type below and hit enter
I'm Kristi. I'm the artist behind At the Dot Design.
Read more about me
It can be really tough to critique your own surface pattern design work, especially if you’ve been looking at the work for a long period of time. It’s times like these when we all need to develop the skills to step back and look at our work with an open mind and a willingness to accept kind and helpful feedback (even if it’s from yourself). In this post, I’ll be outlining a step-by-step process you can use to review your surface pattern designs that will help identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you improve your work over time.
Before I outline the process, let’s walk through some key elements of surface pattern design.
When I was in graphic design school I was taught the seven key elements of design: color, line, value, shape, balance, scale, and texture. Now depending on who you ask there may be other elements to add to that list, but for our purposes, I’m going to stick to these seven. Let’s define each one briefly.
The colors you choose to create your surface pattern designs can create a mood. The colors you choose can be exciting and invigorating, or calm and relaxing.
The types of lines you draw can be thin, thick, chunky, irregular, light, or dark. I often think of line as one of the most personal parts of a design and can often see a person’s personality the most in the types of lines they create.
Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. You can use value to create a monochromatic effect, or as a way to add depth to your pattern and help the viewer’s eye move around the work.
There are several different types of shapes you can use to create your work. Perhaps your patterns are crisp and organized with geometric shapes. Or maybe you use soft, curvy organic shapes. You could also use abstract shapes to represent items found in nature.
Balance refers to how your motifs are positioned within the space you are working. You could strive to have everything in perfect balance, or you may want to create a pattern with weight in one area for emphasis.
Look at the size of the elements within your pattern. Are they small? Large? Is there a variety of scale across your motifs? Or is there a uniform scale throughout?
You can use texture to represent how a motif appears or feels. Is there a gritty texture? A soft subtle texture? These small details can create a big impact on your surface patterns.
Now that we’ve reviewed the elements of design, let’s outline a process you can use to systematically review your artwork.
This is probably the most important step in the whole process. By the time you reach the critique phase, you have been looking at your work for quite some time. Before you start a self-critique put the work away for at least 24 hours that way you can start your critique with fresh eyes.
Now that you’ve had a bit of time away from the work bring it out again. Look at the work and write down your initial impressions. What do you see? Does something jump out at you? How does the pattern feel?
Look at each element of your design. Do the elements feel like they were created by the same artist? Do they go well together? Is there something that sticks out to you?
Now that you have spent some time looking at each individual element step back and look at the design as a whole. How does the arrangement of the elements feel? Is the pattern balanced? Sometimes it’s helpful to turn the work upside down, giving you an entirely new and different perspective. Printing out the work can also have a similar effect.
What mood do the colors in your pattern create? Was that as you intended it? Are there “hot” colors that vibrate when you look at them? Are there colors that are so subtle you don’t see them from far away? One way I like to evaluate value is to export an image of my pattern and open it in Photoshop. I change the color profile to black and white and take another look.
If you are working on a computer or on an iPad zoom way in to double-check that there are no errors in your pattern. Do all the motifs line up properly? Is the dreaded line visible?
Now that you have spent some time looking and observing each element and the entire pattern. Step back again and ask yourself how does this pattern make me feel? Is it exciting and unexpected? Does it make you smile? Does it give you a sense of calm? Does the feeling you have match the concept and feel you were striving to achieve?
It may feel uncomfortable looking so intently at your own work, but giving and receiving feedback is one crucial way we can all identify our weaknesses and our strengths. By consistently self-critiquing your work you will start to develop your style and your critiques will help inform your future designs. Critiquing your own work will also help flex that muscle so that when a fellow artist asks for feedback on their work you will have the language and the skills to share helpful feedback.
Self-critique can feel really hard sometimes, but it will lead you to look at your work differently and will help improve your work over time. I encourage you to critique your own work regularly, by practicing these skills you will set yourself on a path to improvement instead of comparing your work to others. It can also help you build a cohesive body of work, encouraging you to repeat your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses.