3 Reasons Why You Should Have Coordinate Patterns in Your Portfolio

Maybe it's because of my previous experience as a scrapbook product designer, but I've always had a soft spot for designing coordinate patterns. They play such an important role in the world of scrapbooking; customers constantly look for simple patterns to complement more complicated ones on their pages.

3 Reasons Why You Should Have Coordinate Patterns in Your Portfolio | shannonmcnab.com

That's why nearly all scrapbook collections out there feature double-sided papers; the A-side is reserved for unique and/or busy patterns while the B-side is the place for simpler, complementing ones. You see something similar in bolt fabric lines; a few stunning hero patterns sitting next to several other simpler designs to help round out the collection.

Both the scrapbooking and bolt fabric markets are unique in how much they focus on patterns when compared to other parts of the surface design industry. However, even as I've personally shifted towards more illustrative work, I still find a lot of value from including coordinates alongside hero patterns and illustrations in my portfolio.

Actually, I feel it's such an important part of a well rounded portfolio, that I'm sharing 3 reasons why you should consider including them in your portfolio too!

#1: Adds Value to Your Designs

You probably already know how competitive the surface design industry is, so you should always try and package your designs to be as attractive to buyers as possible, especially because art directors want to get the most out of their budget as possible.

So when an art director is looking for new art and asking you to send them designs, think about which scenario provides a better outcome:

  • Scenario A: You have single holiday pattern with lots of detail.
  • Scenario B: You have that same detailed pattern sitting with 2 additional patterns that complement it.

If you were the art director, which would you choose? All things being equal, you'd probably choose the option that gave you the most to work with.

Try Something: Cover the 2 coordinates on the piece below and view the hero pattern on its own. Now remove your hand. Doesn't it look more enticing seeing it all packaged up like this?

Cozy Cabins design collection | ©2018 Shannon McNab

#2: Shows You Understand Pattern Mixing

There are many instances in surface design where a product features multiple images or patterns together, so it's important to show buyers that you've thought about how different patterns can work together harmoniously.

Now not every designer will have to understand pattern mixing (like an artist who focuses on editorial illustration for example), but if you're looking to get into a market where larger pattern collections are more common OR you're interested in taking on commissioned work from art directors that involves multiple patterns, confident pattern mixing is an important skill to develop and will make you all the more attractive to work with.
 

#3: Attracts Buyers Looking for Simple Designs

This may be a much less obvious reason, but it's one I was surprised and ecstatic to discover. It wasn't until I was reviewing my notes from Surtex last year that I realized how much impact a single coordinate pattern could have.

Sometimes art directors or buyers want something different, something understated, which is the perfect opportunity for simple coordinates! I had no less than half a dozen people at Surtex giving my coordinates more attention than their main pattern counterparts.

Crazy right?!? I had no idea that would happen, but I'm happy I had so many designs that included coordinates. The #1 favorite coordinate of the show: the fun polka dot you see in my holiday design below.

Christmas Baubles pattern collection | ©2018 Shannon McNab

This is just another reason it's important to be able to give your client options. If I hadn't included some of my quirky coordinates alongside hero patterns on my booth banners and in my portfolio, some people I talked to at the show may have just passed my booth by. Think about those potential missed opportunities??


I hope I've convinced you how important and helpful it is to have interesting coordinate patterns in your portfolio. And I hope as you create new work, you'll consider adding some to your designs.

However, I also know lots of designers struggle with creating quick, yet interesting coordinate designs to enhance their portfolios.

That's why when deciding what my first Skillshare class would be, I realized this was the most helpful topic I could start with. My new class, How to Create Strong Coordinate Patterns, is just 15 minutes long so you can gain valuable insights fast and then immediately apply what you've learned to your portfolio.

My class has only been online for two weeks and I'm already so overwhelmed by the positive response it's gotten! I'm elated to hear just how many designers find my insights helpful for their own creative careers. You can read all the amazing reviews of the class here.

And I'm happy to say I'm already busy planning my 2nd Skillshare class! If you'd like to hear when my next class goes live you can follow me on Skillshare OR sign up for my newsletter.


10 Ways to Get Your Creative Mojo Back When You Feel Uninspired

One of the questions that comes up frequently in my Creativity Clan FB group is “How do I get myself out of a creative rut?” 

