Exercise: Envelope patterns

‘A stationery company wants you to create a new line of envelopes that puts a modern twist on the tradition of having a single coloured pattern on the inside of an envelope. This pattern has always served the purpose of making it hard to read the letter contained inside by holding the envelope up to the light, but it has also become part of the visual culture of letters and letter writing. The company wants you to create a series of pattern designs that go beyond the need to simply protect the contents of the letter.

Create at least three or four different designs. Which do you think is the most successful and why? Make notes in your learning log.’

OOOOooooh this is such a lovely brief!


I mentioned previously that I have a lovely book on pattern through history, which is a great resource to look through. Moorish designs are gorgeous.


I love looking at historical pattern, such as this medieval one (left)

My Pinterest collection

I mostly save patterns I find appealing, but I also couldn’t resist a few horrible 70’s ones – I’m not a fan of brown and orange swirls. Yuck.

Some companies such as Anthropologie and St Judes champion a lot of print makers.My lovely friend Kirsty put me onto St Judes – she told me she’s obsessed with their fabrics – I can see why! She has an extensive mood board full of decorating plans, as she and her husband have just moved house. Can’t wait to see it.


I have a feeling my brother is friends with Mark Hearld. I must remember to ask him.


As you can see, the colour palette is very muted, and some designs are based on linocuts. I really like quite a variety of pattern from  monochrome, this subdued look, right up to bright colour.

Hand rendered can look very charming such as the work of Molly Hatch. She works with ceramics and fabrics. Its interesting she has commented that it can be quite hard to visualise 3D if you are used to only designing for paper and fabric. Obviously surface design for ceramics has a different quality to it, she says it can take a while to visualise what will work with this medium. https://mollyhatch.com


My Work

I made various sketches and doodles, and reviewed work from my general sketchbook to see if there was anything I might use as a starting point.


So…just looking at some rough biro sketches I did the other day, I could pick out a bottle or cutlery…Or a teapot ( or the great big square with doodles!)


What about a little water colour flower?


A pencil sketch could be developed


I have been playing with new metallic gouache paint – these are medieval influenced


Some pattern sketches


This is a little more deliberate – I was thinking about different styles floral, representational, geometric, typographic, abstract


I viewed a few tutorials on YouTube, particularly as I gather Illustrator’s pattern making tool is relatively new. As I have CS6, my software will pretty much do the work for you which does feel like cheating! I viewed both methods though, as pre CS6 is closer to manual printing, and all this is new to me.

And I also played digitally – this is not vector, its simple brush strokes, drawn with my finger on my iPad.


This is digital doodle with the pencil tool (because I never think of using it)


I built this up to see where it went


This space would work well for some designs but its too open for an envelope – you’d be able to see through the gaps.


So I added a heart pattern inside the gaps, and repeated like so. I did this the ‘long’ way, by duplicating, then entering in co-ordinates, to move the pattern a set distance.



Maybe I could reverse this out? Could be fiddly, but I’d like to see the pattern white.

I assumed that you could only use the pattern tool on vectors – wrong! I realised that by embedding my image, it worked perfectly on my flower. Object > Pattern > Make.  Then it allows you to adjust the tiling – this one is horizontally offset. Its old fashioned, but kinda pretty? Could be rotated diagonally? Maybe too much white space for an envelope?




Next I wanted to try a medieval style one, starting with my dog image. Unfortunately I played about with a silver background (it just looks messy in the photo). I isolated the image in photoshop, but its not perfect. I wish I’d thought ahead.


Anyway, once placed in Illustrator, I could tile the image again – this time with vertical offset.


I hopped back into photoshop and tidied the edges more – it looks a bit better on black, but once tiled the quality isn’t greatblackdog

Experimenting with changing the direction of the print inside and out


Next I repeated my experiment with my fish




My Patterns

These are the finished designs – however, either my eyes are going funny, or the images I used haven’t rendered well. I’m a bit disappointed, but lesson learnt that if you let Illustrator automate patterns, it probably should be vector. The first pattern looks crisper, and this is the only one that started life digitally!

Hearts Pattern





 Medieval Style Dogs


Medieval Style Fish




I loved doing this, but I don’t think I met the brief to come up with something that goes above and beyond! I also didn’t produce anything much that actually links together – these are mainly single images repeated. You can see with the white hearts its a bit of a bodge – I’d need to return to the single image to create a neater finish.

My favourites are the medieval influenced ones, particularly the dogs (although the quality is poor) I think they are a bit more original and bolder than the other two. The black background works well with the dogs.

Theres loads more I could do – experiment with hand printing, live trace some of my sketches, work up more designs, explore colours…

I think its highly likely I’ll come back to this topic, as I’d like to learn a lot more about it!!!






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