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.


New Year, New Goals: 3 Easy Tips to Help You Achieve Them

The beginning of a new year can be wonderfully motivating; you have a well of ideas and energy and can set exciting new goals. However, did you know that only 20% are still working towards them come February and by the end of the year it's only 8%?

The reason goals are so hard to stick to is that most people don't develop a plan to get themselves from Point A (where they are) to Point B (accomplishing their goal).

3 Tips for Setting Creative Biz Goals You'll Actually Achieve + FREE 15-page Worksheet | shannonmcnab.com

I was once part of the 92% that didn't stick to my goals, but last year was a wake up call. My 2017 goal was to exhibit at Surtex and successfully land enough work to exceed the costs of the trade show by 150%. And I'm proud to say that I had hit my goal by August.

But it wasn't just a fluke that I achieved my goal. It was because I was so driven to make it happen AND I developed a year-long plan to help keep me on track. So today, I'm sharing 3 helpful tips  to help you achieve (and exceed) your goal!

1. Set a Meaningful Goal

This may sound obvious, but in order to be successful, your goal needs to be something that excites you to your very core. Whether it's an income goal you wished you'd reach someday or landing one of your dream clients, pick something that will keep you motivated all year long.

There will be times during the year where you'll struggle, but if you have a goal you're eager to accomplish, you can tap into that excitement and help it carry you through.

Surtex 2017 at the Javits Center | shannonmcnab.com

In my case, Surtex was something I have dreamt about since I first learned what it was in graduate school a decade ago. So when I transitioned to surface design in the summer of 2016, I knew that Surtex was where I wanted to be. Of course my path to exhibiting wasn't easy and there were several moments of self doubt or frustration, but one thing that helped me keep going was the thought of walking into the Javits as an exhibitor for the very first time.
 

2. Do a Brain Dump

In order to create a solid plan for your goal, you need to contemplate everything you need to do to get there. Take out a piece of paper (you'll probably need several) and write down every task you can think of to help you work toward your goal, no matter how small.

My 2017 Goal Brain Dump: Exhibiting at Surtex | shannonmcnab.com

If that feels too daunting, start by breaking your large goal into smaller goals or categories and work through them one-by-one. By focusing on smaller aspects of your large goal, you're less likely to get overwhelmed.

When I did a brain dump for my 2017 goal of exhibiting at Surtex, I broke down tasks into the different aspects of preparation for the show, like exhibiting logistics, marketing, building my portfolio, etc.

Then I worked on each category one-by-one until I had 3 full pages of tasks I needed to complete.
 

Don't get too hung up on whether you've thought of absolutely everything. You can always come back to your list and add to it. 
 

3. Stay Accountable

For your goal action plan to work, you need to continually keep it in mind. One of the best ways to do this is to find someone like your partner, close friend, or family member. Tell them what your goal is and have them check in with you every month to keep you on track. 

You could also get a accountability buddy; it’s especially helpful if they are in the same industry and/or are working towards a similar goal. Or you could announce your goal on Instagram, to your email list, or even in the comments of this post (hint, hint!). Declaring your goal publicly can help make your goal seem more real, plus you’re likely get some people to cheer you on.

Me & my accountability partner, Lizzie Clark at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I was so fortunate enough to have an accountability partner for Surtex. My friend and fellow surface designer, Lizzie Clark, was also exhibiting for the first time in 2017, so it was the perfect solution for us to pair up. We Skyped every other week and emailed in-between; it kept our to-do list in the front of our minds and little by little, we checked off everything together. She's been an incredibly supportive partner-in-crime! 
 

Want to Achieve Your Goals This Year?

Goal Getter Worksheet by Shannon McNab | shannonmcnab.com

The business life of a designer can be a struggle, but developing a road map to get to your goals can make the journey a lot easier. So if you liked my tips in this post, but are struggling to figure out how to reach your goals or expand your business, my Goal Getter worksheet can help! 

I'll walk you through the entire process step-by-step from setting the RIGHT goal through developing a plan to stay ahead all year long.


