Starting an art career later in life with Sarah Bertochi

Starting an art career later in life with Sarah Bertochi
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Hi guys – Today I’m excited to share with you the work of surface pattern designer, Sarah Bertochi. Sarah came to pattern design later in life after leaving a successful sales career. In this interview she talks about what it was like leaving one career behind to start another. She also shares how she quiets her critical, inner voice when it tries to let fear derail her artistic journey.

This is a great interview for anyone, but especially those of you hoping to start a career in surface pattern design. Enjoy!


Hi Sarah! Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now.

I have always been creative, but it was not something I explored very much or even recognized in myself until much later in life. My journey to where I am today did not follow a traditional path. I did not go to art school. In fact it never occurred to me that you could actually have a career making art. I come from a family of intellectuals, so it was just expected that I would go on to college and have a “business” career, which I did.

I enjoyed a long, successful outside sales career for almost 30 years.  In that time, I worked quite a bit with architects and designers.  I loved the tremendous energy and creative ideas which resulted from those interactions. It was for a very long time very satisfying work. At some point, however, I realized I wanted to “get my hand dirty” so to speak. I was no longer happy just watching others be creative, I needed to be the creative one.

I went back to school while working full-time and completed a graphic design program.  It took about 2 years to finish school and at that point I decided to retire from my sales career. I initially explored finding clients by doing more traditional branding/marketing projects. But honestly, I found the work boring and it felt too much like “work”. Around this time I discovered surface pattern design totally by accident. I took a Skillshare class by Bonnie Christine and loved it. 

I knew almost immediately that I had discovered something which made me truly happy.  So began my journey in pattern design.  I have been diligently working away on my pattern portfolio and have a list of dream clients who I am slowly but surely reaching out to in the hopes of one day landing a deal.  I have had some measure of success but it’s a long, slow process.  Everyday I learn something new and as long as it continues to make me smile I’ll keep plugging away at it.


Was it hard making a change? To embrace your artistic side later in life?

I took a leap of faith and have no regrets.  I was very fortunate to have had a successful career that put me in a good position financially. I just felt that the timing was right. I now realize that I should have left my sales career 5 years prior, but I was too afraid.  It took awhile to convince myself it was the right choice.

Now that I have been at it, I still have moments of doubt and wonder “how will I do this?” I do not question my decision to become an artist but rather question what to do next. “I do not know what I am doing” and “someone is going to find me out” are conversations I have with myself all the time.

Sarah Bertochi Patterns


How do you handle these doubts and move forward with your work?

I find it’s important to “take a deep breath” and ‘“reset” when you have these moments of self doubt. Keep in mind, your journey is unique to you – there is no handbook to follow.  Remind yourself why you do what you do. Personally, I get great joy and satisfaction out of the act of creation. Push thru those awkward and uncomfortable moments when you are not quite sure “is this going to work” and then look back on what you have accomplished. You’ll find it’s very rewarding.

Let go of “perfect”, especially if you are trying something new. Okay is good enough, and even if the work is bad at least you tried. There is a lesson in that. Now you know what doesn’t work so get back at it and try again.  You’ll only get better. The process of “trying again” is a big part of learning your craft, of growing as an artist. It’s what will eventually lead you to discover your own unique signature style.


Can you tell us a bit about your design process, from inspiration to a finished piece?

I generally start with an overall theme I want to explore and do some research online about the subject matter. I then like to take my own photographs, or if that is not possible, find images which I can reference for inspiration.  I love using Pinterest for this.  While I will sketch out some rough ideas in pencil, most of my actual pattern work is done digitally. I work mostly in Illustrator and occasionally in Photoshop. I recently purchased an iPad Pro and I am loving what it has done for my workflow.  It’s a huge time saver. 

If I am not creating a pattern to license, but rather it is something I want to block or screen print, I will not work digitally at all.  I work out the pattern repeat manually by test printing on paper. Only after I have worked out all the nuances of the design will I then print on fabric.  The majority of the fabric I print (either block print or screen print) I cut up and sew into products which I sell at shows as well as online.  I hope to also wholesale these pieces.


Recently you hosted your very first workshop. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yes! I am super excited about this next phase in my creative journey.  I love to block print and was excited to share what I know with the workshop participants

The class was geared towards students who had never block printed before and took place at a local boutique which is housed on the grounds of a lovely old dairy farm.  The workshop was fun and teaching was a great experience. I was very fortunate to have a great group of ladies who were easy going and excited to learn a new skill.

I’m an introvert (despite my sales background) and as such I am not entirely comfortable talking about myself.  I’m fine talking about products, ‘how to’s’, etc but I do not like the focus to be on me. The only point during the class where I felt a tad nervous was at the beginning when making introductions. I started off with a bit about myself and then turned it over to my students to introduce themselves. I’m pretty sure I did not come across as nervous (I have a good poker face) but I did feel it.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the rest of the teaching experience was. I guess I was better prepared than I gave myself credit for.

Sarah Bertochi Screenprinting


What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your art career?

My biggest challenges by far have been getting noticed and finding the right audience for my work. Sometimes it feels like I am swimming against the tide…there are so many talented artists. I just have to remind myself that their style is not my style and eventually I will find that special client who loves what I do.  I’m patient, and since I am not working against a deadline, I will continue to prospect and reach out to art directors and buyers.


What advice can you give others who are just starting out and hoping to follow a similar path?

Find your “tribe”. I know it sounds cliche, but a supportive community is huge. You cannot do it alone. I am very lucky to have a great team of loyal family and friends. They have supported my work, and when I’ve needed it, have made introductions on my behalf that opened doors to new work. 

Keep learning. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my skill set.  I take as many classes as I can and read whatever I can get a hold of that will help move my work forward.

Find a mentor. This should be someone that is willing to share what they know and help push and motivate you.  I was very fortunately to have connected with fellow surface pattern designer, Nicole Tamarin. She provided invaluable insight when I was just getting started and was a sounding board for many of the questions I had. 

Sarah Bertochi products


Can you tell us a few fun things about you that we do not already know?

I love to play golf although I am not very good at it.  I play in a very low key ladies 9 hole league Monday afternoons.  There is nothing better than hitting that perfect shot, spending the afternoon walking a beautiful course and having a glass of wine and laughs when it’s all over.


Want to see more of Sarah’s work?

You can find her on Instagram and can connect with her via her website.


And if you liked this interview, please check out other featured designers.

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