Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Dylan M on Instagram. A fellow top teacher and lover of flowers and snark, Dylan always brings a realness that takes my breath away.
We chatted about design style and SO much more in our hour together and I wanted to share a few of the biggest takeaways with you today.
Trust Yourself and Your Art
Dylan has a very distinct style, yet when I asked her about her journey to discover her style, this is what she said:
What you are all seeing is not what I see – that’s just part of being an artist.
It was refreshing moment of honesty that even someone with such a strong creative voice struggles to see their work as clearly as we do from the outside. And it’s an important lesson that you can feel like a scattered mess when you design, yet your hand will be evident and other people can absolutely see you in your work – even if you can’t.
This is also true of the inspiration you take in. You should feel free to experiment with your art as much or as little as you like and there’s no wrong way to create.
We often feel comfort in consistency when creating artwork, but it’s not going to happen because your style will naturally evolve over time – much more quickly than you even imagine. As Dylan herself said:
The person I am today is already going to be different tomorrow.
You get to decide what’s right for you and you can still change your mind tomorrow. If you want to design in one style and one way right now, go for it. If you want to mix it up and design with different things every day, do it.
There’s no one “right” way to create and you are fine where you are right now. Even if that place has you feeling insecure, messy, or uncomfortable, you should trust yourself and know that as long as you show up and do the work, you’ll be ok and will grow as an artist.
Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules
Dylan and I are kindred spirits in part because we like to be a little rebellious and break some of the design rules we’re told we need to stick to. Like how you only have to have one design style – which is absolutely untrue!
There is no single path in this industry and you should never feel like you have to conform to a single style, color palette, or market to be successful.
In fact, Dylan and I both believe that having a body of work with lots of variety can actually be an asset because most companies just want good art – and a lot of it! So if you have multiple styles, you may have even more opportunities to get our art out into the world.
However, if you have multiple styles, you’ll need to know how to describe and present each of them and know that you may need to pitch them a little differently.
In fact, understanding your style, how to promote it, and which companies it’s best suited to is one of the most important things you should learn as a surface designer (whether you have 1 style or many).
Yet, I know it’s really tough to figure it out and that’s why understanding your portfolio is the first module of my Pitch Your Portfolio course – because it’s THAT important and I want to help you figure it out!
But it can also be incredibly valuable to get feedback from your peers, so I always advocate either getting an accountability partner or joining a few design related Facebook groups.
That way anytime you have a question or need outside opinions, you have artists you can go to who are on the exact same journey as you.
On Putting Yourself Out There
Dylan and I are also big believers in taking action, of getting out there and doing the work, but that doesn’t mean we never get intimidated by the goals we set for ourselves.
The truth is actually the opposite – we still get butterflies when pitching to a new client or creating artwork using a new medium – but we work through those feelings and do it anyway.
Like when I exhibited at Surtex for the first time in 2017 and had no clue what I was doing. Or when Dylan went to Quilt Market as a new designer, looking to land a fabric licensing deal:
It was a huge dream of mine to get a fabric collection… then I got to Quilt Market and was standing in the lobby – I wanted to go back to my hotel, order takeout and go home. I couldn’t believe I had to go in and shake people’s hands. It felt awful.
But guess what? She did it anyway, despite her fears and landed a fabric license with Windham fabrics because of it!
Which is why we both want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling afraid, confused or overwhelmed – it’s totally normal! Even as seasoned designers, we still get those butterflies, but have just had more experience working through them.
One of the best ways to reach those big, scary goals you set is by having a plan and to show up each day. And that means it’s important to be thoughtful, but realistic and have a process to get you from where you are now to where you want to go.
And THAT is the work! Signing up for a webinar on Instagram tips or a class on pattern design isn’t the work – that’s just procrastination.
Taking action, putting pen to paper, shaking hands, and pitching yourself via email, that’s the real work!
Dylan shared such wisdom and sincerity and these takeaways are from just the first half of our chat on Instagram! Here’s a link to her full interview.
I’d also HIGHLY recommend following her on Instagram or watching some of her classes on Skillshare (her Know Your Paint class was a game changer for me). In every space, Dylan always shows up in her unique, real way – making us smile, laugh, and feel not so lonely as artists.