Stronger Patterns Made Easy | Shannon McNab | Skillshare

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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.

      Replacing Overwhelming Motifs (Shannon)


    • 3.

      Small Details Can Make a Big Impact (Amber)


    • 4.

      Color Contrast & Making Small Adjustments (Kim)


    • 5.

      Color & Spacing: Your Two Best Friends (Norma)


    • 6.

      Final Thoughts + Your Assignment


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About This Class

Ever finish a pattern, only to feel like it still "needs something", yet you're not sure what??

I felt like this constantly when I first learned pattern design over a decade ago, but over the years I developed easy ways to fix my patterns and not only make them stronger, but more dynamic too. And I'm sharing a few of those tricks in this class!

Each video is a self-contained tutorial, so you can learn each technique in 3-9 minutes flat. They also feature four different artists work and three were generously submitted by my actual pattern students.

Every featured artist was compensated in exchange for permission for me to use their patterns in class. Let's get to know them all a little bit more:

Video 3: Amber Benton
Website | Instagram

Amber is an illustrator, freelance graphic designer and homeschool mom to six boys. Amber's works in both paint and pixels. Her style is strongly influenced by her childhood in rural Appalachia and the vitality, color and chaos that comes with large family living.

Video 4: Kim Bliss
Website | Instagram

Kim is an unemployed graphic designer who decided to take the reigns of her career and follow her dream. She applies her artistic and design skills in the styles she is interested in, which is quite eclectic, and includes retro, hand-drawn and whimsical. Florals, food and abstract patterns are her favorite.

VIdeo 5: Norma Jeane

A few decades ago, Norma Jeane got a degree in Theatrical Set Design. But a move to Los Angeles caused her to become a television writer instead. Retired after 30 years in TV, she is picking up her artwork again. As most days are spent caring for her two grandchildren, her personal style can best be described as “not enough time to finish this.” 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Shannon McNab

Surface Designer & Illustrator


Hi ya! I'm Shannon, an American surface designer living in Dublin, Ireland who specializes in patterns and hand lettering. My focus is on helping you not only improve your creative work, but also your business skills - anyone who dreams of making a living from their work needs BOTH to succeed. But community is also really important, which is why I started Sketch Design Repeat - to support and encourage you.


PS. Want to keep in touch and know when I have new classes or articles? Sign up for my newsletter.

