Awakening My Design Eye

By Marlis Kuusela – Owner of Flair Designs

Laws of Attraction

When fabric patterns or designs catch my eye, an inner voice says, “I like that!” I usually get a warm feeling that accompanies the discovery, grateful for the chance to find a new treasure that makes my life richer. Many times, I go on without analyzing why I like it and place the experience to the back of my mind and wait for other things to follow. Over the years, customers have asked me, “How or where do you find the beautiful items you have for sale?” or, “How do you get your ideas for garments?” My answer to these questions is: “The items I have for sale and my design ideas find me without a conscious effort.” These special objects or solutions to problems always show up at the most unexpected times and places. I have taught art for many years, I know what I like in terms of design elements and I am open to seeing similarities and crossovers in different mediums. This awareness allows me to notice similar things in my environment. People that know why they like something are much more likely to attract and notice those things around them.

Awakening a Design Eye  

   So, how do you awaken your design eye if you are not sure of why you like or dislike something? All of us are capable of improving our sense of observation.

We must develop an awareness with purpose.

As you see something that strikes your fancy, analyze why you like it in terms of the elements of art. *

Better yet, write your thoughts down and take pictures to jog your memory. This intentional thought will hone your inner design sense and sharpen your awareness of the environment.  You will begin noticing more and more things that are similar, in short, they will offer more opportunity for you to be aware of your design eye. For example: this wallpaper design  was drawn by William Morris. The following analysis tells why I like the design. 

Analysis of William Morris Design

Color: It contains various values of low intensity colors and uses a limited palette. Ex. Light, Medium, Dark Olive Green-Light, Medium, Neutral Rose.

Shape: It uses intertwining wild rose vine in lattice and relies on perspective to create a 3D image on a flat surface.

Value: The shading is incomplete; some areas are colored while others are just line and the shading is reversed…see space below.

Space: Some positive space shaded (flowers), some negative space (behind the lattice).

Visual Texture: Thorns, wood grain…some textures left incomplete, while
others are detailed.

Line: Undulating curves are woven around straight lattice lines. There are many areas of detailed drawing vs. sketch which gives a feeling of selective focus.

Notice I tried to be as specific as I could in the element descriptions. For example, under color I tried to describe specific qualities of color, not just I like the color.

Art Elements

If you are unfamiliar with definitions of the art elements, the chart gives a basic description.  Elements may overlap, for example, colors contain value, and lines may have texture. Being able to pick out these qualities in design helps you zero in on what you like and just as importantly knowing what you do not like.

Seeing these Elements in your Environment

Once you have made note of these elements, you will begin to notice them in your surroundings.

As an example: the color scheme of muted pinks and greens was used in a book cover for a mail order catalog with sweatshirts to match. These colors remind me of the Morris Design.

   Nature is always a good place to find inspiration. Trees, leaves, or patterns on animals are endless. Catalogs like Sundance, Coldwater Creek, and Soft Surroundings, to name a few, are great places to look for design and frequently are inspired by nature. Remember, it is just as important to figure out why you don’t like a design, as like it. You learn just as much from your dislikes, as well as, your likes.

The Creative Stew

Letting your newly found likes and dislikes slow cook is part of the thinking process, so don’t rush yourself. You probably won’t use all of the ideas in one project. You might find you like and often use only a couple. Be open to changing plans as you work and welcome mistakes which drive us to new solutions. The following images show art elements in my previous projects which share qualities in the Morris design like: muted color, reversal of positive and negative space, undulating line, and visual/tactile texture. Notice how very different they look from his work, yet they share commonalities.

The throw vest above uses the olive-green muted value tones and reverses positive and negative space. Each vest side and trim are the exact opposite color of one another. The textural fringe on the lapels contrasts with the smooth chenille woven yardage.

Element analysis will make your design eye clearer. 

Finally, keep in mind there are no right or wrong design eyes. Be true to your thoughts. The more you practice this exercise, the more things will find you that relate to each other. This awareness will make your life richer and will make you a better designer as you awaken your design eye.

Intertwining line, undulating shapes, clear versus incomplete focus and reversal of light and dark are hallmarks of the wall hanging, necklace and jacket. Muted colors, asymmetrical piecing, and high value contrast are also standbys for my design eye.

Sushi Wall Hanging – Below


Jigsaw Airbrushed Necklace


Liberty Shirt with Flair


About the Author: Marlis Kuusela created Flair Designs in the early 1990’s to sell her airbrushed fabrics to quilters and garment makers. She continues to teach creative thinking and sell her fabrics to a loyal clientele nationally and internationally after 30 years. Check out Flair Designs on Facebook!