Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Help! I can't find my Signature Style!

It’s hard to believe it’s nearly the end of the first module of the ‘Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design' course!

The five weeks have flown by and soon we'll have a five-week break in which to catch up with things we didn’t have time for, before we start the second module in November.

This week has been all about making new designs and their coordinating patterns and learning how to present them (as above), all with a view to identifying our 'Signature Style' - that 'certain something' that makes our work recognisable as ours and ours alone.

And this is where I feel stuck, in fact very stuck indeed!

I should, by now, be designing my business stationery, all based around my unique Signature Style, but I’m not even beginning to think about doing that while I feel so unclear about how to define my style.

I've had the same problem with my greeting cards, designing in various different styles for different occasions. But one thing I can say is that looking at a lot of patterns in the course of this work, both from other students and from elsewhere on the web, I am a lot more clear than I was about the kind of style that I don’t identify with! Maybe it’s my age, which means that I remember them first time around and didn’t much like them, but I’m not at all enthusiastic about a lot of the ‘Retro’ style that is currently so popular. It simply ‘isn’t me’.

To me a lot of ‘50s patterns seem drab in their colouring and I find the ‘70s geometric shapes quite overpowering. And I’m wondering why ‘Retro’ doesn’t appear to include Laura Ashley’s wonderful late ‘60s/,70s prints - which I really do like and am probably influenced by!.

Found this patchwork of Laura Ashley's '70s  prints on a blog -

In fact, I’m surprised that, so far, there has been no mention of Laura Ashley on the course. She and William Morris are surely two British ‘giants’ when it comes to ‘pattern’ and I would have thought they would have been worth a mention!

Looking at my home decor, as was suggested as a pointer towards finding our 'signature style', there are plenty of patterns on wallpapers, on fabrics and on china and ornaments that are reminiscent of William Morris and Laura Ashley, even if they weren’t actually designed by them.

So maybe that’s a clue to finding my style.

The design exercises we were given on the course were all demonstrated by Rachael Taylor, the tutor, using a black pen. But, knowing how easy it is to pick up someone else’s style if you use the same medium, I decided early on to carry out the exercises in collage or to use my old watercolour designs. So at least I've avoided that pitfall in the search for 'my style'!

Here's another common thread in my patterns - maybe another clue? - flowers seem to feature in my home decorations as well as in most of the patterns I create. But my collage ones are in a very different style from the watercolours. So that isn't a lot of help!

But I noticed that the patterns on my ‘Presentation Boards’ have some colours in common – the warm, bright orang-y reds, contrasting with the blues and greens.

Another clue, maybe, in the hunt for my elusive 'Signature Style'?

But then I muddied the waters by doing this one!

I quite like it – though I probably wouldn’t want to live with it as part of my decorating scheme!
Wrapping paper, perhaps?

Maybe it’s too soon to know which way my designing will go.

Maybe a clear trend will emerge as I design more and more patterns. But I think seeing someone else’s ‘Signature Style’ may be easier than identifying one’s own.  

So if you can think of any words that seem to you to describe my ‘style’, it would be a big help if you would leave them in the comments - thank you!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Colour Theory – a blast from the past!

Week 3  of the Surface Pattern Course was all about Colour.

Rachael Taylor, our tutor, reassured us that we would not be doing much formal Colour Theory, but she did show us a colour wheel with the primary and secondary colours and she mentioned, almost in passing, some of the terms used to describe commonly used colour combinations, such as Analogous, Triadic and Complementary.

Complementary simply means the colours that are opposite one another on a colour wheel, Analogous colours are the ones next to one another on the wheel; and this piece of work I did for the Rhodec International Interior Design correspondence course in 1985 shows a Triadic scheme - not that I could live with those colours on walls and ceilings even now!

These terms were all familiar to me from the three-months of Colour Theory that I studied in the mid-eighties as part of the Rhodec International course. But I had the feeling that one of them was missing from Rachael's list! Eventually I remembered what the missing one looked like – it was a colour scheme I liked a lot and used often in my course-work.

