A 12 month review

I got quite interested in surface pattern design a couple of years ago and recently decided to turn Girl and the Deep Blue Sea into a business for surface pattern design and ocean imagery.

This is a pretty long blog post about what I was up to in 2019 turning my idea into a business reality! So for my friends and family this should explain what I’ve actually been doing ha ha! Also I hope this blog post is interesting for those who are also at the start of their creative business journey 🙂

Back at the start of 2019 I was looking after my then 15 month old daughter full time and had been slowly working my way through the Make it in Design modules (read more about this here). 

A big change happened in mid-January when my daughter started daycare one day a week – I suddenly had 4-5 hours each week where I could really focus on learning surface pattern design. The rest of the week had no guarantee of any free time as anyone with a young kid will tell you! The first few months of the year were also the worst sleep deprivation I’ve ever experienced and I would (and still do) prioritise sleep over everything else!

I knew I wanted to try and sell designs but I was definitely stuck on knowing what style was mine. So I decided to come up with ten designs that I felt really captured a style I wanted – this took me almost six months but it was well worth it. 

The breakthrough came with the design ‘Disco La La’ as this was the first design I went YES!!! 

Disco La La

By mid-year I felt I had some strong designs and was working on revamping my website to feature the new designs and my ocean photography.  

I was due back at my environmental job in August, and made the decision to resign as rather than try to juggle my daughter’s childhood around work, I want to create a career that I enjoy and that I can fit around her (which I’ve noticed is a theme in surface pattern design!). 

Also I’ve always loved art and knew I would always regret not making an effort with it in a big way. 

So by late August I was officially without a job, but with a new look website and my first business plan written out!

very exciting!

I then thought about where I could immediately place my designs for sale (in the hope of some sort of income to start with). I researched a few print on demand sites and decided on Spoonflower (for fabric products) and Redbubble (for other products) to start with.

Spoonflower requires you to upload your designs and order swatches to see how the design prints out, before they can be live on the website. This actually worked out well as rather than swatches I ordered fat quarters of most of my designs, and these have been great to use as a backdrop for photos and I am starting to also use the fabric to sew bags that I can use as a promotional item. I was really happy with the colour except the pink is not bright enough for me (I am yet to find anything printed that has a really really bright pink).

a selection of my designs on Spoonflower fabric

Redbubble has A LOT of items you can apply your art to. While this is exciting I really didn’t want to be selling products that are not great for the environment and was happy to get prints on mugs, hardcover notebooks, spiral bound notebooks, and water bottles. However before I did that I actually ordered postcards of each of my designs as this was an inexpensive way to test the colours. I had to make a few tweaks (mostly with the bright pinks surprise surprise) and then everyone from my family chose something they liked so I could examine the quality of each item before selling them. I was extremely happy with the mugs and notebooks, the water bottles however looked washed out and after contacting customer service was advised this was normal for water bottles. So they came off my product list as I didn’t want to lose the vibrancy of my artwork and disappoint someone who bought it.

some of my Redbubble mugs

One exercise that also took some time for both Spoonflower and Redbubble was writing descriptions of each design along with tags – this exercise was quite useful though as it has formed the basis of my design catalogue (ie. an excel spreadsheet).

So now I had some real life products my other big task for the rest of the year was promotion/marketing. This is a completely new skill for me to learn, and I have been reading every bit of advice I can, especially when it comes to social media. I found that preparing social media posts and engaging with other accounts was taking up about half of my time (which is not cool) but I did notice after making a consistent effort I have had some new followers.

The other big thing I decided to do was to start an e-newsletter! This was something I had wanted to do for a while as I love writing blog posts and also have lots of other fun stuff I want to share with my blog readers, so thought putting it all in one place every few weeks would be a great idea.

I’ve published two newsletters so far and yes number three is on its way soon! I’ve been including free downloads in the newsletters which is a good incentive for me to practice my design skills and have a go at creating something I wouldn’t otherwise (like a phone screen saver).

If you are interested you can check out Newsletter #1 and Newsletter #2 and sign up for Newsletter #3!

The other topic I read a bit about was creating collections, as I know I need some strong design collections in order to send to potential buyers.

I had grand ambitions to have two collections completed before the end of the year but this never eventuated – mostly due to a few missed daycare days. So this is now my current three month goal – fingers crossed!

My main learnings for the year were:

  • giving myself time to find my style was great, I am glad I did that before I attempted the website updates/marketing as it really helped me figure out my brand image.
  • ordering samples of products helped me to both check the quality and also gave me items for promotional photos. These photos on social media also helped secure my first sales (one from Redbubble and one from Spoonflower so far).
  • social media took up way too much time – I have started trialling a new approach this year with preparing posts to see if that helps.
  • after I created my ten patterns, I found I didn’t spend much time AT ALL doing new artworks (see point above). I’m now trying to spend less time online and more time creating.
  • deadlines and toddlers DO NOT MIX! I love being organised and having a detailed timeframe for how I am going to achieve something, but when you throw in a small child who will often not nap, or nap only in the pram, or gets sick etc etc that can really throw everything out of whack. I had a few weeks last year where I could literally do nothing business related. This year I am lucky to now have two daycare days a week (woo hoo) and rather than detailed yearly planning I’ve decided to focus on three monthly planning with a lot of leeway for timeframes.
  • there are so many great and FREE resources online about running a business, social media and marketing, art and design – I am someone who loves being challenged and this is a whole new industry and skill set for me. The only course I have paid for so far is the Make it in Design modules – everything else I have found as free tutorials, podcast transcripts, or classes from a free Skillshare trial. I also joined the Surface Pattern Design Community Facebook group which is a great forum for asking questions and reading advice.

So what does 2020 hold…. so far I have two main goals:

1: get some collections finished and sent to prospective clients/collaborators!

2: figure out the best way to sell photographic prints!

Plus numerous other ideas which I always write down and hopefully get to tick off at some point!

I also want to do more of this!

Anyway five gold stars to you if you made it to the end of this epic post! Please feel free to ask me any questions you like! 🙂

I'd love to know what you think!

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