Repeat Patterns in Adobe Illustrator: 5 Techniques to Level Up Your Portfolio | Esther Nariyoshi | Skillshare

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Repeat Patterns in Adobe Illustrator: 5 Techniques to Level Up Your Portfolio

teacher avatar Esther Nariyoshi, Published Illustrator based in the US

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

    • 1.

      Class Introduction


    • 2.

      Strengthening Your Narrative


    • 3.

      Diversifying the Motifs


    • 4.

      Honing Your Consistency


    • 5.

      Avoiding Predictable Boundaries


    • 6.

      Utilizing Space Efficiently


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Elevate your surface pattern designs to a new level with Illustrator and Designer Esther Nariyoshi!

The differences between a good design and a great design are usually subtle. It's the small things that set things apart. This short class covers the big picture of telling strong stories, as well as technical walk-throughs on how to implement and adjust motifs in Adobe Illustrator. 

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Strengthen your narrative
  • Diversify the motifs
  • Hone your consistency
  • Avoid predictable boundaries
  • Utilize your space (negative space and texture work)

This class is for anyone who is interested in leveling up an existing portfolio of surface patterns. It does require prior experience in working with repeating patterns. 

If you are a complete beginner in the wonderful surface pattern design world, check out Esther's beginner-friendly Staff-Pick class on how to create your 1st surface design here below.


Connect with Esther:  Shop Esther's Handcrafted Procreate Brushes | Portfolio | Instagram 

Follow Esther on Skillshare for her new upcoming classes on Illustration.

Want to learn more about creating a narrative pattern from the ground up? Check out Nina's class below