But I couldn’t remember what it was called!

And that really bugged me for a couple of days, especially as it had been my favourite. Busy as I was, there was only one thing for it – a foray into my big, deep attic cupboards, where most of my art-related folders and portfolios are stored.

There on a shelf was my ‘History of Design’ folder, full of 20-page  essays on fascinating subjects such as ‘The Development of the House in the Middle Ages’ . . . next to it, ‘Design Theory’ on one side and ‘Furniture and Fittings’ on the other. But no sign of the ‘Colour Theory’ which would hold the answer to my nagging question.

Down on the floor of the cupboard, underneath some patchwork cotquilts, was a small portfolio containing all my technical drawings and presentation paintings, too big for normal folders. And there, tucked in randomly amongst the large drawings, was all my Colour Theory work. I had obviously needed to use its folder for something else in the intervening years!

What a Treasure Trove that turned out to be!

I remember having great difficulty using Designers Gouache at first. Books I consulted (this was before computers and the internet!) told me that the paint should be the consistency of cream but they didn’t say whether it should be pouring cream, double cream or clotted cream! Eventually I found a friend of a friend who advised me on this and pointed me in the direction of some superb brushes that made life a lot easier - and then I had obviously spent a lot of time practising.

I appear to have done a lot of ‘taking a line for a walk’ exercises and then filled them in with colour. I could hardly believe my eyes as I discovered page after page of painted patterns like the geometric shapes one above, which, when scanned and tidied up digitally, could provide me with weeks of practice in making repeating patterns in Photoshop!

Here's the first one that I've worked on -

Oh, and I nearly forgot – I did discover the name of the colour scheme I was so drawn to. It’s called a ‘Split Complementary’ scheme because the only way in which it differs from a Complementary scheme is that it uses tints and shades of the colours on either side of the complementary.

And here's its cousin that I had forgotten all about - the Double Split complementary -

I don’t suppose you really needed to know that but you never know when it might come in handy!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Chip it, Pin it, Photoshop it!

Half way through the first module of ‘The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design’ and I seem to have given the impression that it’s all brilliantly useful. 

But while there’s some truth in that, isn’t quite ‘the whole truth’.

There are two strands of the course, running in parallel.
On the one hand there are the topics covered and accompanying creative exercises through daily blog postings. And, on the other hand, the weekly ‘Bonus Technical Workshops’, consisting of instructions for using Photoshop and Illustrator in relation to surface pattern design.

So far the three topics – Inspiration, Sketching and Colour – have seemed to be pitched at the level of someone who hasn’t done much art at all, or possibly a graphic artist who has become stale or lost confidence. Much of what is suggested is very similar to what I've been doing for years and even to suggestions I’ve made in various past blog posts.

That’s the downside.

But on the positive side, it’s good to get to know a great and varied community of artists from all over the world, all sharing a passion for pattern. And, partly because of this, I’ve been able to find something positive to explore and put into practice each week so far.

In Week 1, I found analysing a motif very rewarding and it has set me off down a track of creating a 'store cupboard' of backgrounds for future use in pattern designs.

A kind artist from Hong Kong suggested I try clingfilm and I'm so glad she did!

In Week 2. the lesson on organising our sketches, persuaded me to do something I should have done a long time ago – filing all my loose sheets of ideas away in lever arch files, now all classified and neatly labelled for quick access!

In Week 3, I learnt about creating a colour palette from any photo or image online. This is a commercial ‘color picker’ provided free of charge by an international paint company.

you can see my 'books' of colour chips from images I've found on the Internet (including my own!)

The colours have the names of the paints, rather than the pantone names and numbers but I believe we are going to learn to do this in a more professional way, using photoshop, later. But if you want to have fun making your own colour palettes, it's free and all you have to do to get started is drag a 'chip it!' button to your toolbar, in a similiar way to the Pinterest 'Pin it' one. 

