The Making of a Poppy Pattern

Lately I've been enjoying the time-consuming process of creating repeating patterns out of my watercolor paintings. I'd like to share the process of creating my most recent pattern with you, starting with an arguing couple in a public park and ending in a poppy pattern.

On a really beautiful and sunny day in Reykjavik, I walked to the nearby botanical garden to paint. I was going to paint some small blue flowers, but an annoying arguing couple decided that the botanical garden park bench would be a great place to work out their relationship issues. I moved away from their argument and found a flower that matched my shirt. Serendipity? Yes.

Then, a few weeks later, I started to paint a pattern idea in my sketchbook while sitting at a lovely cafe in the botanical garden with an illustrator friend who was here for a visit. I just loved how the reddish-orange in my portable little watercolor set was already the perfect poppy color, so it was easy to start a pattern. I referenced my earlier painting as I made up this winding pattern.

Of course, this painted pattern idea was not a repeating pattern, and it would require some work to make it into one. I scanned the painting and started to work in photoshop, creating a grid and first and foremost figuring out where the flowers needed to be to make a nice repeat. I erased the paper background because the shading and texture in paper is not easy to make look seamless in a repeat pattern.

The way I was taught to create patterns in photoshop is by creating a grid of sorts. Really, any rectangle or square will do. And then make sure that the edges line up. The top needs to line up with the bottom of that rectangle and the right side needs to line up with the left side. So the focus is on the edges, not the middle. But for a floral pattern like this one, a visual balance is really important. I needed to be sure that the flowers were seemingly equidistant from each other. I didn't want one flower to take your focus from the others. I wanted it to appear evenly spread out.

I cut out some of the flowers and repeated them on individual photoshop layers and created these guidelines to see where a natural repeat would be. Then I created my rectangle on a separate layer. Then I began the long and tedious process of copying and dragging items from one edge to the other, along with the rectangle, so I can be sure these edges line up perfectly. I started with the flowers and then I needed to make the stems and buds match up on the edges and appear evenly distributed throughout the pattern. This is not a quick process, but if you are someone who enjoys tinkering, this is quite enjoyable.

When I feel like I'm getting close, I test my pattern to see how well it repeats. I create a duplicate document, crop the image at the rectangle, flatten the image, select the image, and define it as a pattern (Edit > Define Pattern...). Then I can open a new document and make it large and fill it with my newly created pattern. Any big mistakes will be obvious immediately, and the pattern can be closely inspected so you can tell where an improvement might need to be made.

Click on one of the 5 thumbnail images below to page through the process in a lightbox.

Before wrapping up my pattern, I wanted it to have the same sort of colors as my original painting. Scanning doesn't always give the most accurate colors, so this kind of color adjustment is almost always required. I adjusted the poppy color from the red of the scan to the reddish-orange of the painting. And I added an off-white background in place of my white rectangle. The background appeared flat to me, so I added noise to the background using a filter. This helped the background to better pair with the paper texture of the painting.

I am really happy with the result. I hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of the process! Cheers!

A Congratulatory Shell Painting

Yesterday I painted a congratulatory scallop "card" for a friend who defended her thesis today using watercolor mixed with white gouache. I'll be going to a party to celebrate Dr. Warsha tonight. Her thesis was about scallops, so I went with it. I'm really happy with how it turned out and I think I'll be painting more shells in the future.


Today I learned of the recent discovery that the Opah fish is the first fish known to be warm-blooded! Upon doing a search for images of this fish, I was blown away by its enormous size, bright coloration, and polka-dotted pattern. It looks as though Wes Anderson invented it! So, in the spirit of excitement at this recent discovery I decided to paint one. Mine is one twenty-sixth the size that these deep-water fish can grow to be, which is 2 meters long!

After a quick initial pencil sketch I painted with gouache. Here is how Opah turned out, and some pictures of the process below. :)

I wish everyone a great Friday evening and a wonderful weekend! Opah!

April Project: Day 29

I was, unfortunately, not able to do my blog post yesterday because the internet at our new place was not yet up and running. It was such a busy day, so I posted to Instagram and my facebook page via my phone, since I still had 3G on my phone. So, here is what I posted for day 29. It is a little pencil sketch of a coatimundi, an animal I was only recently made aware of. I think they are related to raccoons, but they have these adorably long snouts. I decided a profile portrait would capture that best. :)

I promised to share more colorful and playful things as soon as I was able. It is another full day of moving, though, but I will see what I can do.