The Completed 2017 Christmas Art Countdown

2017 is almost gone and another successful Christmas Art Countdown is in the books! You can see the entire countdown below OR view the detail of each individual design in my Instagram feed.

2017 Christmas Art Countdown Advent Challenge | ©2018 Shannon McNab

This year's advent countdown definitely challenged me, but I came out the other side with an abundance of new holiday art (I'll be adding at least 15 of these to my portfolio), plus a few lessons learned. Here's my reflection on this year's experience:
 

A Focus on Illustrative Work

For last year's Christmas Art Countdown, my focus was split between hand lettering, patterns, and illustrations. However, after the overwhelmingly positive response to the few illustration pieces in my portfolio at Surtex, I've spent a lot more time working to develop my illustration skills.

So this year, I focused a LOT more on drawing characters – there are 12 designs this year featuring character art (contrasted by 3 from 2016). I'm happy to say I feel much more confident creating character illustrations now. It's fun when you can look back over just a few months' work and see your designs progress.

I'm also hoping that my shift in focus towards more illustrative work will land me more design contracts and commissions this year. Only time will tell if it's going to pay off!
 

Pre-planning Still Pays Off

I probably sound like a broken record on this particular point, but pre-planning my designs really makes such a difference! I was presented with an especially difficult challenge this year by being out of town for the first 8 days of the countdown.

Of course I was vacationing in Disneyland with my hubby which is hard to complain about, but that meant I had to do some serious art making ahead of time. Luckily, I found the time to finish the first 10 days of the countdown before we left. I also managed to sketch out all but the last 4 days in my sketchbook.

Posting every morning while on vacation was surprisingly easy to remember. I think the most challenging part was coming home from Disneyland and immediately jumping back into daily designing. By the time the end of the countdown rolled around, I was just about out of creative energy (and am happy to take a break between now and the new year).
 

Encouraging Others Keeps Me Inspired

Perhaps my favorite part of the challenge this year was opening up Instagram app each morning and looking through the #christmasartcountdown2017 hashtag to see the art my fellow designers were posting. Since it was the 2nd year of the challenge, there was a LOT more participation, which meant tons of beautiful art to scroll through.

Seeing everyone's individual interpretations of the prompts and cheering them on all month long was really rewarding and it helped to keep my creative juices flowing. I really appreciate the surface design community on Instagram and look forward to cultivating even more friendships on there in 2018.


So just like last year, I guess the big question is will the Christmas Art Countdown continue in December 2018? And right now, I'm not 100% sure. I quite enjoy the challenge of daily art making for 24 days (it's about as long as I think I can handle), but I have no idea what is in store for me next year. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!


2017 Christmas Art Challenge

When I posted my completed Christmas art challenge last year, I wasn't sure if I'd be bringing back the challenge for 2017 because I had no inkling of how the following 12 months would play out.

Fortunately, 2017 has been a tremendous year! I crossed my biggest artistic goal of exhibiting at Surtex off my list and am looking forward to a bigger and better year in 2018.

And that's where the Christmas Art Countdown comes in! Just like last year, I'm utilizing this challenge as a way to create lots of new holiday art in a short time period. From the designs I created for 2016's Christmas Art Countdown, I added 16 of them to my portfolio; I'm hoping for a similar outcome this year.

2016 Christmas Art Countdown: A Christmas Advent Challenge by Shannon McNab

For those of you who followed along with this challenge last year, you may notice two big differences in this year's list:

  1. There's no difference made between illustration/pattern and hand lettering prompts. That's because I'm focusing on illustration and pattern work since I already have a fair amount of typography based designs in my portfolio. Of course, typography will inevitably creep in on some of them because I love hand lettering so much!
  2. The prompts are simpler. The reason for this was two fold: 1) I'm looking forward to sketching out multiple ideas for some prompts and hopefully a few of the final designs will be unexpected, and 2) I tried to choose words that could be interpreted in a number of ways. Variety is the spice of life after all!

