handcrafted decoupage glass trays featuring original art & inspirational messages

Learn Pattern Design - Pattern Camp

Sheree Burlington4 Comments

I've long been interested in learning the art of Surface Pattern Design. Surface

 pattern designers create the seamlessly repeating patterns you see on products all around you - from the floral on your favorite shirt to the bearded penguins on your pajama pants. You'll find their work on stationery, fabric, wallpaper and more. The next time you see a cool pattern on a comforter, wrapping paper or throw pillow, know that behind it is a pattern designer who probably has no life. 

Since I'm really good at no life, I signed up for a couple of online courses. My first class was Jessica Swift's Pattern Camp . Pattern Camp is an intensive, weekend long online course. Password protected videos  are posted at regular intervals, allowing students to follow the tutorials, then post their completed work to a members-only Facebook group. 

Jessica Swift is delightful - she's kind hearted and generous and she's a homebody just like me. Her work is free and playful and colorful and all kinds of good things. And she selflessly shares her entire process - rare in our don't touch my stuff world. Her course assumes no prior Photoshop (PS) or Adobe Illustrator (Ai) experience and starts with step by step instructions covering the most basic functions of each program. 

I've used Photoshop for several years and while I can't erase your zits or de-shine your oily forehead, I can cut your ex-husband out of your image and place a crown on your head. Since I'd never even opened a file in Adobe Illustrator, I spent a lot of pre-class time viewing and reviewing her step-by-step intro to Ai video. 

Pattern creation may sound like a simple thing, but it totally isn't. My design ego suffered a terrible blow trying to learn this stuff. Lest you get the wrong idea about my design ego, know that it is inflated enough to lead me to completely ignore the instructions. Which were: Create your first basic pattern repeat using a single motif. One. Uno. Une. 


Shortly after completing the first basic, day-one design video, other students began joyfully posting pattern after pattern on our Facebook page. My first pattern repeat took days to complete. I had something like 8 different motifs on my desktop and was completely hung up by trying to place them in a designer-ly fashion. After nearly a week of starting and deleting dozens of hopelessly complex patterns, I finally resorted to following the instructions. Sort of.  I eliminated all but two motifs (slow learner) and went on to create my first pattern.


By the time I posted this silly little ditty to Facebook, many of the other students were sharing gorgeously colored, wonderfully complex and layered patterns. Some of the work was professional quality - worthy of any licensing deal. I was a like stick person standing next to Rembrandt. I began to sulk. 

As a relatively prolific designer, I was perplexed by why I was having such a hard time producing work. Some of it was performance anxiety. Many of the designers participating in Pattern Camp 2014 were truly accomplished professionals. A number were taking Camp for the second time. Of course their work stood out. I wanted to jump into the deep end of the pool wearing floaties and be handed a gold metal.

Like anything done well, good pattern design looks easy. Why I fell for this illusion, I can't say. It took years to develop my own pottery design esthetic and more years to express myself through abstract art collage. Developing a signature style is a journey. It's what designers call voice and it's as personal and individual as the creator. It can't be rushed, but it can be nurtured. And since nurturing is an act of kindness, I'll start by showing some to myself. 

I'm on the first leg of my pattern design journey and can only imagine where it will lead. One road leads to my own booth at SURTEX 2016. Another, back to my awesome art licensing agency, MHS Licensing. Both are well traveled paths with plenty of detours and distractions. 

I have a little more than a year to find and listen to my new inner voice. And since voices need to be heard, even if only at a whisper, I'll share my secrets here. 

PS: If you'd like to learn Surface Pattern Design, Jessica's next Pattern Camp  is on June 6-7, 2015. Click the link to learn more or to sign up for this awesome class. 

PPS: It will go easier if you follow the directions :)