Illustrator pattern with background color

I really like the new Pattern Options introduced with Illustrator CS6, but I have one problem with it. I don't see a way to create a pattern that includes a background color. There may be a better workaround out there (let me know) but for now, here is one solution.

First, design your pattern element. I'll keep it simple for this demo, a target.


Select your pattern element (or elements if yours is less simple than mine), go to the Object menu and choose Pattern>Make.

Choose the Tile Type that best fits the type of pattern you want to create. I chose the Brick by Row Tile Type with a 1/2 Offset.

Check the Size Tile to Art option to adjust the Horizontal and Vertical spacing. For my pattern tile, I set the number of Copies to 3 x 3.


Click Done and your pattern tile is saved to your Swatches panel. Now, to add a background color, we're going to use the old-fashioned way of defining a pattern tile in Illustrator.

Go to your swatches panel, find the new pattern swatch that was created, click and drag it onto the artboard. This will place a group of paths onto your artboard, the paths that make up the pattern swatch.

With this group still selected, you will see two rectangles. The outer one is the bounding box and the inner one is the cropping box.


Double-click on this group of paths to enter Isolation Mode, then select the inner rectangle, choose Copy from the Edit menu (shortcut is Command-C), and then choose Paste in Front from the Edit menu (shortcut is Command-F). Give this pasted rectangle a fill color, for mine I chose black.


Once you have the color you want, exit Isolation Mode and then drag the group of paths back into the Swatches panel. This will create a new pattern swatch that includes the background color you created.

To verify your pattern with your background color included, use the Rectangle tool to create a large shape on your artboard. Then choose the newest pattern swatch for its fill. You should see this large shape filled with your pattern that includes the background color you added.


Macklemore drawing

macklemore-tech-01 I made this drawing of Macklemore last night after watching a little bit of the MTV VMAs with my daughter. In Photoshop, I used the Threshold command to force all of the pixels to either black or white. I then added a medium gray background tone.


macklemore-tech-05a macklemore-tech-06

Hiding the other layers and temporarily flattening the image, I changed the Color Mode from Grayscale to Bitmap using Halftone screen. I then chose Select All from the Select menu and copied the halftone background. I used the History panel to undo the flattening and then pasted the halftone pattern under the line work layer. I finished by adding some color.



Inflammation technique & process

This image was commissioned for a magazine article about inflammation. The idea for the piece was a pattern of abstracted cell shapes surrounding a helpless floating figure that also contained some of these cell shapes.

I sketched out a couple of options for the client to choose from. The first was a hand rather than a figure. The inflammation was also concentrated in one part of the hand as if stemming from an injury. The client felt the figure better fit the story and wanted the cell pattern to be within the figure.

I first painted the silhouette of the figure using white gouache on craft paper.

Then I used a variety of media to create some abstract cell shapes.

Using a Pentel brush pen, I created some line work for the head of the figure.

I used graphite on rough paper to create a shadow to insert within the figure, darkening its edges. I also made a hand and a foot along with additional shading marks.

I had originally sketched the figure as upside down but the client wanted the figure to be right-side up. I widened the pattern out a bit to better fit the format and then placed this sketch into Photoshop to use as a guide for the art.

To start the image, I used a number of textures to build up a dark blue background.

I then arranged the individual cell shapes into a pattern leaving a space for the figure, and colorized the cell shapes using a blue palette that was brighter, cooler, and more saturated than the background blues.

Next I placed the figure silhouette in the open area and colorized it with one light value and one medium value cool pink.

I then added line work and shading to the figure and created a pattern of cell shapes within it using a darker pink and red palette.

And here again is the final cropped image. Prints of this image are available for purchase at

Pug dog

Above is an illustration I made recently for a story about a pug dog. In the story, she approached a worker out of curiosity. Below is a breakdown of the image layers. This is the un-cropped version.

Before adding the pattern of rocks to the background.

Before adding the boots.

Before adding the second set of line work for the pug dog.

Below are the rocks isolated from the background texture, included a cigarette butt and a twig.

Below are the boots (see previous post).

Below is the pug dog, two sets of line work, with color. I'm currently using this with some background texture for my website splash page.

And here is the background texture.

I wanted to lengthen the original pants I had drawn so I drew two additional pant legs.

Below is the original line work for the rocks, cigarette, and twig (some additional elements not used in the final).

Pug dog line work three.

Pug dog line work two (not used in the final).

Pug dog line work one with teeth (and shoe/leg that was not used in the final).

Below is a gouache painting of the shoes (not used in the final).

Below is a gouache painting of the pug dog (not used in the final).

And finally here is the rough sketch.

An Wang portrait

A couple of weeks ago, I was commissioned to do a portrait of An Wang, co-founder of Wang Laboratories and creator (along with Way Dong Woo) of the pulse transfer controlling device in 1949. For this portrait, I focused on a close-up 3/4 view of Wang in a suit and bow tie with his patented circuitry as a background pattern.

A set of thumbnail sketches allowed me to explore translating his features into line and investigate composition and posture. I used this to create a sketch for the likeness.

Next, I sketched out some circuitry to use as the background pattern.

I combined this with the likeness sketch to create the final rough sketch to show to the client.

For the next step, I painted shapes with gouache for the head, suit, tie, and background. For this step, I was only concerned with the edge quality, the shape, and the texture within the shape from the brush strokes and subtle color value variations. I scanned these gouache shapes in grayscale.

Following the gouache step, I created the line work using a Pentel brush pen. I made an alternative line drawing for some of the facial features. In the first ink drawing, I made three left cheek edge lines intending to choose one of them, but then decided to leave all three.

I used the sketch in Photoshop as a guide for placing the gouache and ink elements.

In Photoshop, I converted the gouache elements to Index Color, limiting them to only two values; a medium gray and a dark gray. I then selected each of these grays and converted them each to a color that matched their value.

Next, I introduced a third value for the face texture and then began replacing the sketch with the scanned ink line work.

I decided to make the darker background and bow tie value match the face texture value.

Up until now, I had been working with a monochromatic red palette. For the final illustration though, I wanted the background to be a second color, and first tried a dull bluish hue...

...but then decided on an acid green...

...and finished by completing the final background circuitry pattern.

Washington Post illustration

The previous dentist chair sketch was ink work for this illustration, an assignment from the Washington Post for an illustration to accompany an editorial about defunding the United States Institute of Peace.

Below are the thumbnails. This was a quick deadline, one day for sketches, two days for art. I started out with a peace symbol but moved to a dove/olive branch. The biting and scissors represent pruning, cutting; the defunding part.

Below is the rough sketch sent to the client, a dove dropping an olive branch that is being cut by a pair of scissors.

Here are a couple of scissors sketches (done in the dentist waiting room).

Here are olive branch sketches (done in the dentist chair, waiting for the novocaine to kick in).

Here is the final ink work (done just before the drill).

Later, I scanned and rearranged the above ink work to create the following composition. Also added a worry brow for the dove.

For the background, I painted an area of gouache using magenta and white. I only have magenta, blue, and white gouache at the moment. I tend to use these gouache elements as value only and either grayscale it or adjust the hue after scanning.

The illustration was grayscale so I converted the goauche into a light gray.

And here again is the final illustration.