

What do you feel makes a successful print for home decor, or what considerations do you keep in mind when designing for this market?

I would say obviously sales tell you what is successful but for me it has to be a print design that is timeless and will stay with you in your home or closet for a long time, something that you will cherish and will make you happy when you see it.



Miss KK Sister, Hands That Gather Collection


What are your go-to sources for design inspiration? Any books, websites, design tools, or other resources you would recommend?

I love fashion and home magazines like Lula, British Vogue, W, Cabana, Selvedge, Hali, Elle Décor and Apartamento. I also like to look at the runway fashion shows for inspiration. Instagram, is a wonderful snapshot of our lives and homes, there are so many inspiring people on there nowadays. For books, I like the retrospectives of fashion icons, like Iris Apfel, Zandra Rhodes and the Ziegfeld Follies along with other randoms that I pick up at the flea market or used book stores.



Who are your design heroes (past or present)? What about them inspires you or influences your work?

Celia Birtwell for her style and fashion. Zandra Rhodes for her crazy prints. Raoul Dufy for his timeless designs, composition and color sense. Currently, there are a few fashion designers that are killing it in prints and color, like Gucci, Valentino and the Japanese fashion designers.

Baby Cats of California

Baby Cats of California

What would you consider to be your most proud achievement or greatest success so far in your design career? What are your goals for the future?

We had a concept for Anthropologie and we were missing a few prints for the season. My boss was away and I went and looked at the concept boards and thought up a print. The next day, I showed it to her and she liked it and made no real changes to it. It eventually became pajama pants and sold really well.

This is dorky too but seeing my prints on people. I once saw a girl wearing a cat print I did for Anthro and got so excited I went up to her and told her. She was nice and we both laughed together. I think that sometimes people forget that someone had to make the print they are wearing.

My ultimate goal would be to have my own line, which I am doing, but to do it full time. Right now, I work on it after I get home when the baby is asleep. It’s a tough schedule to keep up with but it is something that I feel passionate about. I also like teaching textile design and would like to do my own take on the Fabric Workshop with long 25 yard tables. Let’s hope for good things in 2017!


Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 3.52.28 PMWhat have been some of the challenges you have faced throughout your design career and how have you overcome them? 

My biggest challenge is to get into the customer’s mind and know what they want and what they don’t know they want until they see it. Whatever job you do in the industry, you have to figure out who the customer is and it’s not always that easy. There are trends, regionalism and even the weather that makes a customer not buy something. It’s always amazing to me when something sells but there are so many factors as to why. To try and overcome this, I talk to the people in the companies that work with customers all the time, like PR, Merchants and Buyers, they can give you their spin on why it sold or didn’t. Also, I visit the retail stores to get to know the customer. This is constant homework but well worth it in the end.


What advice have you received in your career that has stayed with you or influenced you? Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring designers trying to build successful careers of their own?

You have to work hard for what you want. I am sure you have heard that but it’s true, no one is going to hand you a job or an opportunity if you don’t have anything to show for it. Even if you are just starting out, make tons of prints, find your voice and style and have something ready when someone asks for it. Opportunities come at strange times and having something to show will help you out. Practice! Keep in the habit of drawing, designing and working on the computer. You need to be versatile and constantly improve yourself. And lastly, be passionate and excited about your work. It shows and people pick up on that.

3 Tips for Creating Eye-Catching Tossed Layouts

tossed-surface-pattern-design-layoutYou toss a handful of autumn leaves up into the air, watching them fall to the ground. They land in a scattered pattern. Some facing up; some facing down. Some turned to the left; others to the right. This is a tossed surface pattern design layout.

A tossed is defined as: a layout in which the motifs are arranged in a scattered, but balanced way. This is one of the most popular layouts in our industry. And it’s the layout style that most designers create when they start designing patterns.

When you’re new to pattern design it’s best to keep your tossed layout simple. Sketch an interesting motif, bring it into Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, and then copy and paste the motif repeatedly until you fill your art board with your newly created pattern. While doing this, remember to:

Flip and rotate your motifs so they are not all facing the same direction, as this will give the illusion of randomness, despite you being intentional. Avoid arranging your motifs into unintentional lines or stripes. Try to stagger the placement of your motifs. Keep the spacing between the motifs balanced and equidistant.

Repeating a solitary motif has its place in our industry and can be absolutely perfect in its simplistic loveliness, but after mastering this process, you’ll likely want to go beyond repeating a single motif and begin creating patterns that are a bit more eye-catching. It’s a great way to garner the attention of buyers.


When you feel ready to up your game, here are a few simple ways to a more creating eye-catching tossed layout:

1. Use more than one motif.

Try creating your tossed layout using two or three different motifs at different sizes. Not sure what additional motifs to use? Put yourself into the story of your design. What other objects might surround your motif in a natural setting? For example, let’s say you drew a flower. What other motifs might be found around your flower? Some ideas include leaves, animals, raindrops, petals, etc.

2. Try playing with color “pops” sprinkled throughout your layout.

A color pop is a quick way to jazz up a flat pattern. Just be sure to use your color pops in a balanced way. For example, you don’t want all your color pops to be clustered in the bottom right corner of your layout.

3. Try adding a background pattern.

I find that using a dramatically different sized pattern in the background adds interest to the design, without it becoming too busy or overwhelming. Try using a very small scale pattern or an oversized two-color shadow pattern in the background.

Looking for more ways to create eye-catching pattern layouts? Download our free Surface Pattern Design Layout Chart. The layout ideas and tips are sure to inspire your design process!











