Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Repeating Patterns for Painters #1

Floral Repeating Pattern made by the 'cutting up paper' method

Six months ago I began an online course in Surface Pattern Design. 
I had wanted to learn how to make repeating patterns from my floral paintings for a very long time. I wanted to make patterns that had a hand-painted look, similar to so many of the Liberty prints and the fabrics used in Monsoon clothing and accessories that I love.

I had to some extent succeeded by the ‘cutting up paper’ method, combined with some tidying up in But I felt sure there was a better way and when I saw that making ‘technical repeats’ in Photoshop was included in the course, I thought it would be the answer. Sadly, it wasn’t.

But I did learn a few things about Photoshop – apart from the fact that it's a tremendously finickity program! – and with lots of help from fellow students, online tutorials and forums, plus three books that were Christmas gifts, I’ve finally found ways to do all the things I wanted to, ways that work!

So, with a very big thank you to all who have helped and encouraged me on this sometimes very frustrating journey, I’ve decided that over the next weeks and months, I’ll pass on what I’ve learnt.

First of all, perhaps we need to sort out what is meant by a ‘pattern’. 

The phrase ‘surface pattern’ is often used to describe any sort sort of ornamentation that decorates a plain
surface. But as I pointed out in ‘Hard-wired for Pattern-Making’,  the dictionary definitions often suggest an element of repetition. 

This is the first definition that Google provided:

Noun: A repeated decorative design.

Verb: Decorate with a recurring design.

And I shall use the word ‘pattern’ to denote a repeating pattern or recurring motif.

We’ll begin by looking at the various types of patterns and next time I’ll give some instructions for making some of them, beginning with the simplest so that you can build your skill, post by post. I’ll be available to answer any queries and if I don’t know the answer, there’s a good chance I’ll know someone who does!

A watercolour painting that I'll use as a motif to demonstrate how to make a repeating pattern in Photoshop.

I shall assume that you have painted or hand-drawn motifs that you would like to make into a repeating patterns and that you notice and record in your sketchbook (or with a camera!) the patterns that surround us – in Nature, in buildings and so on. I shall also assume that you can’t wait to get started with learning how to make some of them into patterns for a variety of uses – fabrics, wallpapers, giftwrap and a million others!

The first thing to say is that there are many different kinds of patterns. 

There are the obvious categories, such as 'floral', 'geometric', 'ethnic' . . . some of them overlapping. And there are three classifications you may come across, with which you may not be quite as familiar. These are ‘organic’, ‘graphic’ and ‘conversational’.

A 'Geometric' pattern - but also an Islamic one, therefore it could be classified as 'Ethnic' too.

This pattern, named 'Jungle', is not truly 'Ethnic' in that it came from my imagination rather than an ethnic source. But I think it has an 'ethnic'/'tribal' feel about it!

Organic simply means a pattern that contains elements from Nature, generally with flowing, curving lines. Florals could be a sub-category of Organic but because they are so popular, Florals have a category of their own.
'Seaweed' - an example of an 'Organic' pattern
Graphic, on the other hand, indicates clean, more likely straight lines but could include curves if a floral motif is treated in a graphic way. It can often be very similar to ‘geometric’.

Although the motif for this 'Jungle' pattern was hand-drawn and the motifs are arranged  to represent flowers, it is the nearest I have come to a 'Graphic' style.

'Conversational' is a strange way to describe patterns that use motifs that don’t really fit into the other categories. It could be a little ‘character’ or object, anything from bunnies to boats to buses!  It’s not an area I have explored much as yet but here is one that I did as coursework:

I put two motifs together for this exercise in 'Conversational' patterns - both the frog and the water lily stand alone as hand-painted greeting cards.

In the next in this series of ‘Repeating Patterns’ posts, I’ll cover the most common types of repeats, together with instructions for how to create the most straightforward one in Photoshop.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of basic things you’ll need to know how to use or, at least, how to find in Photoshop:

1. Open/Close File. Open New File to the size you want. Resize: canvas size.
2. Show/Hide Grid, snap to grid. Guides – how to use them, Snap to guides.
3. Colour palette – how to swap background/foreground colours.
4. Cascade Windows. (Windows > Arrange >Cascade) Show Layers, History, Colours.
5. Change the % view of your open window. Fit to screen.
6. Layers – hide/unlock. Send to back/front (under Layers > Arrange)
7. Adjust Tolerance/Opacity/Brush Size
8. Tools: Move, Rectangle, Crop, Clone Stamp, Paint Bucket, Magic Wand, Gradient Tool, Ink
        -dropper tool, Text tool.

And please, don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something I’ve written or if you have a question that I haven’t covered. 

Together we’ll make some glorious painterly patterns!

As an experiment, I've made this post into a .pdf file that I'm hoping you can download if you're interested in keeping these 'how to' posts -

to download a .pdf of this post, 
condensed into 4 pages
 in case you want to print it out.


Sue Brown said...

Great idea Judy - as a fellow painter I look forward to more of your posts on this topic :)


Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Sue. I've found so much that's been helpful on the internet so I'm trying to bring it together in one place. said...

Love these patterns Judy!


Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Crystal - I had a lot of fun making them, once I'd worked out how to make it easy on myself by using Photoshop!

Boriana said...

Thank you for this lovely post, I'm waiting eagerly for the next one on patterns!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Boriana - glad you liked it :)

In between posts there will be interviews with designers, posts about trending colours and next week I'll be showcasing work from my fellow Surface Pattern enthusiasts!

nadine mnemoi said...

This idea is brilliant and very nice of you!

Gexton said...

awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really sweet!
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Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Nadine - if one person finds it useful, it will worthwhile :)

jean pell said...

Super post Judy!

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Jean :)

Fliss said...

What a great post can't wait to see the follow ups. I love making patterns I particularly like retro style patterns and have made a few which I use on products in my Zazzle Store. I would love to sell them on fabric so if you have any tips for this I would be interested to hear a blog post on them*

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Fliss - thank you very much for your comments. Glad you found this post useful. We're now up to #3 and number #4 will be coming soon. I haven't actually sold any of my patterns yet - still working on my portfolio. But I will certainly post about anything I learn when I reach that point. Thank you for the suggestion :)

brendathour said...

Thank you so much for doing this Judy. I am looking forward in your coming posts and learn from you.

Judy Adamson said...

You're welcome, Brenda - have fun with it :)