The Process of a Pattern: Working Through the Ugly

Art is a process. I try not to get discouraged or attached to the outcome, but sometimes it’s distressing when a painting is looking good, and I take it one step too far.

I was afraid I’d done just that when working on a lightning pattern. I had drawn the lightning shapes and painted them yellow, and then I added in a gray-blue background. The goal was to work fast because I was working on the pattern for #patternjanuary and the prompt for the day was “fast”. Once I had the background filled in, it felt a little flat to me, so I added some cloud shapes.

Lighting with Clouds

Uh oh. This is NOT what I was after. A little part of me was like, “well whatever, it doesn’t always have to be perfect.” Then another part of me chimed in, “what if you paint over it?” I wasn’t sure if it would work since it’s gouache which will re-wet, even on the paper, but I tried it. Happily, it worked! Not only did I paint over it, but because the gouache mixed on the paper, the background was actually better than that first flat layer.

Lightning Pattern

Look at all that foggy texture and dimension. I just love it!

This is such a great example of the unpredictable nature of the process of making art. There are times when everything goes perfectly from start to finish, there are times when the outcome is not so great, and then there are times when the going might be a little bumpy, but the outcome is a pleasant surprise.

Preparing for a Successful Creative Daily Challenge

It’s already day 2 of the #PatternJanuary challenge! I’m having so much fun seeing what everyone is posting. There’s a great variety of styles and subject matter already! If you’re just learning about this challenge, please feel free to join in at any time. You can catch up if you want to, but you don’t have to!

Day 1 - Happy and Day 2 - Forest #patternjanuary
Day 1 – Happy (left) and Day 2 – Forest (right)

A couple people voiced concern about being able to keep up with the challenge everyday. First of all, let me say that there is NO PRESSURE from me if you join Pattern January and don’t finish. I will consider it a great success if you post one pattern, or even if the challenge inspires you to do something different on your own!

If you’re still feeling a little uneasy, and not sure if a daily challenge is possible for you, check out the following tips to help you get into the right mindset to prepare for success in any creative ongoing challenge. (If you’re already feeling confident and ready to go, then by all means go for it and do your thang!)

1. Decide What You Have Time For

When I created daily patterns in 2013, I adjusted the challenge each month to a different medium, and my choice always depended on what I had time for. If I was traveling, I put together a simple travel kit that wouldn’t take up much space. When I was home and had a light work load, I had time for more in depth pursuits such as trying a new medium, or improving skills.

Look at your schedule for the month ahead and think about what you realistically have time for. If you have family visiting every weekend and big deadlines at work, it might be a good month to work in a small sketchbook with just a brush pen or two.

We all have especially busy months, but don’t automatically take the easy route! If your schedule is on the lighter side, that might be the time to commit to something more involved. In either case, carving out some creative time can be so rewarding–make it a priority.

2. Create Space

Before you get going on your challenge, set up a creative space in your life. It took me a while, but I discovered that it’s a lot easier to start creating every day when I’m not surrounded by teetering piles of paper and supplies.

Choose a physical area where you will work on the daily prompt. Take some time to clean up if need be, and set up your space in your studio, dining room table or even by the tv! Gather the supplies you want to work with and have everything ready to go ahead of time.

Also think about the space of time when you want start creating. If you can work on your daily challenge at around the same time everyday, that consistency will help you to achieve your goal. You could go as far as penciling it in your agenda or setting a reminder on your phone. And if you’re pressed for time during the month, set yourself a time limit!

Another way to think about creative space is the area you’ll be covering with your beautiful art. Depending on what medium you choose to work with, a 9″ x 12″ sketchbook can be a huge time commitment. Think about whether a smaller size, maybe 6″ x 8″ or even 3″ x 5″ would be more doable.

3. Keep It Simple

I started my first month of daily patterns in September 2012 with a set of 5 colored gel pens and a small handmade notebook. The materials were so easy and familiar, I enjoyed every minute of it! In November 2012 I continued with copic and prismacolor markers which were my go-to supplies for years before that. The familiarity of those simple tools made it so much easier to show up every day. After I got into the routine of creating, trying a new medium didn’t seem like such a hurdle, and by January 2013, I was eager to try carving stamps, which I’d never done before!

If the idea of working with a new medium is intimidating, Keep it simple and go with what you know. If you have a favorite brush pen, or if you’re crazy about watercolor, use those familiar tools to help you through the month.

4. Make the Challenge Your Own
(Take my advice! Or don’t!)

I’ve enjoyed several daily challenges hosted by others. The Doodle a Day Challenge by Rhianna Wurman and the Index Card a Day project (ICAD) by Tammy Garcia from Daisy Yellow Art come to mind. I was most successful when I set up my own parameters. I decided to forgo the optional prompts during ICAD, but had fun covering the cards with marker doodles and sharing it with the lively group. When I joined the Doodle a Day Challenge, I combined it with my own daily pattern project, using the prompts as a jumping off point.

