Quick access to all 5 parts in the “Whitney Patterns” series

  1. Whitney Patterns Part 1
  2. Whitney Patterns Part 2: Patterns #1 & 2
  3. Whitney Patterns Part 3: Patterns #3 & 4
  4. Whitney Patterns Part 4: Pattern #5 – Gradation
  5. Whitney Patterns Part 5: Pattern #6 – All-Over Pattern

Welcome back to the final article on the Whitney patterns. Today we are going to close this series with the final “all-over” pattern:

  1. A piece of darker value in lighter values.
  2. A piece of lighter value in darker values.
  3. Large dark area and small light area in middle values.
  4. Large light area and small dark area in middle values.
  5. Gradation, in any direction, up, down, or across.
  6. “All-over pattern” as in textile design – an equal surface tension or visual strength throughout the rectangle.

Let’s again take a look at our reference photograph as well as the reference design sketch.


Reference Photograph; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY
Reference line drawing; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Before we begin, I need to address a couple of concerns. The all-over pattern is an incredibly complex topic. I bit too complex for what I’m trying to do here in this series. Please note that even though I won’t cover this pattern in its entirety I will share a few basic principles that I consider important. I will also use examples from Edgar Whitney’s book as a guide for what can be considered a practical application of the pattern. I also want to thank Russell Black for guiding me through the complexity of the pattern and helping me understand how it functions as well as for providing examples for this article.

From the very start of the series I tried to bring to your attention the concept of designing shapes first, fitting nature into them, as Edgar Whitney states in his book. Paradoxically, you might have noticed that I did not follow this rule literally. Admittedly I compromised and went about explaining Whitney patterns differently. I did not start with creating an abstract pattern, fitting nature into it. I started with the subject and derived the pattern from it. And this is a very important distinction! Through the way I presented the topic I demonstrated more how to read patterns, not necessarily how to create them.

The next logical step would be a presentation where I demonstrate working correctly from an abstract pattern to a subject and I plan on bringing you an article showing just that in the future. When I was first learning about patterns I logically began by observing patterns in finished works, in other words I learned to read patterns first. This approach helped me bridge the gap between thinking “subject” into thinking “pattern”. Therefore it is natural to me to present it to you in similar manner. We’ll take our pattern game to the next level in the near future.

Pattern #6: All-Over Pattern

As Edgar Whitney states, the all-over pattern creates surface tension or visual strength throughout the rectangle. It feels balanced in much different way than all the other patterns do. You can feel the tensions being spread out “all-over” the picture plane, pun intended. This means that we don’t play one large mass of tone against another mass of tone. The principle is similar to rug designs, for example, in that the surface area has a certain mechanical rhythm to it, a cadence that assures stability. In similar sense, the all-over pattern uses alternation of light and dark to create tensions throughout, assuring stability of parts to the whole. Unlike rug designs, the repetition is not so predictable and mechanical.

Below you can see a set of examples that Edgar Whitney uses in his book to demonstrate the all-over pattern.

We can observe on the Whitney’s sketches above that there is a strong pattern of alternating light and dark value spread out throughout the rectangle. We can see that it is very much reminiscent of a checkerboard. Therefore we can conclude that the basis of all-over pattern is an abstract checkerboard of alternating light and dark value. In other words, we cannot find a clear distribution of masses as we did in previous examples. Balance then is achieved through distribution of visual weights all-over the picture plane.

Some examples from my own portfolio that show pattern reminiscent of the all-over examples above follow. Notice the seemingly haphazard alternation of light and dark in any of them.


So what is the method to the all-over pattern? Well let’s start by stating that there are several applications of the pattern. It can happen quite naturally, or organically, as you can see in the examples above taken from the Whitney’s book. Then there is a more methodical approach that can result in a complex symphony of value shapes. We could also possibly use a simplified all-over pattern as an abstract underpainting that would serve as a basis for our painting.

In our case here, where we build the pattern from our existing shapes, our aim is to establish the white shapes first, supporting them by darks. The alternating checkerboard is then finished off with a set of shapes of middle value. The process takes quite some effort and practice to master in its true form. At this point I’m not comfortable enough to instruct you on the procedure in detail. And that’s why I won’t. Instead I would like to show you how a true master, Russell Black, would deal with this issue.

The All-over pattern as demonstrated by Russell Black – step 1; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

As you can see, Russell is working from my original sketch which he altered for portrait orientation.

In the first step he places a light middle value over the entire picture, then establishes the lights. Lights are established similarly to what we’ve done in one of our a previous patterns where we selected our 3 varied whites. Here, however, Russell is more concerned with the flow that the white shapes create. This flow is illustrated on the image below. You can clearly see the “pathing” created throughout the rectangle.

The All-over pattern as demonstrated by Russell Black – step 1: flow illustrated; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

The flow should provide a visual path through the picture plane. That doesn’t mean it should lead us out of the picture. The concept of containment is very important here. And so we see that the paths have a return back into the picture.

The All-over pattern as demonstrated by Russell Black – step 2; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

In the next step Russell supports his whites with good well-placed foundational darks. The idea is to “anchor” the pattern in place. We are not using our darks here in the sense we usually do in landscape work, that is play them against our lights and middle values to manipulate depth of our planes. Instead we weave the values together to create a single balanced but exciting tapestry of values.

The All-over pattern as demonstrated by Russell Black – step 2; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Above you can see how Russell indicates the pulls that the darks apply onto the surface.

The All-over pattern as demonstrated by Russell Black – step 3: interconnecting the darks; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

The next step then is to interconnect these pulls as seen above.

The All-over pattern as demonstrated by Russell Black – final step 4; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

And above is the final result where dark middle values are added to finish off the pattern, resulting in a very rich, almost musical pattern, with a lot of excitement and depth.

And that concludes our series on the Whitney’s patterns. It was one wild ride. I didn’t foresee the extent into which it eventually grew when we started. But I’m satisfied with how it turned out. I will be doing a set of actual paintings from the examples discussed in the series so stay tuned. I will be posting them on my Instagram and Facebook as they are made but will eventually do a write-up on the blog.

If you’re interested in a more complex discussion of this topic or any pattern from the Whitney set, feel free to let us know in the comments down below and we may include such discussion in one of our future articles. Once again I want to thank Russell Black for helping me out with this series as it was a difficult topic to cover. If you haven’t read it yet, go check out Russell’s article on the patterns of depth.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to let us know down below.



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1 Comment

  1. Marylin Smith June 13, 2018 at 00:31

    Thank you for all this work Daniel and Russell – it was very helpful to me.


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