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Taming the Chaos: Working with Pattern in Abstract Collage

Collage is a funny medium. It is often a battle to get Clarity in your design when there are so many yummy elements you want to include. Pattern-based elements are one of the the areas of challenge.

Patterns are busy and they can certainly liven up a composition. But often they do the opposite. They overwhelm and overcomplicate your overall image. So how can you use patterns to give interest to your piece but keep their influence at bay?


The quickest way to quiet a pattern is to reduce the contrast. To simplify, lets say we have black repeating shapes on a white field. A high contrast pattern. To lower contrast: either paint over it with a white glaze to bring up the blacks to a grey, or paint over it with a black glaze to bring the white down to grey. The closer in value the dots are to the background, the less bold your pattern becomes.

Regular Patterns

Order is another thing that makes a pattern less bold. Polka dots, perfect circles organized in a uniform distribution, hardly fazes the eye. There is no mystery here and the eye does not linger or try to understand. It’s Boring, if you like. But if the dots move to a slightly more random distribution, it is more intriguing. Further, if we introduce variety in shape, or size, we are heading toward a more interesting, but louder, pattern. In these examples, we do have variety but it is not dramatic. These patterns are still pretty uniform/predictable and useable.

Irregular Patterns

The more variety we introduce, the more difficult it becomes to integrate the pattern. The ink blots would be almost impossible. What can compete with this? The second pattern is much simpler. Size and position are varying, but the consistent shape makes it less erratic than the blots.

We tend to think we need all this excitement in our elements, but this is precisely what produces a muddle. We may need a FEW exciting elements, and many more supporting players. Uniformity, when it comes to patterns, is your friend.

Abstract Composition now Open

I am proud to announce that our Fall 2021 premiere course, Abstract Composition: Deep Dive, is now open for registration!

Click HERE to find out more about the course and enroll.

We kick off Oct 4, 2021. I hope you will join us!

To a great week in your studio,


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