Last updated on December 20th, 2022
Many designers find surface pattern designing a promising field. They want to explore big earning opportunities and make a name for themselves in the industry. Pattern designers are always in demand from different industrial and other commercial purposes. This AMA guides wannabe pattern designers on how to get clients and what basics to follow for the steady growth of their career.
Talking about Pattern designing, it’s all about creating some styles that the designers repeatedly use on a surface to make it a unique visual. So, the designer can create a block of design and then use that block creatively throughout the surface. Or, there could be a repetition of the line art or any other stylish work. All patterns, illustrations, artworks, hand letterings, and all sorts of styles are included as pattern designs.
Therefore, pattern designing is an exciting craft that looks visually impressive and appealing. A lot of sectors, such as textiles, use patterns as part of creating products for their target customers. You can notice patterns these days on many surfaces, including phone cases.
Considering that patterns make great visuals, the use of pattern designs is widespread. Its application includes sectors such as textiles, decor products, apparel, stationery, gift items, book covers, and many more. The scope for carving out a thriving career in the field of pattern designing is bright. Many artists are, therefore, showing their growing interest in creating patterns.
However, they have to go through fierce competition as the clients have access to many talented designers. Making your way through the crowd of professional designers and attracting potential clients’ attention does not come easy for a beginner designer.
AMA With Naina Lamba
Therefore, to discuss the challenges before the designer community, Designhill conducted an AMA with the renowned pattern designer Naina Lamba on 25th April 2020. She holds a rich experience of working as a surface pattern designer with clients of global stature such as Zara, Stradivarius, Coconut Swimwear, Mavrans, Meredith Hope, Vikram Phadnis, Malini Ramani & more.
Naina Lamba is a Masters in Print Design from Winchester School of Art. She is the founder of Naina Lamba Textiles, which works with fashion designers, retailers, suppliers, fabric houses, and start-up businesses.
During the AMA session, Naina Lamba shared her experience with almost all the challenges that the designers face. She advised the budding designers on how to approach clients and professionally present a portfolio and negotiate prices. Other issues she discussed include how to build up a strong client base and how to have an overall successful career as a surface pattern designer.
Here Is the Video Of The AMA Session With Naina Lamba
Here Is What Naina Lamba Advises The Upcoming Pattern Designers
Designhill: Where does the inspiration come from for all the ideas and creativity?
When I was in the UK for studies, I wanted to go around and explore Europa a bit. I did a part-time job at Tesco. And I went on a trip to Portugal and Spain with the money I gathered. And when I came back, I had to do my final design project for my masters, and my entire collection was inspired by Portugal, all flora and fauna around the cities.
Since then, most of my friends have been inspired by my travels. And I feel lucky because I’ve been able to travel a lot. After all, I have my own business. I have the luxury to take out time to travel, gather inspiration, and I love gathering primary motifs, clicking pictures and sketching from life, drawing, and all that. So if you guys want to see my collection that I did in Portugal for inspiration, you can see those on my website.
Travel and experiments inspire
You can notice that some of the planes are inspired by the facades, lists, tiles that you see around the city, and different elements that I was able to go around and click. I was also inspired by the different flora and fauna that you see around the city.
Most of my inspiration comes from my travels. If you see my Instagram you would see a lot of tropical and floral designs. That is mostly because most of my recent travels have been to tropical areas. I love working around flora, fauna, and just working with different textures and illustration techniques.
Again, the use of different kinds of an experiment with different kinds of techniques when you are hand illustrating is important. This is because if you are just working with watercolors or with markers, or working digitally on Procreate, illustrations start looking very monotonous. If you’re working with two companies that are competitors, you don’t want the other print to look similar.
So, I’ve taken time to develop my illustration style but have many ideas as well so that the work is versatile. In this way, I can work with all these different kinds of brands.
Designhill: What do you suggest for beginners in textile designing?
Again, I think it’s very important to have a presence online so that clients find you and your work is seen. You have to build up your portfolio, which could be on Behance, Instagram, or it could be a website. It is important to start somewhere and have a presence online.
