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Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Challenge of a Limited Palette

The challenge of creating a surface design using only these four shades...
For a designer just starting out, Spoonflower's regular design competitions can be intimidating. Given a theme (or not) and a big white page or computer screen, it can be a difficult journey to the finish line.

Because it was once my intention — in another lifetime, as I'm fond of saying — to be a graphics designer, I've come to realize that it's worthwhile to take part in these competitions. Creating a new surface design forces me to use parts of my brain that don't get enough of a workout, and along the way, there's always the opportunity to learn something new.

Such was the case for a competition in early July featuring the colours that you see at the top of this post.

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It's called a limited palette challenge, meaning that only those specific shades (along with black and white this time) were permitted in the design. As I've said before, I like these specifically because of the limitation. It frees me from having to decide on a colour scheme as well as an actual pattern or print.

The banner across the page describing the competition stated, "Have you been wanting to try out a new design technique, practice with playful patterns or finally give florals a try? In this week’s challenge, your palette may be limited but the theme is up to you!" (I draw your attention to this because of what my final design came to be.)

"Arrow Up" surface design by eSheep Designs
This one is called Arrow Up...

I have a preference for a geometrics, so that's where I began. This one (above) featured four arrow heads. It was honestly a lazy attempt, because it took less than three minutes. I still think it's a striking pattern, however, which is proof that this whole process doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming.

Then it occurred to me that the limited palette colours could well represent the changing seasons in the mountains. Thus my efforts took a turn from arrow heads to triangles.

"Triangle Trees & Mountains" surface design by eSheep Designs
These are Triangle Trees & Mountains by Day and by Night, respectively...

As I was putting the finishing touches on this, however, I decided that it was too representative and might therefore only have limited application/appeal. Lord knows why I cared about that, but there it is.

So I then came back full circle on the whole geometric theme to focus on — what else? — circles.

"Angled Circles & Slices" surface design by eSheep Designs
These are called Angled Circles & Slices on Black and White...

After a couple of hours on this, I bumped into a mental (stub) wall and stopped, realizing that I wasn't satisfied with any of the directions I had taken. During this time, not only had I tried to perfect the circles, I also returned to my arrow heads to create this...

"Arrow Up" surface design by eSheep Designs
My fourteenth iteration of Arrow Up...

While I probably liked this design the most at that point, it was time to step away. That night, my mind turned towards the original statement on Spoonflower's web page: try a new design technique.

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Somewhat ashamed and sad to say, up until that (next) day, I'd never bothered to master the curve drawing tool — in even a basic way — in my graphics program (Paint Shop Pro v. 8). I decided that it was high time to start, which led to a concentrated effort that finally delivered my entry into the competition.

Floral Vines by Day by eSheep Designs
Floral Vines by Day...

This time, I was totally disciplined and did not cut any corners. Some of the elements in the previous designs had not been created out of vector graphics on their own layers, leading to some "bleeding" when I changed my mind about which parts should be in what colour.

It was almost as if I knew those designs weren't going to be up to snuff.

For this final go around, I was regimented about separating everything onto layers and making sure that every component could be resized by sticking with vector graphics.

The first three "steps" of the creation of the final design...

I started my "Bezier curve drawing lesson" by laying down four vines of varying thicknesses. Then I drew a grouping of three leaves. Gradually getting the hang of it, I then created a five petaled flower.

And that was all that I needed. The flower and set of leaves were subsequently copied and altered in some fashion to create the remaining two flowers and sets of leaves. The whole vine was then duplicated, mirrored and flipped.

Because each component was retained as a vector image, I was able to modify each flower, set of leaves, or individual vine so that they did not look like exact matches.

This flower was created once and then copied and modified...

The flower shown above was the most elaborate of the three/six. Initially all of them were the same colour, as seen here:

Floral Vines by eSheep Designs
The "first" final version...

Although I was pleased with the overall effort, the plainness of the background gave me pause again.

Adding stripes brought the design to a state of completeness. And because the rose stripe was directly under the first set of flowers, I made them white instead.

Floral Vines by Night fabric by eSheep Designs
Floral Vines by Night...

For the better part of three days, I struggled with the decision of which one to submit as my entry. Anything with black in it is immediately eye catching to me and at first, I favoured that one.

Throw Pillow featuring Floral Vines by Night fabric by eSheep Designs
image courtesy of Roostery...

But then I saw how the vines popped out a lot more in the white version and decided that was the way to go. (I'll never know which one would have fared better in voting, but this design delivered my best challenge results to date: 71 votes total, doubling my previous high of 35.)

Tablecloth featuring Floral Vines by Day fabric by eSheep Designs
image courtesy of Roostery...

Considering Spoonflower's message, the end result was rather prophetic. Not only did I try out a new design technique, I also ended up going the floral route... all much to my surprise.

Both versions of the fabric are now available in my shop. If you're interested, Spoonflower's current 50% off FQ sale is still on through tomorrow (as of this original posting date). Sale pricing means that you can pick up a fat quarter of their Petal Signature Cotton for just a bit more than the cost of an 8" x 8" swatch. Not too shabby at all!


  1. Interesting to hear how you go about your designs. The end result (white) is stunning!!!

  2. Kathleen KingsburyAugust 10, 2019 7:51 am

    Wow, I had no idea the work involved in fabric design. Your end result is beautiful, although I did really like your mountain by day version. It reminds me of my daughter's spare room wall, colors and everything, where she painted a mountain graphic.
    kakingsbury at verizon dot net


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