How to Make Super Easy Tessellating Patterns in Illustrator + Free Templates | Melissa Wiederrecht Generative Art | Skillshare

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How to Make Super Easy Tessellating Patterns in Illustrator + Free Templates

teacher avatar Melissa Wiederrecht Generative Art, Generative Design, Creative Code

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (28m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Tessellations and Escher

    • 3. Tessellations by Hand

    • 4. Getting Started With The Templates

    • 5. Adding Detail

    • 6. Adding Detail And Extracting The Full Shape

    • 7. Make Pattern Swatches

    • 8. Conclusion

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About This Class

Tessellating patterns are those awesome and fascinating patterns in which one single shape is repeated, rotated, and flipped around, and yet always fits perfectly within itself.  Think M.C. Escher’s "Flying Fish", and "Lizards", and "Pegasus":


While Escher had to do these patterns by hand and with lots of math and time, we can create these kinds of patterns in a matter of seconds and with just a couple clicks in Adobe Illustrator!

In this class you will learn how to make tessellating patterns in Illustrator with the help of my free template downloads… and it is as easy as connect the dots - I’m not kidding.  As a bonus you will also see how to create a few tessellating patterns by hand.

Your project will be to make a tessellating pattern in Illustrator!  You can make something resembling and animal if you like… or a leaf… and or really anything you can imagine.  I can’t wait to see what you create!

Meet Your Teacher

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Melissa Wiederrecht Generative Art

Generative Design, Creative Code




Have you ever thought generative art and creative coding looked like a fascinating thing to try, but you wanted someone to explain it in an easy way for absolute beginners?

I’m here to help. Nice to meet you! I am Melissa Wiederrecht. I am obsessed with art, mathematics, computer science and most especially anything that combines the three together.

My online graphic design classes will take you step by step through the process of how to make art with code, how to use the Processing language, and how to easily make beautiful digital pattern designs.

