Getting Started in Pattern Design: Tip #2 Create Your First Repeating Pattern

As a reminder, since many of you may have found me through my Top 5 Tips for Getting Started in Pattern Design, this series of blog posts dives deeper into each one of the tips described the guide.

Last week we talked about the supplies you need to get started in surface pattern design and we also dove into my 5-part Adobe Illustrator Masterclass. You can still sign up for the Masterclass for the next few days. FREE access expires at midnight PST on November 15, 2018. Grab your seat HERE.

Today we’re covering Tip #2: Create Your First Repeating Pattern. Before we jump into a quick video tutorial that demonstrates the technical process, let’s zoom out and talk about the overall process and each of the stages involved. 

When I first started out in surface pattern design, the process seemed overwhelming with so many different steps. My goal has been to figure out a way to simplify the process and provide a proven system that students can follow. After a ton of reflection and testing, I developed my own, signature 5-Stage Pattern Design System.


Let’s walk through each stage.

Stage one: Gathering Inspiration

The inspiration stage is very important whether you are a beginner or a more advanced designer. I love this stage because it doesn’t involve the computer and instead involves exploration, venturing outdoors and collecting things that inspire you!

The overall idea is to brainstorm themes or topics that you’d like to develop patterns around. Theme ideas might include:

·      Birds

·      Seasonal flowers or foliage

·      Tea time

You may find that going for a walk with your camera or iPhone is a great way to find inspiration. Don’t forget to take your own pictures to capture what inspires you. In today’s world of social media, it can be very overwhelming to look through other people’s Pinterest boards or Instagram feeds. Instead, turn all that off and collect your own pictures by exploring a new city, park or garden.

In my pattern design membership, The Pattern Design Club, I teach students how to create a mood board to capture the different elements they’ve collected during the inspiration phase. This process is both fun and very beneficial to help you stay focused as you move deeper into the design process.

Stage two: Sketching

Putting pen or pencil to paper is the next exciting stage in the process. While this may seem very straight forward to some, for others staring at the blank page can be very intimidating. Here are a few practical tips that I use when I’m struggling to get started: 

·      Practice making marks with different tools. If you have a set of Uni Pins, which are my favorite black ink pens, play around with the different sizes. Start by drawing a simple shape, or lines, to get a feel for how each pen and each line thickness feels in your hand.

·      Pick one thing that you’d like to draw and sketch it 10 times. If you pick a daisy, for example, fill an entire page or several pages with daisy drawings. Experiment with the shape of the petals or with the shape of the inner portion of the flower.

·      I almost always start drawing with a reference photograph to look at. Use a photograph of your own from a recent walk or visit to a nearby park or garden. After drawing with the reference nearby, put it away and keep sketching without it. Reference your own prior sketches instead.

A few practical tips to consider while you’re sketching include leaving plenty of space between your motifs or elements. This will be helpful when you bring the elements into the computer. Also, if you sketched in pencil, you’ll need to trace over your sketches with a dark ink pen, preferably a black pen. Pencil sketches are difficult for the computer to render properly. If you don’t want to trace over them in black ink, you can import them into the computer and use various tools inside Adobe Illustrator to trace them or recreate them inside the program. 

Stage three: Motifs

We are now ready to move into the computer. You have the option of scanning your elements into the computer if you own a scanner or simply taking a picture of them with your smartphone.

Once they are in the computer, you’ll import them into Adobe Illustrator to start the digitizing and clean-up process. Once they are cleaned up, the fun begins with picking a color palette and learning the various ways to add color to your motifs.

My workflow at this stage varies a bit depending on what specifically I’m working on. But overall, it looks like this:

·      Import sketches

·      Image trace & make adjustments as necessary

·      Clean up elements using the shape builder, blob brush, smooth and eraser tools

·      Organize my motifs into groups of like items

·      Begin color exploration and pick one colorization method to start

·      Step away for a bit to allow my creative process to breathe

·      Come back and begin to colorize each motif, one at a time

Stage four: Pattern

Now comes the super fun part of the process when we are actually creating the repeat itself. This is an iterative process and I encourage you to embrace and lean into exploration and your personal creativity. Don’t rush through this stage!

Creating repeating patterns involves a variety of steps including:

·      Creating a bounding box that will “hold” your design

·      Placing your motifs inside and around your bounding box

·      Following the 3 golden rules of creating a perfectly repeating design

·      Testing your pattern and fixing errors, and

·      Rearranging/retesting until you land on the PERFECT design

Watch this video tutorial where I demonstrate the entire process of creating a repeating pattern from one simple floral motif.

Watch this overview of how to make a perfectly repeating pattern.

Stage five: Sales

While it’s not necessary to sell any of your designs or products with your designs on them, it’s a very rewarding way to put your work out into the world. And you can gain direct and indirect, or passive, income in many different ways.

The number of products that need patterns on them is endless. Everything from clothing to home décor to phone cases and everything in between looks pretty with a pattern on it. And your options for selling your patterns include:

·      Direct sales to customers through local fairs, retail stores or through your website or an Etsy shop

·      Indirect sales through online services called print-on-demand companies where you upload your designs, pick products to put them on and earn a small royalty fee based on sales, and

·      Licensing arrangements: both ongoing licensing deals or “one off” pattern sales

Each stage in my 5-Stage Pattern Design System is inspiring and motivating. The overall system is a virtuous cycle that you repeat again and again as you become more advanced in your creative and technical skills as a designer. That was quite a lot to cover for Tip #2!

As you may recall, Tip #1 is learning Adobe Illustrator, so don’t forget to sign up for the Masterclass. FREE access expires at midnight PST on November 15, 2018. Grab your seat HERE.

I look forward to sharing Tip #3 with you next week. And until then, remember:

It’s Never Too Late to Create

If you enjoyed this blog please share it with your friends and family. Click your favorite social platform below. And join my email list for weekly creative inspiration and an invitation to our private Facebook group, Anne’s Art Club.




Hi…I’m Anne!
My creative inspiration comes from a lifetime of observation living in, and traveling to, beautiful environments in the United States and abroad.