How to create a memphis style pattern in Adobe Illustrator

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Today we bring you this colorful trend from the 80's!

Hi I'm Emma, today I'm going to be showing you how to create a Memphis style graphic in Adobe Illustrator. This can be perfect for any project where you want to express and mix your style and some fun through pattern style which is very popular at the moment. I'll be using it to make this Memphis style business card. To make this card I'll be referencing patterns which fall into the contemporary Memphis style category. Like the original Memphis group designs these are characterized by bright clashing colors, geometric shapes and playful composition. And instead of the traditional red, yellow and black, the colors tend to follow a more neon or pastel palette. The shades can also be freer and you can see a lot of squiggles in brushwork which we'll be trying to incorporate in ours by using Illustrator's brush tools. We'll also be making repeated pattern structures such as grids and dots, which you can find in both traditional and contemporary Memphis designs. In terms of process I'll be creating a set of elements which can then be ordered in any way. The process for this class can therefore be applied to any pattern, so feel free to alter any of the steps for your own design. To start off with, I'm going to set up my canvas size of 750 by 423 pixels which is the size of my business card. If you're planning on designing an item with a different aspect, feel free to change this to suit your own project. In this project I'll be using a handful of different panels; these can be found under Windows in your taskbar. For this lesson, I'll be using Pathfinder, which we'll be using to add and subtract shapes. I'm also using swatches which we'll be using to create color groups and pattern options to create some of our own pattern textures . So feel free to setup these on your screen. I'm going to create a selection of color swatches and put these in a group to start off with. To do this, I like to draw out the square using my rectangle tool and copy it across by holding down alt and dragging. I then repeat this command three more times by pressing Ctrl + D on my keyboard. With my squares set up, I then use the fill tool to assign a color to each square. When all my squares are colored, I'll select them all in my select tool and when they're all highlighted I click New Color Group on my swatches panel. So now, there are my swatches and my color swatches are saved. With that set up I'll move on to creating my pattern swatches which also sit inside my swatch panel. To begin with, I'll start with a simple dot pattern. You can often find these in Illustrator but I like to make my own since they're really easy to set up and make. So to begin with, I draw a circle using the Ellipse tool and holding Shift, I then use my transform panel here to change my size and I'll make it 10 by 10 pixels. I then go to my patterns window and select Make Patterns from the drop-down menu. This opens up my Pattern tool. In here we can edit our patterns by changing elements, changing your repeating tile size and the way the pattern repeats. I'm going to use the panel first to change the spacing by increasing the tiles width and height. With my pattern shown in grey, I can see where changes need to be made. In this case, my tile and my element are too big, so I'm going to change my circle size to 5 x 5 and my tile size to 10 x 10. And that produces something closer to I want. Then when I'm happy, I'll click done and that will save my swatch. To test my swatch I'll draft a rectangle and from here I can see my pattern repeating in my working artboard. Illustrator has a few tools to help you edit and pattern without having to enter back into the pattern edit window. These include Scale, Move and Rotate. However, these changes won't be made to your pattern swatch, so if you want to repeat the changes, I recommend keeping your edited pattern outside of your Artboard, so you can use the Eyedropper tool to select it again later. To scale your pattern go to Object > Transform > Scale. Once the scale window appears, make sure you untick Transform Object and that Transform Patterns is On along with Preview. From here you can enter percentage values to rescale your pattern. To make my pattern appear less square, I'm also going to use Rotate. To use this, I go to Object > Transform again, and this time pick Rotate. I'm going to go for an angle of 45º and that's my dot pattern done. And to quickly keep my adjustments for later, I'm going to move my rectangle off my Artboard. Next, I want to make a grid pattern. This is another common motif in memphis-style patterns and often looks good in the background of a larger, busier pattern. I should add at this point that when I'm making my elements at this stage, I'm not always going to use all of the patterns, but it's good to have a variety to play with which is what we're doing. So to make my grid pattern, I start off by drawing the square and I select the color I want it to be and then change it to stroke. This time, I'll drag it on to my swatches panel to make a swatch pattern which is another way to make a pattern in Illustrator. Then to edit it, I'll double click on my swatch and this will bring me to the Pattern Edit window. In Pattern Edit, I can transform my pattern as we did before. Since my line rate is doubled as a repeat, I'm going to half it. Doing this, means my tile no longer repeats as a grid, thanks to the white spaces in between. So to fix this, I'm going to tick Scale to Artwork. Now I can click done and when I draw a rectangle and select my new swatch, I can see the repeat has worked. Now I'm going to draw out my geometric shapes which are going to be the main elements of our design. To start off with, I'm going to draw out the