2016 Victories

We recently wrapped up our 2017 goals course in the Textile Design Lab. The first assignment in the course was for each designer to take a moment to celebrate a 2016 victory. Some members celebrated goals they have been working towards for years, such as signing with a print studio or launching a product line. Other members celebrated seemingly smaller goals, such as a much longed for return to design after starting a family or being engrossed in another career. Celebrating even the smallest of victories is so important for maintaining a positive outlook and momentum in our lives. It’s up to you to decide what is defined as a victory and to recognize the importance of small “wins” to accomplishing your larger goals. Here are a few accomplishments that we would like to share:


min-xzp-nwr-001_a_pzFirst Commission and Winning Contests – Leanne Friedberg

“I had my first commission for Decorative Window Film – the client came to me instead of the other way around! I also won a few Minted contests featuring patterns I developed in The Sellable Sketch :)”

Check out Leanne’s winning designs here and here. Congrats Leanne!





screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-2-53-23-amArtistic Growth – Esther Jongste

Esther is a long time TDL member and a very accomplished surface pattern designer and photographer. Throughout the year we have enjoyed following Esther’s artistic growth as she started painting and exploring what she can do with this new medium. It’s no surprise to us that she is also a talented painter.

“I discovered I can paint. I didn’t know that and I didn’t believe I could ever. :-)”

Way to go Esther! You can follow along with Esther’s progress from her painting class this year at https://flic.kr/s/aHskMMES5P.




screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-2-36-19-amReaching New Markets – Kevin Brackley

“I exhibited for the first time at Surtex with other members of the Four Corners Art Collective; I have art for sale with Americanflat on www.wayfair.com (seen here); I was selected to be included in the second edition of the UPPERCASE Surface Pattern Design Guide (so grateful!); some of my collections were shown at Quilt Market with a South Korean agent; other collections are being marketed by an agent in Japan, I learned how to create and refine mockups in Photoshop (and can’t stop creating them – I think it makes the patterns I design more relatable when they are mocked up on “real” objects), I have put together a lookbook aimed at swimwear and will be creating others for menswear and activewear, and I continue to hone my style but still keep experimenting!”

What an exciting year Kevin, congrats!






painting in the Lilly Store

Landing a Dream Job – Casey Saccomanno

“I grew my fashion design portfolio into a purely print design focused portfolio. With my new portfolio and skills I got multiple freelance jobs through Instagram/social media and landed a dream job in August 2016 where I get to hand paint prints everyday as a Lilly Pulitzer Print & Pattern Designer.” Well done Casey!!







rhiLicensing – Rhiannon Pettie

Rhiannon licensed her first pattern collections with Artscase, which can be seen at www.artscase.com/kimrhi-studios. We love the colorful, playful patterns–Congrats Rhiannon!






image-29-12-2016-at-10-51Building Skills and Growing Her Business – Elizabeth McGarrigle

“The past year has been a year of growth for me, I have consolidated my digital skills and have advanced to combining hand-rendered motifs with digital techniques. The Textile Design Lab community has really supported me, providing me with new ideas, techniques, and feedback. This support has enabled me to achieve above and beyond what I hoped to achieve at the start of the year.

My main achievements in 2016 have been selling designs to a number of small businesses one of which is launching her children’s clothing line next year, also signing with an agent and my designs are going to Surtex with her in 2017.

I found being accountable to Instagram has been really useful to spur me on and design every day, the evolution of my design ideas and personal growth can be clearly seen there: https://www.instagram.com/lizmacdesigns/.” Exciting stuff Elizabeth, congrats!!


What was your big victory in 2017? Share it below! Much love–Michelle and the Pattern Observer team






The Quest for the Perfect Pattern Layout

Some days it all comes together perfectly. Your pattern designs flow. You are able to sketch an interesting motif, bring it into Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, and then copy and paste the motif repeatedly until it finally happens. Your pattern layout fills your art board. It’s an organic process, for certain, and the result is an eye-catching design that came together with ease. Original. Dynamic. Interesting. You feel like a rock star.

Then there are those “other times”…the ones when your art board looks too busy and the outcome states “the struggle is real”. Yet you don’t give up hope! You begin tweaking, moving your once beloved motif around and around the art board, hoping that the pattern layout will “click”. But it does not. Your pattern layout feels awkward and lacks flow. Frustration lingers and you dwell on all that wasted precious time.

floral-motif-pattern-observerNow what?

In my experience there are several reasons why some motifs never seem to find the perfect pattern layout. There is one that seems to be more prevalent than others, though, and that is that we are trying to force a motif into the wrong layout style.

You see, each pattern layout style has a slightly unique personality. Yes, these layouts can be dramatically affected by the artistic style of the motif, the color palette, and the trend. However, generally speaking, I find that there is a perfect layout style for each motif and sometimes it takes several attempts to find the perfect match.

Let’s look at this example. I developed this flower motif that’s symmetrical and mirrored, which gives it a more formal feel. I first tried this motif in a tossed layout. Even though the motifs are placed in an even manner, avoiding accidental lineups, it feels a bit awkward and clunky.

In this second example I used the motif in a symmetrical and mirrored layout, which is more aligned to the motif design. And what a difference this simplified layout makes! It allows the motif to shine.


How did I make it work? I took a different approach. By looking to the motif for layout inspiration I discovered the perfect layout. But, what was important to this discovery was that I knew my layout options. I knew there were more options than the popular tossed layout. Without this knowledge I could have wasted hours, even days, moving the motifs around the art board or changing my color palette repeatedly, hoping to stumble across the perfect layout.

Experimenting and investing time into our work is an essential part of the process. However, we still need to recognize the tipping point—the point when we go from producing to wasting time on an unsustainable process.

Are you ready to stop wasting time pushing motifs around the page? Are you ready to design in a more empowered, informed manner? Download our free Surface Pattern Design Layout Chart. This is how you can begin sparking new ideas when you feel stuck or frustrated.





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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.