“Getting Started on New Projects, Making Inspiration Happen, and Getting Around My Drawing Weaknesses”


Guest post by Angelina Rennell. Images in this post are all works done during Angelina’s daily journaling, as well as her “image” inspiration collecting.



If you’re a pattern designer, no matter your level or experience, you’re a visual person, always on the hunt with your eyes, eating the visual world around you. With a little organization and awareness, you’ll find that you’ve already started your “next project”. Often inspiration comes naturally, when it does run with it. But what about when it doesn’t? I say take a practical, unromantic approach. Here’s a variety of tools and my basic formula that I count on to get me moving from point A to point B.

One, have a location, a regular place to work that is all yours, as well as a regular time that fits into your schedule. It’s about building a habit and creating space, and yes daily journaling. In that location keep things like marking tools, paper, books filled with images you love, and perhaps little visual objects that speak to you.

Keep in mind that daily journaling is a loose term that can mean many things. Most importantly it simply equates to the routine of making. At minimum it’s 15 minutes of “art time”, a wide and general term that is kind of like a preschool teacher who just wants you to play with your markers, or look through nature books. Journal time is not an activity to confirm how great your work is, or confirm your talent. It’s adventure time; it’s fun and it has few rules or expectations, other than to keep a record of the journey.


Two, when you’re not working, keep working, in your head. Go about your life and pay attention to what catches your eye, and keep track of some of it, via photography, notes or collecting, and yes some social media platforms like Instagram & Pinterest. These records are valuable resources to go back to later. Not to mention the daily journaling that builds over time. This is precious, precious fuel you’re making, that will be returned, maybe not as finished work, but at minimum sparks for new work.

Three, it’s easier to find inspiration in other people’s work, nature and life, than it is to sit down and try to pull it out of thin air with a pencil. When the ideas aren’t flowing on their own, turning to other people’s work that I admire is a great starting place. Keep in mind, that doesn’t equate to seeing something beautiful and copying it. Instead it’s finding a part of that thing that draws you in, and then playing with that idea or thing, a starting point. For example, look at a favorite print and just use the colors, or work with the repeat, or the style, find the one thing you really love about it, and play with that. Pull it out and manipulate it in new ways, or see if you can take two favorite prints and merge them.

Another smart place to look to is your old work. Look for things you wanted to continue to explore but ran out of time. When going through other people’s work, try to figure out the individual parts you admire and then try to replicate. Locate something you love, from tea cups, to time periods, to monkeys to collages. Give yourself a theme to work with and explore. Take old work and bring it into the context of new themes. Keep notes of ideas that can be used when you feel empty of inspiration, as well as notes on your entire process.


I’ve never thought of myself as a natural drawer. I can be impatient and easily frustrated. Years back when I started keeping daily journals I gave myself realistic doable daily drawing projects, and mediums that were friendly to imperfections, like pastels and black ink and brush, as well as a framework or theme, like animals, grid work, circles or other single objects. Once I came up with an idea to make an image vocabulary, titled “Shaggy Objects” which was mostly a sincere love of fringe, in all its forms. (See above sketch book image.)

Some of us are natural drawers and illustrators and this is how we ended up in pattern work, but many of us are not that at all. We love images, color, texture and have a deep passion for textiles, or surface design, etc. and we do speak the visual languages, but that doesn’t equate to being trained in classic arts. So please do yourself a big favor and leave that baggage behind.

All that, and a strong cup of tea!


Angelina Rennell designs her eponymous line, Lina Rennell, an art brand with a heavy focus on original print work and USA production. She also owns the online boutique Beklina, filled with like minded independent designers and dense with patterned textiles. You can read more about her in our recent feature!


Interested in textile design but not sure how to start? We’ve created a FREE video training just for you! LEARN MORE

History of Surface Design: Athos Bulcão

 Series on the history of surface design by Julie Gibbons


I discovered Athos Bulcão (1918-2008) quite by chance, when I was pinning something of his on Pinterest (I do love me my Pinterest!). The image was wrongly attributed to architect Oscar Neimeyer, but shortly after I pinned it I got a comment to let me know that it wasn’t Neimeyer’s work at all. So that prompted me to do a bit of a search for Bulcão… and I fell deeper and deeper into his seemingly endless world of tiles and murals and so much more.

I’m a little mystified as to why his work is scarcely known outside his home country – he must surely be the king of geometric patterns. A Brazilian artist, sculptor and designer who worked often with his good friend, architect Oscar Neimeyer, his designs are at once surprising and harmonious, always outstanding for their inventiveness and freshness.

PO - bulcao1{all images copyright and used with permission, from Nara Roesler Gallery – http://www.nararoesler.com.br/ and Athos Bulcão Foundation – http://www.fundathos.org.br/1. Instituto de Artes da Universidade de Brasília; 2. Instituto Rio Branco Arq Luis Antonio Reis 3. Centro Cultural Missionario da CNBB; 4. Museu de Gemas Torre TV Brasilia; 5. Mercado das Flores Brasilia}


Part of his magic is his approach to pattern. After designing the individual graphics for each tile, he often left the final on-site installation to construction workers – preferring to allow the element of chance, and the workers’ lack of art-school-type preconceived notions to do the work. The result is an array of organic, shifting designs, consistently lively for their absence of tight repeats. Our eyes dance over the surfaces, with patterns too big for our minds to grasp all at once.

