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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!