 Connect with Esther: Portfolio | Instagram | Blog

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Esther Nariyoshi

Published Illustrator based in the US

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Level: Intermediate

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1. Class Introduction: A good pattern makes your eyes happy and it makes your heart leap a little. And we all have had that feeling before. And that's probably why we got into surface pattern design to begin with. And you probably already have quite a few of those pieces in your portfolio. Hi, my name is Esther scenario. I am an illustrator based in the US and also a top teacher here on Skillshare. My works are seeing various surfaces and design blogs as well as magazines. Today, we're going to work together on your portfolio so that we can move those good pieces into great pieces. In this class, we're going to cover five advanced techniques to improve our design. We're going to cover techniques like narrative storytelling so that your patterns can be more engaging to the viewers. We're also going to talk about technical aspects of pattern-making, like honing your consistency and texture work, as well as skillful layering or negative space. This class is designed for students who are beyond the basics. So you are already familiar with how to build a pattern on your tool of choice and are on the lookout for a new breakthrough in your design growth. Without further ado. Let's get started. 2. Strengthening Your Narrative : Every pattern collection has a hero. It's the pattern that draws the whole person in itself. So the pattern that has the strongest story. And it's probably the pattern that you would grab first in the fabric store. And this is independent of the artistic style of the designer or the themes that they lend on. It can be something really specific, like a botanical walk in the morning. Or it can be something really abstract, like resilience and friendship. A pattern like this turns you into a five-year-old. It makes you stare at it and look for the Easter eggs. And it would reward you when you find them. You may feel really airy and fluffy when I describe it. So in order to understand the concept of narrative storytelling, we're going to look at some concrete examples. The first example we're going to look at, it's by Heather Ross. My opinion. She is one of the greatest designers in our day and time. Her designs are really illustrative and full of stories. Sometimes I get happily confused because it feels like I'm reading a children's illustration book. In fact, it's a piece of repeating pattern. So let's take a look at a couple of those. This pattern in front of us is from her collection called far, far away third, now let's take a look around the pattern. Over here we have a few gnomes doing various kinds of activities. So two of them are cutting up a tree and when it just sitting up here and there's one guy here taking a nap and the other one next to him is daydreaming. Each one of them has their own unique expressions. The ribbon next to them says they were a merry band of Brothers without a mother or to mind them. So this gives us a hint of Miss Chief and also invites us to look at this group of nomes and to fill in with our own imagination in terms of how the story goes. If we keep looking around the pattern, we will find this girl lying on the forest floor. There were been under her says she awoke in the woods with new friends to greet her. It sounds like a very happy message. And she also looks really relaxed and very mesmerized by her new friends who are very curious. Not too far away from the nums, we can see a tree house. This structure itself is very interesting already. My favorite part of the whole pattern is the clothing line. If we count the numbers, there are seven outfits. But we knew there were only six gnomes that we can see. This interesting fact made me look and look for the seventh brother. Eventually I realized that he's not here, not on the pattern. This invites me to imagine my own story based on what's being drawn. Is the last brother reading behind the tree or EC cooking or you see, lost? Or did he turn into this L that is looking at everybody else? I don't know. So this only makes this pattern more interesting to me. You see that there is so much potential in creating a pattern that tells stories. It just creates this more engaging relationship between a person who is looking at the pattern and the designer. The stories of viewer imagined might be very different from the designer's intention, but the interaction and the imagination sparked by this story and the design is very priceless. Let me just read you what the designer has written for the collection. I'm so pleased to announce the re-release of far, far away three, featuring Snow White and playing horses. Themes from my childhood memories. Playing with horses with my sister and cousin, and my obsession with gnomes and wondering how my house gnomes did their laundry. I bet her intention is very different from your imagination of what this pattern is trying to say. The point is, when your pattern tells a strong story, it really draws you in. And that is an awesome quality of a great pattern. Over here we have a secondary pattern from the same collection. As you can see, there are similar colors being used. The story of gnomes doing their laundry is being told on this pattern as well. The first pattern is mostly vertical, while the second pattern is mostly horizontal. The different orientations of the patterns within the same collection give crafters and the soloist options to combine the two fabrics in interesting ways. As we mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, a great patterns sends you to a treasure hunt. For example, right here, this little naughty bird just stole a piece of underwear and flew away. I think it's super funny. This is what I meant by visual rewards. When you look at the pattern and you discover this little interesting details and maybe giggle a little inside. I hope these little treasures that we discovered together can encourage you to go the extra mile as a surface pattern designer. 