Friday, 16 September 2011

Keep Calm and Colour In

This post is my contribution to Speak Out With Your Geek Out week.

It's coming up to the first anniversary of my laptop power supply burning out. From October to January I was warped back in time to the 1990s when we didn't have home computers and had to make our own entertainment.

All winter I dabbled with paintbrushes and sewing needles, I tore my hair out over 16x16 Sudoku puzzles, I read magazine articles I'd shoved into a bulging "read me" folder. Yet the thing I ended up hankering for the most was a book that had been gathering dust in a cupboard for 15 years or so.

Don't be fooled by Little Miss Cutesie. She's on a break from curing cancer.

I would have been at art school when I bought this, being initiated into the joys of graphic design. Unlike fine art, a designer needs a logical, problem-solving side to their brain. The sort that gets a kick out of a 16x16 Sudoku, indeed.

Altair patterns are based on 10th century Islamic mathematics. They work on the principle that a simple repetition of very small basic shapes (triangles, squares, hexagons, etc) can add up to create incredibly complex patterns. The Altair templates (developed into their present form by biologist/geometrician Ensor Holiday) can be coloured in a countless number of ways, creating a vastly different pattern every time. This book contained 2 copies of 8 different patterns.

My 2 interpretations of Altair pattern No. 10.

Altair colouring pads can be bought from all good online book stores or your can download 3 free ones from the Tinkering Times blog. There's also an Altair Pattern Designer application on Facebook and you can check out other pattern fans' efforts on Flikr.

Having finished off my Altair book, I found 2 excellent value pattern pads in Wilkinson's. They're not available in all branches but I've also seen almost exactly the same book in Ryman's.

The designs are very different to Altair but they still offer a huge number of challenges regarding colour combinations and repeating shapes.

Some colour schemes choose themselves, such as this peacock-inspired pattern.

Or pick a couple of pencils out of the box at random and test out a combination you would never have thought of, like the pink, olive and grey used here.

A tip for best results: Place a sheet of scrap paper between each page of your book to stop your masterpieces smudging into each other!

My other favourite resource is Patterns For Colouring, a blog by designer Carlton Hibbert in which he shares his own geometric patterns for all to enjoy, along with contributions by guest illustrators. There are currently 201 images on there to suit all ages. Simply download the files, print them out and get those pens and pencils working! I'm printing them out at A3 and at some point would love to get them framed and on my walls.

A stylised garden design prompted this study in green.

A rainbow spectrum can be a good starting point for a colour scheme.

I interpreted this as an abstract sunburst.

A guest design by Steph Baxter, which I later framed for my niece's birthday.

As much as I enjoy creating my own artwork, I still find it just as creative to take someone else's outlines and put my personal spin on them. I can experiment with different colour combinations, layouts and repetitions. It's mentally and visually stimulating, keeps your mind sharp and improves your hand-eye co-ordination. By adding even a cheap frame you can transform your finished designs into unique works of art to brighten up any room. Or why not take them off the page and use them for greetings cards or needlework patterns? In fact the only rules are respect the work of the original artist and don't use it to make money for yourself.

So if you're looking for a low cost, rewarding hobby, dig out that neglected pencil box (or, for quality and value, I recommend a pack of 24 Crayolas), get a nice shiny new sharpener and unleash your inner brilliance. Whether it's for a calming 5 minutes alone or an afternoon with the family, colouring doesn't have to be just kids' stuff!


  1. My BFF and I love to color, and I'm 30 years old. This is a great, under-appreciated geeky hobby. Coloring rules! Thanks for posting about it!

  2. That's great to hear, Sarah, thanks for visiting. :)