A Simple Way to Teach Your Students to Design Patterns

2 months ago

When I first started teaching art, I wanted my students to learn to draw using the elements and principles while experimenting with media. These were important goals. But, I totally neglected to teach students about the art of design! As I reflected, I found this predicament kind of funny. After all, I started my career in graphic design and know the vital role design plays in our lives. So, why was it so challenging to bring into the classroom?

Artists and designers have so much in common, yet there is a difference.

Most designers consider themselves artists, but the reverse isn’t always true. I asked my students if they thought most artists were designers.

We discussed and researched and agreed on the following conclusions.

1. Design work generally stems from the need to communicate a pre-existing message, while art tends to be an expression of a completely new idea.

2. It’s important to consider the difference between inspiration and motivation. If a designer’s objective is to communicate a pre-existing message, then they are considering how they will motivate their audience. On the flip side, artists tend to want to inspire feelings.

3. Designers usually want their work to be clearly understood by their audience, or clients, while art can be interpreted very differently and rarely has just one meaning.

4. Design is considered a skill that can be taught and developed while artistic ability is considered an innate gift.

A Beginning Design Lesson

I wanted to get my students thinking more like designers, while still working with important artistic concepts. Together we came up with a lesson that incorporated essential elements and principles to address the question, “Where does design end and art begin?” The result? We decided to design patterns!

pattern design

Here is one way to create pattern designs with your students.

1. Create a simple line design.

Give each student a 2″ x 2″ piece of paper. Have them come up with a simple line design. Encourage them to use different kinds of lines including straight, curved, and angled.

2. Experiment with the line design.

Have students experiment with their 2″ x 2″ square by rotating it and creating four to six different designs. Encourage students to play with a variety of patterns before they settle on the one they like best.

3. Have students grid their paper.

Give each student a 12″ x 12″ piece of drawing paper and create 2″ squares to form a grid.

4. Trace the square design.

Have students add their preferred design by tracing it thirty-six times on their paper with a pencil.

sharpie drawing on paper

5. Outline all pencil lines.

Using a thin Sharpie, have students outline all their pencil lines. Encourage students to consider line quality through the addition of thick and thin lines or line weight.

6. Select color theory.

Students should select their colors, preferably from the same harmony. Encourage cool colors or warm colors with a hit of the opposite for emphasis.

7. Complete the pattern design.

student pattern design

8. Mount finished patterns on black paper.

This lesson teaches students to think outside of the typical visual art lesson. It really requires students to focus on the design elements and consider repetition and pattern as well as line quality, shape, and color theory. And the best part is that it can be adapted for grades 3-12!

This is the perfect lesson if you’re looking for a way to introduce the art of design. Students have a chance to consider the difference between art and design and play with line quality in their patterns. It’s an ideal way to get students thinking like designers!

How do you teach design inspired lessons in your art room?

What artists would you consider incorporating into a design lesson?

Debi West, Ed.S. and NBCT, is a retired art teacher with 25 years of experience. She loves sharing with others, and her motto is, “Together We ART Better!”

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  • Becky Lambert Hopkins

    I have always started my year with a line design project. This is a fun spin on that and incorporates one of my other past lessons (Islamic tiles) in terms of incorporating rotation and pattern. I love this and I am really looking forward to adapting it to my Art 1 classes for 2019-20! I will be entering my 18th year in the fall and rarely repeat the exact same lessons, however as I am adding to my workload this fall with taking on the job of Organizing Chair for our Local, I am looking back at past ideas and using AOE to help give them a fresh spin. Using this last weekend of the school year to come up with some ideas so that I know what materials I need to order more quickly when we return. I am so glad I logged in to AOE today and saw this article!!

    • Debi West

      I’m so sorry that I’m just now seeing this but I’m thrilled that you’re going to use it for your Art I students next year! Please keep me posted and share their results!
      Thanks for your post!
      Debi

  • Christine Salinas

    How do they transfer the design to the paper?

    • Debi West

      Hey there, we use a light table, a window or they can use their phones and turn on their lights. Hope this helps and forgive my tardy response, I didn’t see this question until today!
      Thanks!