Featured Designer: Erica Cizek


We are wrapping up this week’s focus on florals. Today I’d like to feature the work of Erica Cizek, a talented pattern designer and illustrator. Erica has a degree in computer graphics, graphic design, and typography, which is highlighted in her print and pattern work featured in today’s post.

I was really drawn to the charming nature of Erica’s work. When I look at her florals I feel swept up and taken to an idyllic land of dusty florals, lazy days, and friendly neighbors. Her work is such a nice escape from it all…

Erica explains that a huge part of her inspiration comes from her childhood.  “I grew up in a small beach town in Southern California, though crowded with residents and beach goers, the residents always found some creative and unique way of planting a tiny garden, whether in a small pot, or a hollowed out tree trunk.  The collection of flowers and plants always intrigued me. Additionally, every year I would visit my nana in Victoria B.C., Canada, where the gardens bloomed with the most amazing flowers. I would spend time working in the garden with her and learn about the different types of flowers and plants. We would also have tea in downtown Victoria, a place where the streets are lined with ornate lampposts with hanging flower baskets; truly inspirational. My trip would always include a visit to Butchart Gardens where the flowers and plants are planted in the most amazing designs and patterns. I learned to sew at a young age, and taught myself millinery style of making flowers out of ribbons and fabrics and would fashion my flowers after the flowers I saw. I ended up starting a business selling the flowers to shops around the world. Designing, creating, and mixing and hand painting the flowers has given me a deeper understanding into arrangement and picking colors in illustrator.”

All of Erica’s designs begin with sketches. “I keep a to-go bag of pencils, brush pens, and a small sketch book that I take with me everywhere. I have two teenagers, which means I spend a lot of time relocating them from one place to another. Some of my best sketches and ideas came from sitting in my mini van waiting for my kids to come out of practice. My sketches then end up in illustrator or on my iPad Pro, where I select colors and I use the pen tool or brushes to draw over my sketches. I like to vary styles and incorporate different techniques, such as adding details with textures or lines made with various pencils, brush pens, sponges, and crayons. I’ll bring the textures into illustrator to digitize and recolor to add to my designs.”


Erica is actually new to the pattern design industry (welcome Erica!) after spending many years in advertising and packaging design. “Working in advertising and packaging design helped with my self-critique, eye flow for my illustrations and patterns, and my use and design of typography. When I designed ads for magazines, it was crucial to consider eye flow, where the eye is drawn first and where it goes next and does it get trapped in a particular spot. I also consider the eye flow when I design a pattern or illustration.”

“Use of scale and color for the focal points, complimentary and contrast within the ad and also the surrounding ads and artwork has helped with designing complimentary and blending patterns. Though I do design fonts as well as hand drawn and illustrated typography, type styles and font choices and how they work together and the scale and size of the ad has helped when designing typography in my illustrative work and inspired the fonts I have designed.

“Packaging design has helped me think of the tangible side of illustrative and pattern design. If it’s a pattern, I think of what it would be applied to, would it have a textured finish or a smooth finish, and how I can use that to compliment the pattern.”

You can see more of Erica’s charming work here. Stop by and say hello!



The Repeat Downbeat: Embracing Florals

Florals are one of the most popular motifs in our industry, but when I mention florals to some designers, it is often followed by a frustrating sigh. Then perhaps a comment such as, “But I am so not a floral person.”

I get it. At one point in time, I also categorized myself as “anti-floral.”

Pattern design by Kevin Brackley

Pattern design by Kevin Brackley

Are you ready for a challenge?  I challenge all you “non-floral” designers to create a floral that is you. Not because you have to make florals to make it in this industry, but because your unique perspective and point of view is valuable. It will likely lead to unique, eye catching work. Florals don’t have to be overly sweet, classic, or vintage. They can be bold, emotive, layered, and 100% “you.”

Let’s look at some of the unique florals that I observed this week:

Expressive Line Weight

This beautifully delicate, yet bold floral from Textile Design Lab member Kevin Brackley quickly caught my eye. The expressive line weight variation and detailed background texture all work together to create a very bold, dynamic floral that I feel appeals to those who prefer a bolder take on the traditional floral.

Pattern design by Kathleen Ruhl

Pattern design by Kathleen Ruhl

Pattern Fills

Not everyone might read this stunning pattern from Textile Design Lab member Kathleen Ruhl as a floral, but the abstract stem and petal motifs are very floral-like—with an almost camouflage twist. I was really drawn to the pattern fills, bold colors, and various layers that Kathleen included in this pattern. It’s a wonderful example of making a floral pattern that doesn’t feel overly floral or delicate. Like the floral from Kevin Brackley, I think the layering of motifs brings so much depth and dimension to the piece.