PO - bulcao2

{all images copyright and used with permission, from Nara Roesler Gallery - http://www.nararoesler.com.br/ and Athos Bulcão Foundation - http://www.fundathos.org.br/: Clockwise from top left – 1. Aeroporto Internacional de Brasilia Juscelino Kubistschek; 2. Ministerio das Relacoes Exteriores 3. & 4. exhibition views — Galeria Nara Roesler ; 5. Aeroporto Internacional de Brasilia Juscelino Kubistschek}


Born in Rio de Janeiro, he first studied medicine but abandoned it in favour of the arts, making friends with Neimeyer along the way. They continued to work together for most of their lives, with Neimeyer referring to Bulcão as his “constant and necessary friend”. Bulcão likewise spoke of their close working relationship, and likened it to that between a film director and composer – where his patterns added orchestration and colour to Neimeyer’s expansive volumes.

Bulcão had already established himself as an artist of note in his home country, working on murals from the early 1940s. These featured abstract geometries and stylised forms, and were installed in numerous sites, from churches, to hospitals and hotels, often in collaboration with Neimeyer.

However, it was in the late 1950s that his career exploded. It was a period of radical change for Brasil – a new and charismatic president had been elected who promised to revolutionise the country and the economy by stamping out the corruption that had plagued it, especially in the then-capital, Rio de Janeiro. Cue a brand new capital city – Brasilia – and a massive injection of funds into the arts and a building program that would turn it into a modernist architect’s playground.

And it was perfect for Neimeyer and Bulcão. Working together, moving from project to project to project, Brasilia is now beautifully littered with their public buildings and decorations, from schools to airports to libraries and everything in between.

And there is so much more. Bulcão was prolific, and when he wasn’t working on murals, he spent his time painting, drawing, creating sculptures and designing costumes and sets for the theatre, amongst other things.

He really should be more well-known than he is, don’t you think?


Is your eye drawn to the colors and patterns you see on clothing or in home decor? Do patterns fill your doodles, drawings and artwork? You could make money in the textile design industry. Get our FREE video training today!

Featured Designer: Mel Smith Designs

Morocco - Arrow Tile Morocco - Flower Morocco - Star Square Tile

Mel Smith is “on a mission to bring bold colour and energetic pattern to people’s homes!” Much of her work is based around her travels and holidays, to places like Marrakech, London and Amsterdam. 

“I am passionate about pattern and my designs are inspired by the world around me …colour combinations that stimulate me, shapes and lines that excite me. My designs have a modern retro edge with a playful twist.

My background is in Interior Textiles, with my degree focusing on surface pattern design. After moving to south west London I started my career designing for a greetings card studio, with products sold to quirky boutiques and popular high street stores including Paperchase. I began by working freelance, producing patterns that have sold to brands such as Marks & Spencers and John Lewis. After completing a business course, I launched my own brand officially in 2014, with the creative vision to expand and develop my ranges in 2015.

It all started when I was about 16,­ the time when the interior decorating shows were taking over the TV schedule. It sparked my interest for interiors and people’s lifestyles. That coupled with my parents constant decorating of our own home and it seems I was destined to work in the interiors industry!”


“It has been very exciting to launch my own products. My interiors range is growing and with my tableware collection just starting out I can’t wait to expand further. However, I feel I can currently only touch on a handful of products, therefore I am also working on collaborative projects and am keen to welcome discussions for licensing work. I take great enjoyment in designing for a wide range of products and am enthusiastic to venture further in this area to broaden my scope.

My relaxed and playful style appeals to people who are keen to introduce colour and individuality to their home, whilst the vintage and retro influences appeal to the key trends in interior design at the moment.”


Learn more about Mel’s work at www.melsmithdesigns.com or visit her on etsyFacebook, Pinterest or Twitter. Have a great weekend!!


Interested in textile design but not sure how to start? We’ve created a FREE video training just for you! LEARN MORE

Found Color Palette: Chartreuse


Images via: (clockwise from top)  “Benary’s Giant Lime zinnia” by Swallowtail Garden Seeds (cropped from original) “wine glasses” by Whatsername?,  “Electric Collage – chartreuse” by vjlawson2001,  “171” by andreawilla “avacado lego” by frankieleon “Shrubbery” by Luke Jones (cropped from original) “lime tulle fabric texture” by Abby Lanes


Our FREE video training helps you turn your artwork into TEXTILE DESIGNS that sell. You’ll learn industry basics and how to make it easy to sell your work. LEARN MORE

Interview with TJ Walker, Guest Expert for August in the Textile Design Lab

CrossColours_Presentation9TJ Walker is a fashion designer and the co-founder of Cross Colours, an urban streetwear brand founded in the early 1990′s that is was recently relaunched at www.crosscoloursla.com. The original Cross Colours collection “went against the drab gangbanger workwear of the time, opened the inner-city up to positivity, and introduced baggy pants to the Yo! MTV Raps generation. Embraced by the rising hip hop movement, the brand’s premise “Clothing Without Prejudice” and slogans like “Educate 2 Elevate” and “Stop D Violence” made it iconic. Aptly named Cross Colours, the label skyrocketed overnight — up to $125 million in sales the first three years– and was draped across the backs of the biggest rappers, actors, and athletes — Snoop Dogg, Run DMC, TLC, Will Smith, Mark Whalberg, Magic Johnson, and Shaquille O’Neal (just to name a few).” With the current resurgence of 90′s fashion and music the brand is now back in action, and we are delighted to have TJ join us as our guest expert for the month of August in the Textile Design Lab, sharing some of his two-plus decades of experience designing clothing!

