Gathering Inspiration for a Pattern Collection

Pattern design can be one of the most fun and fulfilling ways to express yourself as an artist. Coloring your world with prints and patterns you've designed yourself truly allows you to express yourself in a unique and joyful way. Possibly the most important step to take before beginning a pattern collection, is to gather lots of inspiration.

Taking plenty of time to gather inspiration for a pattern will help make the design process run smoothly. It will also help give your entire project focus and direction! Clearly outlining your vision for a collection will give you a guide to follow, something to reference and a definite starting point (which is often the hardest part!).

There are several possible phases and options to this stage, and I'm happy to share my favorites with you below.

1) Brainstorming. Before beginning to design, take some time to do some good ol' fashion brainstorming. Personally, I like to get quiet with my notebook somewhere, maybe in a hammock outside or in a quiet corner of my home, and start imagining all the things that could be. This will help you decide on an overall theme for a collection (for instance: gardening, woodland creatures, sea life, etc) and begin forming a rough outline of what you might like to include in the collection. Jot down about 15 ideas for individual prints that you can pick and choose from later on. Remember, don't start sketching yet, this step is all about dreaming!

2) 20 Words. The next part of gathering inspiration is just as fun as it is important. Write down about 20 words that relate to the overall theme, to help to round out the edges of your idea. If you plan to name each print and their colors, this list will also be helpful to reference later on. For instance, for my fabric collection, Succulence, my words were: rainwater, abundance, monsoon, arboretum, aridity, drenching, cacti, aglow, greenhouse, bedew, habitat, oasis, agave, dew, inspirit, terrain, luscious, spiny, succulent and trailing.

3) A Story. Next, it's time to write a story. Reference your notes and 20 words to build a small story around your collection. Just a small paragraph will do! This step really helps make a collection feel personal and brings it to life. This small story should be something you would share along with your collection and could include information about your inspirations, dreams or memories that help round out the collection as a whole.

4) Photography. Photography is often a huge part of the inspiration stage of a pattern collection. Exploring and visiting sites and scenes that support your theme can give your entire collection direction and a huge amount of inspiration to pull from. If possible, it's always important to take your own photos, so you can pull directly from them during the design phase (more on that in a moment). Keeping several photos in a file (or in print) that you can reference will be invaluable as you begin sketching and designing.

5) Inspiration Boards. Inspiration boards are another great way to pull together ideas for a collection. These could be digital inspiration boards like a folder on your desktop or pinterest board, or an actual board where you tack up things that inspire you. Often times, an inspiration board is the best place to start pulling a color story from!

Sourcing your own inspiration. Sourcing inspiration for a project is something that we all must do, as it's an important step in conceptualizing and developing an idea. The problem only arises when inspiration is taken too literally, or we become lazy about it. So, I suggest sourcing your own inspiration.

For example, if I want illustrate a horse, I pack up my things and hit the road. By actually visiting a horse farm and taking pictures of the horses there myself, I've just created original inspiration that i can then use in my design work. I can draw color stories from them, sketch from them and use them as inspiration in every aspect of the design!

Of course, it would have been easier to just google and pin images and use them for my inspiration. but that just doesn't feel right. And it's definitely not right if you're using the photos to trace from.

Above are just a few of the pictures I've taken over the years and used to either draw colors from or design from. When I've finished an illustration or pattern and can look back all the way to the original inspiration and know that I created myself - THAT's a really good feeling!

This is also a great motivator for getting up from the computer and spending time outdoors and traveling. Immersing yourself in the thing that you're working around is an incredible experience, and it makes the final project all the more personal.

Of course, this isn't always possible. If you're designing an India-themed motif or designing a pattern around African tigers, I don't expect you to fly to India or Africa (unless you can, and then you most definitely should!). So when you're not able to source your own inspiration, be sure to take inspiration from dozens of places and focus on being authentic, so that you finished result is completely authentic and unique to you.

so GO. camera in one hand, notebook in the other. discover, explore and become one with the project at hand!

These are all the steps I usually take before I begin to design a collection. Being able to fully develop a theme and vision for a collection before starting always helps to give the design process guidance and a reference point. I can't wait to see what you create!

Lots of love, Bonnie

Psst.. Enrollment opens February 19th! Surface Pattern Design Immersion is an 8-week Online training program for creatives who want to learn Adobe Illustrator, surface design and the business of how to become a licensing artist. It’s a completely comprehensive course, designed to give you a unique and immersive experience into the world of Surface Pattern Design. Because we all know, the best way to accomplish your BIG goals is to immerse yourself in the learning, the industry and in the community.


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