Abstract Motifs

To continue to study the benefits of layering within your florals, this piece by Textile Design Lab member, Pamela Gatens is definitely an eye-catcher. The more abstract floral motifs are a wonderful variation on traditional floral motifs. Additionally, the layering of various leaves and stems in various colors keeps the eye searching and moving through the poetic pattern layout.

Floral pattern by Pamela Gatens

Floral pattern by Pamela Gatens

While we tend to have preconceived notions of floral motifs and patterns, the possibilities are endless. Run wild with the floral category and make it 100% you. Layer, get messy, or stay sweet, it’s all appreciated and accepted.

Florals are just one of the many popular motifs that we discuss in Surface Pattern Design Mastery. In this course you’ll discover:

  • The most common motifs used in surface pattern design
  • How to gather ideas and inspiration for motifs
  • A reliable system for turning your sketches, paintings, illustrations, and photographs into digital motifs in both Illustrator and Photoshop
  • Tips to working around some of the common issues that arise during this process, including how to reduce time spent on the technical process so there is more time available to work on creating motifs and designing your surface pattern layout

Grab your spot by Monday here.



Guest Expert Interview: Chris Olson

This month we have the privilege to welcome Chris Olson, experienced surface pattern designer and marketer, to the Textile Design Lab as our guest expert. Chris partners with brands to help them develop a marketing strategy through social media, webinars, and events. Projects include custom-branded content through design, writing, and editorial direction. Chris will be sharing some of her favorite marketing tips for surface pattern and textile designers on Tuesday, October 24th in the Textile Design Lab, but she is here today to tell us more about her work and her thoughts on social media.

Chris Olson on Surface Pattern Design Marketing

What drew you to social media and what do you enjoy most about this way of marketing your work?

I think social media marketing gives artists a unique opportunity for sharing both their art and the story behind the art. A studio scene or glimpse into the process of developing your artwork is just one of the many ways to engage your audience. By including social media in your marketing plan, each day you have the opportunity to introduce your brand to new clients and customers.

If you are only sharing your artwork and never commenting on posts and never sharing posts by other artists, you are missing out. Your brand will benefit when you engage often–not just sporadically–with your followers. Even if your studio is miles away from other artists, social media allows individual artists the opportunity to be part of a supportive and inspiring community without geographic boundaries.

What are some of the biggest challenges with marketing artwork and designs on social media?

As the manager of your brand’s social media marketing you are wearing many hats including brand strategist, photo stylist, art director, strategic storyteller and, of course, textile designer. You may be more comfortable in certain roles. However if you participate frequently on your favorite platforms you will develop expertise in marketing your brand. In my first job out of college, I was a book and magazine designer. Over time my job description expanded when my boss realized I had a talent for writing captions and marketing materials too. Chances are your design talents will also overlap with essential marketing skills.

We all want our artwork to be noticed by our dream clients and customers. In order to accomplish this, staying current on social media strategies and understanding the changing algorithms can be challenging. Social media platforms change over time. The algorithm on one channel for getting noticed may be totally new next week. Although that is frustrating—even to the popular kids on the block—keep in mind the evolving algorithm might end up working in your favor.

If you hear about a new development in social media marketing—do some fact checking. Don’t assume a short caption or tweet truly explains the issue. And double-check the date of the source. If you are getting advice from an article written over six months ago it may not be current and it may contain out-of-date information that will lead you to use ineffective methods. This can be especially true on Pinterest. Although a pin featuring a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe does not have an expiration date, a pin with a specific strategy for finding new followers on Instagram does. (If you can’t determine the date of the source, if it is pinned from a blog post, then go to the comments section and the dates are usually included when a comment is made.)

We will dive more into the topic of understanding how algorithms and analytics can help your marketing in a future post on Pattern Observer.

Do you have any tips on figuring out the best hashtags to help get your posts seen?

Be authentic and think strategically when selecting hashtags for captions. Copying and pasting the same hashtags over and over will not build engagement. This repetitive content can even lead to LESS engagement. On LinkedIn hashtags are not functional as a rule and do not encourage participation.

On Instagram and Twitter check out niche hashtags. Listen to what the community is saying and join the conversation on posts by others in a niche hashtag community. Remember, just using a niche hashtag on your posts and never commenting on other posts will not offer all the benefits of a design community online.

Chris Olson Surface Pattern Design Marketing

Have you noticed any current trends in social media marketing?

The best social media design is not a one size fits all matter. If your favorite artist or designer is successful with a specific branding format, this does not mean it will be the perfect fit for your brand. Once you understand the elements that make your designs shine, then you can begin to make a content strategy for branding and sharing online. Because of the grid layout on Instagram, this platform is a great place to experiment with elements of design and find out what works best for your brand.

Could you share your thoughts on what types of content get the most views?

The answer to this question is very specific to the platform and very time sensitive. In other words, what is working now according to the algorithm on each channel evolves over time. Right now, video tends to outperform images on Facebook and Instagram. Even in paid and boosted posts, video outperforms a photo.