Interested to see more of my personal generative art work, progress shots, and pattern design collections?  I post regularly on See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hey, guys. Welcome to this class on Making Tessellating Patterns in Illustrator. My name is Melissa Widerrect and I'm a computer scientist. I'm a mathematician and an artist. I'm super passionate about anything that combines computer science, and mathematics, and art altogether. Tessellating patterns, like we're going to learn about in this class, actually fit that description perfectly. So first, we'll try to understand what tessellating patterns are exactly and where they come from. Then, I'll show you how to make a couple of by hand, but then the whole point of this class is to learn how to make them in Illustrator. You'll be able to download my templates and make tessellating patterns in Illustrator with just a couple clicks. I think you'll find this quite easy and fun, and maybe even amazing and a little bit addictive. Your project will of course be to make some patterns and share them with us in the project gallery. I'm really, really excited to see what you come up with. So let's get started. 2. Tessellations and Escher: But first of all, what are tessellations? The technical definition that I got from Wikipedia is the tiling of a plane using one or more geometric shapes called tiles with no overlaps and no gaps. Now that definition of a tessellation is great, but it's actually a little more general than I intend to be talking about in this class. In this class, what I mean when I say tessellation is a pattern made up of one tile, repeated to fill a surface with no overlaps and no gaps. Like this for example, this is one example of an artwork by a really famous artist called M. C. Escher. You've probably seen his work even if you haven't heard of him, and he made, I think probably at least 40, maybe 50 patterns by hand in tessellations like this. So if you look closely at this pattern, you'll notice it is one shape twisted and repeated over the entire surface. One single shape that fits perfectly in itself, rotated around the entire surface. Escher's work at the time was super original and always highly mathematical. Now sends Escher's work is so inspirational for this class. I feel it's only fair to take just a minute and discuss who he was and his other work. So his full name was Maurits Cornelis Escher, and he was a Dutch artist who lived from 1898 to 1972, not really that long ago, and he was famous for mathematically inspired art. Some of his work you may have seen before are his Drawing Hands, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, Relativity, Reptiles, and Waterfall. Some of my favorite works by Escher are called Metamorphosis, and they usually involve some shape morphing and evolving from one side of the screen to the other. Of course Escher has tons these awesome tessellating patterns. I could go on showing this for quite a long time, but I think it's time for us to get started talking about how to make these. 3. Tessellations by Hand: Really briefly, before we make these in Illustrator, I want to show you how we make tessellation patterns by hand. This is how actually I would have had to do it. I think it's important to do this by hand just once or twice so we get a general idea of how this works. Because the Illustrator templates, really, as you'll see, are like magic. You just draw a line with a Pen tool and kaboom you have it. For the sake of understanding how these work, let's build some of these by hand. I just printed out some perfect squares, and also this shape that is like two equilateral triangles stuck together. With these, I'm just going to demonstrate three different tessellating patterns. First, I'm just going to cut them out. Let's start with the absolute simplest kind of tessellation you can do. We'll start with a square and we'll draw a line from two adjacent corners. I'll start at one corner, draw a line and end at the other corner. It could be line of anything, it just has to hit both corners. I can also do either the top or bottom as well, not both. Now, I'm actually going to cut along those lines as well. Now, the shape that I cut off at the top here, I'm going to move it straight down to the bottom. And the shape that I cut off at the right, I will move it straight across to the left. Then I'll grab some tape and tape those in place. Now, my shape is completely ready and all I have to do is trace it all over my paper. Because of the way it was put together, this shape will fit perfectly in itself if you just move it left to right and top to bottom without rotating or anything, it will fit just right. Now, let's do another one, just slightly more complicated. For this one, we'll also start with a square, but this time we'll draw a line on the right side, and another one on the left side, and cut them out. Now, I'm going to grab this piece on the right and without flipping it, I'm just going to rotate it and put it on the bottom. This piece on the left, I'm going to also rotate it without flipping it and stick it on top. I'll tape it all together, and this shape is ready to go as well. This time instead of just moving the shape from left to right and top to bottom, we will rotate it as we trace it. This particular pattern is called four-way rotation. It looks like a pinwheel when you're done. One more quick example with a different shape. We'll draw along the top and the right side of this one, and then this piece from the top, we will rotate it around without flipping it and put it on the left. This piece from the right, we will rotate it around and put it on the bottom. Finally, with some tape, this one is ready to go as well. This particular pattern is called three-way rotation, so you'll see me hold my finger down in this corner here and rotate it around that, and there will be three of this shape. Then you keep moving it around and stick it together like a puzzle and it'll fill up the whole page as well. Now of course, to make these things look more like, whatever you want them to look like, you can absolutely go in and add facial features or whatever to make them look like some animal. You can pretend this thing here is a fish, and add some fins, and a smile, and some eyes, and whatever. Okay. For my taste, that is way more than enough doing stuff by hand, so let's go do this easy now. I'll see you in the next video to do these in Illustrator with just a couple of clicks. 