Work on your aesthetics
Secondly, make sure that you should start working on your aesthetic. Other artists can inspire you. That’s how you begin. When I started, I was inspired by many artists. But eventually, you have to find your style and stay true to that. You need to know the difference between copying someone’s work and being inspired by someone’s work. It comes from experience, but you need to explore your style and start building your aesthetic.
If you scroll down my Instagram to when I was still experimenting, you will see that I would work with all these different kinds of themes and different kinds of motives. And then, slowly, when I understood what the right line is for me, I started building up my portfolio around that, for example, swing back lines.
Some of the first clients that I worked with were coming back soon. They were from all over the world. I’ve worked with some in the UK in the US and the Dominican Republic in Australia. So, I realized that my work attracts these kinds of clients. I kind of got to know what the right line for me is. Once you build up your aesthetic, you would eventually know what direction you want to head into.
Designhill: Is it essential to have a degree in textile designing or pattern designing?
For me, those four years and the one year that I did masters it honestly gave me the time to explore what I wanted to do. I also knew where I wanted to reach and what my ultimate goal would be. But if you know what to do, then it is okay to start working on your skills and illustrations. You can do some online tutorials on the technical aspects of it, how to make the design into repeat patterns, and what kind of resolutions or sizes to work with.
But many technical things go behind creating an artwork. It’s not just all illustration work and handwork. More than that, a lot of digital work is involved as well in creating these works. So, for that, I would suggest it is always better to have a degree. In case you have the experience and expertise, you can go ahead and start your own business. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a degree.
Designhill: How much do you charge for one design and or a project?
I can give you some tips on how to price your work. When you are starting, and a client approaches you, first of all, you don’t want to undervalue your wor. You don’t want to charge too low. You may think that it is your first project, so, charge very less.
But I think you should fix a price according to the hours that you put in. And of course, you don’t want to price your designs too high and alienate your clients. So, the best way to do this is to ensure a balance. Consider the time that you put in and the experience that you have.
For example, you have a project to make a print, and your price per hour is $50. And you take about four hours to do the print. You charge about $200 for a print. With experience, the prices keep increasing. But it is essential to have a per hour price. For longer projects per hour, prices don’t work. And it’s also imperative to do some market research to see how much other designers are charging in the same field.
Designhill: Do you reach out to companies and clients and send your portfolio to get projects?
Reach out to clients with your portfolio
It’s very important to have had an online presence when you’re starting. When I came back to India and I was setting up my studio, I did reach out to a few clients. But when you’re reaching out, make sure your portfolio is ready. The portfolio should be divided into segments and make sure you’re reaching out to the right client.
Again, let’s take an example with swimwear. I knew the kind of print I would work for swimwear. So a client from the Dominican Republic was able to have a look through my Portugal collection because it was online. Within one month of starting my business, the client wanted to purchase the entire collection. And she was able to use the entire collection on her swimwear line.
But I did reach out to other clients as well. Even if they didn’t give me work, they could. They knew that I was present online and I was available if they wanted to get any prints done in the future. And so it’s always a good idea to have your portfolio in place.
Designhill: How do we determine an hourly rate for print design? And how do we get personal PR?
Like I said before, it depends on your experience. But do your market research by going on websites like Upwork, or Freelancer.com, where you see all these freelancers working on an hourly basis. You will get an idea about how many graphic designers or textile designers are charging. The starting rate could be $25, and it could be $75. It all depends on your experience.
Designhill: Did you have any negative experience that taught you a lot as well?
When you are working with so many different kinds of clients, you have all kinds of experiences. There was this client who wanted me to do a project and wasn’t necessarily my style. And it wasn’t the kind of work that I would do. But because the client wanted to get it done from me, so I went ahead with it. I wasn’t very happy with the result. And you know, it all sort of didn’t go well in the end. It just made me realize that you know, it’s always okay to say no to projects as well.
Avoid working outside of your forte
When I was starting, I used to do a lot of graphic design work, which is not my forte. I used to do a lot of logo designing, which is again, not my forte. But that is how I started freelancing. So slowly, I started finding what suited me and what was my style.
And secondly, a lot of clients don’t give you an advance when you’re starting. Never start a project without an advance. I’ve had experiences where people like the clients get the work done and they just vanish away without paying you. Or, they just sort of decided not to go ahead with the project. But all of these are just learning experiences. So never start a project without an advance.
