Surface pattern designer Mimi Hammill shows her process to improve printed textile designs, and how to create unique, and beautiful patterns.
Maybe I should start by explaining that I came to surface pattern design from an editorial background. Medical editorial. I could fact-check a Quark document on pilonidal sinus surgery in my sleep, but what I really wanted to know was how the illustrators we hired made digital drawings with lines as sharp as a samurai sword. (I don’t encourage you to search for a medical illustration of pilonidal sinus surgery though – trust me.)
Why is this pertinent? I think it might explain the patterns I love the most. Deep down, it’s those sharp, flawless, unapologetically digital vector patterns full of crisp, geometric shapes that steal my heart every time. But there’s a problem with that. A simple pattern made up of straightforward vector shapes, no matter how pleasing, is not necessarily unique. And if you’re in the business of making patterns, you’ve got to inject a bit of “you” into everything you do. This can more easily evolve for artists who have a painterly or hand-drawn style. But how can you inject “you” when it’s digital geos that make your heart sing? I’ve found the best way is to add a pinch of design salt‘n’pepper.
Adding the salt’n’pepper is my very final stage – I find that the pattern needs to be broadly finished before I can add it. For me, a pattern is complete when I Just. Cannot. Stop. Looking. At. It. If you’re a surface pattern designer, I think you’ll know what I mean! When you just sit staring at it. And a guilty grin of smug pleasure spreads across your face. Yup, you don’t want to show off about it but… it’s a good pattern. It’s a pattern that makes your eyes happy.
After sleeping on it (sometimes once, sometimes for months) I find it’s always good to come back with fresh eyes and say “Yes, this is ME in a pattern, but could it do with a touch of salt’n’pepper just to finish it off?”
There are a few ways that I add this final seasoning – playing with found textures and opacity are two of my favourites – I’m sure you can think of many more. I’ll add lots of pictures below to show before and after for a few patterns that I have licensed with Print & Press. And I’ll finish by showing you a new pattern that I was wrestling with last week, and the process I used to add the subtlest of design seasoning.
This pattern was inspired by a beautiful ruined building (that I have hundreds of photographs of). I love this pattern just how it is.
But I also had close up photos of the brickwork. That could be fun…
And photos of the cracked masonry, let’s see how that looks…
And how about the rain-stained walls…
Now we’re talking! Buy Queenstown printed fabric.
This was part of the same collection as the last pattern, and went on to become the cornerstone of my brand. This is without question my favourite pattern that I’ve ever made.
So, at this point, it was looking good.
A miscalculation with the repeat created a glitch in the diagonal line – I’m loving that glitch.
And how about adding a bit of texture to add depth to the flat colours?
We’re there! Buy Artpop printed fabric.
On the whole I find purple and maroon very hard to work with and avoid them like the plague, but in 2014 and 2015 the Pantone colours of the year were Radiant orchid and Marsala. So in the autumn of 2015 I challenged myself to create a collection of jumbo florals in an autumnal palette that included these two tricky colours. Here’s the first pattern I came up with.
I was quite pleased. I do love indulging in the blob brush tool now and again. But how about adding a linen texture to the back layer?
Bingo, this became the key pattern for a new collection of dusky Fall florals, licensed to Print & Press. Buy Hydrangea printed fabric.
This is from a collection I’ve been working on lately for my own 2017 product line. All of the patterns in the collection are straightforward tessellations of a single geometric shape. This one consists of several tessellating kite shapes, in a colour palette that I am thoroughly obsessed with at the moment.
I’m doing that shameless staring thing – I LOVE this pattern. It took simply ages to get to this point, but now just looking at it makes me grin. So I know I’m ready to add just the tiniest bit of salt’n’pepper. But I don’t want texture. Really I’ve tried loads of ‘em, that’s not going to be the correct route for this collection. I’ve tried adding and layering different micropatterns and playing with opacities. Nope. I want crisp flat pure colours. I hardly want to change it at all, but it does need a tiny bit of… something.
So I started to play. I made a document with the basic shapes.
I printed it, and then cut them out very quickly – trying not to be too officious.
I put the cut out shapes in the scanner.
And then I remade the pattern using the scanned imperfect shapes.
It’s very, very similar to the original pattern, but has just the subtlest hint more personality. A wobbly line here and a corner not quite meeting there. My very own design salt’n’pepper. I’m delighted with the result.
I hope this has given you some ideas for taking your patterns to the next level. I’d love to know what methods you use to add salt’n’pepper to your patterns!