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Placing Pattern Elements vs Drawing Patterns from Scratch

I know I’m not the only one who started out my repeat pattern journey by taking a single element and repeating it on a canvas over and over and saying “Bam!  That’s a repeat”.  Over the years though, my process has improved and gotten more complex to the point that I know exactly how to hide a repeat seam and build a pattern that flows across the page.

I wanted to share some insight into my process, so that anyone who is still in the “plop elements on the page and hope they make a good repeat” stage can find some ways to improve their process.

What's wrong with plopping elements on the page?

I’m not going to lie to you all and tell you I didn’t make my first 100 or so patterns by just randomly plopping things on a repeat canvas and smushing them together.  So I don’t believe that is a bad way to start, BUT what you’ve probably noticed is that repeats made in this way don’t flow across the page and often feel disjointed and/or have a really obvious repeat seam.

Take my oldie-goldie pattern on the left as an example.  The idea is solid (houseplants are trending for sure and I sold a lot of yards of this on Spoonflower!) BUT it feels like a series of illustrations that just got thrown together, not a fluid composition that looks like it was designed to be a pattern.

When you start drawing your patterns from scratch, you can design the flow of your pattern from the ground up, so you don’t have to wait for the end to see whether or not the pattern will feel fluid and cohesive.

What happens when you "draw" your patterns?

When you start drawing your patterns, you get to create your own “puzzle” from scratch, by making shapes fit into each other with each twist and turn of your pattern elements.

The first time you do it, it’s a little tricky.  Then like most puzzle-lovers, you get a little addicted and people have to drag you away from it kicking and screaming.  Yes, I want to feed my children dinner, but I also want to keep drawing this pattern.  DoorDash anyone?

What about the hybrid approach?

Any of you who have known me for a few years probably realize that I am an illustration girl at heart, so I have never stopped illustrating elements for my patterns, BUT what has changed is what I do before calling them a “pattern” — draw some fillers!

Take the cowboy boot pattern on the left for example.  I drew all the boots and while they made a cute pattern, they felt like a bunch of random boots plopped on a page, not a fluid repeat pattern.

So I brought the pattern back into Procreate and drew some little cacti that fit perfectly into the nooks and crannies that were missing some visual interest.  See how these simple and quick shapes took this from a disjointed pattern to a fluid and funky repeat?

Then comes the fun part...

Once you get comfortable with drawing simple patterns, you can start drawing complex patterns from scratch that fit together like puzzle pieces and surprise your viewers with every twist and turn of your pattern!  

After you create a few patterns in this way, you’ll realize there is really no other way to make patterns that fit perfectly together.  This is how pattern designers did it for all of history (trust me, I nerd out on a lot of pattern design books so I know!) and this is the way I hope to convince you to start making your own patterns.  Did it work??

Come draw some patterns with me!

I share my whole process for drawing patterns from scratch in my pattern design classes.

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