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1. Class Introduction: Hi. I'm Shannon McNab. I'm a surface designer and illustrator and had been creating patterns for the past 10 years. In that time, I've developed lots of little tricks to make my patterns stronger, and that's what I'm going to show you in this class. I'll be walking you through four different patterns by four different artists, including myself. In just a few simple steps, I'll show you how I made the pattern stronger and more dynamic. All the designs I utilize for this class that don't feature my own artwork were submitted from fellow students from my previous skill share classes. All the designers had been compensated in exchange for letting me use their pattern. As you'll see, all four patterns have a very unique style to the artists. I tried as much as possible to keep their original style intact when making changes. I hope you enjoy the results. 2. Replacing Overwhelming Motifs (Shannon): We're going to start this class with a pattern from my own portfolio. This is the original version of My Funky Floral Design. You can see here there's lots of different motifs and so you may be wondering, what's wrong with this? It looks like a pretty decent pattern because there's lots of movement, lots of different sizes and shapes. But if I put the repeat on a rectangle right here, the thing that I notice is this leaf right here shows up pretty blatantly. I did this in one color specifically so you can see that. While this isn't a bad pattern, I felt like there was still more that I could do to make this a stronger design. So I'm going to show you a very simple way to combat this thing where there's one motif that's very, very strong and how to change that. Here's my original sheet of sketches for this pattern. You can see I have lots of little doodles that I've included along with the large motifs like the leaves and the florals. If you've taken my coordinates class, you know I'm a big proponent of including these little doodles for coordinate patterns. But there's actually another valuable reason to do that. For objects that do appear too large on their own like this leaf, you can simply remove them and then fill this in with new motifs. A lot of times especially with something like this where everything is very tightly cut in a pattern, a lot of times I'll run out from my original sketches. So I also always have an AI file that includes all my extra little motifs that I've done in my sketchbook so that I can mind this for little motifs that I want to add to a pattern. You can see here, if I switch on the updated version, the new design that I added and changed was in red versus the original. There was the original of the repeat and simply by removing this piece and adding in a bunch of new, smaller doodles, here's the updated version. You can see the sizing of the smaller motifs is important because now everything seems much more balanced than the original version. If you find that you're looking at a design in repeat and that's just not feeling quite right, there's something that stands out to you like this. One very simple way to combat that, just delete it or make it smaller and then fill in the additional space with lots of smaller doodles. You can see it becomes a much stronger repeat. 3. Small Details Can Make a Big Impact (Amber): The next pattern I'm going to be working with is a submission from Amber Vinten. What I love most about this pattern is the beautiful spring color way. It's a perfect representation of what probably most people think of when they think Easter, spring. Her biggest struggle with this pattern and the few others she sent me. She actually sent me an entire collection of her spring has from pieces, was she felt that every pattern was a little too simple and she didn't feel like any of them were a hero pattern. Which I completely understand because with the simple shapes you have, you do have variation with the color, but not much else. There are a few different ways we can add some small details that can have a huge impact and take the piece from this to this. You can see with all the extra little details added, this makes it look a lot more like a hero pattern. Here is Amber's original repeat size. What I like about what she did was for the second row, she shifted everything over and so all of the colors bounce around. But I think she could do even more of that. For those of you who have taken my pattern recipe class, you know I'm a big fan of having colors bounce around or repeat, because it makes the viewer's eye look around a lot more and the pattern ends up looking a lot more pleasing to the eye. What I ended up doing was actually doubling the size in the vertical direction, which actually gave me two more rows to work with and then shift over. Here you see that instead of blue being down here on this third row, I shifted everything over and now it's orange and the blue is over here. There's a little bit more variation in the location of each of the bunnies. If I switch the swatches, you can see just how much more variation there is in the color. Now beyond color, I felt the biggest impact I could make was to add small details because right now the only detail she really has is this cute little flower tail. It's such an adorable addition to the pattern and I really love that, but I thought I could do more. One of the things I thought would be fun is actually to have some of the bunnies facing forward and some of them staying backwards. What I started with, was I just took one of the bunny shapes she already had created and then with the blob brush, I quickly added to it and I made legs for him. Then I made a little face. Then I added in the inside of the ears and then a little cute tummy. Then the important part is when you place him, is I didn't want him always on the blue bunny because then it starts to look a little bit predictable and I didn't want that. You can see on every different