You’ve gathered inspiration, picked a theme, color palette and decided on the medium you want to work with. Now it’s time to get started sketching your initial ideas. Sketch with pen and paper, grab your digital drawing tablet, or jump in and work directly with the medium you’ve chosen for the finished design. Remember, you’re just sketching at this stage, so use whatever tools work best for you to mock up all of the ideas you have. 

Below is an excerpt from a conversation we had with surface designer Bonnie Christine. Bonnie recommends the following tips for sketching out your focal print: 

Bonnie: One of my favorite parts of designing a pattern collection is the sketching phase. This is where a collection really begins to take form and come to life. After spending plenty of time gathering inspiration, it’s time to put pen to paper. It’s always fun to see what actually comes out when you begin sketching!

As you begin sketching, be sure to reference your inspiration boards, photographs, collection words and story frequently. This will give your final sketches a cohesive feel, look and theme. One thing you’ll want to keep in mind as you sketch for your collection, is the importance of a focal print. A focal print is the winner of the collection, the one that draws the viewer into the collection first. If it were available as part of a collection on fabric, this is the one the browser wouldn’t be able to leave without.

woman sketching flowers with a black pen on white paper
image via Bonnie Christine

Lightbox. Having a lightbox will make the sketching phase so much easier, especially if you like to draw in pencil first (like me!). A lightbox will allow you to easily trace over your original sketches with a nice dark black ink pen, which will give you great results during the design process.

Before you begin sketching, here are a few of my suggestions about supplies!

  1. Pen or pencil? Using either a pen or pencil is fine, but they each mean you’ll be designing in a different way. If using a pen, choose one that has a smooth black line (my favorites are called uni pens). This will give you a great scan and a good chance of being able to use the live trace feature in Adobe Illustrator if you’re happy with your final sketch. Using a pencil gives you more freedom while you draw, but usually means that you’ll need to trace over your lines again. You could either do this using a lightbox and pen, or by using a Wacom Tablet directly within Illustrator.
  2. Paper and notebook. What will you be drawing on? Loose leaf paper or a notebook will both suffice, but try to choose a bright white, smooth paper for the best scanning results. If using a notebook, try to choose one that will lay flat while you draw and scan in your images.
  3. Scale. Generally, you’ll want to draw at a medium scale. A good rule of thumb is that the more detailed a sketch, the larger your scale should be. This will just allow for easily scanning in your sketches and grabbing all those details you’ve added. For something like a flower bloom, I usually sketch at about the size of the palm of my hand, just to give you a reference.
  4. What’s your favorite way to sketch? Do you use pen or pencil? Do you reference your photographs or draw from memory?Esther Fallon Lau (known by many as nouveau_bohemian in the Spoonflower Marketplace) recommends the following advice:

Find a photo (or real life subject) to use as a guide. Sketch the subject in your style. Don’t get fixated on the perfect line – don’t erase, just use soft lines, make lots of them, experiment. Next, within those lines, ‘seek out’ the best outline with a fine ink pen. I use a Sharpie extra fine point. Now erase the pencil and scan into Photoshop or some other editing program. Blur the image (to smooth out the lines slightly) then sharpen by increasing the contrast (I use Levels). You can add fillers (such as flowers, leaves, clouds, stars etc.) to create movement, balance and interest. Finally, digitally colour and overlay with texture. Voilà!

photo of a brown bear, pencil and pen sketch of the photograph, and a digital illustration
nouveau_bohemian details how her design Birch Bears (blue) comes to life through simple pencil sketches

If you’re just now tuning in to our 12 Days of Design SpoonChallenge, get caught up to speed here!