The Basics of Surface Design Marketing

Last time, I shared the biggest myth in surface designI have to produce a lot of art to earn good money – and the first step to solving it: adding to your portfolio strategically. But that’s not the whole picture because focusing on your portfolio alone won’t get your art licensed.

It’s one of the biggest missteps I see from artists: they focus almost all of their attention on their portfolio and then wonder why they haven’t gotten anywhere. Well, I’m going to answer that with the second step to overcoming that myth which is…

Do more marketing.

Did you just get a little uncomfortable reading that? If so, you’re not alone.

Most artists associate “marketing” with words like sleazy, obnoxious, or pushy and it’s not surprising given the fact that most of us have never been taught how to market ourselves as an artist.

But what if you approached marketing not like a sleazy car salesman trying to make a buck, but as a creative problem solver? Companies work with surface designers because they need art to help them sell more products.

So by reaching out and marketing yourself to companies, you are actually HELPING them solve their art problem!

In order to grow your business, you should spend a minimum of 30-50% of your time on marketing (and all that entails), especially for the first few years in business. And MOST of that time should be finding and contacting companies (no, scrolling endlessly on Instagram does not count).

Now you might be thinking that’s all great, but I still need to find time to make art, don’t I? And you’re right! But you can can create far less art than you think (like 5 to 6 pieces per month) AND still grow your business.

Don’t believe me?

How about I share some numbers from my surface design business to prove it? Here’s my first 4 years as a surface designer with the number of designs I created and the income I made from my art.*

Year 1: 2016
66 designs – made $3k

Year 2: 2017
66 designs – made $12k

Year 3: 2018
41 designs – made $27k

Year 4: 2019
41 designs – made $29k

And what about 2020 so far?

I’ve only made 11 designs (gonna be honest and tell you that I haven’t done any portfolio work since May), but I’ve made $24.5k …and it’s only August! So not only have I made less art each year, but I’ve also increased my income every single year (and plan to this year too, even with a pandemic).

So how did I do it and more importantly, how can you have the same results in your surface design business?

The key to survival in this industry is having a healthy contact list and repeat customers.

And that brings us back to marketing. If you have killer portfolio, but you don’t send it to anyone (or only send it sporadically), how do you ever expect to build a contact list and your income?

So find companies and email them your art… a LOT.

It’s as simple as that!

However, I realize that even though it’s simple, that doesn’t mean it’s quick or easy. You also may have a lot of questions like…

What are the best companies for my art? Choose only those companies that are a GOOD fit for your art style and the markets you want to work in. 

How do I package my designs to share with art directors? The simpler the better – you don’t even need to bother with things like mockups (yes, really)!

What do I say in the email? Keep it short, personable, and make it about THEM, not you!

And you’re not alone in worrying about these kinds of details!

It’s why I developed Pitch Your Portfolio, our signature course that shows you step-by-step how to find, connect with, and present your art to companies. Enrollment opens once a year, so if you’re interested in learning more about the program and want to join its 600+ students, just click the link above.

*Please note that the income numbers are ONLY from what I made from surface design (licensing, buyouts, and freelance projects with companies) and does not include my other income channels or reflect my total yearly income.

  1. Cait Kirste says:

    Thank you Shannon for sharing your design income. Wow, it is so hard to get money numbers from anyone and it’s so critical when developing plans and goals. I take classes and workshops and inevitably someone asks about what is the potential income stream and the answer is always an equivocal ‘it depends’ and it’s ‘so individual’. Which feels like such an evasion and leaves those of us trying to break in wondering if the majority of the instructor’s income stream is from classes they sell rather than design work (which is fine, but I want to know how I can plan my pursuit and how much I may need to supplement my income over time). I know it’s personal, and my possible income will vary, but having any kind of reference is so helpful. I love all the info you share with the surface design community. Thank you, Cait Kirste

    • Shannon McNab says:

      Your welcome Cait! You’re so right – income is incredibly personal and can wildly fluctuate from designer to designer, but I’m glad this helped. I aim to do what I can to be transparent about pricing and hope our industry is more open about it in the future.

  2. Emanuela says:

    Thank you so much Shannon for sharing your expertise and great information! I am a jewelry maker and have spent my whole career in this field, I have been drawing forever though and recently took that up to a higher level as I want to add this other field to my revenue stream. I do not (yet) know much about the professional and business of drawing and illustration, but am learning. Took quite a few classes of yours on Skillshare and am very happy with the content you are providing. I will be following and thank you again!


  3. Laurie says:

    I guess cause its an older post but the link for the webinar isn’t working for me?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I’ll send you design inspiration, helpful business tips, and a whole lotta support on the regular. Sound good?

Let’s be friends

is you!

The best advocate for your art...

explore courses

Website Design by With Grace and Gold

Copyright 2024 Sketch Design Repeat Ltd

Terms        Privacy        Contact