Surface Designer Spotlight: Sarah Milner

Join me in welcoming the spotlight designer for September, Sarah Milner. Not only are Sarah’s designs beautiful and feminine, but she is so clear on who she is as an artist and the type of companies she wants to work with. And I know you’ll enjoy her story!

Please Introduce Yourself

Hi there, I’m Sarah, an Australian surface pattern designer based in sunny far north Queensland. I live in a country town nestled between the palm tree lined tropical beaches and the outback. I started my business about 1 and 1/2 years ago and started learning about surface pattern design 12 months before that.

Tell us a little bit about your design journey.

I have always been creative and love to sew kids clothes. A Google search of how to create your own fabric led me to discover the wonderful world of surface pattern design — I couldn’t believe that this was an actual job!

I signed up to do an online MIID course with zip, nada, no design experience … I didn’t even know how to use our scanner at the time let alone Adobe software.

It was a big learning curve, and I’d sometimes want to have stern words with my computer. But, I loved it and 12 months into taking the course, I was asked by a few different companies if they could license some of my designs. So I (nervously) thought I’d better make it official and register as a business.

I still feel new to surface design and I am learning new information everyday, not only about design but also about running business and the sometimes confusing world of social media. But I love being part of an international community of designers and it’s so exciting when you get to see your patterns on real products out in the big wide world.

What do you struggle with most as a new designer?

I originally trained and worked as an occupational therapist, so I occasionally struggle with imposter syndrome — something in me feels like I need a ‘degree’ to be a legitimate contender in this industry.

I also struggled with learning the IT side of Adobe software. I used to always joke that I was not IT savvy (give me a pen and paper any day), but all I really needed was the motivation to learn, and pattern design has done that. I realize that everything is learnable, when you hit a hurdle there will be a way around it. I just need perseverance and patience with myself (& my computer).

Art designed by Sarah Milner |
What advice about the surface design industry has been most helpful to you in your career so far?

“Don’t compare your beginnings with someone else’s middle.”

It was very easy for me to want to be a year ahead of where I already was. To try and be ok rather than frustrated with where I was and my struggles with software, actually made it easier for me to learn where I was right then and gave me a clearer focus of how to set my goals to be where I wanted to get. Negative comparison with other artists is never helpful and stops me dead in my tracks with second guessing myself.

Taking the pressure off myself, to find my own style and allow myself to evolve as a designer, enables me to design patterns with joy and that are a reflection of who I am, not somebody else. Saying that, I love looking at other designers’ work and cheering them on.

What has been your favorite client collaboration to date and how did you find them?

Lilipinso, a French children’s decor brand. French + kids = yay! Lilipinso contacted me via Instagram, after seeing a pattern they wanted to use for wallpaper. They then asked me to create a whole room set around my original pattern including wall decals, art prints, rug and wallpaper. It was a dream job for me and they were a fantastic company to work with. I was given great feedback, as well as scope to create my own ideas and designs for the room. Oh, and I got free samples of all products with a generous commission too!

When you look back at your design journey so far, what are you most proud of?

That I took the leap into an industry I felt so ill-equipped to be part of. It was scary and frustrating at times but I’m so glad I took the plunge. I have now licensed patterns on four different continents. I am still learning and growing but I feel I am headed in the right direction.

Surface design by Sarah Milner |
Where do you see yourself in your career three years from now?

I would love to have regular and consistent income from my design work and ideally be working with brands that have an eco-friendly and fair trade conscience. I’m pleased to have worked with several companies who have this focus.

I would love my patterns to be a force for good in the world. For me, a truly beautiful product has a beautiful story behind it, too. My big picture dream is to have my own kids clothing/bedding line with this focus, too.

What advice would you give to surface designers who are struggling?

Reach out and find a community that you feel you are part of. I have asked so many questions, shared my concerns or struggles and posted my successes and I have always been met with helpful advice, honest feedback and encouragement. Write down your goals as to where you would like to be: the short, medium and big scary goals, and a realistic plan to achieve those goals.

Keep persevering and keep reaching and then keep persevering some more!
Where can we find you?


Wasn’t Sarah’s interview fun to read? I love that she’s not afraid to ask questions and dive into things even without having all the facts. And if you’d like to be featured on the SDR blog in the future, you can always submit your story right here!

  1. Thank you for sharing your amazing story! Perseverance is a great recommendation.

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