4. Getting Started With The Templates: In the previous video, I showed you how to make tessellation patterns by hand. Now, one thing you were probably wondering as I was doing that is how do I know what shape to start with, how do I know which side to draw on, once I cut out the shape from the side, how do I know where to put it, and then after I've put it, how do I know how to rotate the shape to put it so that everything fits together? Excellent questions. The answer is really, you just have to look it up, and learn it, and memorize it for any one you want to make by hand. But all of that is really based on something called mathematical wallpaper groups. If you really want to know how to make more of them by hand, go look them up online, that's not really the point of this class. I just wanted to show you a couple of them, and that's it. For the rest of this class, honestly, you don't need to know because Illustrator's going to take care of it for you. I have put together a set of templates that you can download, so if you go to the class web page and go to the Project section, on the right side you'll see a download, so go ahead and go download those files and extract them, and meet me back here where we can look at these files together. If you've taken my previous class, Drying Symmetric Patterns Live in Illustrator, you'll remember that I made a set of templates and shared them for that class as well. Now, if you haven't taken that class, don't worry, it's absolutely not a prerequisite for this, but if you have taken that class, you should know that the templates for this class are absolutely 100 percent based upon the templates for that other class. In fact, they are almost identical except that for tessellations, we have fewer of them, and also the guides that we see in the templates are a little bit changed. You'll see what I mean here in a minute. I've opened up the first one of the templates for the previous class, this is not the one for this class, and I'm just showing you. We had a square that we would draw within, and Illustrator repeats it everywhere. If I go open up the equivalent template from the tessellation templates, it's also called Number 1. This template is almost identical to the Number 1 template from before. Before we had a square, and now the guides that I'm showing are lines with dots on them. Besides that, these templates are absolutely identical, they do the exact same thing. But the reason I have switched it over now to just be lines with dots on the end is that for the tessellations, what we really care about is redrawing the edges of that square. Before we wanted to just draw patterns all over the place in that square, now what we care about is the edges of this square. When we redraw those edges, it's just like we're cutting the piece of paper and sticking what we cut off on the other side. This right here is absolutely identical to that first live demonstration I showed you with a square where I stuck it from the right to the left, and from the top to the bottom. This is the exact same thing. Illustrator's just doing that copying for you. Now if you go back out here to the folder of templates, you'll find a cheat sheet at the bottom, which is really just basically a preview of everything all at once, so you can look at everything at once and decide which template you want to use. If we zoom in here, you'll notice that for every one of these templates, I have drawn a set of lines and a set of dots. Your job for any one of these templates is seriously as simple as connect the dots. When you connect the dots, you have a beautiful tessellated shape. I swear it is as easy as that. Then, of course as I'll show you, after you make a cool shape, you can go add in any details you want and make it look like whatever, but the basics of this are so simple. If we go back out here to the templates, first of all, I forgot to mention these are Illustrator templates, which means if you double-click them to open them, you'll get a copy of it, you won't lose the original. That's what's awesome about templates. These are templates. If you look inside any one of these, this top layer is the guides. Just keep it locked and you don't have to touch it. Just look at it to know where you need to draw. The second layer in any one of these templates is the one that you're going to draw in. Right now it just has a path that is some dummy artwork, and it has a bounding box which you need to leave locked and just don't touch. Before we draw, we can delete this path that's already in there, and then select that layer, and then hit P on the keyboard for the Pen tool. You're going to want to come up here to the Swatches panel and make sure you have no fill but you do have a stroke turned on, and then you can make your stroke thicker to make sure you can see it real well. Now, with the Pen tool, you can come in and start in the middle of any one of these blue dots. Now be real careful and aim real accurately, because if you're not careful, it'll be real easy to have your pen start on the edge of the blue circle instead of on the end of the red line. Just make sure you've got the end of the red line and click, and you can draw a line with the Pen tool and end in the middle of the next dot. Of course, we have another line to draw now, so we'll start in the middle of that dot again, and we'll draw another line around however we like, and end in the other dot. We have a shape that tessellates. Now chances are the first shape you draw is going to be weird, but that's why doing this in Illustrator is so cool, because you can redraw it really fast, and try lots of times, and make lots of mistakes, and just experiment and come up with something cool. Imagine if you had to do this in paper hundreds of times just to get the right shape. I can't imagine how long it took [inaudible]. Anyway, all of that is just to say experiment with these a lot and move stuff around. It's hard to plan ahead, you just play with it and see what you come up with. I'm just going to close that one out and open up another template. How about if we do p4 because that's the second one we did a live demonstration with. Just as before, we have lines with dots on the end and our job is to redraw those