line, the bunny is in a different color. If I change this, you can see that if all of the blue bunnies were facing forward, it wouldn't feel as balanced as this does now. However, with only one bunny facing forward and five facing backwards, I felt this was still too much. I wanted to make them even so since there were six colors chosen, I decided to do three facing forward and three facing backward and basically have them go back and forth. Now, I could use the same bunny back and forth, but I wanted to do just a little bit of experimentation and add a few extra details in. Here are the two other bunnies that I created. It's basically using the same form as the original and making just a few minor adjustments. For the one on the left, I flopped his ear and then made him winking. That's literally the only change I made. Then for the one on the right, I actually flipped this one so the floppy ear was on the opposite side, made both of the eyes closed. It has a more soft demure presence. Then I also took her floral from the bunny tail, removed the center and it placed it small on her head. It adds a little bit of extra detail. If I turn on the multi bunny, you can see just how much of an impact this makes. It would still look great if they were all the regular bunny facing forward. But by having a little bit of extra detail, there's a little bit more for the viewer to look at, which is always a good thing. If I zoom out and change it, you can see just how effective this pattern is when put into repeat. Now there's one other tip I wanted to share with you, for patterns like this, that they have a lot of whitespace and even though we added a lot of detail, there's still a little bit more we could do and it's a technique I love to use on these simpler patterns. That's actually to create a small simple coordinate pattern that you actually put behind. When Amber sent in her submission, like I mentioned, she actually sent in a couple different patterns and one of them was this beautiful little dot pattern. This is a perfect coordinate as is. I wouldn't change a thing. I especially love how the dots are different sizes. The movement is really great on this pattern. I thought this would be perfect as a background to the bunnies. The most important thing when you're doing a background on a larger pattern is you want it to enhance, but not overpower. Scale is very important. That's why I took her repeat and I sized it way down. This is actually only one inch by one inch. Now one important thing I wanted to mention is this is a bit of an intermediate technique because there is a little bit of math involved because anytime I add a back pattern to a larger pattern, I personally like to make sure it repeats perfectly within the larger repeat size. Because her pattern is in full inches, it's 16 by 10 inches, it actually makes it very easy to put it in repeat as a one inch by one inch pattern. Now I did change it to yellow, I just wanted to have it in black so you can actually see it at that size. Now if I add that swatch in and move it to the back and zoom in. You can see that when it's duplicated, it will repeat perfectly. That's exactly what you want. I love this because it adds just a tiny little bit of extra dimension to the pattern. That's one of the easiest ways you can add just a little bit of extra dimension to a large repeat. If I place that behind the other large swatch, you can see just how effective it is. 4. Color Contrast & Making Small Adjustments (Kim): The next pattern I'm going to be working with was submitted by Kim Bliss. As you can see, it's a really fun and funky geometric pattern and her biggest concern with this is that she felt it was a little too tiled, which I completely agree with. Everything seems very stuck in a brick like style. I'm going to show you how I took this and changed it into that in just a few simple steps. Here is her original. Let me move that back and the first thing I noticed was the peachy pink sitting on the purple. Felt it was getting a loss. But luckily, there's a really easy trick to see, if you need more contrast in a piece and all you have to do is click on your swatch and then copy it and then open up photoshop. I already have a document set up for this and then paste it in. Then the way you tell if you need more contrast is really simple. You just go to image mode and switch it to gray scale and you can see here that like I expected, the peachy pink almost completely disappears from when you change it to gray scale and that's a really easy way you can check to see if you need to bump up the contrast between the colors and your pattern. Moving back to this, the first thing I did was changed a few of the colors. Here is the updated version. You can see the biggest noticeable change is changing these lines from the peachy pink to the orchid color she had in her palette, which is a really pretty color against the purple. Then the other change that I made was all of these dots are in the same exact color as these green lines. I wanted there to be a little bit more contrast between that. I changed all of those to a darker purple and here. Almost all the colors are light, sitting on the background, where here you have both light and dark. If you see the updated version of that, you can now see a lot more of the detail that she put time in on all those little dots. You go back and forth. The next trick to easily change a pattern that feels really tiled is to actually use the pattern maker and see if you can put it into a half drop and if that helps. I'm going to turn off the original and I'm going to collect everything and go to object pattern make. and then the repeat size for her was five-by-five. and you can see this is how it's repeating right now. But if I go down to the drop down where it says tile type and switch it to Brick by Row. You can see it's automatically already better because you have it bouncing around, so it's not all linear, up and down, left to