UPB Graduate Interview: Shannon McNab



Today we are delighted to share with you an interview with Shannon McNab, a graphic designer turned surface designer living in San Francisco, CA. Her colourful, whimsical style is inspired by classic Disney animation and vintage children’s book illustrators like Jim Flora & Mary Blair. Shannon took part in the September 2016 class of The Ultimate Portfolio Builder.


  • When did your interest in design first start and how did that come about?

Since I was a child, I’ve always been drawn to the arts, so when I went off to college I knew I wanted a career in design. By my love affair with surface design didn’t start until I went to graduate school for graphic design. While working towards my degree, I took every screen printing, pattern and textile elective I could fit into my class schedule and I was hooked!


  • What steps did you take to get to where you are now as a designer?

After graduate school, I pursued a career in graphic design, but surface design was always on my mind. So while working a full-time in corporate design job, I started creating patterns at night and selling them to the digital scrapbook community. Eventually, digital scrapbook design became my full-time focus and that’s where I really developed my personal design style. Then last summer, I decided to retire from that industry so I could pursue surface design full-time.


  • How would you describe your style?

Hand-drawn and whimsical featuring saturated colour palettes and influenced by 1950’s children’s book illustrators.


  • What are you working on currently?

I’m currently working on building my portfolio and getting ready for my very first trade show at Surtex this May.



  • What advice would you give emerging designers wanting to build their portfolios?

Practice, practice, practice. The more to sketch and design, the stronger you’ll get. Also, make sure to stay true to yourself. With all the beautiful work on social media, it can be really easy to doubt yourself and chase trends, but don’t. There’s nothing wrong with going to Instagram or Pinterest to be inspired, but don’t let that hamper your natural talent.

smcnab_hopscotchImage Credits: Hopscotch designed for Becky Higgins LLC

  • What would be your dream design gig?

I’m a dreamer at heart, so it’s hard for me to narrow it down to just one. One of my realistic dreams is to develop an entire fabric line for a wonderful company like Robert Kaufmann or Dashwood Studios. And my “reach for the stars, pie-in-the-sky” dream is to eventually become a designer who showcases work in the Wonderground Gallery run by Disney.


  • Looking ahead what are your major goals for the next couple of years?

My big goal for 2017 is to exhibit at Surtex in May and come away with a few strong contacts in the industry. From there, I’m planning to continue building a strong and diverse portfolio for companies to license from while further honing my personal style.



  • If you were a pattern what kind of a pattern would you be and why?

A cheerful polka dot print that’s exploding with color. Polka dots are my favorite print to wear because they always put a smile on my face.


  • What was the most important lesson you took away from UPB?

Step outside your comfort zone. Florals come very easy to me to draw, but animals and people, not so much. Having the subject flash cards during the class was a great exercise in pushing myself to sketch things I was less comfortable with and as a result, I’m feeling more confident in sketching them now.


  • What difference did it make to have a supportive community of fellow students and how important do you think that will be going forward?

The Facebook group was wonderful because we could ask for opinions on our work or chat about issues we were having. Having a shared experience really brings you closer and I definitely plan on following some of my classmates on social media and watching their careers take off.


  • Please tell us about your experience of the live briefs and student work reviews.

The live briefs were the most exciting (and exhausting) part of the class for me. I’m thankful we had several weeks to complete them, otherwise I doubt I would have had time to do more than one! They were real-life examples of the types of freelance projects I’d love to get commissioned for in the future, so it felt like great practice for the industry.

Shannon McNab is a graphic designer turned surface designer living in San Francisco, CA. Her colorful, whimsical style is inspired by classic Disney animation and vintage children’s book illustrators like Jim Flora & Mary Blair. She’s been a scrapbooker and crafter nearly her entire life and her fondness for anything handmade heavily influences her design aesthetic.

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MIID_UPB_150PX_LRAmazed by what you see above from our talented students? Join our next class of The Ultimate Portfolio Builder which starts February 13, 2017.


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