10 Ways to Get Your Creative Mojo Back When You Feel Uninspired | shannonmcnab.com

It’s something that seems to plague all creative types at some point, often in frequent intervals throughout the year. I’ve definitely had my fair share of “loss of mojo” moments, so I know first-hand how frustrating and self-defeating they can feel at times. So after researching different ways to help get out of a creative rut for my DDClan’s Q&A Monday session on the subject, I wanted to share a list of 10 of my favorite ideas (most of which I’ve personally tested and found helpful at some point in my career):
 

#1: Take a Quick Break

If you’re working on something and it’s frustrating, walk away from it for a bit. Go take the dog for a walk. Read a chapter in a book you’re reading. Just do something completely unrelated to work for at least 15 minutes. Hopefully after you’ve had a chance to switch gears, you can come back with a fresh mindset.
 

#2: Take a Sabbatical

Have you ever had a feeling of dread with your business or felt constantly overwhelmed by all the work you needed to get done? If so, then you might consider taking a longer break (one week at minimum). 

When I hit an exceptionally difficult rough patch in my business in early 2015, I took a full month off and it was the best decision I could have made. It allowed me to take a mental work break and also helped me to reflect on where I wanted my business to go. Since then, I started implementing week-long breaks regularly into my work schedule and I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful for me to avoid burnouts.
 

#3: Work on Something Else

While meeting deadlines is an important part of a well run business, if you’re designing something and just not feeling inspired, consider switching gears and working on a non-creative business task. 

Maybe you have customers you need to reply to via email or you need to strategize what you’ll post to social media for the next two weeks – just pick something that’s completely unrelated to the creative task that’s frustrating you. By switching gears and completing something else for your business, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment which just may help to get you out of your creative slump.
 

#4: Write a Good Things List

To be honest, when I first heard of a “grateful list” as a strategy, I thought it sounded a little hokey, but you know what, it actually worked for me! When you’re feeling completely uninspired, get a piece of paper and make a list of everything that you’re good at or that’s working in your business. It can be something as small as “I got 1 new Instagram follower today”. 

After you’re done, reflect on the list. You will probably realize that although not everything in your business is running perfectly, you still have a lot going for you. I recently used the same method for my personal life when I was having a not-so-good morning and although it didn’t happen immediately, my mood vastly improved by the end of the day. 
 

#5: Get Off Social Media

You’ve probably heard the quote, “comparison is the thief of joy”. I find that quote especially relevant in the age of social media where we can see all the amazing work other artists are creating. 

Being connected is a great thing when it helps to fuel your creativity, but as soon as you find yourself feeling jealous or “behind” in your business because of what someone else is doing, it’s time to shut your phone off. Next time you feel this way, try to only check social media during non-office hours.
 

#6: Make Sure Your Basic Human Needs are Met

We all know that we should maintain a healthy lifestyle, but so many of us don’t (myself included). Having a well-rested and nourished body is not only good for your long term health, it can have positive effects on your business. 

I realize that in especially stressful times it can be difficult not to scarf down an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting or get the 6+ hours of sleep you need a night (both of which I’ve done at least once in the past month), but those are the times when it’s most crucial to maintaining healthy habits.
 

10 Ways to Get Your Creative Mojo Back When You Feel Uninspired - (Tip #7: Change Your Scenery) | shannonmcnab.com

#7: Change Your Scenery

I bet that 90% of the time, you work at the same place every day. Especially if you work from home by yourself (which let’s face it, can be incredibly lonely at times), it can be incredibly liberating to mix it up and instead spend an afternoon working at a coffeeshop or library.

Personally, I love spending at least one morning each week working at a local Starbucks. The buzz of activity around me is very energizing and because I’m not at home with a million other things that need my attention (like laundry or sweeping), I’m much more likely toy stay on task.
 

#8: Work for Just 10 Minutes

Sometimes when you’re just not feeling it, working for an entire day on design can feel like a monumental endeavor. Instead, try setting a timer for 10 minutes and tell yourself that’s all you have to do. If you’re still not feeling creative when the timer goes off, you can feel good knowing you at least gave it a shot.

However, what’s likely to happen is that you’ll start to hit your stride before those 10 minutes are up and just decide to keep working. I’ve tried this a few times (especially for tasks I’m not as excited about) and it works like a charm.
 

