Repetition & Patterns

In Design by Martin Sarna6 Comments

For years, I’ve walked around with a happy-snap camera on my belt (first a Canon Digital Elph, now the camera on my iPhone) and I use it to capture almost anything that catches my eye whether it’s a family moment, something for a design project, or whatever. For years I’ve wondered about these “whatever” images, like what is it that caught my eye in the first place? What led me to take that photo? In the last few years, one of the stronger common threads has finally surfaced and it is repetition. I am attracted to repeating elements, whether it’s in nature, the built environment, or on a store shelf – my eye is simply drawn to it. Now that it’s at the forefront, I intentionally incorporate repetition in my photos as well as to attract attention within my own designs.

I suspect this pattern recognition is based in some ancient survival mechanism – an ability to recognize fruit on branches, prey, predators, etc. After looking through thousands of my own photos, it is obvious that I’ve been unconsciously aware of this attraction for years. And we can find it everywhere in our lives. Even the type you’re reading in this moment is a repetitive pattern – one character following the other, lines stacked upon lines. Artists, designers and architects have been using repetition and patterns in their work for millennia. My friend Michele Pred, an artist, uses repetition and patterns with great success. Her latest series is full of objects and artwork covered with expired birth-control pills.

I could go on and on, and illustrate my point with photos of the Parthenon, stars and flowers, etc., but I’ll just leave you with a selection of my own repetition photos. I’d love to hear what attracts you visually and what your thoughts are on repetition.


  1. I never looked at my random shots that way, but there is little doubt that repetition captures the eye.
    Nice images, too.

    1. Author

      Thanks Jay – a great compliment coming from you! Yeah, in addition to repetition in nature, I’ve been looking at store displays and other forms of merchandising with an appreciation for repetition. I had a photography and drawing teacher who said after you’ve accumulated a body of work, look back though it to find the common threads and repetition finally jumped out at me.

  2. Martin,
    As you know, I am fascinated with nature’s expression known as a fractal, which is “self similar”. This is repetition at it’s most refined.
    Love the photos!

  3. Two things…

    1. OH MY GAWD! Do you remember sitting in your house when we were in Jr. High School and thumbing through some scientific-type magazine and on one page they made you guess what the photos were??? One of them, and I’ll never get this image out of my mind, was of a chainlink fence, but it was taken from the perspective that made it look like the ‘links’ weren’t actually links. The repetitive pattern created an optical illusion!

    2. One word… fibonacci. It’s every where!

    1. Wow! Erich – I just fished your comment out of a bucket of SPAM after almost 3 years. I’m just rebuilding my site after being inundated by spammers and finally being hacked down. Your comment is a blast from the past. I remember those guess-what-this-is images very well.

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