3. Diversifying the Motifs: As an artist who primarily works on digital media, I am very familiar with the convenience of the tools. You can easily just rotate, flip, and re-scale, and a recycle your motifs in the same pattern. However, a lot of times these techniques are overly done. In this lesson, we're going to talk about how to diversify your motifs. This topic really has two points. And the first part is sketching more than what you need and also sketch thoughtfully. And the second part is how to manipulate just your motifs when you don't have enough. So I'm going to cover both of these points in this lesson. Alright, let's go over some of the practical examples during the sketching phase. Here are a bunch of new sketches that I'm currently working on. As you can see, this pattern is going to be very character centric, which just means that there are a lot of people on my pattern, which is new to me. Anyways, my point is when I was sketching, I was thinking how I can diversify my motifs to make the pattern more interesting. Well first, the poses are very different and also they have very different outfit. You can really tell the color at this stage, but I can assure you they're going to wear very vastly different outfits. And also, I've included this little toddler, which I think makes the whole story more fun. The angles are also different. The person on a snowboard in the middle is enjoying the journey more casually than his neighbors. I've also included a tent and a pair of skis on the side indicating someone is resting and in a corner. This might be my favorite part of the sketches, is a person just showing one leg. And obviously this person just took a fall. But I think this will add more drama into the pattern which will make it more engaging to look at. I mean, I don't wish anyone to fall in real life, but it just happens, right? I suspect a lot of you like to draw flowers or floral elements. There are ways to diversify flowers as well. For example, you can add different varieties of flowers. Or even if you're just focusing on one kind of flower, you can add multiple angles. Maybe some from this side, some from the top and some from the bottom. And you can also add a different stages for the flower. For example, some can be just budding, others can be blooming full-scale. Regardless of how many flowers you want to fit in in one pattern, it's always a good idea to draw flowers in different sizes. Because when you put pattern together, you'll most likely encounter the odd spaces that you have to fill. So it's super handy to have smaller elements for this kind of situation. So this is how we can diversify our motifs during the sketching phase. But sometimes you just don't realize that you don't have enough until you're putting together a pattern. So in the next few minutes, I'm going to show you how to make up for it when you don't have enough motifs. Stay tuned. On our art board, we have two flowers to demonstrate the techniques that we're going to cover for this lesson. Since this is an intermediate to advanced level class, I won't cover the super basic techniques in detail, but I do wanna go over it real quick. Some simple transformation includes rotation. So let's have this little flower selected and press R on your keyboard. And you can just rotate it that way. But notice that your cursor is a crosshair. This means that you can plot your rotation center to somewhere else. By default, it's right in the middle. So when I click and drag, you will rotate based on the center point. However, if I just click somewhere else and you will recognize this target as the new rotation center. When I click around, he rotates according to the new rotation center. So that's rotation. Let me just undo. Similarly, that's how the reflect tool works. Press O on your keyboard to activate it, or click on this icon that is hidden under the rotate tool. And you can just click and drag. And you will reflect your flower based on vertical axis. When you hold the Shift, it will restrain the angle by 45 degree increments. Similarly, the targets defaults to the middle, but you can also click outside. And then when that happens, this flower will reflect based on this vertical axis. So this is after and before. If you want to scale your motif or a group of motifs up and down, you can have them selected and hover to one of the corners and hold your Shift key to keep it proportional. And then just click and drag. This will change the scale. All these options can be found by selecting your motif and right-click. And you can see all the options. These options are helpful if you want to transform your motifs to a very precise standard. For example, you want to move it to 50 pixels to the right, and this is the way to do it. But in certainly unique situations, these transformation options can be limited in a way. For example, if you have moved all your motifs on an art board and all of a sudden you find yourself needing a flower that kind of look like this. But bandy, In a situation like this, it will be a great idea to give puppet tool a try. Let's see how we can use it. First, I'm going to select my motif and come over to the free transform tool or E on your keyboard. And then just long click to find the flyout menu to click the Puppet Warp tool. This will basically give you some joins. If we can imagine this flower being a person, let's just move it around before adding any pins. So when I hover over one of these dots, you can see it changes the direction of my flower. Although this seems a little unnatural. Maybe I'm going to add one more at the top. Whenever you have a pen, it's kind of like a nail that keep things in place. Say that you only want the stem to move, but not the leaves. You can put your pens down on the leaves and then just move this down. When I move it around, you can see the pins keep things in place. But this seems to be a little too much. So I'm going to undo and then just hover over, depends on delete them. Actually click on them and delete them. Depending on how your motif is structured, you might want to experiment different numbers or positions of the pins. This is a little bit better, but when I move it around, this neck portion seems to be a little rigid. So I'm going to click on the pin at the top. When I click on it, you can see there's a dotted circle. So this, let me rotate this pen. So I'm going to just make my flower tilting to the left a little more. You can finance it. This is a little better. And then I want to rotate the middle portion as well to make it a little more natural. Alright? And then I will just click on V and outside. So probably you can still get some work done here to make the neck portion of the stem a little more smooth. But you can see my point after a few minutes of playing around. And you can see this is a before and after. This tool will allow you to diversify your motifs without necessarily drawing a new one. For your next step, find a pattern piece in your current portfolio and see how you can apply this Puppet Warp tool to make your composition more natural. 