How to Design a Repeat Pattern (part 1): Inspiration to Sketch



^^ the sound of me after a month of a ruthless creative was getting old..

Last week I mentioned that I've been working on some new sketches for my next collection of patterns. It's a process that I really enjoy, but until I find the perfect idea, it can be very frustrating.

Sometimes coming up with ideas is easy for me!

This time, let’s just say I’m frustrated.

To be fair, I'm kind of on vacation still and not really in work mode, so I haven't been trying very hard. But there's nothing like a deadline to get my butt moving!

Because I'll be sharing my real time design progress with you in these next few posts, I had to force myself to get into creative mode, which is never fun, but sometimes necessary.

The past few weeks I've gone through my normal design process of wandering the city, sketching in coffee shops, taking photos, and scrolling through Pinterest, hoping for something to grab me.

I was hoping to put a little NY spin on my patterns, but for some reason it didn't feel right.

I thought about expanding on my designs from last year, which came very easily, but that felt like cheating.

I drew out some ideas, but nothing was getting me excited. It seemed like I was going around in circles, creating the same stuff over and over.

This weekend though, I finally had some luck!

My breakthrough happened after a full week of city wandering with my sketchbook. I'm still traveling and exploring NYC, so this made it a little more fun.

I plopped myself down on a bench in Madison Square Park and just literally put my pencil to paper trying to draw continuously, even if I hated everything I made (there's a lot of that).

The longer I forced myself to sit there and work through the first round of crap that came, the better it got.

It took me at least 8 or 9 attempts at this process the last few weeks to get anything I even remotely liked. Patience is key!

Part of my problem was that in the past I've always chosen a subtle underlying theme for my collections, and this time I couldn't make up my mind.

The pressure of that was enough to hold me back until I just decided to draw whatever I felt like, and base the rest of the designs off the first print I created.

So after a few more attempts, I was able to come up with one design I didn't entirely loathe.


The top part was an afterthought that I drew quickly and will probably scratch, but I don't like to censor myself when I'm in the flow of things.

Sometimes I really like something and finish it but keep adding and adding to it until all my ideas are done exploding. Then I remove the main shape I really like and re-work the other shapes into coordinating patterns!

This design was actually inspired by an old sketch I made a few months ago when I was designing a custom project. I was flipping through my old drawings and this leafy design I never used kept grabbing me.


It has a really nice soft shape, so I decided to start there and see where it took me.

I kept working and reworking the design, slowly adding in elements or taking them out if they didn't work. Documenting my process has made me realize that I work kind of by trial and error.

Another part of the design I'm also simultaneously trying to keep in mind is the overall repeat and flow of the pattern...this is where Pinterest comes in handy.

image credit:

I like to study different patterns and see what kind of repeats or unique compositions I can try. 

It's also a really great way to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

This is an area where I struggle because, thanks to my neurotic father, I have a hard time getting away from anything symmetrical...but I'm getting better at it!

Anyways, I started with the leaf shape which I knew I liked. Then I thought about how I wanted the shape of the design to be.

For example:

Do I want all the shapes to flow into each other, or be able to stand alone?

Do I want a more vertical shape or horizontal shape?

Do I want a bunch of smaller shapes put together, or one or two larger pieces?

Do I want a single design element, or multiple elements that alternate?

Just some of the questions that are going through my head while I design.

As I work, some of the answers to these questions may change.

Maybe I originally wanted a design with multiple elements, but the flowy shape of the design I just drew works better as a single element pattern. In that case I'll just go with it.

Or maybe I started out wanting a design that overlaps and creates layers, but the design I made looks weird if I do that. So I won't.

I've found that the best thing to do is draw every day during your design phase, even if it's just a little. The more shapes and pieces you have to choose from later, the better!

So that's how I go from an idea to some pencil scribbles to something that resembles the beginnings of a pattern.

Next post I'll get more into the Illustrator part of things and show you how I go from a pretty bad pencil sketch to scalable vector artwork.

You can read Part 2 here!