Is there a way you can combine a challenge like Pattern January with something you are already learning or want to get better at? Do you want to draw patterns, but you’re not loving the prompts? Try instead to focus on a particular medium or type of pattern to explore for the month.

Feel free to adjust the challenge as needed! Even if you decide a particular challenge isn’t right for you, but it inspired you to come up with your own unique goals, that is also awesome!

5. Feeling Pressure? Adjust!

I’ve done a few challenges here and there where I got overwhelmed and quietly gave up. If I’d given myself permission to adjust as I went along instead of chucking the whole idea, who knows what I could have created?!

If you start a challenge and you get part way through and realize you’ve taken on too much, you are allowed to change the rules! If painting takes too long, switch it up to something faster like markers or color pencils. If posting every day is stressing you out, post every other day, or post a weekly recap. If creating every day is overwhelming, let yourself create every other day, or only during the week, or just on weekends. Go easy on yourself when you need to, and you’ll find that establishing a regular creative habit will be easy too!

6. Final Thoughts

Although it might seem like my tips have devolved into convincing you to do as little as possible, that is not my point, I promise! I want to get the idea across to you that you can make any creative challenge work for you, and I encourage you to do so! There are so many details that you can customize ahead of time, and then change along the way before you get to the point of calling it quits. I have to tell you, it feels amazing when you complete a creative goal (even a modified one!), so I highly recommend you make up your mind to create consistently on whatever level you choose!

Are you planning a creative challenge this year, either daily, weekly, or monthly? I’d love to know about it (whether you’re doing Pattern January with me or not!). If you have any tips for success in an ongoing creative commitment, please share your ideas as well! Thanks for stopping by!

Pattern a Day December 2014

I haven’t played with crayons in any serious way since I was a kid. One day I was hanging out over at my brother’s house and started doodling with my niece’s Crayolas.

Crayon Drawing

What fun! When I posted the above photo to instagram I got a great suggestion from Tammy (@gypsy999) who hosts the blog Daisy Yellow. She thought I might enjoy using Neocolor Wax Artist Crayons. Boy was she right!

Day 30 Pattern a Day December

I ordered a selection of Neocolor IIs which are the water soluble variety (they also make Neocolor Is which are not water soluble) and decided to use them for the first time when drawing patterns in December. I didn’t actually take advantage of their water soluble nature during this month, since I had so much fun simply drawing with them!

Day 31 Pattern a Day December

Working with neocolors was very freeing. The color is super saturated and goes on the page easily. I found that my marks could be really expressive and the color and texture was rich and consistent.

Day 27 Pattern a Day December

I also played around with scale, drawing some tiny shapes scattered over the page and also some that had larger elements to make a bold statement.

Day 24 Pattern a Day December

Day 12 Pattern a Day December

This was a great month of patterns in which I tried out a lot of new ideas and color combinations. After using these amazing crayons everyday for a month, I’m definitely hooked!

Pattern a Day November

In December I wrote a post about the show I was in at Light Grey Art Lab. I created a composition of glass bottles for their 6 Degrees show, and in the process I discovered a fun style where I painted gouache over pencil lines.

I was inspired to keep exploring the possibilities of this technique when I started my November patterns.

Day 29 Pattern a Day November

The main thing I learned this month is that pencil lines smear! I had to get the color on the paper quick, preferably only brushing over the pencil once, otherwise it might lift up. You can see what I mean in the image below. I painted the darkest teal shape first, and the color was a lot more opaque than I expected.

Day 3 Pattern a Day November

I had to carefully lift it off as much as I could, and the result is that some of the pencil lines were lifted off the page as well.

As the month went by I got better about being quick with the paint and had fun exploring a wide variety of subjects for the patterns.

Day 8 Pattern a Day November

Day 10 Pattern a Day November

Despite a few challenges, I came up with a nice variety of patterns, and by the end of the month it was a lot easier getting successful results.

Pattern a Day October

After creating patterns for over a year, it’s funny that I never realized that most of the patterns I created were on white backgrounds. I became aware of that fact before October, so I thought it would be the perfect challenge for me.

It really was a challenge, but wow, what a great one!

On the first few days I worked with looser brush strokes and tried out watercolor washes for the background.

Day 1 Pattern a Day October

Eventually my brushwork got more precise, and I decided to work with opaque gouache backgrounds, although I sometimes used several tones of the same color to create a textured surface.

Day 11 Pattern a Day October

Many of the patterns I created this month used abstract shapes, but I also included recognizable objects in a several patterns which was a lot of fun.

