Try It. You’ll like it.
Those were popular words in advertising a few decades back. One of my favorite “try it, you’ll like it” ads was this one from Alka-Seltzer:
Always good for a laugh, don’t you agree?
Sometimes I need a little persuasion in art, and I’ve learned over the years that if and when I’m willing to try something new — especially something I don’t think I’ll like — I oftentimes end up enjoying it immensely. So it was that when I came across a workshop in Sketchbook Revival called “Gathering Color and Pattern Inspirations” I wasn’t too enthused and had to “coax” myself into it with a little variation on those words.
Try it. You might like it.
The presentation was by Faith Evans-Sills, and it turned out to be one of my very favorite sessions during Sketchbook Revival 2022. It’s a practice that I intend to continue throughout the year.
As the title of the workshop suggests, it’s all about colors and patterns… which, to be honest, sounded a bit dull at the start. Oh, of course, playing with colors can be fun, but colors and patterns? It seemed like all we were going to do was make colorful little patterns, and well, yes, really that is all we did. But we did it in such an interesting way! I found it very soothing and relaxing, and I also saw a creative purpose behind it.
Before I explain what we did and how we did it, let me show you my first “Color and Pattern Inspiration”. I’m calling this one “April”, and in a moment I’ll explain why.
You’ll see a few notes at the top of this page, but you might not be able to read them. One note is a reminder from Faith Evans-Sills that “You can’t pull something from nothing.” Another note mentions the importance of our personal response, and another describes this “color and pattern inspiration” process as an intuitive abstract. Not that the page is meant to be a complete work of art in and of itself. The consideration is that we need to see it in abstract terms rather than as something representational.
Other words I jotted down included: variety, contrasts, shapes, colors, lines, pattern. I hope you can see each of these ideas in my “collection” of inspirations. That’s what this workshop was actually about, you see. We were learning how to collect or gather ideas and inspirations from the colors and patterns around us.
I also noted that this exercise was a “jumping-off point” for the creative process. I could take this page from my sketchbook and use it as a reference for a landscape painting, or as a reference for another creative project. I might want to use these colors and patterns in an interior design project, in choosing a wardrobe, for a spring table-setting. Maybe I’d like to do an actual abstract expressionist painting based on these colors and patterns.
As the instructor said, we can’t pull something from nothing, but conversely if we have something to work from, it can become a jumping off point for many creative inspirations.
So, how did I create this page of colors and patterns?
I began with a reference photo. Here was my reference, a page from last year’s calendar:
Now, I’ll freely admit that when I began my watercolor page of colors and patterns, I wasn’t all that enthused about what I was doing. I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed to do or why I might want to do it. It didn’t make much sense to me at first.
But I played along, looking at the first color I saw — the different blues of the sky. Now, in the scan I shared, you can’t really see all of the pale blue, but it’s there. I started with a deeper blue, then added the pale blue. I kept moving downward, and I saw a row of green. I saw green trees forming an “upward” pattern, and gradually I began to relax. I stopped looking at the reference as a landscape and began to see it merely as a collection of colors and patterns.
Faith Evans-Sills explained that she began doing collections like this when life got busy. She didn’t always have time to paint a scene, but she saw that she could very quickly capture a sense of a place using watercolor to “gather” the essential colors and patterns.
A good sketchbook should be filled with ideas and inspirations, I think. That’s how Faith Evans-Sills uses her sketchbooks. Page after page, she can flip through and see various color schemes, possible ideas for patterns, looking at the pages much like an interior designer flips through the pages of a wallpaper book, searching for just the right one for a client’s home.
By the time we’d reached the end of the workshop, I was in love with the idea of finding references — from life, photographs, magazines — and “gathering” up the colors and patterns I liked, then saving them in my sketchbook for future reference.
Of course, when May came around, I used this “intuitive abstract” method for collecting a new set of colors and patterns. Here is my page for May.
One thing Faith Evans-Sills suggests is to leave a little space in-between each line of color or pattern. That’s what I tried to do here.
And, if you’re curious. this was my reference photo for May:
Now, you might “get picky” and say that my colors aren’t exact or point out that I’ve failed to precisely duplicate various patterns. Remember, though, that “representation” isn’t the idea here. It’s all about my personal intuitive responses to what I’m seeing. I chose colors that worked for me. I created quick patterns that worked for me. All of this was a wonderfully relaxing way of gathering up ideas and inspirations from a reference.
So, when all was said and done. I was very glad I’d gone ahead and tried this workshop, even though I didn’t think I would enjoy it at all. As it turned out, I did like it. I liked it a lot. I especially like the idea of using this collection method to capture the feeling of nature at various times of the year. I’ll be doing a new page each month, and probably using this method when I’m out hiking on the trails or on a field trip with one of our art clubs.
It’s quick. It’s easy. And because it’s abstract and intuitive, it’s relaxing. It’s useful. It’s purposeful. And in its own way, it’s also a great confidence builder, I think.
Now, I’ll encourage you to create your own collection of colors and patterns. Go ahead! Try it, you really might like it!
An interesting process! Your experience reminds me of a time when I thought I knew everything there was to know about sewing but went to a class to keep a friend company. I got introduced to sewing with knits, about which I had known nothing. And that opened a whole new door to sewing adventures.
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Isn’t it funny how that happens… we “tag along” or do something “just because”… and then find ourselves with all kinds of new possibilities! This simple “gathering” process was not only interesting and fun, it was also very relaxing. I really enjoyed myself once I got into it!
I love this idea! Thank you for explaining your process and providing such interesting examples. Breaking out the sketchbook momentarily!
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I really enjoyed this so much! I didn’t think I would… it just seems a bit meaningless at first. But then I gradually began to see the purpose in it, and I absolutely loved it! It’s so relaxing, too.
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Nice paintings, and very interesting textures. I really like your colour palette, very reflective of April / May.
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The exercise is a lot of fun. I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but I sure did once I got started. It really is a quick way to “collect” ideas and inspirations for future paintings.
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