Design Element: Pattern

February 21, 2010

Pattern is an overlooked element though it’s used extensively on fabrics.  If you look at Anne Bagby’s work, see ( you will see entire images built on patterns.   Her work is a good example of bringing pattern in as a major design element.

Anne Bagby working with patterns.

So what is it about pattern that makes it so we don’t use a lot of it?  It’s hard to control visually.  A key ingredient of making successful art is using your ability to direct eye traffic in a specific way. When we achieve this, we’re happy with a piece.  When we don’t, it’s a visual disaster.  Pattern makes directing eye traffic more difficult and challenging.  For this reason alone it is a good design element to isolate and study.

Design Exercise:

1. Cut shapes out of patterned papers: pick three color groups to work with and make the shapes different sizes (3 sizes of circles, 2 sizes of rectangles, 3 sizes of sharks,  etc.)

2.  Arrange 5 pieces together in 3 sizes and color.  Why 5?  Because it gives you the ability to have variety and repetition (see earlier post).

Art by Anne Bagby

Take out your camera and take a picture.  Write down what you get:  is it visually chaotic?  Can you see the shapes/does it tell a story?  Are there too many pieces?  Do you like it? Why?  If not, why not?  Did you use 3 pieces of one color and then one color each on the other two pieces? Do you have a dominant color,  a complimentary color and an accent color? Note what you do have as far as color goes.

Print the picture you took and paste it onto the paper with your notes.

Viola, you have just made your first page of a design reference notebook that is going to help you learn more about design elements.  Sneaky, eh?


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