Introduction to Surface Design: Creating and Mixing Patterns

Jenna Frye, Faculty, Maryland Institute College of Art

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20 Lessons (1h 42m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Welcome!

    • 3. Lecture 1: Exploring Patterns

    • 4. Lecture 2: Building Patterns

    • 5. Lecture 3: Design Elements I

    • 6. Demo 1: The Dot, Stripe, Grid then Crop Method

    • 7. Demo 2: The Design From The Corners Method

    • 8. Demo 3: The Outside In Method

    • 9. Welcome!

    • 10. Lecture 1: Color Stories

    • 11. Lecture 2: Style and Brand

    • 12. Demo 1: Digital Albers

    • 13. Demo 2: Mixing Complimentary Neutrals

    • 14. Demo 3: Repel/Attract

    • 15. Welcome!

    • 16. Lecture 1: Design Elements III - Texture

    • 17. Lecture 2: Creating Collections I

    • 18. Lecture 3: Creating Collections II

    • 19. Demo 1: Making Simple Scallops

    • 20. Demo 2: Passing The Apron Test

25 students are watching this class

Project Description

Design a pattern collection

Pattern Formation and Fascination

  1. Explore Opposing Forces

    Look at the provided list of Itten's Contrasts (Lecture 3: Design Elements I), and list some of your own binary relationships too. Brainstorm a lot of ideas and try not to judge whatever pops into your head. I manage just fine, and all that's ever going through my head are TV theme songs and cats. Sometimes both. Oh how I miss the 90's.


  2. Start Making Dots!

    Pick a few of your favorite pairs of contrasts and start sketching out ideas for pattern motifs that are based on your opposing forces. Remember, start with a simple dot and build from there. You should develop several dot ideas for each pair of contrasts, you know, for fun!


  3. Create a Stripe!

    Continue working with your pairs of contrasts by picking a few of the pairs that you like, and start building stripes. Pay attention to the kind of figure and ground relationship that's starting to form. Play around with rotating, reflecting, and scaling your dot untill it starts to look cool. 


  4. Create a Grid!

    Put those stripes together and repeat, repeat, repeat until a beautiful pattern starts to emerge. Study the grid and look for natural positive and negative shapes. The places where the stripes intersect are often natural spots for emphasis or accents. 


  5. Square Off

    In illustrator, create two 5in by 5in squares next to one another horizontally. Fill the squares with your two contrasting patterns. Repeat for as many designs as you made. Shoot for three pairs of patterns.

    For now, stick with greyscale. We'll add color later!

  6. Check Tile for Contrast

    Start with each individual tile and look carefully. Study the pattern at 25% and 300%. Squint your eyes. Do that artist thing where you hold up one hand to cover a part of a painting you don't like during a critique.

    Check the pattern against Itten's formal contrasts. How does the design hold up? Is there a clear foreground, middle ground and background? Is it successful?

    How would you describe its energy? Stable? Dynamic? Shy? Is there interesting stuff going on horizontally and vertically? Are there multiple formal contrasts at work?

    Make adjustments as needed.

  7. Check Pair of Tiles for Contrast

    Now look at your patterns together. The two 5in by 5in squares next to one another in full greyscale glory. What do you see?

    Is it clear that these two patterns are in formal and conceptual opposition? The "floral" vs "geometirc" contrast is a classic, and a great skeleton to start with if you're unsure. It's also a good measuring stick. Think about how obvious it is that something  floral or "organic" is different than something that's geometric or "rigid." Are your two patterns that obviously different? 

    This is no time for subtletly. Be bold. Be confidant. Be oppositional! God Speed You Black Emporer!

  8. Strut Your Stuff

    It's time to pony up designs and share your work with our class. Iteration is an important part of design, so do your best to upload three pairs of opposing forces pattern sketches. Don't worry if they're not perfect yet or if they don't make sense, that's what critique is for.

    I think in people's heads, other designers are all judgey when really, most creative people get really excited when they see other creative work and get even more excited if what they say helped someone else do better.

    Or at least that's the world I want to live in. Don't you? Let's see whatchu got fools!

Color, Style and Brand

  1. Read up on color theory

    In the resources section, I've included a reference document on color theory/vocab/history. It's mostly pictures. Read it. 


  2. Collect style inspiration

    Now that you have some theory under your belt, the first step in creating your own style and brand of color is to get a sense of what kind of colors you're drawn to and what kind of colors give you the sads.  Both attraction and repulsion are important to developing your own palette of colors.

    One way to do that is to take your camera and go out into this place called "nature," i beleive it's called (I prefer to maintain a near perfect ignorance of the sun during the oppressive summer months), and document examples of great, natural, color combos.

    Another way is to hop aboard the internet express and start scrolling and pinning. Hey, at least this time it's for homework.

    Either way, it's time to archive some inspiration! Get yourself lots and lots of examples of color combos you love and love to hate. 


  3. Find your brand color

    Now that you have a good collection of color combos you're attracted to and some you're just not that into, it's time to draw some conclusions.

    Do you notice any trends among the colors you were drawn to or avoiding? Most people have neutral feelings on a variety of hues, but start to get fiesty when it comes to saturation.

    Pick three photos you're repelled by and three you're attracted to, and comlete the "repel and attract" pattern funtivity to start being able to articulate your personal brand of color. 


  4. Create your color story

    Now that you have a good visual sense of your kind of colors, and have practiced using said colors on the sample patterns, it's time to create a color story or theme for your own collection.

    Based on the colors in your brand and the content of your contrasting tiles, create a narrative title for your collection.