4. Honing Your Consistency: In this lesson, we're going to 0 in, on one topic. Consistency. I have to say this is one of the most frequent issues that I see in surface pattern design. The fix is pretty easy. So let's take a look. Over here on my art board, I have three simple motifs to make a pattern. Since this is intermediate to advanced level class, I will walk you through every single step of a pattern-making process. If you are curious about my process, you can check out my class called surface pattern design in Adobe Illustrator. A complete introduction. But for now, we're going to focus on keeping our patterns consistent within Adobe Illustrator. Here is a pattern that I'm working on based on the motifs that we just saw. I see that there is a whitespace right here that I want to fill with my green leaf. However, seems like if I just hold option and drag this up, maybe rotate it a little bit. It's a little bit too big for this space. Even if I move it around. So I am going to zoom in. And to make this leaf just a tiny bit smaller. I'm holding my option key and Shift key to keep it proportional and just make it low smaller. So when we zoom out, you can see the whitespace is not that jarring anymore. However, when you look closely, you can see the inconsistency of the stroke width. This is a very simple example of a very common problem. As a surface pattern designer, you might have spent hours and hours of sketching and coloring. And eventually you have arrived at a place that you really like. But when you put a pattern together, things don't quite fit. So scaling up and down is very common. But this can be a little distracting if one of your elements looks very different from others. This problem can be solved very easily. Do Command Z a few times to go back to our original size. Over here, I'm going to select my new duplicate of my leaf. I'm just going to press Command K to bring out my preference window. You can also just click on Illustrator and preference. There are tons of options. What we want is under the tab called a general. And there are two columns of checkmarks. In the middle of the second one, we want to uncheck the scale strokes and effects and then click on Okay. What this one does is that when you scale things up and down, you will keep the stroke width consistent. You can see that the area of the leaf has gotten smaller, but the lines remain the same stroke width. So this really helps with the consistency. Another way to access the same option is through the properties window. So you can go to Window and click on Properties down the list, there is a checkbox. So this is really, really helpful if you want to keep your pattern consistent throughout. This is one element that you can pay attention to regardless of what software that we use. Whether you, if you're drawing on iPad or on paper. This is specially important if you resize your motif to fit in certain defined space. If you have taken any of my iPad Illustration classes, you know that I really recommend keeping all your layers separate. For instance, with our lease pattern right here, I have the leaves and the outlines on separate layers. In this case, if I need to re-size one of the leaves, I can do that. And then just delete my original outline for that resized motif and redraw the line work with a consistent stroke width. But ideally, at the sketching phase, it will be great if you have more than what you need for a pattern. In that way, you will have more motifs to use for your pattern assembly. If your motifs are too time-consuming to draw or you just simply have no time to start a new one. Remember, use our techniques that we have covered in previous lesson to practice what we have just learned. Find one pattern in your current portfolio that could use some more love to make it more consistent. 5. Avoiding Predictable Boundaries: In typography or type setting, there is a concept called the rivers. It's basically the gaps between words that flows through multiple lines. It can look really distracting. And the similar things happen in surface pattern designs. Sometimes a designer is very focused on one area and try to make it pretty and forget the big picture. So when a pattern is made and you can see the pattern boundary is really obvious. And it might not be a big deal for geometric patterns, but it can be really distracting for a tossed pattern. So in this lesson, we're going to cover a few strategies on how to mitigate this issue. Again, this is another example from Heather Ross. This particular print comes from her collection called Molly Bu. And if you look at the pattern, all the ocean waves are organically interconnected. It's really hard to tell the repeat tile. Where does it begin and where does it end? Closely? You do see some motifs being repeated, but the design elements come together so naturally that you stop thinking it's a pattern. This is a great way to approach design. Think about what you want to say with your illustrations and then figure out the technical aspects later. In terms of pattern boundary, you can see these two girls are exactly the same and they are at the same horizontal level as well. So you know that the width of the pattern is probably somewhere around here. But again, because things are drawn so organically, Your Gays is following the waves around. That's the command you want to have as a surface designer because you're leading people's eyes and engaging their hearts based on the New World that you have created with your hard work. This may feel a little too abstract to put into practice. So I will share with you a couple of more tips to show you how to expand your work into a new dimension. I want you to take a break from thinking surface pattern for a moment and just watch this clip. This is an animation film called The Ponyo, which in itself is a great story. But for our purpose, I want you to pay attention to how many layers of worlds are we looking at? There is obviously just regular ocean and there is regular air or Skype, if you will. But also there's this beautiful interaction between the water world and the land world. When I was first watching this film with my kids, immediately reminds me of surface pattern design and really helped me understand how I approach surface pattern design. Oftentimes my design has a flat background