#9: Put a Fresh Twist on It

There’s probably a few tasks you get caught up on during the design process and chances are, they are the same tasks each and every time. Maybe you are trying to create a themed Halloween collection, but you just can’t fathom sketching another pumpkin or ghost OR you get stuck when you go to pick a Halloween color palette.

Instead of just doing the same old routine, why not try to put a fresh spin on things? If you don’t enjoy creating Halloween motifs, maybe you should consider alternate, but similar themes like Day of the Dead, zombies, or monsters. If you get stuck in a rut picking color palettes, go to sites like Design Seeds to get inspired and choose a non-traditional color palette. Just by doing something a little different and outside your comfort zone, you may unlock some creative juices.
 

#10: Stick to Your Plan

I’m a firm believer in pre-planning, especially when I’m working on large projects with lots of moving parts. The best part of having a plan is that when I’m feeling unproductive or lost, I can just revisit my project notes and get immediately back on track.

Don’t have a plan, don’t panic? In my 12-page Product Planning Guide, I share with you my three part system that I personally used over the last two years. I lead you through each part step-by-step so by the end you can implement your own product planning strategy.


Lilla Rogers 2016 Global Talent Search

As an artist dreaming of a career in surface design, I've been aware of the Global Talent Search (GTS) for a few years now. If you're unfamiliar with it, the Global Talent Search (run by Lilla Rogers, an extremely talented and vivacious art agent) is a contest where the winner gets two years representation by Lilla's agency. It's a BIG deal!

Last year, I followed the event and was completely intimated by the level of talent of the finalists. I never felt like I was "good enough” of a designer to compete against some of the best upcoming artists in the surface design industry.

Well, that all changed this year! Although I still struggle with design envy from time to time and am a relative newbie in the industry, I decided to jump head first into this year's contest.

The first assignment was to create a teacup, saucer, and paper napkin design for a fictional character, Sunny Spinster. After reading the in-depth assignment brief the first time through, I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited or inspired. But instead of going into my de-facto “worry wart” mode, I tried something different and took the weekend off (since we got the brief on a Friday). 

By giving myself a little time away from the material, it allowed me to better process the assignment, and I came back to the office in a much more relaxed place mentally and creatively.

So when I re-read the material Monday morning, I found myself full of ideas: furiously writing notes, drawing quick sketches, and hunting for inspiration. My design was heavily influenced by the moodboard I mocked up (with the exception of my final color palette).

Artistic inspiration for my 2016 Global Talent Search submission | shannonmcnab.com

I ended up with three solid concepts after a few days of brainstorming, but I moved forward with the one that spoke to me the most: vintage inspired rose garden. My designs are often influenced by vintage material (especially “old” typography, packaging, and fabrics like you see above) and I didn’t want this assignment to be any different.

Here’s a peek into my sketches for the assignment:

And here’s my final design:

My final design for the 2016 Global Talent Search | shannonmcnab.com

In the end, I was actually quite surprised – and proud – of the final design I came up with. It was quite a learning experience for me too! With this one assignment, I feel like I have a better understanding of my personal design process and that I am capable of much more than I think I am.

I submitted my design last Tuesday and now it’s just a waiting game to see if I move on to the next round. The top 50 (out of over 1,000 submissions) will be announced tomorrow – I can hardly wait! I would be absolutely over the moon if I was one of the 50 chosen for the 2nd round of the GTS, but if I don’t, I can still feel great about the effort I put in and know that I am GOOD ENOUGH to make it in this industry!


New Work | Magic Memories Project Life® Cards

I've been keeping a secret of over a month now and I'm so excited that I can finally share what I spent most of April working on: a Disney vacation inspired card set for Becky Higgins Project Life®!!

Magic Memories Project Life Cards | Designed by Shannon McNab

When Becky's team got in touch with me in March with the idea, I could not say "YES" fast enough! I've been a Disney fan all my life, so it was a privilege to be able to design for something I love. 

I was also acutely and almost painfully aware of how passionate Disney fans (myself included) are about details. So although I put a lot of extra pressure on myself to deliver something that both Disney fans and the scrapbooking community could love, I can't deny that this was one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever had the pleasure to work on!