Now you may be wondering why I'm bothering to post the challenge so early, but if there's one thing I learned from doing the Christmas Art Countdown last year it was: 

Being prepared pays off!


I firmly believe that the only way I was successful in posting daily images for the entire challenge in 2016 was all the pre-planning I did. And because I'll be on vacation (at Disneyland, of course) for the first week of the challenge, this year it's EXTRA important that I plan ahead!

As a matter of fact, I've already sketched out ideas for the first third of the list and hope to have most of my prompt ideas in my sketchbook by the end of the month. My plan of attack is that by the time Dec 1st rolls around, I'll have at least the first 8 designs completed and ready for Instagram (which will make leaving for a week long vacation at the beginning of the challenge a little less stressful).
 

Now I'm Challenging You!

While I really loved doing my own Christmas Art Challenge last year, what made it even better was seeing all the designs my fellow designers posted on Instagram. So with that, I'd love to encourage you to join me! Maybe you see a few prompts that inspire you or you want to challenge yourself to tackle the entire list – either way I'd love to see what you come up with!

Feel free to pin the image above to Pinterest or share my post on Instagram so you'll remember the prompts for each day. And be sure to use the hashtag #christmasartcountdown2017 anytime you post your work so I can see your lovely designs!

Surtex 2017 Recap Part 3: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Today's post is the last of my three-part Surtex recap series and it's probably the most important one of all! Because while exhibiting at Surtex was a huge step for me, it doesn't matter much unless all the time and money I spent towards it helps propel my design career forward.

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Three: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show | shannonmcnab.com

That's why this post is all about the monetary costs of exhibiting at Surtex. Cost is such an important factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show as it can literally make or break your business finances for the year, so I wanted to make sure to include it in my recap blog series.
 

My Costs to Exhibit at Surtex 2017

Trade show costs will always vary and what I've posted here are my own real costs associated with preparing for Surtex 2017. And while it's a bit nerve wracking posting something this personal, I feel it's important to be completely transparent with all the expenses related to exhibiting at a trade show. Since I started this series as a way to help others in their own journey, I felt it would be disingenuous to talk about costs without providing actual numbers.

On the right is a screenshot of a cost analysis spreadsheet I created to track my 2017 Surtex expenses, broken up into four categories. And as an analytics nut, I also calculated the cost percentage for each category (to see where my money was going).


Now before you shout "There is NO way I could afford to spend that much!" I want you to know that it is possible to exhibit at Surtex for significantly less than $9K.


The Cost to Exhibit at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I made several thoughtful decisions that contributed to the overall costs you see above, however, many factors can heavily impact the overall cost (and make it higher OR lower). Here's just three expenses that deeply affected my overall costs:

Booth Size

There were 3 standard booth sizes available for Surtex 2017:

  • 5x10: $2,700
  • 8x10: $4,120
  • 10x10: $4,900

The 5x10 booth is part of the Design District which is only available to first time exhibitors. And while I did initially consider the 5x10 booth as a newbie, after seeing the 2016 booth configuration and the lack of privacy those exhibitors got, I decided on the 8x10 instead.

It was absolutely the right decision for me, however, I know a few designers who exhibited in the Design District this year that are not only on their way to securing deals with buyers, but one has already received representation from a well known agency. So you could potentially save almost $1,500 from exhibiting in a 5x10 booth or even split an 8x10 booth like the girls at the Pattern Social and save about $2K.

My 8x10 Booth Mockup for Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

Choice of Accommodations

You may have noticed that my hotel cost seems incredibly high. But there were two major reasons for this:

  1. My husband joined me for Surtex, however, since accommodations are a necessity when traveling for work, the entire hotel bill during the trade show qualifies as a business expense (and can be deducted from my taxes).
  2. I'm a Best Western rewards member and although I could have stayed at a cheaper hotel, I decided to reserve a room at the closest Best Western to the Javits, which just happens to be one of their Premier hotels. So while it was more expensive than other hotels, I also benefited by racking up lots of reward points.