How long does it take to build up a following and how much time do you think is needed to maintain a successful Instagram account?

I was the social media manager for Instagram at Pattern Observer for three years. During that time the reach and overall engagement grew at an amazing pace. Initially Instagram was a reverse-chronological feed of posts from accounts you followed. In other words, each time you opened your Instagram app you would see the most recent posts first. In 2016 Instagram changed this format and introduced an algorithm similar to Facebook. The idea behind the shift on the Instagram app was to enhance the user experience by helping people find the posts from the accounts they followed that would be most interesting to them. At the time, many critics thought Instagram would be ruined by the introduction of this new algorithm. There is some good news: people adapted to the shift. Initially the change created some panic among many users, but Instagram still works–just in a new way. On Instagram currently the algorithm boosts posts that gain more likes and authentic comments. And since comments take more effort on behalf of the user, these are weighted more heavily than likes.

Instagram continues to evolve. As I am writing this article, marketing experts are commenting on the newest developments on Instagram regarding paid promotions and how your posts are selected to reach a wider audience.

To answer the time management question, my word of advice is finding shortcuts or ways to save time does not always help you. A good rule of thumb is to avoid using automated solutions. In fact, on Instagram your account can be cancelled if you use automated posting apps. Read and follow the app terms of use and platform policies. This will explain what is allowed. If you strive to keep your account authentic, you will develop a marketing strategy that will benefit your brand over time.

Chris Olson Surface Pattern Design

What would you recommend to a newbie getting started on Instagram and Facebook?

Community over competition is a mantra worth following if you want to survive for the long haul in your design business and on social media. All of us–the newbies and the rock stars—face creative block and even failures. When this happens, nothing helps you get back on your feet quicker and stronger than talking to others in the community. This is exactly why the forums on Textile Design Lab are often the helpful hand that can be career changing.

Facebook has private groups that also allow individuals to share ideas and concerns that are relevant to a group topic in a private setting. Remember, you don’t have to share all the messy details of your so-called disaster, just start the conversation. Asking for advice can open doors to great friendships and even career partnerships.

And if that huge “disaster” happens—perhaps your newsletter subscription stops growing or an Instagram post only gets seen by 20 people–chances are someone else in your community has faced a similar issue and found a way to move forward.

Do you have a favorite platform and why?

It changes every day. That is exactly why I like social media marketing because the challenges and new discoveries continue to keep me interested. Each channel—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn—has a unique style. Depending on the account management, the audience for each platform can also be unique.

What would you say to those who are social media shy?

Think of social media as a way to keep in touch with your design community. Discuss the challenges and share success stories. Make thoughtful comments on the posts by others. Share the best ideas and images that represent you. That is how your brand will survive.

Taking a risk and sharing your art in the online world can seem daunting, but you will find amazing courses, podcasts and mini tutorials for social media marketing to help get you started. Before you enroll in a course or follow a tutorial, make sure it is current.

Here are a few online resources that stay up to date with trends and offer helpful guides and courses: Pattern Observer online courses, Textile Design Lab, Skillshare, Braid Creative, Being Boss Podcast, and Mediabistro.  I have used the resources in this list and I found them very beneficial for expanding my skills and introducing me to experts in the field.

Just as expanding your artistic expertise is important, learning new marketing skills will improve your brand. A few content suggestions to try: learn how to create a video post, promote your work with a Facebook ad, or join the conversation with Instagram Stories. All of these are great ways to grow your brand’s presence and widen your audience.

Can you tell us about your upcoming presentation in the Lab? What will you be covering?

I will be sharing some of my favorite tips for content creation and editing—including my favorite apps—to enhance your marketing in the Textile Design Lab later this month.

Want to learn more? Join us in the Textile Design Lab for the live presentation or say hello to Chris via her website.









The Repeat Downbeat

Set Layout by Samantha Wheatland

Set Layout by Samantha Wheatland

Our Surface Pattern Design Mastery course is starting on October 23, 2017 in the Textile Design Lab. That means that this week’s focus is on the four most popular layout styles within the textile and surface pattern design industry. Why do you need to know this? It’s simple—knowledge is power. When you know the pattern layout options available to you it’s easier to find the perfect layout for your motif more quickly. So let’s dive in.


First up—set layouts.

A set layout is when motifs are arranged on a grid, in either a straight or half drop repeat. While popular in all markets, set layouts are most common for use in home decor, wallpaper, quilting, and paper products. To create more dynamic set layouts you can layer patterns, like Samantha has done, or you can experiment with color pops. Set layouts are the first pattern layout style that we cover in our upcoming Surface Pattern Design Mastery course, because they are the easiest to create using the Illustrator Pattern Making Tool.

I love this set layout by Samantha Wheatland. What makes this pattern so beautiful is that Samantha has actually layered two set layouts.


