Observation journal: patterns and textures

This observation journal page is an actual observation page.

On a recent page, I’d made a note to look more closely at noisy miners in future (see: more swapped descriptions). They are very common, and I’d fallen into a habit of thinking of them as drab grey birds.

Pen sketch of a honeyeater
Patterns on a honeyeater, from a previous page

They are not.

Handwritten double page spread. On the left, five things seen, heard, done, and a picture. On the right, sketches and notes of patterns and textures.
Left page: Fried chicken and gravy and cornbread.

I made two quick drawn studies of some of the patterns I could see: first on the bird, then on the sofa.

Then I repeated the exercise, this time making written descriptions of the surfaces I could feel — both texture and temperature. The cool smooth varnished floorboards, with a faint impression of the grain, the slight rib(?) of buttons of close-set nails. The chalky-dry matt-satin of turquoise beads.

Sketch of a noisy miner and some cushions on a sofa, and handwritten notes on pattern and texture.

It’s a pleasantly meditative little exercise, just touching the surface of the desk and thinking carefully of words to to describe it.

It also complemented previous thoughts on the importance and possibilities of surfaces written and illustrated (see: Surfaces and Variations on Habits).

Writing/illustration exercise:

  • Look closely at some of the surfaces around you (look up and under as well as around). Sketch or briefly describe any repeated patterns (decorative or otherwise). (If you can, repeat the exercise both inside and outdoors — I found it much easier outside, and with live subjects.)
  • Touch a few of the surfaces (using common sense). What textures are there, and what temperatures? Try to sketch those, or capture them accurately in words.
  • Bonus rounds:
    • Look at a favourite painting or photograph. Try to imagine and describe/sketch some of the textures in it.
    • Pick a scene you are writing or drawing. See if you can put some of those textures/patterns into it.

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Observation journal — practical application

This page of the observation journal is me playing with some discoveries from previous pages.

A double page from the observation journal. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a drawing of me walking and talking on my phone. On the right, sketches of repeating patterns.

It’s a follow-up to the last post (Observation journal — paired points). I was again going back to the earlier exercise on points of habit and resistance. It’s interesting tracing these explorations and variations through the journal.

I gave myself the task of inventing a pattern (a fairly common occurrence, given the calendar art). Then I picked at random some of the flipped habits, and applied them to the task — getting close to fairy tales where I could.

Sketches of nine repeating patterns, briefly discussed below.

It was fun to do, but also interesting to see what fell out of the process. They are as follows:

  • Pulling petals off the flower for “whole/fragments”. I like the simplicity with which this one varied the pattern.
  • Doing — I think — aggravated deities for “body language” (I’d been listening to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and if you like a gif reaction thread, here’s mine). Funny, but energetic.
  • Swapping stereotypes/archetypes (I can’t remember what they all started as, but there’s definitely a man with great boots dressing a cat in fancy clothes — as ever, the Caudwell Manoeuvre is relevant). I like it, but it heads straight into new story territory, which might be more than is needed for a repeating pattern.
  • Choosing a random Wikipedia topic (something about swimming). A classic.
  • Setting it to a song (“My Queen Bee”, having just watched Emma., which previously featured here: Observation Journal — The Emma heist and concert strategies).
  • Asking “whose POV” which somehow became about chairs. But tumbling them around added a lot of interest to a pattern.
  • Introducing a time limit. This is the sort of prompt that obviously does interesting things to a written story (adding a race against time). But it also adds some impetus to a drawing. I’d already covered body language, above, so the idea evolved into a claustrophobia/panic dream of underground station staircases.
  • Novelise (+POV). I… have no idea what this was. It has a bit of Cinderella and My Fair Lady, but that can’t have been the starting point.
  • Trope. Again, I wish I’d written it down! Something about vigorous family games in historical novels.
Close-up of the "swap stereotypes" drawing. It includes what might be a cow in a cloak, a man dressing a cat, a girl in rags touching stars, and a girl in a party dress.
The cow and the ragged girl with the stars are giving me strong Mary Poppins vibes, but I simply don’t remember. There might have been something Little Matchgirl-ish going on, but once you flip a thing it heads off into its own story.

What I noticed about myself from this page was that I still tried to force everything to become a story. Having the “pattern” limitation helped moderate that impulse. Also: drawing is a fabulous way to work through an idea, but written notes are far better at capturing the thought process.

Looking back at it now, I can also see a few lessons about what makes a pattern pleasing to me:

  • It’s nice when the repeating of a pattern makes sense (or at least if the pattern doesn’t make the viewer wonder too much about why these things are here, recurring).
  • Too much energy (narrative or otherwise) can distract from the smooth operation of a pattern (if not handled judiciously). I tend to prefer some vivacity in my pieces if I consider them just as an illustration, but more soothing compositions give a more classic feeling.
  • Simplicity can be pleasing, but it’s not my natural state. See the point above.
  • Different angles on a thing (e.g. chairs) adds depth and variation to a pattern while keeping the selection of objects to a minimum.
  • Patterns are a great place to play with variations on a motif (not news, but confirmation).

Exercise for writers/artists — originally from Points of habit and resistance.

  1. Look back at your work: the sum total of it, or comments you’ve received, or a piece that you’re working on at the moment.
  2. Look for patterns and habits. If you’re looking at one piece, what are some distinctive features? Lyricism? Vigour? Tiny pen marks? Make a list.
  3. Now flip the list. Think of opposite(s) for each item. (Hardboiled prose? Calm? Bold brush strokes?)
  4. Try applying a few of those approaches to your work — a sketch or a paragraph, new or existing (or rework a piece by somebody else, as a way to study it closely).
  5. What do you notice about what you resist, and why? What changes?

Just one more thing

Screenshot of the words:
"Here is a thing that didn't exist yesterday..."
Emily Carding, introducing a video on her Patreon
Screenshot of the words: 
"Also there is a sense of creation about it. There were more horses in the field when I left it than there were when I went in."
T. H. White, after assisting at a foaling, in England Have My Bones

Mermaid fabric

I mentioned previously that the mermaid design (for the September calendar) was up on Redbubble (t-shirst, phone cases, etc). It is in two colourways: the simple white background and the repeating green design.


Now I have also received my test prints from Spoonflower (print on demand fabrics), and the designs are up there too in three options: Green background; white background; and no lines (rather impressionistic, would work well for backgrounds/lining).

Here they are, with my feet for scale.


And I ordered a doona/duvet cover from Redbubble. The printed layer has a beautiful silky cottony feeling – it was meant to be for the spare bedroom but I might keep it for myself. Shown here with books and sofa cushion for scale – it’s quite a large print.


Illustration Friday: Burst

Illustration Friday: Burst

Because it takes so much longer than just drawing a picture, this week I am still playing with repeating patterns. This time, it is a pattern of bursting seedpods. I like what I tried with it, but it isn’t quite as seamless a repeat as I want. Here is a close-up of the base pattern:

Illustration Friday: Burst (base pattern)

And here is a snippet of another pattern, just trees, which worked much as I wanted it to. If the Little Red Riding Hood fabric swatch I ordered arrives and works, I might try this one, too.

Into the woods