Designhill: How do you copyright your work when you put your collection portfolio online?
The answer is, I cannot do that. But at the same time to get clients, I need to have a presence online. And what I can do is whatever designs I post online are already sold, and the copyright is with the client because I work with exclusive rights. Once the patent is sold, it belongs to the client. And I usually tag the client on the design and that is how I work with it.
But when I’m posting, it always works to add a watermark. But honestly, there’s not much you can do. This is because again, it depends on the copyright laws in your country as well. So you have to be careful. But honestly, you can’t do much about it as you have to keep a balance between uploading your things online and showing it to the audience. I only upload designs that are sold.
Designhill: Any advice or suggestions for fellow artists to be positive around this time of coronavirus crisis?
Just know that this will all end soon. And if you’re just starting, it’s a great time to work on your portfolio, start building your website as making a website takes ages. It took me I think two months to put my website together.
Work on your Instagram pages
And it’s a great time to start working on your Instagram pages because you see a lot of people online these days. It is a great time to get followers as well. So start being regular on your Instagram and explore styles of illustration, work on your skills, make designs for yourself, and be your critic. If you don’t have a lot of work in hand, then work on yourself right now.
Designhill: Did you see any changes in the industry that you are also facing due to the Coronavirus situation?
Global leaders are still debating whether it will affect industries. But of course, as I mentioned, a lot of my projects are on hold. But designing is so versatile. It’s used in every industry possible. You’re not limited to fashion, clothing, interiors, etc. So, there will always be scope for you to work.
Right now, I’ve been working on some new designs for masks. Print designs for masks and companies that produce masks. So that’s another area that has opened up for me. Let’s see where this takes us. Probably, from digital printing people would want to go into using natural dyes or doing more Indian techniques of printing, like block printing. But I don’t think we will be out of work soon.
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Designhill: Can you talk about the licensing world? How do you organize your online patterns portfolio?
I started with a pattern bank. If you know pattern design, you must have heard of pattern banks. They offer two kinds of licensing. One, it’s the standard licensing wherein you sell your designs as many times as possible. But of course, the price will be low. And the second is exclusive, under which, once you sell your design to the client, you cannot sell it again. And you can use the elements as well.
So, even when I’m working with my clients, I usually work with the exclusive licensing contract. I sell my patterns one-off, and I have a basic contract that says that I cannot reuse and resell the pattern. And, the clients are allowed to use the pattern as many times as they want. That is how licensing works.
As far as organizing an online portfolio is concerned, I don’t have a patent portfolio. This is because I work on commission projects. I’ve been getting a lot of customized projects. So I like to take the brief from the client and develop the print from scratch.
But a lot of textile designers have a pattern. Therefore, you don’t need to post the entire library online. As we spoke about copyrights and people copying your work, it’s always great to keep a combination of prints that you have a copy for your clients to see.
If they’re interested in you, you can give them permission to see or browse through your entire pattern library and select the kind of print they want or just buy one-off. But it’s up to you what kind of module you want to go for. I like working with commissioned projects.
Designhill: What websites or blogs, apart from books you will suggest artists follow?
I do follow a lot of books. One of my favorites illustrators whose books I follow is Katie Scott. She does a lot of botanical illustrations and you can even follow her on Instagram. She is a major inspiration and I’ve always loved her work. Other than that, I have some books, which are basics of watercolor and how to start painting botanicals with watercolor. I have another book which talks about using pens for illustration. And another, which talks about using markers for illustration.
I like to experiment with my style and not use just one medium when I’m creating my illustrations. So, I have all these books and I put all these artists that work with mixed media mostly.
And I’ve been following Procreate tutorials online recently. I started using that app on my iPad to create illustrations as well. This app is great because it has all kinds of brushes that you can use and so you can work with all kinds of medium, digitally, which is great.
Designhill: How do you build your Instagram and social media following?
First of all, it’s important to have a social media presence. When I started, I was doing my masters, and working on my Instagram, with about 1000 followers then. That was about two and a half years ago. So, grow your Instagram. It’s very important to post regularly. If you’re an artist, show the kind of aesthetic you want to work around.
