Evolution of my Little Birdies
My graphic design students often ask me “how do I know when this project is done?” My answer isn’t straightforward: It’s done when you think it’s good enough (for now). I refer my students back to the project statement, their original goals, and their audience, which helps them finish their work. I also remind them that they can revise their work endlessly, which can be both good and bad. It’s good because you can zhoosh your portfolio at whim; it’s bad because nobody can achieve perfection but can waste loads of time trying. This post is about
I’ve been drawing my little birdies since at least 2009.
I used to draw them on teacups and plates.
In 2011, somebody even wanted my little birdies on their wedding invitations!
Then Chrissy Jensen, the curator behind Domestica, told me that my little birdies from my teacups and plates would look really great on fabric.
Except I wasn’t sure how to design fabric…
I use loads of fabric. I am a designer. But how do I design fabric? I didn’t have time to invest in finding out, so I illustrated my little birdie, made him repeat as best as I could, and uploaded the result to Spoonflower.
It took me forever to get my little birdie to repeat and I didn’t like my result, so I gave up. Then I got busy with other endeavors (work, running, crafting, and, eventually, grad school), but fabric design always topped my list of “someday” projects.
Finally, in 2017 (when things calmed down), I Googled “how to become a fabric designer”.
The internet told me that the first thing I needed to learn was how to design a repeat pattern swatch—the thing I got stuck on nearly a decade before! I didn’t let that deter me. I found a SkillShare class and tackled my first repeat pattern.
Once I figured out how to make a repeat pattern, I adjusted my little birdies fabric design.
I liked this iteration better, but I still wasn’t sure if this pattern would work well on fabric.
What size do I need to make the illustrations? How thick do the lines need to be? How many patterns need to be in a collection? I didn’t know, and things got busy again (working three jobs busy!), so I tossed my little birdies fabric design back into the “someday projects” pile.
In 2019 I finally decided to make a real go at the fabric design dream I’ve been harboring for a decade.
I don’t know why NOW is the time to do this, but it is! I started devoting my spare time to research and classes on surface design. The major thing holding me up (besides a contract, heh heh) is not having a speedy workflow for constructing repeat patterns from my art. So I’m working to establish this workflow.
I did a deep dive into Illustrator and learned about new tools and how to leverage the stuff I already know into pattern design.
- I learned how to use the recolor art tool, which is magic and more helpful than I thought it could be (I’m a color nerd already).
- I relearned the pathfinder tool (hello, time saved!).
- And I learned how to use the smooth tool (seriously why have I never used this?!).
- I learned to make Illustrator align, randomize, rotate, and help organize my motifs to speed up my workflow. (Allowing the computer to do some of this work is helpful as long as you make final tweaks since the computer doesn’t have design skills.)
I am creating loads of patterns and mini pattern collections while learning. And I’m currently working on my first big pattern collection, which is meant for
One of the patterns that made its way into my first real fabric design collection is, of course, my little birdies.
I made my little birdies wonkier (a.k.a. more fun!) by slightly adjusting the size and shape of their bodies, feet, and beaks. I played with the recolor art tool to discover interesting color combos. I haven’t selected the final colorways yet, but these three are in my top contenders. (The final selections depend on the colors in the rest of the pattern collection.)
Seeing my little birdies go from their first inception on a teacup to being part of a fabric collection is satisfying.
I hope my Illustrator pattern swatch isn’t the last step in their little birdie design lifespan.