Next year I will probably do things a bit differently and stay at a hotel that's much closer to the Javits. Also, a friend and fellow designer will likely be accompanying me which means we'll split the cost of the room 50/50. In the end, that will save me around $900.

Marketing Materials

All of my marketing costs associated with Surtex 2017 add up to less than 10% of my overall expenses, however, that's still nearly $800! If I had to do it all over again, I'd make some changes that would have saved me about $300:

  • Business Cards: I mentioned this in the last post, but I panicked and bought 550 cards yet I needed WAY less than that! I wouldn't bother purchasing more than 200-300. 
  • Press Kit Cards: I felt like these were a waste of time and money. Instead, I'd rather just print a few more promotional postcards to have at my booth.
  • Mailing Charges: I spent $70 just for 2-day shipping to get my initial set of banners to my friend's house (read the entire horror story here). Next time I know not to waste money with quick shipping and instead ship my stuff much earlier.
  • Giveaways & Product Mockups: While I didn't go overboard with either, I still feel like I didn't need nearly as much as I had. Next year I plan on getting less product mockups made and only having 100 buttons to give away.

While my costs for 2017 were nearly $9K, I plan to spend less for 2018. But I want you to know IT IS possible to exhibit at Surtex for around $5K (if you are in the Design District or share a booth with someone).

Of course I realize that $5K is still A LOT of money and not everyone will have the business resources to immediately pony up that kind of cash. However, if exhibiting at a trade show is something you're seriously considering, I'd encourage you to spend a year or two saving up for it (like Nicole Tamarin did for her first time at Surtex in 2012).
 

My ROI: The Value of Exhibiting at Surtex

It's been exactly 3 months since Surtex and I purposely waited to discuss the show's cost and value last so I had a much time as possible to track how well I did as a result from exhibiting. So the real question is what did I gain from the $8,712.34 spent on exhibiting at Surtex?

In the 3 months since Surtex, I've already secured contracts and commissions with more than 5 different companies and the income received will easily surpass my costs associated with Surtex 2017.

So yes, the financial gamble I took when I decided to exhibit has DEFINITELY paid off!

Stuck on You Collection | ©2017, Shannon McNab

However, I feel that the value of exhibiting at a trade show extends beyond just my generated trade show income. Here are just a few other reasons I feel Surtex was worth the cost I paid:

  • Company Contacts: Hunting down contact info is a tedious process. And even if you find it and cold call or email them, there's no guarantee you'll hear back or that you've contacted the right person. But at Surtex, you are literally in front of hundreds of companies in the span of 3 days AND you can actually get their correct contact info.
    Also, in the fast paced, internet age we live in, there's something to be said for having in-person conversations. I feel these connections make all those who choose to exhibit, much stronger candidates to companies looking for designs.
  • Great Market Research: Not only do you get to see what trends are dominating other designers' booths, you also get to hear what themes companies are looking for. My favorite question to ask buyers was "What are you looking for?" People who are interested in your work will be really candid and specific with what they want, so I came home with a list of motifs I'm hoping to add to my portfolio over the next year.
    For example, several companies asked for cacti and so the first new portfolio piece I designed after I got home was a cactus themed pattern (see above). I'm happy to report that it's already been licensed to a Brazilian fabric company.
  • Building Community Ties: 90% of the time, I work at home. Being constantly by myself can get lonely and that's why I am so thankful for all the connections I made with fellow designers at Surtex. Since we're all dealing with the same challenges, exhibiting at a show brings you together in a unique way. I was happily surprised to bond with several designers and look forward to seeing them at the show next year!

I realize that was a lot of information to take in, so if you made it to the end... bravo!!! I hope you've enjoyed my post-Surtex blog series and that it's given you some insight into how to make a trade show experience successful.

I'd like to continue blogging about trade shows and touch on things I haven't had a chance to yet, but I think I'll take a few months break from it for now so I can once again focus on building up my portfolio for next year's show (yup, I'm already signed up for 2018)!

If there's anything you'd like me to discuss in future posts, please feel free to post them in the comments below.