Be careful about what you post
For example, if you see my profile, every post sort of comes together, though I don’t post randomly. You have to be very careful about what you post and you have to edit what you want to post. Also, see if the post will do well or not. So, when I started, I would post every design that I would do on Instagram because I was looking for work from clients and wanted everyone to see my work.
But now I’ve started editing it out a lot more. If you see my Instagram you’ll see a lot of drops because you’d see a lot of florals but that is not the only style that I work with. I work with so many different kinds of prints, but your Instagram needs to have a story behind it. So, I started my Instagram all around tropicals. Even the personal pictures that I post are mostly about tropical life. When the entire feed comes together, you will automatically start getting followers.
Designhill: Which tools do you use? If you draw by hand, do you scan your motifs and transfer them into back vectors so that they can be used for large scale patterns in high resolution?
Yes, most of my designs are hand-drawn. You can use a scanner. Scan them in high resolution, which could be 600 DPI. Or the easiest way to do it is to use your phone. I use an iPhone to click a picture of my drawing. But I scan it and there is a lot of editing that goes into it. No, I do not convert it into a vector as I do not work with a vector or Adobe Illustrator. I work mostly on Photoshop, but I work on the high resolution so the printing quality is usually not compromised.
I scan the drawing. But keep in mind the size of the illustration when you’re drawing, it can’t be very tiny. You have to make it like a big good size. So when you scan it, all the details are visible and you don’t have any pixelation problems when you’re converting it into a print and printing it in a product.
Designhill: How to professionally present your portfolio and then negotiate your rates with clients?
You should have your portfolio ready and it’s categorized in a different kind of work that you do. For example, you’re also a graphic designer, and you have a section, which has sections for your logo designing, pattern designing, and illustrations. Now you have a client you want to work with, and you have also set up your hourly rate. You know what you want to charge, and you’re very confident about your prices.
Negotiate but don’t compromise on quality
But what happens when a client starts negotiating? So, you have two options. First is, you need to ask yourself if you are willing to negotiate. Thinking of the client is worth it. For example, if my dream company approaches me and tries to negotiate with me, I would still want to work with them. This is because it would add to my portfolio and it would be an honor to work for the company, it’s okay to negotiate.
And, just because it’s your dream project, you may not want to compromise on the quality of the work that you’re putting in. If so, talk to the client about it and justify how many hours you’d be putting in and how much handwork is required when you’re doing the design. And I’m pretty sure the client would like to continue working with you.
Designhill: Is Procreate better than the traditional approach?
I wouldn’t say Procreate is easy. It’s more convenient because you do not have to carry all your stationery around. You don’t have to open up your opinions and all of that. You can work while you’re traveling and while you’re on the air. I don’t know if it’s better than the traditional techniques because I’ve been able to achieve a very hand-illustrated look through Procreate which works well for me.
But again, it’s up to you to find your style. I do not work on Procreate a hundred percent. I still use my station and work with my watercolors and colored pencils. So, I think it’s always best to have a balance between both. I will use Procreate to add details on top. For example, I have a watercolor illustration, I would scan it, clean it up, and transfer it to Procreate and add some of the details digitally. It’s always good to keep shuffling between both and combine with the techniques.
Designhill: Do clients give due credit to you as a pattern designer who has added value to their product?
They are not entitled to because they’re paying you for your work. So it’s wrong to have expectations from the client to give you credit for your work. They hired you and they paid you for the design. But mostly, if clients’ are happy with your work, they give you credits, which has been the case for me.
So, these are the useful tips from surface pattern designer Naina Lamba you should adhere to for steady career growth. If you are an artist, you should think of having your portfolio created on PrintShop, which is a print-on-demand platform owned by Designhill. You can create patterns and other artworks and post them on your online store on this site. Then, sell those works at attractive prices.
Designhill conducted an AMA session with the renowned surface pattern designer Naina Lamba. She shared her experience with the designers and offered them tips on building a portfolio, how to find clients and negotiate prices, work on aesthetics, use Instagram to promote your design style, and many more. Budding designers will benefit from the advice as she speaks from her own rich experience in the session.