• Shie Sison

Changing Niches: Transition from a Watercolor Artist to a Surface Pattern Designer

Hi there!

I recently had an AMA session with Printshop by Designhill and I'd like to share with you an in depth intake of my journey of being a watercolor artist to a surface pattern designer.


I have been passionate about art and design since the age of 4. Fast forward to a little over a decade later, I took up Interior Design in college and eventually became a professional Interior Designer myself. Then a decade later after that, in my early 30s, I decided to become a full time watercolor artist and found myself creating various designs for various clients both locally and internationally. On the side, I also do calligraphy work locally for some luxury branded clients. Currently, I am running a little studio at home continuously creating different designs for licensing, custom commissions as well as art collaborations.


I guess I have always been drawn to patterns - its technicality, beauty and story. My Interior Design background would probably be a great influence as I have encountered a lot of patterns in different interior items along the way in my professional practice such as furnishings, interior accessories, wall & floor pattern designs.


So it was early last year that I finally decided to take a leap in my watercolor journey. P.S. I still love creating custom artworks but I told myself I'd like to try and divide my creative time to make way for a niche for my new love - surface pattern design.

A little background though, while I was creating custom artworks, I found myself eventually painting individual elements which I then put together digitally and submit to a client. So I told myself, "wait a minute, this could be a good start for actually creating patterns!"

So I did the following:

1. Tons and tons of research - I began typing the words "surface pattern design" on Google and voila, my eyes were fed with awe and wonder. From images to articles to blogs to even videos, there were literally thousands of references I checked out and took note of. I spent around 6 months learning different things: from the technical & aesthetic aspect and then to the marketing, selling and earning!

2. Experiment, experiment and experiment! - So I grabbed one of my old watercolor paintings, scanned it, put it on my laptop and digitally went back and forth in trying different methods of creating various patterns out of it. At this stage, I used different programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer and Procreate on iPad. I felt like crazy trying to find out what method worked best for me. I did not give up. I continuously and arduously practiced. When I "somehow" got the hang of creating patterns technically, I was criticizing my works if they looked aesthetically pleasing to the eye and I found out, that is another aspect I needed to perfect or rather, manage. So I kept researching.

3. Create, paint, keep learning, repeat - I kept creating and painting while watching Youtube videos and Skillshare classes. When I was able to somehow manage how to get some patterns done, I learned 2 basic things:

a. Technically, you have to make sure that your pattern repeats are correct, meaning, they all meet at all sides if you put them all together. More so, the size and spacing of the individual elements as well as their proportion to the whole pattern repeat should be just right.

b. Aesthetically, you should be able to create color ways that would create a good blend between your pattern elements and your background.


You can basically get inspiration from anywhere - from your home, your office, your local neighborhood, and even Pinterest! For me, I basically follow a set of trends for the current season and the next OR whatever strikes my mood. Aside from those, I also work according to a specific brief given by people I work with (art directors / art agent).


If you have some patterns you'd like to share to the world, you can post it on your social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest. You can also license them through various Print-On-Demand sites such as Printshop by Designhill, Society6, Redbubble, Spoonflower or sell them outright to different manufacturers in the market. You can also print your own patterns on various products and sell them locally or internationally through your own website or Etsy.

Here are just some of the watercolor paintings I have done and turned them into patterns.


Surface pattern design industry is quite broad as there are many categories to work on: textile / apparel, home decor, stationery, packaging design, gift products, books and many others. If you are a beginner in this industry, lots of research are really needed to get your hands on the deck. But don't worry and don't get too overwhelmed for as long as you love to do this and envision yourself in this journey, then there's no doubt that you will be able to succeed as a surface pattern designer in the future! I, myself, am fairly new in this field and I have tons of things to continuously learn. If you are a surface pattern design lover like me, together, we'll learn from each other along with the other aspiring and already successful designers in this industry.

Oh, before I let you go, here are some Skillshare & Youtube classes that I've watched which I'd like to share with you!

a. 5 Steps to Illustrating a Repeat Pattern by Hand by Julia Rothman

b. Watercolor for Surface Pattern Design: Working with Adobe Illustrator by Bonnie Christine

c. Watercolor Meets Surface Pattern Design by Jenn Palandro

d. Surface Pattern Design Fundamentals by Mel Armstrong

e. Create Seamless Watercolor Patterns in Photoshop by Teela Cunningham


Shie Sison

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