Book Review – The Pattern Sourcebook: A century of surface design, by Drusilla Cole

I wanted to share with you one of my (many!) all-time favourite books about surface pattern design – so good its cover is already falling off!

This book is a visual delight, and is exactly what it says on the cover: ‘A century of surface design’.

Book review - The Pattern Sourcebook; A century of surface design, by Drusilla Cole

The interesting thing about this book, though, is that it isn't a straight-forward history of how patterns have developed over the last hundred years – but simply a celebration of beautiful patterns over the years.

Unusually (although you would think this would be the norm for design books, I think!) the patterns are divided by colour... 

So, for example, in the yellow section, (which sits nicely between the lime-green and brown sections, as you might hope), a Voysey pattern from 1907 sits next to a Japanese fabric from 2005, and with a bone china tea plate from 1912.

It is an education in itself to spend some time studying how Drusilla Cole, and her publishers, have put the patterns next to each other – asking yourself why these two or three particular patterns work well together…

Perhaps the colours (always!) but also the shapes of the motifs, the layouts, style and/or the subject matter.

It’s lovely that there is so much variety on display in the book – fabrics, as you might expect, but also lino-cuts, paper-cuttings, tiles, table-tops and ceramics – all of which gives you some ideas of how many different products surface pattern designs can end up on.

I found particularly interesting the drawings of designs applied to (or for application to) plates, tea-cups etc. Some of the images are the designs intended to be hand-painted onto the pottery – kind of a template to be copied, I guess.

All kinds of different styles are included (and many of my favourite designers) but, as Drusilla Cole says in the introduction, she does concentrate on ‘hand-generated patterns’.

The introduction to the book is the only (relatively) lengthy piece of text in the book. It’s just a brief introduction, and explanation of how designs and printing techniques developed over the years, and where she gathered her patterns from... 

Not too wordy, and very interesting and informative, so well-worth reading, rather than skipping over.

The patterns themselves are presented as large images (usually one per page) with a brief note with the designer or manufacturer, date, and a small snippet of noteworthy information about the design, history, and/or technique.

List of contacts and picture credits at the back of the book.

My version of the book came with a free CD with 100 patterns. I had not looked at this before, but checked it out for the purposes of this review.

It comprises 100 pattern images, all watermarked, plus a list of picture credits. These seemed to show larger extracts of some of the patterns in the book.

One thing I did think about the book was its potentially slightly confusing title of ‘sourcebook’...

This is certainly a sourcebook in the sense of a collection or archive of patterns, but it’s not a copyright-free resource for designers to source patterns. The book itself and all the patterns on the accompanying CD are ‘all rights reserved’.

However, as a visual treat, to immerse yourself in some simply gorgeous colours and patterns, it’s a perfect delight.

You can while away a few minutes, or an hour, just flicking through, concentrating on whichever colour draws you on a particular day.

The cover design, by Mark Hearld, is one of my favourite designs – beautiful – and make sure you open out the cover to see the design in just reds, inside – dramatic and very tactile.

I highly recommend this beautiful book as a source of visual inspiration.

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