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Strengthening Your Collections Through Storytelling

If you work in collections, it can be hard to built a cohesive set of patterns that work well together while being interesting. When working on my pattern collections, I love to focus on storytelling. Not only does it make my collections stronger by having a theme throughout, but it also makes each pattern more interesting and less generic.

In this month’s article, I’ll give you a few tips on how to strengthen your collection with the power of storytelling! Before we dive in, please keep in mind that this is the way that I personally approach collections, but it is by no means the only way. Take these tips with a grain of salt and apply them to your own work if this seems appropriate for your art!

1. Decide on a broad theme and then brainstorm ideas and words associated with the theme

When I start a collection, the first thing I do is brainstorm from general to specific. I start by thinking about what kind of collection I want to create. Do I want to work on a nautical theme? Fairy tale? Wildlife? Seasonal? Once I have decided on the broad theme, I write down words that relate to the theme to give me different ideas on what to illustrate. So for example, when choosing nautical as my theme, I might write down words such as ocean, water, coral, seahorse, boats, etc. You get the idea! It can help to draw it out as a diagram, as seen below:

Diagram by the Data Visualisation Catalogue

2. Connect the dots and find a story

Now that I have words to start exploring on, I will try to find a story within it. Maybe I will explore a seaside collection, focusing on the landscapes and wildlife present by the sea. Or maybe I could do a day at the beach collection, with swimsuits, sand castles, sunglasses, etc. There are a lot of options here, and whatever you decide to go with is up to you and your preferences! I look at all of the words that I have written down, and I will circle the ones that inspire me the most.

3. Find a twist that will make you stand out

Now that I have a clear idea of the story, I need to find a fun twist to it. There are so many nautical collections out there, so how do I make mine stand out? If my patterns are generic, they could potentially get licensed, but why would they choose to work with me specifically if they could work with another artist that they already know and that has done a very similar collection? By finding a fun twist that is unexpected, I maximize my chances to pique the licensor’s interest by bringing something that is unusual that they haven’t seen as often. In my Sky Adventures collection (below), I knew that I wanted to create a nautical themed collection that was targeted to children. By blending a nursery theme and a nautical theme, I was one step closer to having a solid idea. Stars and nautical have been done a lot already, so how do I push this one step further? And the answer that I found to this was…. Cat pirates!

4. Start sketching your patterns

My idea is now very solid. The story is about cat pirates, going on a nautical adventure in the sky. Perfect! I can now start illustrating my patterns one by one to make a complete collection. Once I’ve sketched my hero pattern, I take each of the elements from it and turn them into the hero of their own pattern. The cat pirates weren’t quite as prominent in the hero pattern, so in this pattern I focus exclusively on them. On another one, I focus only on the whales, or only on the stars, while making sure that each pattern has a different appeal and different repeat/arrangement to add some variety and interest to the collection.

5. Add colour and make sure everything flows well together

After I’ve sketched all of my patterns, I add a rough colour blocking and compare them all next to each other. Once I have them all together as a whole, I make sure that everything looks cohesive but also interesting enough to stand on its own. I also try to think of the quilters that will buy more than one fabric for their quilt, and whether or not the arrangement and colour makes it good enough for a quilt. I make changes if I deem them necessary, and once I’m happy with the overall look of the collection, I go ahead and finish them all one by one.

And that’s the final collection! This is now ready to pitch and hopefully someone will find it interesting enough to license it! (Spoiler: it did get licensed!)

Fabric companies might ask you for a second or third colourway, so it’s always good to have another version on hand. For my collection, I added a more gender-neutral palette that would work for any kid!

And that’s my process for building a collection with strong storytelling! Hopefully this deep dive into my thinking was helpful. Let me know what you would like to know about and I’ll be happy to make another short tutorial on how I design my work!

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