four principal shapes; these are the square, circle, triangle and line. From this we can manipulate and transform these shapes to create an array of other designs. To draw my shapes I'm using the Shapes tool on my tool palette. To make the triangle, I'm using the Polygon tool and using the Minus Transform tool here to change my number of edges. This can be controlled by dragging in and out. To then create the lines you can either use the Pen tool or the line tool. I've given my shapes a thickness of 10 and filled them with my color swatches. For more variation, I'm going to create some more shapes from these four. To make my donut, I copy my circle by holding Alt and dragging. I then go to Object > Path > Offset and enter in a value of -20 pixels. To make the next step easier, I then get rid of the strokes on both of my shapes. Then I go to Pathfinder window and with both shapes highlighted, I click Minus front to make my hole. Then I apply my strokes and color again. And that's my donut done. lines I go to Effect > Distort and Transform and from here I can edit my lines in various ways. If I select zig zag, I can increase the size and ridges to create various effects. To then create my wavy line I select the same command and this time tick Smooth. To then create my wavy line I select the same command and this time tick Smooth. I want my lines to follow the same appearance as my own shapes so I'm going I'm going to use one of my shapes as a guide to provide them with a new thickness which I'll change in the stroke panel. Finally, I'll expand my lines by going to Object > Expand Appearance and then Object Expand. By doing this I can create a fill and stroke the same as my other shapes. Now I have my shapes set up, I can start designing my business card. For this layout, I've compared some example text for my card which I've aligned to the left hand side. If you're also designing a business card, I recommend going for a sans serif font to go with this modern style. As a tip, Memphis composition can work really well with a dynamic composition.This can mean using diagonals across your artboard which invoke movement and direction. Having elements come outside the bounds of your board can also create a similar level of excitement and dynamism. For myself, using the Pen tool I've created straight edged shapes which appear to fall off the card and are placed diagonally in various colors from my swatches. I've then created added tension with an oversized circle which sits between the two. To incorporate my Memphis patterns and loosen my design, I then use my Blob brush to create abstract scribbles. This can be found under the Paintbrush tool and accessed by holding down the tool icon. By double clicking on the brush you can open a blob brush panel in here you can adjust size, angle and spacing. I'll then quickly drag my brush to create a series of shapes and then use the sample we made before to apply the correctly scaled pattern by using the Eyedropper tool. I decided to change my coloring. To do this, go to Edit > Edit colors. From here you can click on your color group to apply the swatches we made before by selecting a group on the right hand side and flicking through the different colors using the randomly change color order button. I've then placed my squiggles off the board similar to the shapes to ••• later. Since this pattern is about experimenting, the next part involves moving the pattern elements into place until they start to feel right. In this case, I've decided to place transparent elements like my squiggles in the background and my block shapes in front. When placing your elements, try to place everything evenly and slightly randomly including altering attributes like orientation. Like with the background elements, also try to have things fall off the extents of your board to suggest an ongoing pattern. The key is to create something playful and almost confetti like try to vary the type and color of patterns which sit next to each other and make your way space in between more or less equal. Like with the background elements, also try to have things fall off the extents of your board to suggest an ongoing pattern. Once you finished ordering your patterns you might want to stylize your elements further. Select all of your elements by clicking and holding Shift then press Ctrl + G on your keyboard to group. Once grouped, press Ctrl +C on your keyboard to copy Before pasting your new selectio,n color in your group shapes with a color from your swatches, create a shadow. Holding Shift, Offset your shadow 45º from where it originally sat. Then press Ctrl + Alt + V on your keyboard to paste your objects in place and this creates your shadow effect. When your shapes are placed and you're happy with the style, you might want to crop your design. To do this, draw a rectangle the same size as your Artboard on top of your design. Select everything, then right-click on your shapes and select Make Clipping Mask. Finally with the design done, you might want to experiment with colors. For this step I like to copy my design onto a new Artboard by dragging my original Artboard into the new Artboard icon. And then start with one of my boards and highlight everything with my select tool. Then I go to Edit > Edit colors, and using the Switch tool again, you can rearrange your color combinations. You can also edit your colors individually to introduce any scheme. When you're happy, select your Artboard and go to Save for Web to export your image in JPEG or PNG format.
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2 months ago

This was honestly one of the most detailed but not longwinded, clear and concise tutorials I've ever seen. I have zero patience for tutorials and I've now incorporated multiple new tools into my toolbox. Great for any level. Thanks!!

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