with some color. And then things are kind of just sit on top of each other. And this film really opens up my mind, kinda like the first example I've shared with you from Heather Ross. The girls are surfing on the waves and there are different layers of things. The waves are not just even one flat color. The waves has its own textures and has its own up and downs and kind of interconnected with the surfing girls as well. So I think that is a great way to think about your pattern. It's more than just a background layer and flatly objects on top of it. From a technical aspect in Adobe Illustrator, when you think about layers, of course there is literal layers. We can see our Layers panel. And you can create unlimited layers just by clicking on the plus. You probably already know it already. And then you can rearrange the order of the layers. Or you can lock layers and hide layers from view, things like that. But I also want to show you something that could be really useful when you're just on a road drawing and don't want to mess with another panel and working with layers and stuff. And also, if you prefer to work everything on the same layer, you can arrange the let me just create something real quick. You can arrange things to the back or bring it to the front by using arrange layers, you can just right-click and Arrange. And this will allow you to arrange your layers. I like to use keyboard shortcuts. So this is, if I want to bring this yellow all the way to the back, I want to use Command Shift and left bracket. And this will just bring it to the back. But also when you're drawing, it may be a great idea to just draw directly from behind. For example, if I just use the blob brush tool, which is shift B on your keyboard. Let me select this color that represents snow. If I just draw right out of the bat, it's going to be on top of whatever layer I have. And then I have to arrange the layer to the back or paste it to the bottom layer in your Layers panel. But here's the trick. You see this little unassuming and I count right here in the corner is called the draw behind. By default, we have seen, we always draw on top of things. But if we switch the mode to draw behind, which is Shift D on your keyboard, It's going to automatically let you draw behind. So let's do the same thing with the drop behind selected. When I draw like a small patch of snow, it's going to automatically stay behind. I think this is a very helpful thing to keep in mind when you think about layers. I hope you now have a better understanding of layers. So my homework for you is to pull out one of your portfolio piece, zoom out to ten to 30% of the original scale and see how you can utilize what you have learned from this lesson to connect your motifs better. 6. Utilizing Space Efficiently: If you're familiar with my work, you know that I love colors. But in this lesson, I'm going to challenge you and me to think beyond just adding another color. There are realized benefits of learning how to limit our color uses. Because a lot of printing processes are still screen printing based, which means that each additional color is going to cost more. Therefore, it's a really good idea for surface pattern designers to think about smart ways to use limited resources. I'm going to cover two aspects of smart use of space in this lesson. This is an example from graphic designers Shigeo Fukuda from Japan. The use of lines and space is genius. It just makes you stare at the image and wonder how in the world can an idea like this be conceived? Here is a more modern example from Zach post. There are also just two colors, black and white. But from the negative space, you can see the bear is holding a fish all without adding a third color. In this example, there are only three colors, including the background color. Instead of adding a fourth color for the shirt of the first-person and the pants of the second person. This artist chose to use stripes, which is in itself a kind of like a pattern to convey space. This is absolutely brilliant. In a very similar way, this little illustration by Katie Evans is awesome. It just blows my mind how simple it is. You can even tell where the color is based on the direction of the stripes. And you can also tell the wrinkles of the sweater as well. It is just strikingly simple, but also it says so much more than just two colors. Now that you have a basic understanding of how negative space works, I encourage you to go ahead and find one of your existing work and just take out one color off of your pattern and see how you can use the rest of the colors and negative space to convey the same message. The next aspect I'm going to cover is texture work, which I do a lot for my standalone illustrations, but not so much for my surface pattern work. But when you really slow down and think about textures, your work can look so much richer. So let's take a look. And for now, I want to show you an example of a beautiful pattern. So this particular pattern is done by amino Patel. And if we zoom in super close, you can see the coloring work. You can almost hear the marker touching the paper. And it really shows up beautifully. When was the last time that you want to stop everything you're doing and just really wanted to touch a piece of fabric. I mean, it's probably like yesterday seems a lot of us like fabric. But really look at this. It's just gorgeous to help us put our learning into practice. Go ahead and grab a piece of paper and draw some very simple geometric shapes. And then use the marker to fill the shapes. Just like a five-year-old. 7. Final Thoughts : Congratulations you did it. I know this class can be really dense and there might be new concepts and ideas that are swirling around your head right now. And the one single advice I can give you is to write that down and then translate that knowledge into practice. So pickups, one technique that resonates most with you at the moment and then implemented into your current work. You can be something really simple, like switching out the elements to make the boundaries less obvious. Or you can be smart and use those negative space. Or you can improve upon the texture work. Whatever you have decided on. I would love to see it. So go ahead and create a student project and the posterior progress. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect. It's a very friendly, encouraging Skillshare community right here. And it will be great if we can walk along with each other in this art journey until next time. Happy creating.