Bear Bell Pattern Design School, Part One: Toile de Jouy

As I’ve mentioned in the previous post - the more I learn about pattern making and design, the more I understand that there are so much more that I need to know about it. And that the theory is as important as the practical, creating part. People have created patterns for centuries, for millennias even, so there is a vast history and tradition to learn from, different principles and types and categories of patterns to be aware of and be inspired by. It’s a lot to take in, so many varieties and sources to consider, so where to start?

Now I'm starting my own pattern high education - the Bear Bell University of patterns, with the ambition to learn more about patterns. With the risk of being too overambitious I’m not gonna do this in any specific order or chronology, it's not going to be like a course in art history. No, I'll just go with what inspires and interests me for the moment, what I’ve been curious about for a while.

So, I love history and one of my favorite periods when it comes to patterns, motifs, design, art, architecture and fashion, is the 18th century, and there is a lot of patterns and styles to learn from during this century. One of them is the Toile de Jouy pattern. The last couple of weeks I’ve spent some time studying this and learning more about that pattern type and style.

Toile de Jouy is a typical decorating pattern that consists of a repeat pattern on a white or off-white background with pastoral themes and scenes, such as people having a picnic, an arrangement of flowers, a picturesque ruin or garden or a landscape. The scenes are very detailed and artistically drawn, made in a single color, mostly black or grey, but also dark red or blue is common. There are examples of toile patterns on colored backgrounds too, and also motifs in green or magenta.

The term "Toile de Jouy" was defined by the fabric with this type of pattern design that was produced in the small suburb town called Jouy-en-Josas, just south-west of Paris in the late 18th century, and means simply ”fabric from Jouy”. The original toiles were produced in Ireland in the mid 18th century and became very popular in Britain and France. It also became very popular during the Colonial era in the US.

The pattern is mostly associated with fabrics like chintz and linen and used for curtains and upholstery, but was also quite popular as wallpaper. Nowadays it is used for all kinds of products - beddings, clothing and porcelain.

Sources: Wikipedia and designsponge.com.

Bedding by Pottery Barn

Bedding by Pottery Barn

When I wanted to try to make my own toile pattern I started out with finding a theme for the pattern. I’m currently working on a pattern collection called Winter Magic which is intended for products of the winter and Christmas season, and thought that a toile pattern would be a perfect addition to the collection. So with that theme and the key words I had already picked for the collection I started thinking about different winter scenes that could be a part of the toile and jotted down some suggestions:

  • Snow covered winter forest with animal and tracks
  • Narnia lamp post
  • A winter walk - a couple walking through a tunnel of snow covered trees
  • A house on a hill with frosty trees
  • Winter birds feeding on a bird feeder or a sheaf
  • Through the advent window, children decorating a tree, Christmas presents and lit candles
  • Hot chocolate by the fire
  • People ice skating
Jot words.jpg

I gathered a bunch of images as inspiration and put together in an inspiration board.

I then narrowed it down and tried to find some kind of red thread or motifs that could go well together, but also provide some variety to the motifs. I wanted it to be lots of things to study and look at, details to discover.

Then, without further ado I started sketching, thinking that I would probably have to make a whole bunch of sketches before finding the right illustrations to use.

I used an H2 pencis, so it would be easy to erase the lines.

First I decided the shape of the complete illustration and sketched the rough components. Then worked myself into more and more shapes, lines and details. But I didn’t make all details and final lines at this stage.

Then I switched to a fine liner 0.2 and started to fill in the shapes and contours I wanted, adding more details as I went along, until I was satisfied. I had pretty much decided already how I wanted the illustration to look, but as always you make some choices and lines along the way that almost surprises you.

Here’s the first illustration, with the magical scene of two deers standing in a glen as the snow falls around them. I wanted to depict that serene, calm feeling when encountering an animal in the forest and with that muffled sound that the fresh fallen snow will create.

The second illustration I made was the house. At first I wanted a house from a straight angle or even from a frog perspective, the observer looking up at the house on a hill. But it just came out differently when I started. I got some inspiration from photos I had gathered and I specifically like the farm house on the hill in the background.

Third out is the ice skating scene. Early on I knew I wanted to have a bridge in this illustration, to create a contrast in both shade and shape. I think this one is my favorite.

It could also be this one. The last illustration is an embodiment or the essence of the Winter Magic collection - the Narnian lamp post. I really enjoyed drawing the pine trees and the contrasting shadows inbetween all the branches. You just wonder where Mr Tumnus is, right?

After I had the illustrations I needed, I scanned them and worked on them in Illustrator, turning them into vectors that I find is an easy way and process to create and recolor patterns and also edited them a bit, took away parts of the drawings I didn't think added to the illustration and actually duplicated some of the drawings and rearranged them to make them more flowing and complete and working better as pattern motifs.

When assembling the motifs into the repeat I tried a few constellations and I don't know yet which one that will be included in the collection. I might even work on it some more and creating another version.

Here's a classic design version - the scenes arranged together with a lot of spacing in between but still working well together. First I tried with a cream colored background and drawings in deep green. I also tried them i a light red and a dark, dark blue.

Here's a classic design version - the scenes arranged together with a lot of spacing in between but still working well together. First I tried with a cream colored background and drawings in deep green. I also tried them i a light red and a dark, dark blue.

I had also seen Toiles with three colors; one for the general background, one for the background of each scene and one for the scene outlines. Here's one in a powder blue that I like.

I had also seen Toiles with three colors; one for the general background, one for the background of each scene and one for the scene outlines. Here's one in a powder blue that I like.

I also drew a pine garland with holly leafs and berries and ribbon to use as a decorative intermediate or filler if needed, and tried this together with the winter scenes:

Also tried a pattern with only the garland motif:

So the Winter Magic collection might actually end up with two Toile patterns.