Design a Repeat Pattern
A repeat pattern based on the wing of a butterfly
This lesson demonstrates how to design a 'mirror' repeat pattern using any image (photograph or drawing) as your source material. We teach you how to use a simple 'trace and transfer' technique where you 'mirror' and 'flip' your image to create a seamless design.
Design a Repeat Unit - Step 1
Collect some visual references to inspire your design.
When designing a repeat pattern, many artists and designers find inspiration in objects that have their own in-built pattern. Natural objects such as leaves, feathers, flowers, shells and insects make excellent visual references as they already contain an abundant variety of patterns and forms. Man-made objects such as mechanical or electrical mechanisms can offer a similar visual stimulus.
Design a Repeat Unit - Step 2
Choose a source image that inspires you.
For our source image we have chosen to use the color pencil study from our Butterfly Drawing Lesson. This type of observational drawing lesson, which develops your awareness of natural pattern, is the ideal preparation for this project.
Design a Repeat Unit - Step 3
Select a square section of your source image.
Draw a square onto a sheet of tracing paper and use this as a frame to select an interesting area from your source image. This is done by moving the square around the image until you find a section that is visually appealing. The area that you select will become the unit you repeat to create your pattern.
Note: We have chosen a square shape for our selection as it is the easiest shape to arrange as a repeat unit. The size that you draw the square will also be the size of your repeat unit. Around 6cm. to 8cm. is a comfortable size to use.
Our selection for our repeat unit.
For our repeat unit we selected an area of the butterfly's wing that creates a diagonal movement of lines and shapes across the image. Diagonal arrangements on square units seem to form the most dynamic designs. They work better than horizontal or vertical arrangements as the unit already includes these elements in its horizontal and vertical edges.
Design a Repeat Unit - Step 4
Simplify your repeat unit into clear lines and shapes.
After selecting your repeat unit, take the sheet of tracing paper and trace a simplified outline of its shapes inside the square. This will become the basic design for your repeat unit which you may now develop by applying tone and color.
Design a Repeat Unit - Step 5
Develop your design with tone and color.
'Trace and transfer' your repeat unit onto an sheet of paper to form a layout like our illustration above. You can then explore the different effects of tone and color on your design until you begin to discover certain combinations that appeal to you more than others. Click here for a blank template of our development sheet that you may print and use.
'Trace and transfer' technique: Take the tracing of your unit and draw carefully over the design on the back of your tracing paper so that you have the same image pencilled on both sides. Now place your tracing onto a sheet of paper and draw heavily over the lines of your design to transfer the image. Use a soft grade pencil (grade B or 2B) as this will transfer more easily.
Design a Repeat Unit - Step 6
Select your best design.
Finally, select one design from your development sheet that appeals to you more than the others. This will become the repeat unit that you use to construct your finished pattern.
Constructing a 'mirror' repeat pattern
1. Draw a template of four squares.
2. Trace and transfer your unit into the top left square.
3. Flip your tracing and transfer it here to create a mirror image.
4. Flip your tracing again and transfer it here.
5. Flip your tracing and transfer it here to complete the design.
6. Now you can erase the lines between each section.
7. The final repeat pattern in line.
8. Your final repeat pattern with added tone and color.
There are many different ways to design a repeat pattern. Our slide show illustrates a simple method that uses the 'trace and transfer' technique to create a four unit 'mirror' repeat pattern.
Variations in layout
Four possible layouts combine to form the same design.
In any four unit 'mirror' repeat you will get four possible layouts of your design, each resulting from a different orientation of the unit (outlined in white). However, if you take any one of the four possible layouts and repeat it to create a larger pattern you will see that the result contains all four layouts in one design.
Variations in color
Finally, never automatically settle for the first colors you choose. You should always try different color combinations to see how they impact on your design before you make your final choice of pattern.