How to bring your commercial products to life with creative surface pattern design and art licensing (and how it became my latest obsession!)
Read time: Ten mins (with a break for inspo)
There are a lot of things you expect to find in Myers. Perfume samples? Naturally. Fashion goals? Of course. Career inspo? Nooope. Not usually. Except, that was EXACTLY what I found while my family and I were shopping in Myer’s last Christmas.
There we were: Looking up at a stand full of bright Maxwell Williams products covered in gorgeous, locally made artwork with the artist’s name splashed everywhere.
I glanced over at my husband and said, “One day, that’s going to be MY stand.”
I didn’t necessarily mean that I was going to have a stand in Myer or designs for Maxwell Williams (but, hey, a girl can dream and if Myer and Maxwell Williams are reading this… ‘sup? 😉).
Instead, I meant that one day I was going to have a collection of my artwork on products anywhere. It’d been a dream of mine for years, but that was my official “ah-ha” moment. And even though I knew nothing – seriously, NOTHING – about art licensing, I decided to do something about it and make my dream come true.
My surface pattern and art licensing origin story
If we haven’t formally met yet, hi, I’m Kat Potter …and I love colour! My mission is to make the world a happier and brighter place, so making art and seeing it out there in the big, beautiful world brings me an incredible amount of joy.
I studied visual art straight out of high school and majored in illustration, which led me to a career in print and graphic design for over 20 years.
I’ve freelanced on and off during that time and started my Graphic Design and Illustration business “Little Black Kat Creative” in 2014 as a side biz to my part-time Pre-Press designer job. (working EVERY NIGHT after the kids went to bed to build my biz up + single Mumming life at the same time!)
When my children were even littler ones, I was gifted a sewing machine from my super crafty Nana. I became addicted! I learnt how to sew and started making dresses and ragdolls for my daughter. On weekends, I’d hunt down new and unique fabrics, and even started selling some items at markets and in a couple of boutique handmade stores.
And even though it was just a fun hobby (and all the money I made went back into supplies), I’ve continued to harbour a soft spot for beautiful patterns. It just wasn’t on my radar to turn this love into my life work …yet.
In truth, I didn’t know I could. So, in 2020, I took the plunge and made Little Black Kat my full-time career. Hurrah!
Then, in 2021, Instagram started serving up posts from inspiring new local artists and designers who were building actual careers out of surface pattern design and art licensing. I did a double-take, released a few soft but hyped-up curse words, and signed up for Cass Deller’s Surface Pattern Design for Creative Entrepreneurs course.
Talk about a game-changer. Soon, I was navigating the world of art licensing (including design principals, technical set-ups, legals, and marketing) like a total pro.
And now? My very own pre-made pattern library has been launched, baby! Seriously, come check it out over here.
But what IS surface pattern design?
Easy: It’s pattern design that goes on a surface. Don’t give me that look. It really is! Okay, okay. Let’s get a little clearer. Surface pattern design educator, Cass Deller, explains it best when she says:
“Surface Pattern Design is the process where you take your artwork (hand crafted or digitally created) and transform it into a digital file (in most cases a seamless repeat) which you then send to a manufacturer to be used on a specific product.”
As a product creator and small business owner, it means you’d license a pattern design to print on your products.
And those potential products? Well, there are a lot of ‘em! For example, you’ll find surface pattern designs on:
Basically? Patterns are everywhere. And after reading this article, I bet you’re going to start noticing just how prolific they are!
More of a visual person? Here are some examples of surface pattern designs applied on popular products.
What’s the deal with art licensing?
Now that you know what surface pattern design is, you’re probably wondering about the process to turn an artist’s design into something you can print on your product.
Well, once you’ve found a design or artist aligned with your vision, you will enter an art licensing agreement with them.
Essentially, art licensing enables you to “rent” an artist’s design and use it on your product(s) for a set period of time.
That timeframe could be anywhere from a year to forever, and it could be an exclusive contract (which means you’re the only one allowed to use that design) or non-exclusive (other people can use it, too). Every art licensing agreement is different, but the artist always retains copyright of the design. For example, in my pre-made pattern library, I offer fully customisable designs with exclusive and non-exclusive options.
Then, once you’ve purchased your dream pattern, you can print it on your product and start selling it! Voila – your very own Maxwell Williams-esque display imbued with locally-made art. 😉