right. You have a little bit that goes back and forth. We can use that and change our pattern to now reflect this type of design. How do you go about making a half drop without just putting it into the pattern maker and making it a swatch. What I like to do for those of you who have taken some of my other classes, I love to use the Move tool. It's one of the easiest ways to make sure your patterns are perfectly placed. I said, her original repeat was five-by-five. I'm going to take all of the pieces in the original repeat and since these are overlapping pieces, I'm not going to pick those up because otherwise it will duplicate. I'm going to move those. Like I said, it's a five-by-five repeat, and this was a Brick by Row. We're going to move it over five and the vertical will be 0, and if I turn on the preview, you can see it's going to move perfectly five inches over. One thing I forgot to mention, when you do the move tool is you have to press copy. Otherwise, it will just move what you've selected. This time I'm actually going to remember and pick copy and see. Now you see it works perfectly. Then move everything over so you can see it. Now obviously it's a half drops, so we're not going to move everything perfectly down five inches. We're going to collect everything again not doing the the overhang. Although, this time I actually I'm going to use that one, but not these little purple dots because these are on the bottom and use the Move tool again and this time we're going to move it over half, so 2.5 and move it down the four and then press Copy. Then you'll want to do the same thing again. Except this time you're going to want to move it negative so that it moves back in-place copy. Now we have a new, larger repeat size. That's going to be, the original is five-by-five. This new one is going to be 5 by 10 because we have to accommodate for the five-inch drop over to the right. Here's my updated repeat. I try and keep all my files really neat and tidy. Any of the extra overhang I usually delete. My computer will run faster because obviously the more images you have, the more points you have, the slower your computer will run. Now that we have this, the next thing I want to do is actually add some extra lines in here and the reason I want to do that is because we want to actually increase the amount of randomness. What I usually do for a pattern like this is, I'll take the existing patterns so that I don't have to go and actually create new lines. Ungroup it because she's had everything wonderfully grouped together and then I'll just experiment with different lengths. Maybe this looks nice with just five and to make sure it reads differently than this original, I'll probably rotate it 180. It doesn't look exactly like the original. Just experiment with different permutations of all the lines and dots. From that you can see first I did the purple. The original, let me zoom out so that you can see it in repeat. This was again the original after changing color. That's after I made it a half drop and the first thing I did was add some extra purple lines in both the horizontal and vertical directions, also making sure that some of them were overlapped in places so they didn't all look stacked together. You can see the difference here, although I still feel this is maybe a little too linear that's why I went back like this, and they felt a little bit more jumbled now, you mess with the placement. You can see in this other version, I felt this was very lined up with the updated version, you can see I actually added the second piece rate here and offset them, it bounces around a little more. Then adding in and breaking up the large piece. I go back one you can see these are about the same thickness for the green lines by breaking that up a little bit and then adding in a few extra lines, it actually gives a little bit more movement. It's an easy way to make your pattern stronger and then the last thing that I did was enlarging the dots, because the lines are very overpowering and I loved all the little detail that she had in her dots. I went in and increase them all by a 110 percent. You can see the difference if I go back and forth. Now you notice the dots a little bit more and I just realized there's actually one other little tweak I made felt these were too close and this was too far apart. I moved it a little bit, so that now it feels all the spacing is even, even though it's a randomized pattern. That's how we went from this all the way to that and it didn't take that much time or effort. 5. Color & Spacing: Your Two Best Friends (Norma): This last pattern I'm going to show you in this class is from Norma. What I love about this pattern was that she made all the motifs entirely with the blob brush, which I think is absolutely wonderful. If I zoom in, you can see all the little great details, especially on the flower center. I really love all those little details. Her biggest issue, she felt was that the more she worked with it, the more she felt that it was just dull and she wanted a bright happy pattern. We're going do a few things that will actually change it from that to this. You can see this is a lot happier, brighter, fun color. Let's go back to the original. The first thing that I noticed, here is her original repeat, is that when I looked at the flowers, there wasn't really much contrast between the flowers in the background and then especially the flowers and this little green part in the center. Just like Kim's pattern in the last video, I tested this in Photoshop and so I went ahead and brought it in to illustrate so you could see how much the full flower actually blends into the background. First thing I wanted to do, was change the colors so that there was a bit more contrast. The other thing I noticed was that the flower center details fall away into the center itself like the dark green on the dark brown, there's probably not enough contrast. Then the other aspect is, she wanted to