April Project: Day 28

So, some days it is hard to find the time to make something and play. Today was one of those days. Tomorrow we are moving to a new apartment, so I've been a little preoccupied. I didn't let that get in the way of my weekly Tuesday traditional art skype with my dear friend and fellow artist, Kari Pearson. I love being able to talk with her about life, the challenges of continuing our creative practice, and trying to propel our creative careers forward.

Today, after talking and catching up a little, we decided that our art for today could be a 10 minute sketch of each other as we were video chatting. Kari set a timer for 10 minutes and we giggled and got started. Here is how that went.

One thing that really made us laugh was that Kari's drawing of me looked like I belonged in American Gothic. :) What I think is funny is that this may actually be what I look like when I'm creating and focusing. I look at my face in the upper corner of that screenshot and giggle. I look as though I have never taken a screenshot before and I'm anxious about it. :) Here is Kari's drawing of me. We joked that it is an accurate portrait of my duck lamp, with American Gothic me in the foreground. :)

I'm going to try to fit in some art time tomorrow, too, to continue this April Project. Check back soon! :)

April Project: Day 24

Today is Bjarnheiður's birthday! She is a dear friend of mine here in Reykjavik, and we are about to head out the door to go celebrate with her. She really liked what I had sketched and really loves this song, so I think it's only right that she receive this piece as a present when I am finished with it. Bea, which is a nickname of hers that is far easier to pronounce, is the kindest person I have ever met. She is so sweet and thoughtful, and she deserves a sweet and thoughtful gift. :)

In the little while I had to work on art today, I sketched the flowers, inked the lettering in gold, and erased out as much of the pencil as I could with my kneadable eraser before putting down some watercolor. I already feel a bit daunted by this piece. I have stared at that bottle wondering just how I am going to put a ship in there. I know it is all part of the process, so I think it'll get there.

I'll be back tomorrow with more. :) I hope you like it so far and are enjoying seeing this progress along the way.

April Project: Day 23

Happy first day of Summer in Iceland! Today is a holiday here, and so far the weather has really been cooperating! Chris and I just went for a run along the ocean and the sun was shining bright. We're not sure if it is because today is a holiday or because the weather is nice, but we were greeted by a few strangers on our run, and someone even smiled at us. It was likely a smile in response to my smile, but that is far better than the annoyed or puzzled looks I normally receive.

Because it is Iceland's first day of summer, I wanted to illustrate a phrase with the word summer in it. And what came to mind is a song I love by Kings of Convenience, a Norwegian duo that sings music that I usually describe as doodle-ie-doo music. It is super pleasant to listen to, and at times makes me think of some soft Simon & Garfunkel songs. The song is called Gold In The Air Of Summer. The video below is a bit shaky, but the song is good. The album is called Riot on an Empty Street. I highly recommend it.

These are the song lyrics...

Without giving anything away,
I can say it's by the sea.
It's a house that used to be the home of a friend of mine.
Without giving anything away,
you'll find ships inside of bottles,
and the garden's overgrown,
the house is white but the paint is coming of.

I didn't know if you wanted to,
when I came to pick you up.
But you didn't even hesitate,
and now you and me are on our way.
I think I've brought everything we need,
so don't look back,
don't think of the other places you should have been
it's a good thing that you came along with me.

Gold in the air of summer,
you'll shine like gold in the air of summer.

So I started on a larger project than I could possibly finish today, but I'll continue to work on the next few days, I'm thinking. Here is as far as I got today.

My idea is that this phrase will be framed by flowers and plants from the overgrown garden that the song lyrics talk about. I love ships, bottles, ships in bottles, overgrown gardens, flowers, gold, summer, cork, ocean, and things that shine... so I think this will be a fun project. Stay tuned for more! :) And have a great day!