Day 18 Pattern a Day October

Day 25 Pattern a Day October

Even within the parameters of working on colorful backgrounds with refined brushwork, I was able to explore bold strokes of color that filled the page as well as delicate marks scattered over the surface.

Day 23 Pattern a Day October

Day 24 Pattern a Day October

I really hit my stride this month and created a number of patterns that I was very happy with. I still plan to experiment with different media in the future, but I’m sure that painting patterns will always be part of my repertoire. Also, now that I’ve gotten comfortable with working on colorful backgrounds, you’ll definitely see more of them from me in the future!

Pattern a Day September

I wasn’t 100% sure I would continue making patterns in September. I officially finished up a year of daily patterns at the end of August, and I thought it might be time for a change. However, I found I couldn’t stop!

I decided to loosen up the challenge a bit and let September be a month of “anything goes.” As a result, I made patterns with ink and a brush, marker, watercolor, worked within 2 different sketchbooks and even some loose papers. The result was a wide variety of styles of patterns.

Some patterns were structured repeating icons, like rows of houses or colorful shapes.

Day 4 Pattern a Day September

Day 9 Pattern a Day September

Some patterns were a scatter of repeating elements.

Day 23 Pattern a Day September

Other patterns were more like abstract compositions with an overall pattern-y feel.

Day 30 Pattern a Day September

Day 19 Pattern a Day September

After trying out such a variety of pattern styles and media, the whole challenge felt refreshed. I ended the month with lot of creative energy and new ideas. It’s pretty cool to know that even after a year of creating patterns daily, I still enjoy it so much that continuing has become a natural part of my life.

Pattern a Day August

When I started August’s patterns, my main goal was to spend more time working on the individual patterns. I had chosen quick and easy challenges in June and July, so I was feeling a pull toward a more time consuming pursuit. Plus, this month would officially conclude one whole year of making daily patterns, so I wanted to go out with a bang!

Day 4 Pattern a Day August

Day 16 Pattern a Day August

June’s challenge in which I started with black and white doodles and created colorful digital patterns had me thinking a lot about how much color can change the look and feel of a design. That gave me the idea to double up and create two versions of the same pattern each day: one black and white, and one in whatever colors I was inspired to use.

Day 18 Pattern a Day August

Day 29 Pattern a Day August

This was a really fun month for me. Not only was my creativity stretched by coming up with a new pattern each day, but I also got the meditative benefits by repeating each pattern a second time.

Day 10 Pattern a Day August

Day 31 Pattern a Day August

A great way to end a year of daily patterns!

Pattern a Day July

In July I decided to join Tammy Garcia from Daisy Yellow for her Index Card a Day (ICAD) challenge. ICAD runs for two months in which time you can make any kind of art on an index card. I combined ICAD with my pattern a day challenge and drew patterns with zig markers on index cards.

Day 5 ICAD and Pattern a Day July

I love this way of working so much! Maybe it’s because index cards are so small or so cheap, but whatever the reason, it’s like the pressure’s off. This freed me up to create “whatever I want.” I guess I’m always free to create “whatever I want,” but a lot of times I’m hopeful that the end result will look good, and I think that subconsciously has an impact on what and how I create.

When using index cards, I found that I was off the hook of having a “good” final image. If I didn’t like the outcome, I could always make another one, or keep drawing and experiment with adding layers of lines and color.

Day 11 ICAD and Pattern a Day July

Layering in this way is a new technique for me, and I find the possibilities here are pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to exploring more index card art in the future!

Pattern a Day June

I’m really excited to finally share these patterns. Because of the craziness of my schedule in June, it was all I could do to simply make the patterns; too much to share them daily, so here is your first glimpse! (unless you saw the sneak peek because you follow me on Flickr!)

In June I approached the daily patterns a little differently from previous months. I knew it was going to be a super busy time filled with trips, family visits, and deadlines, so early on in the month, I filled several pages with icons and marks made with black ink and a brush.

black and white icons for Pattern a Day June

I scanned in the pages and had them ready to pull shapes from as I made digital repeating patterns everyday.

Pattern a Day June

Pattern a Day June

I was surprised by how challenging choosing digital color is for me. Selecting color with a color picker is not the same experience as mixing paint or working with a limited number of marker colors. I often found myself hitting a wall. I might be happy with the first few colors, but just couldn’t figure out what the fourth or fifth color should be. Early on in the month, I would just go with something even if it didn’t feel “perfect,” but I did notice that it got easier as the days went by. There is still room for improvement, but it is pretty cool to notice how much more comfortable I became picking color digitally in just a month!

I hope you’ll take a moment to check out all of June’s patterns over on Flickr.

Have you tried working with digital color? Do you have one great tip that might make my life easier when creating a harmonious digital color palette? I’d love to know what you think!