Studio Saturdays: Exploring Patterning

I see patterns everywhere: the symmetry of leaves on a branch, the scroll of a wrought iron fence, the fractal design of romanesco. I use these designs as inspiration for focal pieces, backgrounds, and special elements in fabric printing, art journaling, hand-carved stamps, and more.

Noticing patterns trains you to be a good observer of the built and natural worlds, and that always makes you a better artist. I keep track of my favorite patterns two ways: in my sketchbook when I’m out and about, and on 4″ x 6″ cards. I keep the cards on a ring and use them frequently as a reference.

Pattern cards
A few of my pattern cards.

If I’m really short on time I’ll take a photo, then draw it later, or print the photo and add it to my sketchbook. I always note where I saw the item, and any other pertinent details, like colors and color combinations.

Here are some things I saw recently that were worth remembering: leaves, a lily (flowers make great repeat motifs), and a stone wall.

Pattern inspiration
Some patterns and motifs I thought were worth noting.

And here are sketches of a few more things I saw: a tile pattern I spotted in an old house, and some vibrant zinnias. Color is an essential component to this—nature creates interesting palettes that I try to emulate: gray-green and deep purple, rusty orange and steel blue, lemon and chartreuse.

Sketchbook patterns
A few patterns from my sketchbook.

I started making 4″ x 6″ cards when I wanted to have a more formal record of my favorite patterns. I use various types of paper and cardstock and a variety of pens, markers, and watercolor and acrylic paint. My go-to paper to work on is 90-pound or 140-pound hot press watercolor paper, but I also use black cardstock, handmade paper, and found paper.

From left to right below are a few different designs: simple watercolor circles outlined with black dots; a floral pattern done in Ranger Distress Crayons, gel pen, and black permanent pen; and squares of painted book pages arranged in a diamond pattern.

Patterning cards
A few of my patterning cards.

Quick tip: The same pattern can look completely different when done in a different medium or colorway, and this is a great way to road test new supplies.

Below, left to right, I used Sakura Gelly Roll Moonlight pens on black cardstock to create vines and flowers, layered acrylic paint and drew a house pattern with permanent pen, and created a loose pattern of lines with brush markers.

Patterning cards
More patterning cards.

I incorporated the flower pattern above on an art journal page. Having the pattern to work from was a huge bonus, and I had fun adding variations, like layering colors of Distress Crayons and adding white lines with a gel pen.

Art journal background
I used the flower pattern on an art journal page.

Quick tip: When creating an allover pattern, make sure the design goes off the edge of the page, otherwise it can look like your pattern is crowded into the space.

Patterning cards
I keep my patterning cards on a ring for easy reference.

Once you start seeing and recording interesting patterns, I guarantee you’ll become as obsessed as I am. Try some of the resources below and start creating and using your own patterns in your artwork!

Acrylic Painting Studio: Natural Compositions Top 15 Acrylic Painting Starters
Art Stamping Innovations
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Layered and Stamped Images Live Webinar Carve, Stamp, Play eBook
Pattern Power: Doodles and Tangles to Enhance Your Art
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