Thursday, 29 November 2012

From Greeting Cards to Repeating Patterns . . .

A few days ago, a customer ordered three of the coffee mugs in my Zazzle store. I was over the moon!

I didn’t make a huge amount of money from the sale and it was just one sale among many at this time of year. But it meant an awful lot to me because the three mugs were ones I had created with my repeating floral patterns earlier this year.

So the sale came as a kind of affirmation that I’m on the right track in shifting my main focus away from greeting cards towards pattern making. And as well as that, my own reaction showed me that the bold floral patterns are my first love – which is probably a helpful pointer in determining my ‘signature style’.

Over the course of the past ten years, I’ve gone from Fine Art – my pastel paintings – to greeting cards – to repeating pattern design and I feel I have finally homed in on what I love to create the most.

I do enjoy designing greeting cards but I absolutely love creating patterns! I find it quite addictive – I just wish my technical knowledge could keep up with my enthusiasm!

One of the things I find difficult about creating greeting cards is that I really dislike cards with verse inside, particularly if it is ‘sentimental’. And unfortunately it seems that there are many customers for whom the ‘verse’ is just as important as the artwork.


As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I prefer to let the design do the talking, conveying the sentiments more subtly through the image. And while that suits plenty of people, it also excludes many potential customers for my cards.

To my great relief, there is no ‘verse’ to worry about in Pattern Design! It’s simply a case of putting together shapes, lines and colours in a pleasing way . . .

. . . or is it?

Many years ago, when I first discovered William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement, I read something to the effect that a pattern should always evoke a feeling, recreate an atmosphere, transport the beholder to a place they would like to be. I have searched the internet in vain, trying to find the exact quote. But the gist of it has always stayed with me.

So, in a way, a pattern carries just as much of a message as a greeting card. It just does it in a much more subtle, sometimes almost subliminal, way.

But there’s nothing very subtle about flowers, which I must admit form the basis of most of my designs to date. Most of us love gardens and flowers and in the case of a city flat-dweller, a floral blind or coffee mug may be the nearest they get to a garden on a day-to-day basis. And that provides me with the motivation to keep on working – or, more accurately, playing – with the constantly inspiring ‘source-book’ that Mother Nature provides!

Pretty Spring Primroses Bone China Coffee Mug, Porcelain Mug
Pretty Spring Primroses Bone China Coffee Mug, Porcelain Mug by helikettle

What feelings do floral patterns (not necessarily mine!) evoke in you?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Just how Trendy do we need to be?

TRENDS was the ‘Art & Business of Surface Pattern Design’ topic last week and it’s continuing through the whole of this week too.

So if two weeks out of a fifteen week course are devoted to one topic, the chances are it’s pretty important.

But with the Mid-Century style and Animal Skin prints being the two trends I was already very much aware of, both of which I dislike, I wasn’t much looking forward to this part of the course.

One of the few Mid-Century Modern designs I actually like - but it's not my style!
Just as well then that, right at the beginning, we were sent forth with our cameras to take a closer look at the trends in our local shops.

Yes, I found plenty of the Fifties-type motifs but, much to my relief, it wasn’t too difficult to spot plenty of others as well!

By the time I had compiled these records of the different aspects of what I found, I had decided that there were several elements I could work with.

First, the currently popular motifs, for instance the painterly florals that I saw on both gift and fashion items as well as on homewares, are right up my street!

from Pip Studio
And the butterflies too, that seem to be everywhere once I started noticing . . .

. . . prompted me to attempt a Butterfly 'mini-print', though I'm still unclear as to how to get the butterflies really evenly distributed in a repeating pattern. (I'm very much hoping that's something I'll learn later on in the course!)

This week we were directed to an online Trend Report for the coming season and asked to identify key trends and palettes that we feel able to work with.

There seemed to be so many options that I wonder how they can possibly all succeed in being the 'style of the day'.

This one, using a single watercolour butterfly, worked a bit better!

As well as the outsized florals, checks and polka dots, even patchwork is forecast to play its part in 2013!

So – all is not lost! Even if I don't want to create Mid-Century Modern patterns, I can still design using the ‘trending’ colour palettes-

- and if I get bored with designing florals, polka dots, hearts and checks, it looks as if patchwork will probably still be around for a while to come!

Image from - Jasper Conran

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Fabulous Fifties –

- or were they?

While the younger generations are drooling over the plethora of Mid-Century designs that are currently filling our shops, I have to confess to living up to my nickname as ‘The Awkward Squad’.

