A Study in Patterns with Gina Lee Kim

Every artist has their own approach to starting a new art journal. Gina Lee Kim has a somewhat unconventional method; she likes to start at the back of the book, with a few pages dedicated to pattern studies. In this article from our May/June 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Gina shares her process for creating these artful, colorful pattern pages. This fun technique is so inspiring, and it will have you looking at the designs and colors you spot in the world around you in a whole new way!

Gina Lee Kim
Explore mark making with pens and watercolor as you create pattern studies with Gina Lee Kim. (Photos by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

A Study in Patterns: Mark Making with Pens and Watercolor by Gina Lee Kim

There’s nothing like opening a brand new art journal! I relish in the unconventional and like to start at the back of a blank book, devoting the last several journal pages to my pattern studies.

What are pattern studies? A pattern study is the act of opening your awareness to good design. It is taking a microscopic view or a portion of an image you are drawn to, and then amplifying it in a fun way. Repeat these elements to turn them into design motifs you can call your own. Pattern subjects are everywhere. The tip of a starfish, the embroidered edge of a tea towel, a section of a pinecone, the random arrangement of jellybeans in your hand, the subtle waves in someone’s toupee—they’re all fair game.

Some may call these colorful pages doodle design sheets. I call them my frolicsome access to creativity. You never know when a pattern inspiration will strike. The technique here is easy and approachable, travel and budget friendly. All you need is paper, watercolor, paint markers, and your imagination. I encourage you to designate a few pages in your art journal for some playful pattern meanderings.


  • Several sheets of journal paper, any size (I use a journal with 90-lb.or heavier, watercolor or mixed-media paper.)
  • Watercolors
  • Flat watercolor brush (I use a ¾″ or 1″ brush.)
  • Paint markers, water-based, various colors (I use Sharpie® and Montana brands.)
  • Optional:
    • Blow dryer
    • Golden Artist Colors® High Flow Acrylics
    • Empty/refillable paint markers (I use Montana brand.)

1. Prepare your journal page with several flat washes of different watercolors. (FIGURE 1) A flat wash means a solid, continuous block of color. This is achieved by loading your brush with more pigment than water, with the paint wet enough to easily spread on the paper. Avoid streaks. The more saturated and consistent the watercolor background, the better your marker pens will show.


TIP: Paint 3–4 analogous (neighboring colors on a color wheel) blocks of color next to each other (i.e., blue, turquoise, and green or yellow, orange, and red). Wait for each color to dry or use a blow dryer to speed up the process.

2. Select a couple of markers and draw some initial lines. (FIGURE 2) Don’t feel pressured to finish a perfectly patterned piece every time, or in one sitting. You can always go back to them later.


TIP: Water-based markers are temperamental. Try to store them horizontally and shake them well to mix the paint inside (even in the middle of a drawing). Shake well means to stop, recap, shake the barrel, and then pump the nib on scratch paper. Almost every water-based paint marker requires scratch paper to test and reestablish a good working flow from time to time.

3. Continue to build up your pattern study. (FIGURE 3) I usually include something geometric, something organic, and something fun/whimsical, on each page.


Create a Pen Chart

Since water-based paint markers come in an array of colors, I cherish a good reference chart with notes. Such a chart is essential, especially when using metallic colors. For instance, gold can range from a brilliant yellow to a dull green. It could be informational and amusing to take inventory of all the pens you own.

Pen chart

Notes on Markers

There is a mind-boggling assortment of permanent markers available: solvent-based, alcohol-based, dye-based, and water-based. Solvent-based markers contain xylene, which is hazardous, and should be used with good ventilation. Although the solvent-based as well as the alcohol-based pens come in the largest range of colors, these permanent markers tend to recede or appear dull on dried watercolor paintings, as do dye-based inks—they barely show up on watercolor backgrounds. Oil-based markers are in a class of their own. They are opaque and xylene free, but they have a tendency to bleed through journal pages. Water-based markers are what I prefer for my pattern studies and here’s why:

  • Water-based markers are essentially acrylic paint pens that do not disrupt or smear underlying surfaces.
  • Once dry, water-based markers leave a matte finish that stays optically bright on top of watercolor. They’re also safe for kids to use.
  • Some water-based markers are refillable, with empty barrels and replacement tips, which makes them customizable and economical in the long run. I like to fill mine with Golden Artist Colors High Flow Acrylics, which are intense, ultra-thin paints with an ink-like consistency.
  • The empty/refillable paint markers come in a variety of tips. Three of the major styles are: squeezers or moppers, which have a sponge or felt-tip applicator; roller ball, which acts like a huge ballpoint pen; and a pump or valve system, which offers pen-like precision and control. I own refillable pump-style markers from Montana in the 2mm and 15mm tip sizes.

Gina Lee Kim is a watercolor instructor, mixed-media artist, art journaler, pen hoarder, paper addict, and a mom. She often paints late at night and tries to avoid dipping her paintbrush into her coffee mug. Watch for Gina’s book, Fast and Fun Watercolor Painting Techniques, coming this fall from North Light Books. Visit her website at ginaleekim.blogspot.com.

Gina has many more techniques to show you! Here’s her tutorial for creating unique travel journal pages.

This article appears in the May/June 2014 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors. Inside this issue, explore assessable forms of printmaking including stamping, image transfer, stenciling, and masking.
Explore more techniques with Gina! In Gina Lee Kim’s Fun with Watercolor Kit, you’ll get instruction, inspiration and art supplies to help you make watercolor paint and other watermedia a key part of your mixed-media toolbox. The kit includes four video downloads, four Art Lessons, a Graphix Monoprint Plate, and a set of Gelatos!


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.