Year in Review as a Surface Designer in 2021

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My Year in Review

Every December I like to reflect on the past year and review my progress. What went well, what didn’t and taking note of everything I’ve accomplished. It also happens to be my first full year of working towards my creative goals, and you know what?! I accomplished so much this year, it's crazy! Had I not looked back and reviewed my year, I wouldn't have guessed how much I actually did. I highly recommend it if you haven’t done it yourself!!

I thought I would take a moment to share with you my top highlights, accomplishments and lessons learned from this past year!

Word of the Year

This year was the first year I actively decided to set myself up with a word (or 2) to describe what I wanted my year to be like. My words for 2021 were Dream and Create. I wanted to dream all the dreams, but I also needed to create the opportunities to make those dreams come true. It's important to dream big, but I think it's even more important to not let your dreams sit idly by, you gotta work to make them a reality! So let us review what my goals were and how they played out, shall we?

One of the first things I did was to illustrate my words of the year. I thought that doing so would help keep them at the forefront of my mind. Which it did! I included some of the goals I had for myself then posted the final illustration on Instagram at the beginning of January 2021. A few months later, this same illustration was featured on Bonnie Christine’s @wearesurfacepatterndesign Instagram account to my surprise. That was a happy day indeed and also one of my first features!

Challenges & Contests

I participated in a bunch of art challenges and contests this year which kept me super motivated to create for my portfolio. It gave me some much-needed experience working under an art deadline and design brief and allowed me to be part of a community of folks who all share similar interests!

I placed top 30 in @yolohayoga yoga mat contest, and I was featured in @jehane_ltd Caring Colouring 2, which was a colouring book to help raise funds and awareness for the protection of our oceans. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.

The question you may be asking yourself here is whether I would participate in more challenges and contests in the future and would I recommend it? Or maybe not, but I know I’d be curious to know someone else’s perspective on the topic. 

I would definitely do them again, but I would be more selective of the challenges and contests I choose to participate in. Quality over quantity and all that. I would definitely participate in more community lead challenges where the goal is usually to grow your body of work and increase your skill set. Those are usually really fun and super tailored for surface designers and illustrators. 

As for contests where there are prizes to be won, I would be most selective about these. Company and brand reputation matter here for me, I’d evaluate what I’d have to gain from the work and whether that makes it worth my while. Those criteria will definitely vary from person to person though.

I might write a blog post to dive deeper into the pros and cons if ever there’s an interest in reading more about this but for now, I think that sums up the surface level of my thoughts. Conclusion: I would recommend it depending on your needs but I would be choosy about which ones I participate in.

Portfolio

I spent a lot of time this past year assessing my artwork and style. What did I want my artwork to look like, what subject matter did I want to focus on, what colour palettes felt the most natural to me, and what themes I wanted to create for. I spent time researching, experimenting and investing in courses to gain the knowledge I needed to be better equipped to evaluate my work, build my first portfolio and start reaching out to art directors with my art. I couldn't have done it without the help of Elizabeth Silver and Sketch Design Repeat for their various challenges and resources. Their industry insight and experience gave me the confidence I needed to press send and to keep pressing send every month since.

Shops & Income

Next up, I wanted to continue to build my POD shops by adding new artwork to Society6 and Redbubble and start researching new prospects that would fit with my goals for the year. I ended up opening up a Spoonflower and Thortful shop. I will admit, however, that my POD ventures weren't as successful as I would’ve hoped, but it's provided me with a lot more understanding of what to try for next year.

Both Society6 and Redbubble required a lot of effort and even with a bunch of marketing on my part, sales were slim pickings. Traction and growth were hard to attain and that’s especially true if you weren’t chasing the next big trend, which I definitely wasn’t. 

Spoonflower on the other hand feels more promising. Even if I haven’t invested a lot of my time there this year and I haven't made any sales yet, I feel it has way more potential for the type of artwork I create. Plus they also have weekly art challenges and a very active creative community as well, which is always welcome!

Thortful was a gamble for me, honestly. I wanted to get my feet wet a little in the world of greeting cards to see if it was something I was interested in and see if my art would sell. So a huge experiment on my part. Turns out, in the last 2 months alone with no marketing, I have made more income from 1 card than I have this year with Society6 and Redbubble combined. I’m flabbergasted! I didn’t expect that at all. So I think for next year I will continue investing my time and energy here to see if I can grow this puppy.

Website

Launching my portfolio website in 2021 was another one of my goals. If you’re reading this then you already know that was accomplished! Not only did I launch my website in April but I redesigned it from the ground up and relaunched it this past November and I also added a blog! I wanted my website to be more consistent and a better reflection of who I am. I’m pretty happy with the end result!

Social Media

When it comes to social media I set myself up with only a couple of goals. I wanted to post regularly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Both Twitter and Facebook didn’t fare too well, Instagram on the other hand was the most engaging overall. My second goal was to increase my Instagram following. I started with 200 followers in January 2021 and wanted to double it by the end of the year. I’m so fortunate that not only did I attain that goal but I surpassed it! Shout out to everyone who follows me on social, your supoort means the world to me. Thank you!

Will I continue to post to Twitter and Facebook next year? Is it worth it even if it's only the sound of crickets I hear there? I'm not too sure honestly...

Final Thoughts

2021 was a full year for my art biz. I had a lot of ambitious plans and goals I wanted to achieve, some were even a little intimidating. Several were definitely more successful than others but in the end, I realized most of them, which is crazy to me. The goals that weren’t successful, I learnt a lot from at least trying them out. I had originally told myself that if I completed at least half my list I would’ve considered it a successful year. It just goes to prove yet again that if you really put your mind to something, and you work at it little by little every day, you'll make great progress when you add it all up at the end of the year!

Here’s to next year with a whole new set of goals and aspirations! I hope you had a great 2021 and an even better 2022!

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