April Project: Day 22

Today I painted a dala horse with gouache. It was really fun! First I painted the red horse, and then I decorated it, so it was the same process as with a real dala horse, only flat. :)

I hope you like my little red dala horse. I'll be back tomorrow with something new for the first day of summer (or what they celebrate as the first day of summer in Iceland). Yup, it is a holiday tomorrow. The first day of summer. And there is snow in the forecast. :) Summer in Iceland!

April Project: Day 18

Hello, lovely friends! Today I had a very full day of sight-seeing and hiking. I came home late and gave myself a short amount of time (one hour) to put some plants into those cups. I consider them a work in progress, but this was as far as I got today. I hope you enjoy them!

I will have a bit more time tomorrow, so perhaps I'll do something completely different? Who knows. But I'll be sure to be back tomorrow to share whatever I end up creating! :)

April Project: Day 16

Hello, and Happy Thursday! Today I played with gouache and painted some teacups and coffee cups and mugs and so on. Basically, containers with a single handle. Then I added some linework digitally. I want to make a teacup garden, so I'm thinking that I'll work next on adding little plants growing out of the cups... Yes, I think that would be very fun, indeed!

I'll be back tomorrow with some more fun, so have a great Friday and check back tomorrow! :)

April Project: Day 14

Hi, friends! Happy Tuesday! Today I painted with gouache onto a swatch of indigo watercolor I'd painted a while ago. The way the watercolor dried made me think of a winter scene, so I started to paint a winter scene. I know that the arctic fox would be more appropriate for iceland, but the red fox looked so much better against the snow. :)

I hope you have a great day! I'll be making something new tomorrow, so feel free to visit again! :)

April Project: Day 13

Hello, friends! Today I gave myself half an hour to play with my art materials. No planning, no sketching... just spontaneous sloth making! I used watercolor, then gouache, then watercolor crayons I had forgotten I even had, and then pencil. Super fun, super fast, and very playful!

Hope you have a great rest of your Monday! I'll be back tomorrow with something new to share!

April Project: Day 12

Howdy, folks! Today I worked a bit more on my chair with cats, or cats with chair. I still don't think it is finished, but I'm liking it more and more. Let me know what you think. I'm still thinking of adding a pattern to the chair upholstery. For some reason I love pink in combination with pea green. I'm not sure why I love it so, but I do.

Here is what my gouache looked like as I was working. I thought it was pretty, so I took a picture.

I'll do something new tomorrow, so check back to see what it is. :)

April Project: Day 11

Hello, friends! Today, in between working on illustrations that are due early next week and watching a Norwegian relative of mine win silver in a karate competition, I decided to draw a chair and some cats. It is Caturday, after all. I had a scrap of rough watercolor paper to use, so I drew with a pencil and painted the pink background in gouache. This is a work-in-progress, so I think I will play some more with it tomorrow. I am unsure about how much I want to paint and how much of the graphite I want to leave showing. So far, I like the graphite on the chair and I'm considering drawing a pattern on the upholstery. I'll decide tomorrow, I guess. :)

Have a great day! And check back tomorrow to see what more I end up doing with this piece. :) 

April Project: Day 10

Happy Friday, friends! Today was a windy and chilly day in Reykjavik. I got to spend a few hours with some of my Norwegian relatives who flew in today for a karate competition happening in town tomorrow. It was so fun to see them, speak some Norwegian, and show them around a bit. Later today I took down my work that was on display for a month at Mokka Kaffi. It was fun to have my paintings and drawings up for so long, and I look forward to perhaps someday having my own show somewhere in town.

I didn't give myself as much time to play today as yesterday, but I still managed to doodle and make some patterns. I had a couple scraps in my studio of my favorite paper (300 lb. Fabriano Hot Press Watercolor Paper in Bright White) that I had painted yellow and blue, so I painted one with gouache and drew on the yellow piece with shiny white ink and graphite. I haven't used graphite in combination with white ink like this before, but I liked the result. It was a fun way to make the shiny ink pop from the background, adding a little more dimension to it.

I'm looking forward to putting on pajamas and curling up in a blanket for the rest of the evening, listening to the weather get worse and worse. It is already lightly snowing and the wind is howling outside, but it is supposed to get worse later on. Inside is the place to be. Perhaps I'll bake some delicious cookies, too. That sounds good to me!

I'll be back tomorrow with something playful and new. Have a great weekend, everyone! :)