warm things up. Color is one of the easiest ways you can obviously affect the mood of a pattern. Since she wanted bright fun happy, I felt that the gray didn't really speak to that. I wanted to go back to her original color pellet that she had selected and I actually decided on this orange. Here is the updated color way, the first thing I did was changed the full big bloom to orange. Then I changed the middle, which was originally, you can see over here green. I changed it to a darker brown so that there was a bit more contrast and you can see all that beautiful detail she did with the blob brush. There's also this back piece which actually was the same exact color as the background, and I wanted to mix it up just slightly. Actually picked one of the brighter celery, yellowy-green colors. I thought that went really nicely with the oranges. Then lastly, was fixing the centers. Or I did actually also forget to mention that I made the edges of the leaves darker, as you can see here they're orange. I went with a darker brown. But one of the fun things about the color tool, and she actually set this file up beautifully. Originally they were set to this color. You can see over here in my swatches palette, you see this little notch of the corner. That means she's had all of these built as global colors, which is wonderful. Now how do you actually go about making a global swatch. Say I wanted a herbal swatch. Something like that. Press "Okay"and it's in my field. I would go up to the lines of the swatches palette, click it and say "New Swatch." The most important thing is this checkbox right here, global is checked. If this wasn't checked when I create the swatch, you see it doesn't have that little notch. But if I go back and add it with the global swatch now it has that cute little notch. Now what makes a global swatch so great is, it allows you to easily update any color. You just double-click the swatch and I'm going to just check preview, and watch what happens when I move the sliders around. It actually changes not only the colors in the piece that I'm working on, it also changes any instance of it in any other swatch where it appears, which is great because that means you don't have to go back to multiple pieces and change it manually. I just adjusted this to where I had a little bit of a brighter green, and so you can see the result. This is what I ended up with, where it's just a little bit brighter, I didn't want to go too crazy. You can see between the original and the updated version how big of an impact color has. Now the next thing I noticed was the spacing felt a little off. I talk about this in my pattern recipes class. There's a thing called gutters where that's any spot in your pattern, usually a vertical or horizontal line that's created unnecessarily in your pattern. It's typically seen as a negative thing to have a gutter. I see a giant gutter right here because there's a lot of empty space. An easy way to fix that is actually take the giant flowers, which are the biggest motifs and arrange them in such a way that they have a little bit more movement. If I go back and forth between those two, you can see I did just that. Here's the gutter, and now it's gone because we moved to these. Then I also did move some of the smaller flowers as well to try and get all of the negative space about even through all the motifs. The other change I thought would help this pattern is right now Norma has two sizes to her flowers. She has these really, really large blooms and then these really, really tiny globes, they tend to be nice to have a little bit more variation and it would add a little bit of extra pop to the pattern. What I did is, I actually took a few different motifs. I took these two right here and enlarge them to, I think there's about a 160 percent. Then I took these two and I enlarge them to, I believe, 140 percent. You can see the reason this works so well is I'm picking motifs that are in a diagonal. When it's repeated out, it's going to bounce up and down as it's repeated on the pattern. You can see that happening with this, see how much better and more balanced this feels. You don't have as much white space as we originally did. Because you have a few different sizes, the disparity between the giant blooms and the small blooms is less obvious. Now the last thing I thought would be a nice little touch. She thought this was a little dull and I figured maybe we could add just a little extra. If we change the color of the leaves. I actually like that they're brown because it's a little bit different than your normal green. However, I was like, let's test it and see if we add green, which these are the beautiful greens that cheap pecs in her palettes. I actually think this works really, really nicely. Personally, I would honestly probably stick to this because this pattern has a little bit more vintage quality to it. But if she wanted a little bit more pop of color, she could easily use the screen. You can see how just in a few steps, how much of a difference changing the color can affect the mood and the contrast in your pattern. Then the spacing between the motifs and the sizing of the motifs can drastically change how a pattern looks. 6. Final Thoughts + Your Assignment: I hope you enjoyed the tips I showed you in the last four videos. Now, it's time to utilize those tips in your own work. Simply find a pattern in your portfolio you felt needed a little bit of updating, and then apply one or more of the techniques that I showed you in any of the videos and apply it to your pattern. Then, don't forget to come back to this group and post your beautiful work so that we can see the before and after. I really hope you enjoyed this class. If you'd like to stay up to date for when I post new classes or have a new educational content, please follow me on my Skillshare page or sign up for my newsletter. Thank you so much for joining me, and I look forward to seeing your patterns in class.