That's why I thought it would be fun to share a behind the scenes look at how the Magic Memories Project Life® cards came to life.
 

Hunting for Disney Inspiration

Becky's team let me decide what direction we should take for the Disney inspired cards, and so I knew I wanted the collection to be modern, bright and cheerful, while giving a slight nod to the vintage nostalgia that is so familiar and welcoming at the Disney parks.

Disney Inspiration Pinterest board for Magic Memories Project Life cards | shannonmcnab.com

I was particularly drawn to vintage Disneyland packaging, retro looking icons, hand-drawn patterns, marquee style typography, and high contrast color palettes. And if I felt stuck at any point in my sketching process (see below), I either went to my own public Disney Pinterest board or simply searched Pinterest for some more vintage inspiration.
 

Sketching My Heart Out . . . and then Sketching Some More

I usually sketch anywhere from 2-10 pages in my sketchbook for any given collection. So when I started sketching out my list of ideas for Magic Memories, I thought I would only be filling about 10-15 pages and that would give me plenty to work with. In reality, it took almost 25 pages for me to work out enough of my ideas for the initial development stage (see a small sampling of them below). The funny part is even now that it's complete, I still have ideas that I never got to!

Sketchbook for Magic Memories Project Life cards | shannonmcnab.com

I'm very thankful that my schedule was wide open and I could devote three entire days to sketching. It was easily the most time consuming part of the process, but it allowed me the time to really work out all the little design details that I feel make the Magic Memories Project Life® cards so special.
 

Digitizing My Sketches in Illustrator

Sometimes I have an exact idea of how a finished illustration will look, like my popcorn cart below, and so going from the original sketch to digitizing the final illustration takes very little time.

Illustration for Magic Memories Project Life cards | shannonmcnab.com

Other times, the way I envision the end result of a sketch takes a lot more work to come to fruition. Take the castle I drew for one of the vertical 4x6 cards, for example. You can see my drawing on the left and while the final design on the right shares a lot of similarities to the original sketch, it took me a couple dozen tries to get there.

Illustration for Magic Memories Project Life cards | shannonmcnab.com

It was especially challenging in terms of color. There's almost no gray anywhere else in the collection, so I needed to find the right balance of grays with the core color palette. So while it may have taken me a while to get to the finished illustration, I really do feel the final result was worth all the trial and error.
 

Finalizing my Designs

One thing I really loved about this particular project was getting feedback from Becky's team after I finished my first pass of designing. Usually, I'm a one woman show making all the final design decisions, so it was nice getting thoughtful critiques on things I may not have noticed myself.

Magic Memories Project Life cards | Designed by Shannon McNab

And after I made a few quick adjustments based on the feedback I received, all that was left was to package them up using the design guidelines I was given and then pass them off to Becky's team to upload to their site. Then it was time for a celebratory dance in my office and wait on pins and needles until it launched on May 9th!


10 Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts Every Digital Designer Should Know

In the summer of 2014, I found myself having an increasingly tough time keeping up with my design commitments. The strange part was that it wasn't because I had overbooked myself by taking on too many projects, it's that my design methods weren't time effective. And I decided something had to change.

10 Photoshop Shortcuts Every Digital Designer Should Know | shannonmcnab.com

After analyzing my design process, I found that one place where I knew I could improve upon was learning more keyboard shortcuts for both Illustrator and Photoshop, so I wasn't constantly hunting things down in the drop down menus.

Obviously there are hundreds of shortcuts for each program, so learning them all sounded way too daunting. Instead, I needed to be strategic and focus on learning shortcuts associated with Photoshop tools I used everyday.

So over the course of a month or two, I taught myself at least a few new shortcuts a week and I'm happy to say it's had a HUGE impact on how quickly I work in Photoshop. Now I can create a collection in days, not weeks!

As someone who doesn't like to keep a good thing to myself, I've got a FREE 3-page Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts for Designers PDF.

Feel free to can download and use it to help learn a few new-to-you shortcuts for Photoshop. And if you want to know the "hows" and "whys" behind my Top 10 Shortcuts (on page 1 of the PDF), I've got it all spelled out in a video developed for my sister site, Scotty Girl Design: 

Now I would love to hear from you! Please comment below and tell me all about what shortcuts are your favorites (especially if I didn't them in my own top 10 list).