Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Bold pattern design

How the graphic designer and illustrator brings the cities he visits to life in an abstract fashion.

In this masterclass, London-based David Popov will take you through the process he used when creating his ‘Round the World’ series of graphic artworks. 

“I initiated this project because I wanted to have something that only I would have to remember my travels by,” explains David, “not just the photos that everyone has of Paris such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Moulin Rouge.” Instead, he produced more abstract pieces based upon the patterns and textures of the city’s architecture.

Here David will be focusing on how he went about creating his composition in Illustrator using colour and pattern swatches. He will also discuss the influences and experiences that informed the patterns and colours of the artwork’s final design.

Time to complete 

4 hours


Illustrator CS3 and above


When creating an abstract composition, it’s always best to have a starting point. I asked myself these questions. What stood out while I was in Paris? What interested me? What were my highlights?

For me it was the Louvre, the Pompidou Centre and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. I had fallen in love with the architecture of Paris, and the negative spaces created as you looked through the structures were even more intriguing. The common gridded architectural forms also provided the perfect starting point for my artwork.


Referencing the latticed architectural forms of those buildings, I chose to create a single shape that summarised them. I repeated this to create a gridded underlying structure. To make it a little more dynamic, I overlaid a larger version of the shape in a more randomised fashion.

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The next step was to sort out my ‘brushes’: the colours and swatches I was going to compose my artwork with. 

I wanted to include bright yellows and reds as accent colours – as they remind me of French food (specifically cheese) and fashion. Red, of course, is also the colour of the romance and passion for which Paris is known. The soft blues and purples reflect the colours of the sky, while the bold black and white patterns are observations of the Louvre’s floor. 

When using pattern swatches, I either create my own or check Illustrator’s own library of swatches, which supplies all the basic lines and circles.


I duplicated the grid layer and created an artwork base layer. This was the layer that was going to be filled with the colour and pattern swatches.

After copying this, I hid and locked the top layer. Selecting the bottom one, I filled it with another colour and removed the strokes on the shapes.

I changed the colour of the shapes to a neutral skin colour to ensure that they were all still selected. I opened the Pathfinder palette and selected the Divide option. This essentially chops up all the shapes that overlay each other, creating smaller shapes to fill with patterns and colour.


So I could select the shapes individually, I ungrouped them all (Cmd + Shift + G). I then began selecting individual shapes, and adding colours and patterns to them. There are no set rules for going about this. My only advice is to experiment until the picture on your screen matches the one you have in your mind.

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I made sure to regularly turn the top layer on and off to see how the combination of patterns and colours was working with it.


After I was satisfied with my composition, as a final touch I decided to remove some of the black linework from the top layer. This was because I didn’t like how it crossed over some of the patterns I’d used.


The final step was to bring my design into InDesign. For this, I created a basic poster layout with a circular picture box to add my pattern.

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