Later this month TJ will be offering training on fashion illustration to members of our Textile Design Lab, and we will be sharing a small excerpt for all to enjoy on Pattern Observer. For now we invite you to get to know TJ and his work a little better in today’s interview.


Please tell us a bit about your design background and career path.

A little about my design ‬background. I am originally from Mississippi and after completing my MFA I drove out to California in hopes of being a fashion illustrator. I soon realized that in order to live/eat I needed to take another career path. I applied for a job as an illustrator for a screen printing company and got the job. This is how I actually found myself in the fashion industry. This is also how I was introduced to start designing clothing. Now take it this was in 1985! In 1989 I was designing clothing for my own brand, which was named “Cross Colours”.


tumblr_nk8zjxar8o1rqa1yio1_500Could you tell us about the process of designing a Cross Colours collection? What roles do you take on and how do you collaborate with the rest of the Cross Colours team?

My process for designing Cross Colours begins with a great deal of research and to the benefit of brand there is history with past designs to reference. This is a great advantage and has allowed me to reintroduce past designs to the current collection. It is very important as the designer to take on top of trends, and the current events. I forgot to mention that Cross Colours is currently having a rebirth in the industry. ‬‬

Years ago it took a large team to build and produce a collection. Today the current Cross Colours team does not consist of over 250 members (Like we had in the 1990’s), and now the team ranges from 15 – 20 team members (Based on Need). The team today takes care of everything from design, sampling, sales, marketing promotion (Social Media), production and shipping. Now social media and the Internet have changed the global impact of the fashion industry. ‬‬


cxc_linesheets_2015-45_largecxc_linesheets_2015-150_largeWhere do you draw inspiration for the Cross Colours line? Are there any books, blogs, magazines, or other resources that you would recommend to designers?

The inspiration for the brand comes from everything that is encountered. Designers are sponges and are usually influenced by all things such as magazines, blogs, Pinterest, and forecast

sites like WGSN/Stylesight. ‬‬ Note that trade show like the MAGIC Show and the ISS show still remain relevant resources for inspiration.‬‬




What roles do trends play in your design process? What are your current favorite print and pattern trends? ‬‬

As I mentioned I use WGSN/Stylesight as a forecast service. I reference the retailers more than individual brands for print and pattern trends. The retailers I reference are Zumiez, Urban Outfitters and of course my own collection www.crosscoloursla.com. ‬‬


CXC_People MatterWho are your design heroes? What about them inspires you or influences your work?‬‬

Mrs. Ann Lowe
Jeffrey Banks

Stephen Burrows

Willi Smith

Maurice Sedwell


Ralph Lauren

Yohji Yamamoto‬‬

All of these designers inspire and motivate me as a designer and entrepreneur.


What would you consider to be your most proud achievement or greatest success so far in your business?‬‬

I actually have 2 greatest successes.

1) That both my parents were able to see my success before they passed away

2) Another proud achievement in knowing I am able to motivate others through Cross Colours with the positive messages of Education and Non Violence. ‬‬


What have been some of the challenges you have faced throughout your design career and how have you overcome them?‬‬

The challenges that I have faced throughout my ‬‬design career are I am sure the same for many designers. One challenge is making sure that you create hot product! The other challenge is making sure you take care of business as you create. It is one thing to have an amazing collection but if it does not sell and you can’t finance your production you are out of business.


cxc_linesheets_2014-303_largeWhat’s next for Cross Colours? What direction do you see the brand taking in the coming years? ‬‬

It is so hard to say what’s next for Cross Colours. Honestly we look for the buyers and the consumers to answer those questions for us. That is the beauty of social media.‬‬


What advice have you received in your career that has stayed with you or influenced you? Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring designers trying to build successful careers of their own?‬‬

What thing that has been a driving force for me is this: “Have Staying Power”! Which in short means doesn’t give up!!!! And for any aspiring designers I say you must know the business of fashion and have PASSION. Passion will keep you going when the money runs out! ‬‬


Learn more about the history of Cross Colours and see their current collection at www.crosscoloursla.com, or visit the brand onInstagramFacebookTwitter, or Tumblr.


Become a Textile Design Lab member to gain access to TJs full tutorial on fashion illustration when it becomes available later this month, in addition to all of our past guest expert tutorials and the other wonderful e-courses and features of the Lab. Read more about what’s included in our curriculum guide.

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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.