lines. Remember that you need to be working in this second layer here, and you can just delete those paths because they're just dummy artwork there to show you what it looks like. We'll get the Pen tool, we're using P on our keyboard, and then we make sure we have no fill, but we do have a stroke. You can make your stroke thicker so you can see it real well, and then just come in here and redraw these lines. Again, make sure to aim real carefully here and get the center, get the end of the red line, not the blue thing somewhere, and just click on it with the Pen tool and you can go crazy and draw something interesting. Just make sure when you end you aim well as well. Now we need to draw the other line. One thing I forgot to mention is that with these Illustrator templates, we can be way more creative with our lines than we could with paper. With paper, we can only cut away from the paper. But in Illustrator, our line doesn't have to be only to the left of the red line if you know what I mean, or only to the right. We can draw it all over the place. If you see my lines sometimes goes to the left of the red line and sometimes to the right, and it still works just fine. Now, at this point, I think it's time that you should go start playing with these templates and go crazy and try a lot of them out, and come up with some shape that you really, really like. In the next video, we're going to start talking about how to draw details inside your shape, so see you then. 5. Adding Detail: I expect that by this time you've played around and come up with some shape that you really like. It's time to add some detail. Here's what I came up with. I used template number 14, this one. I just drew a curvy line here and a line like whoop. Look at this sweet pattern. I love it. It's really awesome. I'm going to zoom in here, close on this shape, right next to my guides, I hit ''Z'' on the keyboard and then I just drag in. I'm going to actually hide the guides now, since I'm zoomed in here, I don't think I'll lose which shape I'm supposed to be drawing in, this guy right here. Now I'm going to lock my path, the one that defines the boundary of my shape because I don't want to accidentally mess it up. Now, if I wanted, I could totally start making this into like an animal or who knows what, whatever the heck you feel like. You can make it into whatever you want. I right now, actually feel like doing something geometric. I'm going to just play around with the pen tool and make some more curvy lines inside it. But you can make whatever you want inside yours. Now, this class is not about how to use the pen tool or the pencil tool, or how to draw with illustrators. If you need to learn that for the first time or brush up on how to do that, I highly recommend you go check out [inaudible] skills classes. I know she has done one on the pen and the pencil tool at least. I'd go check those out if you don't know how to use these tools and then come back here. Or you could just play around because you can accomplish a lot, not having any idea what the heck you're doing too. I'm just going to speed up my process of drawing a bunch of lines inside here and I'll meet you when I'm done. All right, so I chose to stop here. It's not perfect, but I think it's pretty cool. Then at this point, I start adding some color, like I selected all those lines inside and change them to one color. Then I played with the background. In the end I chose to go with just so many grays for everything. I think it looks really subtle and really pretty. That's what I came up with. You need to go play with yours and see what you can come up with. 6. Adding Detail And Extracting The Full Shape: Let's do one more example of adding detail to our patterns. This one we're going to approach a little bit differently. You may notice if you click around here a little bit, that this shape that we've defined, we only have access to half of its path. Illustrator is rotating this path around and sticking it on the other side and we don't have access to the other side, which means we don't have access to the whole shape and we can't fill it with something like a gradient, for example, if we wanted to. I'm going to show you right now how to do that, how to extract that shape. If we come over here into the layers panel and look at this layer that we've been drawing in, we're going to make a copy of it. If you hold down option on your keyboard and drag up, it'll make a copy. Then you can close up and lock and hide the original ones so we don't mess it up. Now in the copy here, we need to make sure everything's unlocked, and then we can select a layer itself by hitting this circle over here, and then say "Object", "Expand Appearance". What that has done is now converted that layer from being a bly of drawing layer into actual artwork. Everything that had been transformed and copied before is now just actual artwork. Now with that layer selected, hit "Shift Command G", a bunch of times until everything in that layer is ungrouped. I'm actually going to hide my guides. I don't really need them there and close up this layer. Making sure everything in that layer is still selected, if it's not just hit "Command A". Then we're going to use the shape builder tool so you can hit "Shift M" on the keyboard to get the shape builder tool. You can see if you move your mouse around now, it's highlighting the shape other tool looks around in all these paths and find spaces in between them that looks like you probably would like them to be one path. You can actually make them into one. You need to make sure you have a fill over here in the swatches panel. It doesn't matter if you have a stroke or not, but then when you have a fill, you can just click on one of these and it will make the actual shape for you. Now this shape we just made is all we actually need from this layer, so I'm going to grab my selection tool and select just that shape and hit "Command X" to cut it out. Then I can just delete that layer. I don't need any of that anymore. Then if I open up my other live drawing layer backup, unlock it, open it up, I can paste my shape in there with Command V. Then I can just drag it up, to that space next to where my guides were. Now it is filling the whole screen with this filled shape. Now I have an actual shape here that I could fill with like a gradient for example. If I hit