    Have fun with it! Anything can be a theme for your collection, like, sunshine or knights in white satin.

  5. Create your color ways

    Based on your color story, create a group of 8 or 9 colors you like looking at together and have something to do with your concept.

    Then, using the colors in your group, create three color ways for your pattern tiles. When you're applying the color to your greyscale patterns, try and apply the color theory to push colors forward and send colors back creating dynamic visual interest.

    Give each color way a name that makes sense with your color story and  apply the colorways to your pair of contrasting tiles.


  6. Share!

    Ok! Now that you've used your awesome colors to bring your greyscale patterns to life, it's time to share them with the community! Upload a document with the following for critiques:

    • The title of your color story
    • Your contrasting color tiles in three color ways (a total of 6 pattern tiles)
    • The names of your color ways

    I can't wait to see your work!

Mixing Patterns

  1. Watch and learn

    Review the lectures on texture and creating collections, and study the examples of pattern collections from other designers. 

  2. Iterate

    Look at your two tiles closely and sketch out some ideas for a third tile that would balance the collection.

    For example, if your contrasting tiles are horizontal and vertical, try to balance with something diagonal. If your tiles are flowers and stripes, try balancing with polka dots. 

  3. Tone it down

    After you've settled on a formal idea for your third tile, it's time to address the color situation. 

    Providing that your two contrasting tiles had a dynamic contrast, it's a good idea for your third tile to be a subtle, neutral, tone-on-tone pattern. These types of patterns are sometimes called backgrounds, or blender patterns.

    Remember, you'll be presenting your patterns in three color ways which means you'll need to create a coordinating neutral pattern for each of your existing colorways.

  4. Give it the apron test

    After you've crafted your third, complimenatary neutral pattern, it's time to study your collection for balance. 

    Test your patterns out in the Apron Test file in your funtivities section and see if your fabrics would make a balanced apron. 

    You may need to make adjustments to scale and value in order for the collection to feel cohesive.


  5. Present your final collection!

    Once you're happy with your collection, it's time to share your work! Please submit the following for your final project:

    • A cover sheet design (see student examples lecture) that showcases all of your patterns and lists your name and the name of your collection.
    • 3 patterns presented in 3 named color ways. Feel free to use the template provided in the funtivities section to organize your patterns.

    Extra Credit!

    • If you're a real show off (and i love a good show off!), take your patterns and apply them to a surface! Maybe make some thank you cards? Or mock up an outfit digitally?
  6. Treat yo self!

    Congrats on completing the course! You've worked hard, and it's time to TREAT YO SELF!

    Thanks so much for participating in Intro to Surface Design! Stay tuned for the next installment :D


Additional Resources

  • Lecture Slides

    • Exploring Patterns: Dots, Stripes and Grids, Oh My!
    • How to Build Patterns: A Few Basic Ideas
    • Design Elements Part I: Figure/Ground and Contrast

    The full list of Itten's contrasts is at the end of the design elements lecture, but also, just for quick reference, here they are:

    • Point/Line
    • Area/Line
    • Plane/Volume
    • Area/Body
    • Large/Small
    • Line/Body
    • High/Low
    • Smooth/Rough
    • Long/Short
    • Hard/Soft
    • Broad/Narrow
    • Still/Moving
    • Thick/Thin
    • Light/Heavy
    • Light/Dark
    • Transparent/Opaque
    • Black/White
    • Continuous/Intermittent
    • Much/Little
    • Liquid/Solid
    • Straight/Curved
    • Sweet/Sour
    • Pointed/Blunt
    • Strong/Weak
    • Horizontal/Vertical
    • Loud/Soft
    • Diagonal/Circular
  • Funtivities!!

    • Patterns Practice: This is a multi-artboard pdf that you can open in illustrator and play around with to practice making directional and non-directional patterns. Directions Included.
    • Design from the Corners file: this is the exact file from the demo. Play around with turning layers on and off and dragging the artwork to the swatches panel to see how tiles are built. This opens in Illustrator.
    • Bonus! Vector Drawing: For those of you who are new to illustrator, this worksheet has several options for drawing in Illustrator. It's also a multi-artboard pdf that you'll need to open in Illustrator to use.
  • What if I don't have/know Illustrator?

    That's ok! I mean, it renders my demos sort of useless, but, whatevs. You can use these videos as a basic guideline to make patterns any old way you want. But here are a few ideas to help if you fall in this camp:

  • Credits

    A lot of incredible MICA students and alum worked hard on this course, and I am so very thankful to them. Check out their incredible work!

  • Reading

    • Color Wheel: A mostly visual reference document for color theory, vocabulary and history.
    • Color Stories: A handy pdf of the lecture this week on color, style and brand.
  • Funtivities

    • Digital Albers: practice color mixing and recognizing color relationships. This is an illustrator document that must be opened in Illustrator to edit.
    • Repel and Attract: practice making color groups and colorizing patterns efficiently. This is an illustrator document that must be opened in Illustrator to edit.
    • Complimentary Neutrals: As requested, a worksheet for mixing neutrals.
  • Color Links

    • design-seeds: great color combos website
    • pretty colors: tumblr of pretty colors
    • Blendoku: a HIGHLY addictive color theory game for smart phones. dont say i didn't warn you.
    • Color game: from method of action. So edutaining! 
    • Pantone color report: you can download swatches of colors Pantone tells you to like each season ;)
  • Pattern Links

  • Featured Artist Websites

  • Funtivities

    • The Apron Test: Open this pdf in Ilustrator and use it to test the balance of your collection.
    • Collection Template: If you like, use this template to create the presentation of your final collection. 

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