Yes, the 1950s certainly had the potential to be ‘fabulous’; just look at this list of thoroughly positive events, many of them hailing a new era of prosperity after the austerity of WW2 – though I also remember the threat of 'The Bomb' being very present in our everyday lives as we saw photos of test explosions in our newspapers and on television, once that arrived in our homes!

Prime Minister, Harold - you've never had it so good! - Macmillan

I remember making endless sketches of models
 in this pose and wearing outfits almost identical to this!

·    1947: Dior introduce the ‘New Look’ with longer, fuller skirts reflecting the availability of more fabric once WW2 was over. And by the fifties, these fashions had filtered through to ordinary people.


·    1951: The Festival of Britain, celebrating everything newly achieved, especially in the field of Technology.

·    1951: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll. I watched it at a neighbour’s house on a tiny black and white screen, encased in a huge polished wood cabinet, along with several dozen other neighbours! And such was the atmosphere of optimism at this time of renewal that my generation were to be called, ‘The New Elizabethans’.

·    1956: The start of the Eurovision Song Contest. Now generally regarded as a ripe source of comedy, when it was introduced, we all marvelled at the coming together of so many European nations and at the miracle of television that could, when it worked, bring them all together!

 ·    1957: I remember seeing political posters on hoardings, telling us that we’d ‘Never had it so good!’

·    1957: The Treaty of Rome, which later gave rise to the European Union.

·    1957: Science and Space Exploration were beginning to make the news – the Russians launched their ‘Sputnik’.

So, yes, I agree that there was much to celebrate in the Fifties. 

But, for me, the fifties can be summed up in one word and that word is ‘synthetic’.

Although they had been invented a lot earlier, it was the decade when plastic and nylon began to replace the more traditional materials in the home. Obviously this made for some much more hygienic products, but my memory is of my plastic doll’s house chairs with easily broken – and un-mendable! – legs.

Bri-nylon sheets were all the rage and drip-dry shirts were welcomed as ‘labour-saving’ – but in reality both were pretty ghastly!

For the sake of keeping in fashion and saving on work at the same time, my mother began to replace some of our beautiful, old and solid, wooden furniture with lightweight ‘contemporary’ pieces – that word alone is enough send shivers down my spine!

Fablon and Formica appeared everywhere – again in the name of hygiene and ease of cleaning – and what horrified me most was when it was made to look like wood!!!

It was very much like the one on the left!
The fashionable colours tended to be drab. I particularly detested the ‘Mushroom’ paint which replaced the sparkling white in our large Victorian home and the 'tangerine' of my sister's 'duster coat' was a pale imitation of the current Tangerine Tango!

I suspect things were different in other parts of the world, but in my neck of the woods, there still wasn’t much of a ‘teenage’ transition from childhood to adulthood. The trip to the shoe shop to buy my first non-functional lace-ups or sandals, was a nightmare as the next step up was really ‘grown-up’ shoes, as worn by my much older sisters.

Gradually the idea of the ‘teenager’ did creep into our consciousness but it was associated with beehive hairstyles, hooped petticoats that rose up and biffed you in the nose if you sat down without taking due care! And really extreme winkle-picker shoes! These items seem to have been virtually left out of the current fashion for everything Mid-Century – maybe that’s why!

So maybe I can be forgiven for my lack of enthusiasm for all things Mid-Century? After all, if that era is now regarded as ‘vintage’, I suppose I must be ‘vintage too, something I tend to forget about! 


For the sake of 'flexing my design muscle', I've attempted to carry out a design brief for giftwrap in Tangerine Tango (the 2012 Pantone Colour of the Year - but far from my favourite) in a Mid-Century style -

I think it turned out a bit better than I expected - but I'm still looking forward to the day when 'Retro' is replaced with something genuinely NEW!

In the meantime, here's something I grew up with - a far cry from the Queen Elizabeth who parachuted into the Olympic Stadium, alongside James Bond just a few months ago!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

What is it about Poppies?

It’s hardly surprising that poppies are such popular flowers, especially among artists. They come in such a wide selection of varieties and somehow they seem to combine brilliant, bold colours with an air of fragility, both in their paper-thin petals and their delicate-looking stems!

A far cry from the rather dull, red paper poppies that we buy to wear on November 11,  Poppy Day or Remembrance Sunday, here in the UK and in some of the Commonwealth countries.

I don’t know whether it’s seeing that politicians and TV presenters seem to wear their poppies earlier and earlier each year, but last weekend, I had a sudden yen to make a poppy collage! 

