Process: Pattern Design

I love patterns and am curious about how they are made. Many of my art idols have had extensive pattern design experience, and looking at their work heightened my interest in the area even more. Luckily, there are several Skillshare classes on this subject, so learning the basics was fairly easy. I am also taking Lilla Roger's Make Art That Sells class where one of our requirements involved patterns, and below I outlined my drafting process for my class assignment.

I wanted my pattern to capture a hectic kitchen scene, and I started by doodling things that can be found in the kitchen: pots, pans, wooden spoons, spatulas, kettles, pasta, and produce. I overlapped the drawings because it added to the busyness I was going for.

When I was happy with my doodles, I traced them with a brush pen and scanned them into the computer. Since I was working on a technical repeat (meaning the images should line up when tiled), I made sure the alignment of my drawings were correct before coloring them in Photoshop. I was going for a vintage look so I opted to use a color palette that's darker than usual.

I was really happy with the dark grey version, but when I repeated the pattern on a larger scale, I noticed that there was a concentration of bigger drawings in some areas. I decided to make another draft to make my kitchen scene look more seamless and cohesive.

For the second draft I was a bit more ambitious; I wanted to integrate a bit of gouache in my artwork, so I painted the tomatoes instead of coloring them digitally. I think this touch added a much-needed brightness to my pattern. I also took out some elements from my drawing that don't fit well with my new "cooking pasta in tomato sauce" theme. I tried using the grey and navy background options again, and surprisingly, the blue worked this time, albeit in a different shade.

I was more satisfied with this pattern than the first one, but the final product still didn't feel submission-worthy to me. I felt like I wasn't challenging myself hard enough. My purpose for taking all these classes is to push myself creatively, so I decided to make another draft before turning in my assignment.

Before diving into my third (and that time I was hoping the final) draft, I did a self-assessment. What properties of my current pattern do I want to change in the next version? First, it was too crowded. Second, I used too many colors. Third, I thought the concept was not clear enough. In my next draft, I decided to leave some negative space (which was reaaaalllyyyy difficult for me), limit my colors, and come up with a simpler yet stronger concept.

My third draft showed carefully grouped kitchen items on repeat. I arranged on a diagonal so I would have some negative space while still making the pattern look like it's full of details. I stuck with the blue background and even made coordinates based on the same color palette and overall design theme.

After I saved this pattern set, I was thrilled. And when you are thrilled with your work, it is a sign that you're heading in the right direction. This draft was more polished than my previous attempts, and it's my first time making something that looks like this. I started mocking up my patterns on different products and that got me even more excited about unlocking this side of my art.

As I was getting ready to submit my assignment, another thought struck me. What if I try another color palette? Even though my draft #3 achieved the vintage look I was aiming for, I wanted to push myself even further, and in my case that meant not getting demotivated by several drafts. I kept some of the hues from my previous draft but went for lighter tints. I ended up liking this draft the most out of all the ones I made and turned this in as my class requirement.

Some takeaways from this process:

  • Never be afraid to kill your art babies. Even though you spend a lot of time coming up with ideas and making them better, that doesn't mean all of them are ripe for execution. Bring them to life, but don't be afraid to discard elements that don't contribute to your overall vision. Think of it like this: when you part with ideas that don't work, ultimately you are making more room for new ideas to come in.
  • Study, study, study. There's always something new to learn, and we are fortunate to have a fountain of resources within reach. My personal learning style is to join formal classes, but there are multiple ways to learn skills and techniques: workshops, online courses, self-study, browsing through books at local bookstores. Know what your learning style is and make time for it. You will not regret it.
  • Drafts are your friends. I have always been a one-draft person; once I have an idea, I will pursue it until the end and have nothing more of it when it's done. This pattern exercise has taught me that drafts help refine ideas and can make one better at self-critique. They also give you more insight into your process, which lets you tune in to what makes you tick as a creative.

I hope this peek into how I work inspires you to try new things with your art. Have a great week ahead!