Three Ways to Break Out of Your Design Rut

RYU Emilie test 2_0076Do you remember how inspired, energetic and elated you felt when you first started working in the design world? You were learning new techniques, meeting inspiring people, and looking forward to a bright future in the industry.

Some of you got to experience this sensation when you were in design school, while others, like me, experienced it as an in-house assistant designer. My first few years in the design world were an amazing experience. I learned a tremendous amount about the apparel industry, picking up a new technique or tip nearly every single day.  I was given more responsibility and was rewarded with small, but steady, promotions and raises. I was loving life and my dreams were coming true!

After a few years, I was promoted to a junior design position.  That’s when something interesting happened.  Despite the fact that I enjoyed my job and my co-workers; feelings of boredom, isolation, and frustration begin creeping into my day.  Something was missing but I didn’t know what.  I was still learning a new technique here and there; however, those moments of intense growth were far and few between.

I was no longer seeing the growth that I knew was possible, both in my artwork and in my career position.  Can you relate?

It’s natural to experience those feelings from time to time, we’re only human.  Thankfully, it is within our control to overcome those times of stagnation and keep working toward achieving the vision that we have for our future. Are you wondering how?  Here are a few ideas to get started:

* Small environmental changes have a tremendous impact on our ability to look at things from a new perspective.

Some days to avoid feeling “stuck,” I’ll work in several different rooms in my house. As a mentor, I see amazing results from designers who have worked in one market their entire career and suddenly switch to a new market. The new challenge and unique perspective create the most innovative designs.

* Experimenting with new artistic techniques, either by hand or on the computer, is the only way to grow as a designer.

Even if the results are not “ready for market,” I always find a way to use the artwork in the future, maybe as an overlay or background texture.

Here are some techniques that work for Chelsea and I:

1. Dissect the big picture. Look for pattern inspiration within patterns. For example, look at a leaf close-up, what textures or patterns can be found on this common motif?
2. Get off the computer! Keep a folder of doodles, sketches, photos, and artistic experiments that you can refer to and build upon when you are stumped.
3. Layer techniques. Use the motifs, textures and concepts that you created in idea #2 and layer these pieces with various filters, overlays and existing patterns.

* Reaching out to communities for inspiration, support, and collaboration makes you a stronger person

Some communities are highly structured, such as an online workshop, forum, or corporate work environment. Other communities occur more organically through email, a blog, or an event. When in need, take inspiration, ideas, and support from the community. When you have something to offer you should leave a comment, mention an idea, or find a way to support the community.

DSC_1783Incorporating these techniques into my creative process has enabled me to continually grow as designer, developing innovative prints for clients such as RYU, Pendleton, and Moving Comfort.  It has also enabled me to grow as a business owner and leader in the design community. Breaking through a design rut positively affects the quality and freshness of your artwork, as well as: brings in new clients, jumpstarts your career, benefits those in your design community and keeps you happy!!!

Tell me, what is your favorite method to breaking out of a design rut? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

*all photos were taken by Jordan Matter for RYU


  1. Some of my most precious possessions are my museum memberships. I try to go see every exhibit that comes along. Even if I don’t draw immediate inspiration, I often find myself using motifs, or techniques, or just new color combinations as a result. The reason I’m even pursuing surface pattern design now is the result of a trip I took to NYC a few years back. I dropped in on an exhibit of Sonia Delaunay’s textile design, which just set me on fire! — to the point that I realized that after decades as a graphic and then interior designer, there was a new design field I had to explore. The effect has been rejuvenating for all my design work as a result.

  2. I look at my sold designs from at least 5 years ago and find a theme or style that had come back round again and see if there was a great innovative technique I used to interpret a theme and see if I can use that technique again.

  3. I sift through pinterest and behance pages delighting in other artists’ work. This can sometimes backfire because you can fall into that ‘oh my god everyone is so much better than me what am I even doing’ type of mood, but I always find that if I just trawl the web for a piece that grabs my attention, and then try to really look at it and determine what technique/ motif/ style element from that piece is exciting me, I can usually find a way to use that as a springboard to throw myself into a new design.

  4. I was recently inspired by by grade 11 son who is extremely talented. He has been starting with the first mental picture that comes into his head and then builds on it the same way. He has awesome results.

  5. I work as a textile designer at a clothing company. I find that when I’m forced to create designs “like this one, but different” – like, your own take on a design they already like – it really opens me up. I’m forced to try new techniques or styles that totally aren’t my own, and often find delightful things to put into my own work – colors, painting techniques, layering things I stumble upon – it’s amazing what happens when you tell yourself, for example, “I’m not into geos, but if I had to make something similar to this geo, I’d do this…”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

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

Featured Course

More Stories
Featured Designer: Rachel Clore