This was unfortunate as it was the last weekend before the start of Module 2 of the ‘Art and Business of Surface Pattern’ course and I had so much to do, not least finishing the illustration for the book of Welsh Nursery Rhymes I’ve been invited to contribute to. Time is running out!

But on Saturday, when I was scanning the illustration at high resolution, I could see that it was going to take a long time. So I seized the opportunity and started to cut out poppy petals, based loosely on a doodle I’d done one evening while watching TV, trying out my new blendable coloured pencils!

On Sunday I made some changes to the illustration so I needed to scan it again and I used the time to make a different kind of ‘stripe’, consisting of diamond shapes in the bright pink, orange and green that I used for the poppies.

Sadly, the pink and the orange have both come out looking fairly uniformly red on my computer and I couldn’t find a way around that. Even so, I’m quite pleased with my collection of 'Poppies' patterns – and, as a bonus, they reminds of me of the ‘Poppyland’ area of my beloved Norfolk!

You can read my earlier blog post about 'Poppyland', illustrated by my soft pastel painting of it, HERE
Poppies seem to be very popular as greeting cards and I’ll probably make another ‘poppy’ card from my collage, alongside my watercolour, oil pastel, watersoluble crayons and photographic versions of Poppy greeting cards – when I find time! 

In the meantime, you can find more information about the varieties of poppies and see 'Poppy' gifts and cards that I've already created, on my other blog -

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hard-wired for Pattern-making!

As a small child in the 1940s, toys were in short supply, frequently hand-me-downs and often very unsophisticated, compared to what was available by the time my children came along in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

But there was one toy that I loved and it would keep me happy for long stretches – a box of little coloured wooden tiles. Some were diamond shapes, others triangles so they offered endless possibilities for making mosaic patterns.

In recent weeks I’ve been reminded of that little box of well-worn tiles as I sit, completely absorbed, creating my patterns! I’ve looked for them on the Internet but didn’t succeed in finding them, in spite of them being such a good value toy!

PS Just found some - though I think mine were smaller:

It reminded me of something I read when I was learning to teach reading and spelling, using Synthetic Phonics. Somebody had written that 'the human brain is wired for patterns’. I certainly feel the truth of that these days; click here for an article about teaching literacy that explains it – note the section on ‘Spelling Patterns’.

If you look for a definition of the word ‘pattern’ – you’ll find several. There are more than enough here!

But I think we most often use the word ‘pattern’ in the sense of there being an original plan, design or model, which can be repeated over and over – such as a ‘dress pattern’ or a ‘knitting pattern’. And then there are ‘patterns of behaviour’ in humans and in nature – again, there is usually an element of repetition that leads us to detect a ‘pattern’. And ordering things into a pattern or discovering a pattern appeals to most of us because it makes things more predictable and that all helps us to feel more secure.

The sun rising in the mornings and setting in the evenings is a pattern – imagine how it would feel to live in a world where that didn’t happen with some regularity!

'To understand is to perceive patterns.' Isaiah Berlin

Noticing patterns and creating patterns does seem to be deeply embedded in the human psyche and it’s been there for a very long time!

Until recently I believed that the cave paintings in Europe were the first evidence of human ‘artistic’ expression but I was wrong. I read in this newspaper article that patterns have been found in Africa  on the shells of ostrich eggs that are much older, probably 60,000 years old!

One of my main objectives in signing up for the Surface Pattern course was to learn to make repeating patterns properly. And I’ve been rather disappointed that it was only lightly touched upon in Module 1. To me, the essence of pattern is repetition. I would prefer to call surface designs without repetition ‘decoration’ or maybe ‘ornament’, as in ‘The Grammar of Ornament’, by Owen Jones, first published in 1856!

I was lucky to pick up a copy of this literally ‘weighty tome’ by a Victorian architect quite cheaply some years ago and I always enjoy browsing through it! It begins with designs attributed to ‘Savage Tribes’ – the Victorians had no idea of 'political correctness'! And it continues on through every major civilisation and movement, right up to the Renaissance and beyond.

(I did a 'Google Images' search, hoping to find an image of my huge hardback copy but instead I found images of the patterns contained in the book. So if you are interested in Ethnic or 'Tribal' patterns you’ll find plenty of eye-candy HERE!)

Not being at all excited by the current interest in ‘Mid-Century’ retro design,  I fell back on that parallel trend, known as ‘tribal’ for this set of patterns. 

I made the two typically Egyptian motifs from painted tissue paper, cut out and stuck to a sheet of white card. And then I made the repetitions digitally.

Module 2 of ‘The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design’ begins in a few days’ time. I’m hoping to learn more about making repeating patterns that really work!