Tossed Pattern by Ali Brooks

Tossed Pattern by Ali Brooks

Next—tossed layouts.

A tossed layout is one in which motifs are arranged in a scattered, but balanced way. Imagine that you toss a handful of autumn leaves up into the air, watching them fall to the ground. They land in a scattered pattern. Some facing up; some facing down. Some turned to the left; others to the right.

The tossed layout is one that I recommend all designers begin to use. A great example is the one here by Ali Brooks. This is a tossed surface pattern design layout. While popular in all markets, tossed layouts are most commonly used in stationery, quilting, home décor, and children’s. Adding texture, similar to what Ali has done, is a great way to add more depth and interest to your tossed layout. I love the rich earthy details and colors that Ali chose to accentuate her fall motifs. It’s magical in a way.


Stripe by Jp Spanbauer

Stripe by Jp Spanbauer


If you have attended one of our TDL art critiques you probably know that I am obsessed with creating new and innovative interpretations of classic patterns, such as stripes. So when I saw this stripe pattern by Jp Spanbauer I almost fell out of my chair.

Let’s start with the stripe—it’s beautiful! The subtle wave and the color gradients are stunning. But, I really appreciate the storyline that he has created for the customer. Where is this hiker? What is he seeing? Where is she going? Jp Spanbauer has taken a pattern layout style that we all know – stripes – and pushed it into something spectacular.


And lastly—allover layouts.

An allover layout is when motifs are arranged in a compact and balanced way. Motifs are often overlapping and there is very little open ground. Allover layouts is a catch-all category. If you see a pattern layout in your research and you cannot pinpoint exactly what style it is, it is probably an allover pattern layout. Allover layouts can be even further categorized into allover florals, textures, etc…

Allover pattern by Bryna Shields

Allover pattern by Bryna Shields

Take this lovely texture by Bryna Shields. I would call this a textural pattern, but it could also be categorized as an allover pattern. This is actually the reason why we cover both layout styles in Surface Pattern Design Mastery. They are both so popular. With this pattern, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the bold color usage, movement, and dramatic expressiveness from the first time I saw it after it was posted to the #patternobserver feed. She could have spaced out the marks and brushstrokes, allowing for more room within each design, but she chose to layer the marks. This created a more energetic and engaging pattern.

These four layout options are all exciting for a designer; however, they don’t always come naturally. Thankfully you can learn to master them all during our upcoming Surface Pattern Design Mastery course. In this 6-week course you will discover how to turn your sketches, paintings, and illustrations into eye-catching surface pattern design layouts in less time. Plus, you’ll have access to our new surface pattern design layout templates, which allow you to create sophisticated patterns in minutes, not days.

To register for this members-only course, pay just $42.00/month to start your membership. No commitment. Cancel anytime. A small investment for a large return on fewer frustrations. Grab your spot here.




Surface Pattern Design Layout Chart

Surface Pattern Design Layout ChartWhen your pattern designs are flowing you feel great. Things click. Everything aligns and you are completely in sync with the rock star that you are. Then there are those “other times.”

“Other times” is code talk for struggles and challenges. When these things surface and you grow impatient, maybe even irritated. It can feel overwhelming and definitely frustrating. During these times you can honestly feel lost, like there’s no way past the hurdle. But there is and every designer has this happen to them at one point or another in their career. It’s inevitable, really.

It’s what you do when this happens that makes the difference. What do you do when it happens to you?

You might:

  • Keep adding motifs to your pattern in the hopes that more motifs will make for a more dynamic pattern
  • Publish or submit the pattern “as is” because you are just sick of looking at it and want to move onto your next idea
  • Question the artistic style of the motif, the color palette, and even the trend, and quit working on the pattern because it seems impossible to get just right

I’ve done all of these things in the past. So if you have, too, know that you are not alone.

But what I’ve found is that sometimes it just takes a different approach. While experimenting and investing time into our work is essential, we can go about it smartly and with fewer frustrations by knowing our pattern layout options.

This is where the Surface Pattern Design Layout Chart helps. It allows you to begin sparking new ideas with a fresh approach that leads to what you really want—the amazing pattern to appear before your eyes that you know you can create.

Here are what some designers have said about the Surface Pattern Design Layout Chart:

“This is perfect! A good reminder of what is possible, especially when you think nothing more is possible!” -Hollie Baker

“Many thanks! Very useful and inspiring.” -Rocco Fiumara

“Thank you! This is going on my pin board immediately.” -Jessica Halford

In this chart, you will have access to a brief overview of the most popular Surface Pattern Design Layout options, along with some simple ways that you can make your patterns more eye-catching. Not all layout options are included, but this is a great starting point. I hope this free resource sparks new ideas when you are stuck or feeling frustrated.

Download your free guide here.

To your creativity,



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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.