Pattern: The big picture

schandler@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 

  • About the class

    What: Pattern & Decoration class.

    When: May 31, June 7, 14 and 21 (students attend four consecutive Saturdays), from 1 to 4 p.m.

    Where: Artspace, 201 E. Davie St., Raleigh.

    Cost: $100 ($80 for Artspace members). Must register by May 21 online or by phone.

    Info and registration: 919-821-2787 or

    Check it out: Get a sneak peek at the Pattern & Decoration class on First Friday, March 7, at Artspace. Instructor Cat Manolis will conduct demos continuously from 6 to 9 p.m.

    About the artist

    Learn more about Cat Manolis, her artwork and her approach at

A lot of art classes focus on an object. You learn how to make a watercolor painting, say, or create a piece of pottery.

But for the Pattern & Decoration class at Artspace in Raleigh this spring, Saxapahaw artist Cat Manolis said: “I don’t want to just focus on the object, I want to focus on the structure that the object is in.”

Hence the emphasis on pattern – and what it can do to transform your home décor.

“(Pattern) is where the meaning comes from, really, because we read things visually,” Manolis said. “In our brains, the way we figure things out is to find pattern, with anything – intellectually, visually, in any way. It’s just like this large structure to put things into.”

In your home, wallpaper has moved back into the spotlight as a means of adding pattern and texture to a room. Big designs and bold colors are a hot trend, and it might just be here to stay.

“I kind of relate it to the local food movement,” Manolis said. “There’s a lot more artisan designers designing wallpaper now. It’s become sort of a legitimate art form again. And there are people appreciating it in a different way again.”

But wallpaper isn’t the only way to bring pattern into your décor, she said. Pattern on fabric is likewise making a comeback. (“I feel like there was a time period that people just really weren’t thinking that much about fabric or what it can do and how beautiful it can be,” Manolis said.) You can also incorporate pattern in tilework and even faux painting that mimics natural features like bamboo or marble.

The art of pattern, Manolis said, is in “where you use it, how you use it and what quantity.”

Over the four weeks of her Pattern & Decoration class at Artspace (see box for details), Manolis will show students several ways to play with pattern.

In the first class, students will create wallpaper designs to be used as a bold background for a stencil they’ll make in the second class. Later, they’ll create self-portraits from photos and patterned paper using Gustav Klimt paintings such as “The Kiss” as inspiration. In the last class, students will study patterns in folk decoration, like Amish or Chinese symbols, and create a folk decoration that tells their own story, their own way.

“I want people to come away with skills to do something particular,” like creating a stencil from a photo or transferring that stencil to a surface, Manolis said. “The second part that I want them to leave with is this idea to look at the overall structure and build from these individual things.”

Focusing too much on the details, on the pattern itself, is the main pitfall to avoid when using pattern in your home, she said.

“The biggest way to screw up with pattern and decoration is not looking at the overall space,” she said, “not looking at how it fits in with everything else and how it affects the space.”

But when you keep that in mind, pattern can be really powerful.

“Pattern … can completely flatten something out and make it mellow. Or it can make something come toward you or back,” Manolis said. “The things you can do spatially with it are amazing.”

Sometimes, she said, inspiration for a big pattern can come from something small.

“Inspiration can come from anywhere. Maybe they have this one thing, maybe they don’t even know why they love it, but they just do,” she said, giving a vase as an example. “OK, pull that apart. Take these elements from this thing, and that is what you’re attracted to. So use those things.”

Just remember to zoom out when using pattern in a room.

“Break it down to these little tiny elements, and then figure out the big picture,” she said.

Chandler: 919-829-4830

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