a pattern in progress

I thought I would share what a pattern might look like in the different stages from initial idea to a finished pattern repeat. Designing patterns is something I wanted to do for a very long time before I actually dived into it and took several courses learning the digital programs Illustrator and Photoshop. For me, loving to get messy with paints or clay, this was something I thought would be WAY above me and far from my intuitive way of working. I’m not a computer savvy person. That’s of course why it took me so long to try it. I also had some prejudices against computer manipulated art processes before I got a deeper understanding of the tools and the workflow. I soon realized that if I wanted to design patterns this part of the process would be hard, not to say impossible, to avoid! But once I started I was completely sold! It adds opportunities I never could have imagined and makes testing ideas so easy and effortless! I just LOVE it!

Now let’s have a very brief overview of the steps from an idea to a final surface pattern design…

1.Source your inspiration
1. Source your inspiration

1. Start looking around for inspiration. Anything that you find interesting can serve as a starting point. Maybe you’d like to create a mood board with pictures, items and sketches that will make a theme to work from. Beware of using any pictures you’ll find on the internet, those are protected by copyright laws! Instead make a habit sourcing your own inspiration right from the start! Now this photo was kind of a failure but still became the foundation of a pattern!

2. Now it’s time to sit down and sketch to get a feeling for the motif and find your colour palette. I don’t do many sketches like this, I have to confess, more often I just draw the outlines of a motif in black ink or with a markerpen on white paper. Clean black and white sketches are so much easier to import into Illustrator in the next step. This sketch is made with watercolour pencils, which I like a lot because they behave like normal pencils when you draw, but afterwards you can go back over with a wet brush  and voilà – suddenly it looks like a watercolour painting!

3. A crisp linedrawing is your best starting point before scanning the picture into your computer! You can either scan or just simply photograph it with your cellphone. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you want, you can clean it a little and bring up the contrast in Photoshop, but if you don’t have Photoshop you  just leave it like it is. The contrast is usually enough to trace the image in Illustrator anyway. So now you will “draw” the picture once more, but this time in Illustrator. This is called tracing and it will transform the static sketch into a dynamic vector image which you can increase in size endlessly, without loosing any of its properties like you do with pixel images. This helps in the upcoming manufacturing process where the repeats needs to be adjusted to the size of the surface printed.

4. Now the fun starts! Once you’ve imported the different elements that you would like to put in your pattern it’s time to move around everything until you finally think that it has found it’s proper place. This is also where you colour your artwork. In this step your technical skills as a surface pattern designer is needed, because here you create the actual tile that will build a perfectly seamless repeating pattern!

5. This is what the final tile for this particular pattern “Golden Berries” looks like. Above you see the final collection consisting  of a main print and some supporting prints to be combined harmoniously with the main one. From here you can add several colourways, like the blue one.

Of course there are lots of details that are fascinating in the process and I’ll be happy to share more about this later on… Meanwhile learn more with these books!


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