the fill, I can come over and just grab one of these gradients. You can see what I mean. It's pretty in a lot more dramatic than just a solid color. Then once I have a gradient selected, I can open up the gradient panel and I can change these colors and pick whatever I want. I'm double-clicking on these swatches at the bottom, by the way, in case you've never used the gradients panel. If you really have never done gradients, I highly recommend Eugenia and Dominic brands class on ingredients in Illustrator. It's really comprehensive. But I'm just going for something real simple here, so I'm just double-clicking those swatches and changing them. I think I'm done with the gradient anyway. Now I'm going to speed up this video while I add in some details. I'm thinking this thing looks like a bird, so I'm going to make a bird and I'll see you when I'm done. It's simple but I'm pretty pleased to them I think its look like a bird. With that, in the next video I'll show you how to turn your patterns into actual patterns swatches. 7. Make Pattern Swatches: All right. So when you're all done with your design and you like your shape and you details and your colors and everything, and you're ready to turn this into a pattern swatch, here's what you need to do. So let's take a look at these layers over here. Remember we had guides on top and then we had our drying layer next. The ones who don't need that, I haven't even really mentioned to you yet, you probably have a swatch bounds next and then background-color on bottom. So the swatch bounds is actually the magic that's going to make this pattern swatch work. Really all you have to do is take that swatch bounds and some artwork up into the swatches panel, and it will make a swatch for you a perfect swatch that fits this artwork. You'll see what I mean in a minute. So, but before we can drag it up there, we need to convert our artwork into actual artwork instead of a live drawing layer. So first of all, go ahead and hide your guides. We don't need to see them anymore right now. Then we need to make a copy of our live drying layer so that we don't screw up the original because you want the live drawing layer, the original one there in case you need to make changes. So to make a copy hold down option and drag it up. Now the original lock it and hide it. Now we can come up to this copy, and if we open it up, we need to make sure that every single thing in here is unlocked. Everything needs to be unlocked inside that layer. Then once everything's unlocked, come up to the right of the layer here and click on this circle to select the layer itself, and then with that selected, go up to the "Object" menu and click "Expand Appearance". That right there has converted that layer from live drawing into actual artwork. Before we did this, all of those other lines besides the ones that you could select, we're kind of just basically a preview, but now they're all actual artwork. Okay. So now that we did that, we need to come down here and unlock the swatch bounds and the background layer. I'm actually going to drag the swatch bounds back down underneath the background color. I should have done that in the actual templates, like when I gave them to you, but whatever, sorry about that. So just drag it down to the bottom. So now take a good look at your layers here. You need guides to be locked. You need your original live drying layer to be locked. You need everything else unlocked and showing your artwork, your background color, and your swatch bounds. With everything else unlocked, you can say command A to select everything. Then you just grab it and drag it up into the swatches panel. Now if you've done everything correctly, you should have a perfectly working swatch up there with your pattern in it. So we can test it out if you hit Z on the keyboard and zoom out a little bit, and then make a new layer, hit M on the keyboard to get the rectangle tool and just drag a rectangle. Then you can fill this thing with your swatch to test it and just take a good look at it. Mine looks great, everything looks fine. So I guess I'm done with this pattern. So let's do this one more time too, so you can get some practice. Let's take this bird pattern that I made and do the same thing a little bit faster. Okay, so it looks like my guides are already locked in hidden, and that's good, and I'm going to make a copy of this layer now. So I'll close it and then hold down option and drag up. Sorry, I hold down option and drag up to make a copy of it, and you'll notice when I drag up, I get this line above it and this plus sign. So okay. If I let go, I have a copy of it and I can lock and hide the original. Then this copy, I need to make sure absolutely everything in it is unlocked, and then I can come up here on the right-hand side of this layer and click this circle to target this layer. Then go "Object" "Expand Appearance". Okay so come back down to my layers now and I'll unlock the swatch bounds and unlock the background color. Actually, this one you don't even see the background-color is completely covered up. So I'm not going to undo the background-color. I'll leave the background color locked and just leave it out. We don't need it. Okay. So with everything else locked besides my swatch bounds and my artwork, I can hit command A and drag everything up into the swatches. So we can just zoom out and test this thing on a new layer. I'll hit M on the keyboard and drag out a square or rectangular or whatever, and fill it with my swatch. This one looks great too. All right. So that's it for making a pattern swatch with these templates. It might take you a little bit of practice and a couple of tries to get it down, but once you understand how this works, it's actually quite simple. So if you have to watch this more than one skill for it but yeah, it looks like we're done. 8. Conclusion: And just like that, we're done. So thank you so much for taking this class. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you make some beautiful patterns. Please don't forget to review this class and also follow me on Skillshare and Instagram, and definitely don't forget to upload your projects so I can see what you made with my templates. I have several more classes planned using these templates with some pretty awesome stuff you can make so be sure to keep your eye open for those classes soon.