My first introduction to pattern design was Jessica Swift's intensive, weekend long Pattern Camp in early February. When I first decided to learn this craft, I approached it with a great deal of self confidence. I figured that once I learned the mechanics of pattern repeat, the design part would be easy. Ya. No. I finished Jessica's course an exhausted, deflated pile of whaaah, which of course had nothing to do with the course and everything to do with me. I spent the next weeks starting and abandoning dozens of patterns and even began to wonder if I should find another calling. Oh, please, Sheree. Get over yourself. I'm rolling my eyes and shaking my head just remembering my pitiful lamentations.
After recovering for a couple of weeks, I found a course on Skillshare called Intro to Surface Pattern Design. Offered by licensed designer Bonnie Christine, this class was another wonderful introduction to surface pattern design. And because every designer is different and brings something new to the table, I thought I'd give it a try. Armed with new resolve, I dove in. Again.
Like Jessica's, Bonnie's course was all about learning Adobe Illustrator (Ai.) Comprised of 26 videos (almost four hours worth) the course assumed no previous Ai experience and started with the most basic commands. Adobe Illustrator is a huge, complex program used by design professionals internationally. It is behind just about every large scale design you've ever seen, from the ad on the side of the building to the shower curtain hanging in your bath room. It is seriously like magic.
I've been a Photoshop (PS) user for over 6 years and know my way around this program pretty well - at least for the kind of work I do. Predominantly a photo editing program, PS is so wide and deep that creatives extract an endless variety of work from it. We're using that program to accomplish things its creators never imagined. There are a lot of things that PS can do that Ai can't touch, and the absolute reverse is true.
Bonnie's class came with the following assignment: "Create a repeating pattern inspired by your favorite things found in nature." We were instructed to photograph and sketch the natural things in our surrounding world. Though most of my natural world was buried beneath a never ending snowfall, I managed to snap the following images in my sideyard:
The next part of this project was to create a mood board. Mood boards gather color and inspiration and are a great way to create design direction. I've been a lover of warm colors since forever and have only recently fallen for cool colors. Since everything in my yard was some version of grey, beige, brown or white - I decided to reinterpret what I saw. Creating this mood board was a lot of fun. I pulled it together using one of my favorite online design programs, Polyvore. I taught myself abstract art collage on Polyvore and found it a really easy tool for this segment.
I began drawing really rough, really naive sketches on photo copy paper about a year ago. I am an entirely self-taught designer with no art background, so when I say rough, I mean stick people rough. In spite of the fact that nothing I drew looked much like the reference image, I forged ahead. I have literally hundreds of pages of cartoony drawings of everything from tea cups to toadstools. I drew this collection of sketches while trolling nature images on Pinterest. You know, before I decided to follow the instructions, put on boots, go outside and take actual pictures. While none of these images ended up in my actual pattern, a number of them did end up in my new pottery collection, Sketchbook.
This group of sketches was drawn directly in Ai using the "blob brush tool." This easy little tool creates lines and shapes and does not require a college degree like the infamous pen tool. Just grab it, size the blob and draw away. Even though I've done a fair amount of sketching on my iPad, I found drawing directly in Ai challenging and deliberately kept things simple. I mean really, just look at those trees! I also knew getting hung up on technique would give me another excuse to add this project to my abandon pile.
The next phase was to bring our sketches into Ai and apply what we'd learned about pattern creation. This is a screenshot of my desktop. Seamless patterns are made seamless by carefully copying everything that extends beyond the top of your artboard - to the bottom, and from the left - to the right. That's the easy part. Choosing color, motif scale and location, that's the designer part - the part that can't be taught. This little repeat took me hours to craft. Like, an entire afternoon.
There were a number of times when I was tempted to ditch the work and start over, but I was determined to complete at least one pattern, even if it wasn't awesome. Any technical challenges I ran into were addressed by watching and re-watching the video and occasionally referring to my stack of really cryptic notes.
Here is my first complex-ish Illustrator created pattern repeat. I am completely in love with this pattern. It is so gratifying to see those silly little sketches transformed into this charming print. One of the magical things about Ai is its ability to completely recolor images with just a touch of a button. The recolor tool randomly replaces this color with that - transforming the work into a new version of itself. It's like magic.
After completing the course, I set a goal to create a pattern each evening - and have pretty much stuck to it. Each time I save my work and close Illustrator, I am worn out - in a really good way. I crawl into bed with a head still full of ideas, moving this here and placing that there, until I eventually fall asleep. Sometimes, when I awake in the middle of the night, the designs are still rolling around in there. I think I'm hooked.
It's 10:15 PM on Friday, April 10th. Today is my 60th birthday (?!) I've had cake for breakfast and corn chips & hummus for dinner. I've designed my pattern, finished this post and am headed to a place where the sheets are smooth, fresh and clean. I already have my morning planned.