Pattern Play

Do you love intricate patterns? The wild popularity of Zentangle tells me a lot of us do! What is the fascination? The soothing repetition? The almost-magical emergence of form from a few simple shapes? The need to pay close attention that blocks out cares and worries? The echo of Nature’s beautiful intricacies?

Whatever the reason, winter is a perfect time to snuggle indoors and learn to draw beautiful and intricate patterns. The perfect antidote to cabin fever!

This week, I want to share a variety of resources for learning to make patterns.  (If you love patterns, but you’re too busy to learn to draw them right now (or if you just want a great gift idea!) scroll down for a “quick fix” idea at the end of this article.)


If you’re new to making patterns beyond your own doodles, Zentangle is an easy place to start.  (Clicking the link will open a new window, so go take a look. You won’t lose your place here.)


  • very easy to get started
  • minimal equipment (pencil, pen and paper are all you need)
  • patterns can be applied outside of the strict Zentangle format to create much more sophisticated art


  • some (like me) find the set patterns too restrictive and the resulting work sometimes too similar
  • some find it stressful to work in black ink on white paper (no erasing or revising!)

Celtic and Norse Designs

There are a lot of how-to videos out there for learning to draw Celtic designs. (Many of these intricate motifs turn up in Norse carvings and artifacts as well.)

Two how-to channels that I’ve found particularly helpful are those by:

If you prefer a book, the “classic” is probably Draw Your Own Celtic Designs by David James.


  • patterns range from very simple to highly complex, easy to start, never gets boring
  • historical and cultural connections
  • very adaptable to 3D art and craft such as metalwork, knitting, quilting or carving


  • requires grids and/or other measuring tools to do most historical patterns
  • freeform versions are not easy! (most of us mere mortals will have to start by learning and absorbing the principles behind simpler designs before being able to use these patterns in freeform applications

Sacred Geometry

This term covers a lot of territory, but basically, it refers to theories (probably mostly derived from the philosophy of Pythagoras) that geometric relationships found in nature are naturally pleasing to the eye (e.g. the Golden Mean).  (This article by Catherine Yronwode gives a good overview.)

These ideas emerge in classical Greek, Islamic and Renaissance art and architecture, as well as the art of the Art Deco period.  Sacred geometry was considered to have both aesthetic and a spiritual benefits, but as Yronwode says in her article, “Sadly, many books on the subject of sacred geometry are chock full of extraneous blather about UFOs and perpetual motion and Atlantean Science (whatever that is).”

Nevertheless, there is a rich historical, scientific and artistic legacy in the designs, and they are both beautiful and fun to draw.

If you loved playing with compass-and-straightedge constructions in school, you’ll love these. (If you hated working with a compass, it’s likely you had a cheap “school” version that wouldn’t hold a setting. I highly recommend giving it another try with a good drafting compass, which you can find at art or office supply stores.)

I recommend Dearing Wang’s how-to videos for learning these patterns. His YouTube channel is full of fascinating and intricate designs and optical illusions.


  • rich historical, scientific and cultural roots
  • appealing regularity within complexity
  • great fun to watch the designs emerge from the geometric process
  • great cross-discipline learning opportunities (for you teachers out there!)
  • this will never get boring!


  • requires compass and straightedge for most designs, and a grid for many of them
  • takes time and persistence—these designs are not quick to draw!

Coloring Books, etc.

Finally, if you need a quick “pattern fix”, check out these cool watercolor postcards I found last week at Wet Paint.  All sorts of designs for coloring or watercoloring, from cultures all around the world.

Watercolor postcards sets with designs from around the world.
Watercolor postcards, ready for coloring with your favorite watercolor pencils or markers, or a small brush and your regular watercolors. I’m headed back to get some as gifts before they sell out!
Coloring books with patterns from around the world.
The coloring books are drawing paper, so better with colored pencils or markers.

These would make a great gift, too, wouldn’t it? Maybe with some watercolor pencils or watercolor markers?  (My faves are Museum watercolor pencils by Caran d’Ache and Tombow watercolor markers. Don’t buy them all out before I get back there, okay?)

Are you an avid pattern-maker? Do you know some great resources for learning to draw patterns?  Do you have some patterns of your own you’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear about your favorite resources and see your patterns in the comments!

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