A PATTERN is a design that repeats and can be found anywhere. They can be made by repeating shape, line, or color. Patterns can be simple like a checkerboard or complex like the branches of a tree. In art, pattern is used in organizing and decorating designs. How can you decorate with pattern?

Neck Ornament, 1800s–1900s. South Africa, Northern Nguni people. 2010.207


Patterns can also be found in things you wear, such as clothing and jewelry. 

This beaded neck ornament was made by the Northern Nguni people of South Africa and worn by both men and women. Combining different shapes and colors is a way to create complex designs. What patterns do you see? How many different colors are used? Do you have a favorite patterned accessory or piece of jewelry? How do you feel when you wear it? 

Try It! Make your own neck ornament using string or yarn. You can use different color beads, pasta, or cereal. What other objects can you find that will fit on a string? What if you used different sizes? Thread each “bead” onto your string, switching back and forth between color, size, or shape to create your own pattern. What kind of combinations can you create? Take a picture and share using #CMAatHome.

Pattern Printing

In her work, Polly Apfelbaum uses bold colors, shapes, and symbols to create patterns. She uses pattern to represent routine and repetition in daily life. The title of this artwork refers to a road sign that Apfelbaum passed every day on her drive to work. The symbols she used are from a font called Dingbats. What do you think the symbols mean? How many different shapes can you find in her pattern? What kind of story can you tell about your day-to-day life using pattern?

Rainbow Love Mountain Ranch, New Mexico, 2007. Polly Apfelbaum. 2012.466

Try It! Make your own stamp pattern using cardboard or leftover Styrofoam sheets from take-out containers and produce packaging! Cut the foam into various shapes and attach them to a piece of cardboard using either tape or glue. Color your stamp with a water-based marker. Paint and stamp pads would work as well. Next, press your stamp onto a sheet of paper and lift to reveal your design. Repeat again, switching between different colors until your page is full. What do you notice when you use your stamp repeatedly? What other materials could you make your stamp from? Bonus tip: Carve a design into your foam by pressing into it with a pencil, fork, or small toy. What kind of shapes does your pattern make? When coloring with a marker, be sure not to color in the grooves of your design or it will not show up when you stamp. Share your pattern with us using #CMAatHome. 

Patterns in Nature

Patterns are also found in nature. Think about the stripes of a bumblebee, the petals of a flower, or the feathers on a bird. What are other examples of patterns that can be found outside? 

William Morris believed that patterns should have “beauty, imagination, and order.” Can you find an example of each in this fabric design? 

Morris was inspired by the flowers and animals in his own garden and studied them by drawing them over and over. Have you ever tried to draw directly from nature? What did you enjoy about it? What parts were difficult? 

Look closely! What kind of story is Morris telling in this artwork? How many examples of nature can you find? What do you think the birds in this pattern are doing? Take a look at the birds and flowers in your own yard or around your neighborhood. How are they similar to Morris’s flowers? How are they different? 

Strawberry Thief, c. 1936. William Morris. 1937.696

Try It! Gather one small and one large piece of paper. The larger piece should be at least 2 or 3 times bigger than the smaller one. On the smaller sheet, draw a design using 3 objects you would find in nature. You could use a bird like William Morris did or maybe an elephant or a sunflower. Make sure your lines are thick and dark! Tape your drawing to a window, then secure the larger sheet of paper over it. Trace your design onto the larger paper. Reposition your paper and repeat your design until your page is full! Did your design change the more you drew it? Hang up your drawing on a wall or fridge. Share your pattern with us by using #CMAatHome. 

Extra Challenge!

Using the template below, print and cut out your butterfly. Create patterns on the butterfly’s wings with your favorite shapes and colors. Be sure to share your creation with your neighbors by hanging it up in your window! You can share your pattern with us by using #CMAatHome.

Collection Connections: Pattern Butterfly Template

Neck Ornament, 1800s–1900s. South Africa, Northern Nguni people. Glass beads, plant fiber, copper alloy, and iron; 68.6 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund, 2010.207

Rainbow Love Mountain Ranch, New Mexico, 2007. Polly Apfelbaum (American, b. 1955). Color lithograph; 92.9 x 66.2 cm. Gift of 25 members of the Print Club of Cleveland’s 2012 Boston Trip, 2012.466

Strawberry Thief, c. 1936. William Morris (British, 1834–1896). Plain-weave cotton, discharge printed; 88.3 x 99.1 cm. Gift of Mrs. Henry Chisholm, 1937.696