I’ve had some setbacks. Can I make it in textile design?

I'm 24 and recently rece​ived a HND graphic design/illustration qualification. My background has always been art and design-related ever since GCSE art was the star subject to take.

I have been struggling to find a job in graphics or illustration for the past year and am now feeling rather low. Having these knockbacks has made me feel insecure, given me very low self esteem and as a result I'm lacking in motivation.

I'm now thinking of being a surface textile designer and I have been watching many textile design courses and going to degree shows. I've looked at many varieties of textile patterns, making garments, silk screen printing, silk screen printing on scarves. I have been drawing madly with pattern designs but dont know where to begin to make it professional. Do I need a qualification in this? Can I start by producing my own products? What pathway should I go down? What direction do I need to take?

— Emma Sutcliffe

Expert answers

Patricia van den Akker's reply:

It’s not easy to get a job as a graphic designer or illustrator, and many designers start by creating their own products and start their own business and career that way.

Etsy can often be a great first online sales outlet for designers and illustrators to get some sales and show their work. Some new graphic students have success by working through recruitment agencies too, or posting their work and services on online sites such as Behance, ArtsThread or Elance. And some start by pitching directly to other small businesses to show what they can do for them (such as branding, packaging, web design), and get work that way.

The problem is that there are many creatives out there and you do need to do your research to identify your specialism and what you are good at, and you need to do market research to find out who your potential clients or employers could be, and then approach them professionally. And keep trying as it’s unlikely you will succeed immediately.

I strongly suggest that you talk to some professional graphic designers or illustrators about how they started their career, and the marketing and promotion they had to do to get a job or indeed start their freelance career or business. You might want to look into learning more about marketing yourself, as there are many online courses and blog posts available, such as our website The Design Trust, or indeed the Red Lemon Club for illustrators. Start there first.

Considering a surface pattern course could be an interesting extension to your existing education, but be aware that it’s even harder to get a job within this field than in graphics as it is highly competitive, and there are many surface pattern graduates out there looking for (mostly freelance) work. I would strongly suggest that you do a bit more research into what the job actually entails, and what you would love doing the most. Making garments and silkscreen printing are the practical and technical aspects of this work, but a professional surface pattern designer would mostly design on a computer, for a client, who is very commercial. Most of the work in this area is highly commercial, and you would need to understand their market very well, and you would work mostly on a royalty basis as a freelancer.

You don’t necessarily need to do a degree, although it might help. I very often recommend the online surface pattern business courses by Rachael Taylor, which would give you a lot of practical experience and knowledge, and build up a professional portfolio to show to potential clients. As a professional surface pattern designer you need to know how the industry works, what the specific requirements are for printing and the market, and you need to know how to negotiate and read your contracts.

I wish you all the very best to find out what your talents are, and then approach the best clients for you and your skills.

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