I hope you're not thinking by now that I'm a terrible 'know-all'! I have plenty to learn - that's why I'm on the course. But here's an example of why the early exercises, such as going out looking for patterns in the environment, are a bit 'old hat' for me. Below is a cushion (pillow - on the other side of the pond!) that I screenprinted in the 1980's from a sketch of some cobbled paving slabs that I had made on our first family holiday in Wales  - in the late '70s!

The Bonus Technical Workshops, on the other hand, are proving highly challenging for those of us who aren’t familiar with Photoshop and Illustrator. So much so that one artist bravely started a thread on Flickr called ‘Help needed for Photoshop’ and this has been invaluable in providing us with the means to help one another overcome our difficulties. One artist, though, has, at least for now, given up trying to fathom these workshops as she has ‘hit a brick wall’ and several have mentioned buying a book about it, which is something I may resort to myself - though YouTube tutorials have also been useful.

Not my usual style but colouring a line drawing is as far as we've got so far and it may have possibilities for fresh ideas!

I have persisted – all of Saturday afternoon and early evening and the same on Sunday! – and have found my own way of doing things that didn’t work when I followed the instructions. Now I’m practising these processes daily, hoping they’ll become automatic before we move on to the next workshop!

It has all been taking me much more than the 10-12 hours a week that was mentioned in the FAQs so I’ve decided not to bother with the ‘Creative Exercises’, such as taking photos of patterns, if I’ve been doing them, or similar, for as long as I can remember!

To sum it up, although I’ve felt frustrated at times, it’s not all bad news! On the whole, I am glad I signed up for this course.  But it’s been very much up to me to look for ways to make it useful to me personally.

And if ever I find myself with nothing urgent to do, I can always have fun, adding to my collection of  'Patterns I like' on a Pinterest board . . .

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Late Summer - a Pattern of Pink Anemones

Here I am in the middle of Week 2 of the ‘Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design’ online course.  

And I'm pleased to say that, even though the course, so far, has mostly covered what is, for me, ‘old ground’, I am managing to learn some very useful things from it!

Last week’s theme was ‘Finding Inspiration’ and for me ‘finding inspiration’ has never been a problem - quite the opposite. This week’s theme is ‘Sketchbooks’ and, putting the two together, I have sketchbooks full of inspiration and ideas going right back to my schooldays – ie more than half a century!

What I’m really looking for is the technical knowledge to make these ideas into surface pattern designs without needing to resort to the rather cumbersome, and often inaccurate, tracing paper and scissors method that I’ve been using so far.

And towards the end of last week, I found that a couple of the exercises we were set were really useful and they have already begun to provide me with some answers!

We were asked to take a pattern we liked and break it down into its component parts or motifs. I took a William Morris design of which I’m very fond and was surprised to find how many different motifs it contained! In particular, I hadn’t noticed the little squiggly grey leaves in the background (No.1) and ever since, I've been noticing less obtrusive, background patterns all over the place, where I’d never have noticed them before! 

Putting that together with some instructions on how to use Photoshop to ‘layer’ a design and, helped to take that one step further with a YouTube tutorial I hunted down, I was able to use sketches from some photos I’d taken in Week 1 to create this ‘layered’ pattern.

Here's the background 'leaves' layer:

 The page of sketches -

And here it is all put together -

I coloured it digitally to save time as I wasn’t at all sure that my experiment would work. So the colours have come out far brighter than I would have liked. (But then I don't know how it looks on anyone else's screen - to me it looks garish!)

When, this week, we were asked to use all sorts of alternative painting tools – such as sticks – to help us ‘loosen up’, I opted for crumpled up newspaper, a piece of old towelling and the rough side of a synthetic sponge to create some paint effects.

These, believe it or not, may well be good, useful material for pattern backgrounds of the future. 

In fact I've already used the blue one to create a new version of the Anemone pattern. I also toned the colour down a bit in Photoshop and used it to create a new Messenger Bag on Zazzle –

By the way, I don’t much like Anemones. They don’t have a fragrance and I think they can look a bit mournful, maybe because they flower as summer draws to a close. So I’m really looking forward to moving on to create a pattern from a sketch or photo that I’m really enthusiastic about!