Daily Paper Prompt #55: Patterns on a Grid

Our guest for DPP #55 is Anika {also known as A is for Anika} who has taken instagram by storm {or at least by pattern} with her pattern-a-day challenge. I "met" Anika through instagram when I noticed a series of elegant patterns in mediums that seemed to change by the month. I liked the simplicity of the challenge and did the challenge in December 2012. It was a blast! 


Creating patterns is a great way to express your creativity. You can spend as much or as little time on them as you want, and the results are always satisfying. There are a number of ways to approach drawing patterns, but one of the easiest ways to begin is to use grids. You can use them as a fixed structures that are incorporated into your patterns or as a starting points to make very un-grid-like finished products. In any case, having a few lines on the paper often makes it easier to get started.

When I first tried out making my own patterns, I used a sketchbook filled with graph paper. It's still one of my favorite surfaces to draw on, and I use it in several ways to help me compose patterns.

  • Incorporate the boxes of the grid into a pattern. Fill the boxes solidly with color, or decorate them with different textures such as lines or dots. 
  • Draw organic shapes at regular intervals. Use the grid to space the pattern evenly.
  • Ignore the grid! Try out a scattered pattern on graph paper. Add shapes randomly while striving for an overall balanced composition. The existing printed lines make an interesting background to this kind of pattern.

What to do when you don't have any graph paper handy? Easy! Make your own!

Draw a grid with pencil and use it as a guideline to arrange elements of a pattern. This is a convenient way to start since you can erase the pencil lines when you are finished, (assuming you don't use pencil to draw your pattern!) and it will look like you freehanded an evenly spaced pattern!

You can use a ruler to create a precise grid, but I like to draw my lines on the fly. The squares usually end up being a little wonky and imperfect, but I enjoy the irregularity. There are 2 ways to approach creating a hand drawn grid:

For a relatively more even grid, start by dividing your paper into quadrants.

Continue to divide the sections in halves until you have the desired size grid.

If you prefer an uneven grid, draw your lines from one end of the paper to the other, and then from the top to the bottom.

You might be surprised by how hard it is to get even divisions across the page, but this is great technique if you're after a grid with a little more character. 

Use your hand drawn grid to create a pattern with markers or watercolor. When you are done, erase what is left of the grid for a clean background.

If you use watercolor to make your pattern, try adding pen or marker detail in analogous or contrasting colors for a little extra visual interest.


  • Use a "light hand" when drawing your grid with pencil, and it will be much easier to completely erase the guidelines when you're done with the pattern. 
  • If your pencil lines are dark and you have a hard time "seeing past them" to create the pattern you want, erase the dark lines just enough so they are faded, but not completely gone. This way you can use the lines and intersections to place your pattern elements where you want them without being distracted by dark, seemingly permanent lines. 

It's a cool trick to be able to draw your own grid, and then erase it when your pattern is finished, but I also like to create patterns that use the grid as part of the design. When approaching a pattern in this manner, start out by drawing your grid with marker, watercolor, paint, etc. You can draw the lines by hand, or use the help of a ruler if you prefer.

Once the grid is on the paper, embellish the squares with shapes or texture to finish the pattern.

Tips: Find inspiration from traditional techniques that often incorporate grids into designs:

  • Tiles: Notice how a single tile can match up with others to create different effects. Draw your own tile and see what the pattern looks like when they are repeated.
  • Quilt Patterns: Simple looking quilt squares often meet up with one another to make complex patterns. Can you come up with your own variation of a traditional quilt pattern?
  • Plaid: Try using watercolor or other transparent medium to come up with a unique plaid pattern!

If you don't want to take the time to draw a grid before starting a pattern, try to simply "imagine" a grid.

Without the use of an actual grid on the paper, you can still draw a pattern that is arranged in a grid layout. Starting at the top of the paper, draw a row of repeating or alternating motifs. Below that first row, draw another row of the same motif(s), or come up with a new shape for the new row. Line up the motifs vertically so you start to build vertical columns as well as rows. Try to keep the rows and columns even, but embrace imperfections as you make them. Repeat for as many rows as desired.

When you've filled the page with your pattern, go back and add other elements to the spaces where your imaginary grid lines "intersect". If your pattern is looking a little unfinished, you can always add more detail lines or color.

I've had so much fun drawing and exploring pattern over the last few years. The possibilities are truly endless, and it's a fun tool to incorporate into any creative endeavor. I hope these ideas have inspired you to make at least a few unique patterns of your own!

There's an index to all of the Daily Paper Prompts.