Having tools isn’t always enough. Sometimes you need some suggestions, ideas or even a friendly shove in order to get the creativity flowing. When beginning any new project, especially brand new projects with tools you haven’t used much, there can be a moment of frozen hesitation. Some of us are lucky enough to whiz by those without a backwards glance. But for most, it takes some thought.
When using a drawing program to create a pattern, you are faced with numerous decisions and an unthinkable amount of choices. I find the best way to avoid getting overwhelmed in a thing is to break it down into manageable parts. No need to conceptualize your grand masterpiece, although if that’s your personality, go for it. Just start. One click after the next. The beauty of a digital design is the ease with which you can change things. It actually encourages you to go a little crazy.
So let’s break this down to manageable parts. First, decide on the style. Do you want an orderly piece with easy to figure patchwork pieces? Or do you want a piece with that Art School flair, full of negative space and oddly combined shapes? You don’t have to decide this immediately. You can wait until you have shapes on the page and see what they’re telling you. But if you do decide, you have narrowed your focus and can devote your attention to the other decisions.
Second, choose some colors. You’ll be surprised by the way color choices will affect your attention. If you’re feeling a bit “mehhhh…” about the design, change up the colors and see if that improves your opinion. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Other times, it will be the impetus to move you in a new direction. Just remember, it only takes a click of a mouse to make a change. You don’t have to open a tube or clean the brush.
Of course, choosing colors can be a quandary in and of itself. If you get stuck, remember color palette generators. They’re a great tool for inspiration and for seeing things you don’t see at a glance. Check out the websites of paint brands. They inevitably have swatch groups they’ve chosen for coordination. Or pick up a Color Index if you want something a bit more design related but only want to spend about $20 instead of $500.
Just because we’re playing with solid colors in our pattern doesn’t mean you have to use solids in your final project. Look for prints that “read” strongly in the color family you’re using. Those prints will make good choices for your piece. You will need to audition others as some prints will “read” more strongly when set with different colors.
If you’ve decided to make the less traditional pattern you may be facing a small crisis despite color choices. It can be puzzling to figure out what “works” and what doesn’t. Because I’m intuitive designer, I go with what looks right to me. I don’t keep a list of rules in my head, although I’ve learned a few of them in art class in Jr. High and High School. I just start playing. Here’s how my inner dialogue might go during this stage of the process:
“Hmmm…I don’t like that rectangle. What if it moves over here?”
“Oh…no. That’s worse. Yuck!”
“Okay. What about making it smaller and putting it over here? And then taking that triangle and flipping it over on its back?”
“Yeah, that’s it. But all this blank space….B.O.R.I.N.G! Maybe a little square?”
“Or maybe a big square? Maybe both. Just move this one over a little and then put that one over there….”
“Ha! I think that might be it!”
Yes, that’s really the kind of things that go on in my head during the process. Along with a few other random thoughts like “Where’s my coffee?” and “Is Stinka still in the house?” As you can see, I’m really just playing and seeing what works. I encourage you to try doing things this way. It will make the process more enjoyable.
If the thought of that type of designing makes you break out in hives, don’t worry. Just keep two basic art composition rules– the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Odds–in mind as you work. Without going into a lot of detail, the Rule of Thirds breaks up the composition into sections–three across and three down, just like a Tic Tac Toe game. You want to avoid lines which cut your design into quarters. The Rule of Odds is about the number of objects framing the subject. Odd wins. Humans tend to find odd numbers for comforting, reassuring, etc. Hence, more interesting. Google “rule of odds” and “rule of thirds” for more exhaustive information.
There truly is no substitute for play. That’s the big secret, really. If you approach all those choices as part of the fun, you’re halfway there. Get serious about playing and there’s no telling what you might do.