REPEAT, and repeat…

Patterns. There’s something very reassuring about them. Whether a consistently repeating sequence of shapes, a loose gathering of similar elements or something in between, a pattern gets our attention. Patterns resonate deeply, maybe because their structure echoes the repeating sequences our brains depend on to configure perceptions and memories.

From well before birth we’re bathed in the regularity of our mother’s heartbeat, priming the pump for countless patterns we will perceive during our lives. As random as the world seems at times, patterns are woven throughout our experience, and like other beings on this planet, we depend on our ability to recognize them. Where would we be without pattern recognition, without rhythm and music and mathematical sequences, without that knack for making sense out of repetition?

Today, I’m interested in visual patterns, and there are thousands of them in my files. Here’s a smattering.


































The Photos:

  1. The skylight at the Museum of Northwest Art, a small museum in a small northwestern town a little over an hour north of Seattle. The formerly commercial space was re-purposed by a local architecture firm in the 90’s, and features cedar and hemlock paneling, a spiral staircase, and the skylight, which allows extra light into the gallery space.
  2. There’s something satisfying about window blinds – is it just the pattern? I don’t think so, I think it has to do with our relationship to windows themselves. For this photo I used an in-camera effect to heighten the contrast.
  3. At Seattle’s Japanese Garden the landscapers take pains to do things the Japanese way, lashing bamboo for fences in the traditional style. This one was done recently; it needs time to weather and blend with the landscape.
  4. Seattle’s King Street Station clock tower reminds us that patterns aren’t only found in repeating motifs like the columns on the facade, but are also recognizable gestalts, like the clock. Built in the early 1900’s, this was once the main train station for Seattle but, like train travel, the building has gone through changes over the years. A renovation was completed in 2013 – I should go insde and take a look.
  5. Deception Pass Bridge, which connects Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, is about an hour and a half north of Seattle. Built high above the turbulent waters of Deception Pass in the 1930’s, the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s about 180 feet above the water, and trails allow you to walk directly underneath, where this photo was taken.
  6. Patterns in carpets are an old tradition. This is a wool kilim-style rug from somewhere in the Middle east. Originally, most of the patterns woven into these rugs had particular meanings but now, I suspect the primary meaning is, “I hope the tourists like this one.”
  7. Seen in a Seattle alley, a pattern of bricks contrasts with random markings on a wall.
  8. The sandstone’s pattern evolved from millions of years of shifting sand dunes, at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
  9. This perfectly posed (poised, too!) lizard lives at a delightful roadside zoo. His wonderful skin is all pattern, in both texture and coloration. The Reptile Zoo is found along U.S. Rt. 2, as you head up into the Cascade Mountains from Seattle.
  10. Veins of fallen leaves and the mushrooms’ striate caps repeat their patterns with slight variations, giving us important clues. What would we do without these tools? How would we know what we were looking at if there were no repeating patterns?
  11. Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa) displays a rhythmic repetition reminiscent of Bach’s music, maybe a Cello Suite. Here’s an article about experiencing repetition in music.
  12. Picking up shells on the beach elicits a pattern if one kind of shell is favored. This little collection is from the U.S. east coast. I placed them (in a pattern!) on a page in a blank book, and photographed it: an instant book of shells. Often called jingle shells, or mermaids’ toenails, these shells can be found from Canada to Brazil, or so I read. In fact, there are many different species of jingle shells and apparently they’re found in Europe, China and New Zealand, but not on America’s west coast. Next week I’ll be on the coast of Oregon; maybe I’ll find other goodies there.
  13. Frank Gehry’s architectural riff on a smashed Stratocaster guitar takes your breath away the first time you see it. Seattle’s renamed Museum of Pop Culture (it used to be called the Experience Music Project) contains oodles of memorabilia about native son Jimi Hendrix. The free-form sheet metal style Gehry favors builds on repeating shapes, though they aren’t as obvious as the rectangles we’re used to. On a sunny day, the undulating, shiny curved walls reflect off each other, multiplying color and shape in a photographer’s dream.
  14. Skunk cabbage is in bloom now in many wet spots across the U.S. The eastern and western species are different, but they share an unpleasant odor and basic form. I think the spadix (the central spike carrying the tiny flowers) may be arranged in a Fibonacci Sequence, like pine cones, but I’m not sure.
  15. At a botanical garden, netting is used to protect plants from hungry rabbits and deer. When it rains, what a pretty sight!




  1. Geez, this is getting harder, but I pick 10.11 and 13 as my favorite. Frank Gehryโ€™s architecture is so photogenic, not to mention fun to shoot.
    I have a question (s) about photo 2. You mention that you used an in-camera effect for this shot. I’ve never done that. My questions are: do you shoot with the in-camera effects often and, if so, why?

    • Thanks Ken. I was leary of using those for a long time. Someone picked up my camera and played with them and got some great photos. So now I do it a little more often ( still less than 5% of the time maybe). The one I used there, called Dramatic Effect I think, is useful when light is really flat. A shortcut to things you might want to do in processing anyway. The camera spits out a ” regular” image too, which is nice. It’s the Olympus OM D1.

  2. An outstanding collection of repeat patterns, one that I can only envy. By the way April 15, today’s date, is an annual repeating pattern that annoys and scares most people, even when they get a refund.

  3. You really have mastered the art of seeing, Lynn. Marvelous collection of patterns. Love them all- the bamboo, the netting with droplets, the seashells arranged (never knew they were called Mermaid Toenails!) the bridge… wonderful images.
    Terrific work and great theme!

    • I never knew about that name either, just saw it mentioned when I was researching where they can be found. A fun sideline of the blog is what I learn when I do research. Than you so much, Jane!

    • So glad you like that, Alison. I have more. ….
      And I have to go back, it’s been a long time since I was there, even though it’s right in Seattle. Gehry has a terrific building near the High Line in NYC, too.

  4. Patterns always fascinate me, especially when they are so beautifully set like in your photographs. I like the blinds you took with the tack sharp lines and the small window stripe unshowing nature off focus.

  5. Definitely a fan of the bridge in #5, but I’ve always had a thing for bridges! And #6: sad, but true ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m surprised you don’t have
    any floors here, or is that too cliche when it comes to patterns?

  6. Aside from the repeating patterns, the depth, shadow and texture really got me. The bamboo against the texture of the lashing is great, as were the blinds.

    The shells reminded me of a video I saw about food photography and lighting using black and white boards. It also made me wish I’d taken a picture of the cookies I made this past weekend while the dough was sitting on parchment paper.

    • Sorry for the late reply – thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. I saw more of that bamboo fence lashing at a Japanese garden in Portland last week, on our trip south. Hey, next time on the cookies!

  7. Ha! Quite hungry this morning, I saw the jingle shells and thought they were dollops of some kind of dough on a baking sheet!
    “I hope the tourists like this one” – nice title, and this tourist does indeed like that one!

    What a chunky well-fed lizard! The zoo gets a high score on taking good care of its residents!

    • Your cookie idea is extra funny, coming after the comment above yours. That little zoo really cares about its charges, and does a great job. We were pleasantly surprised, after passing it by for five years and imagining something far less professional. Good to hear from you, sorry I’m late replying.

      • ha… i’m hungry again, what’s for lunch?!!! cookies for dessert!

        i had your last post on the screen and enjoyed the road-trip images several times, commented last night and then x’d the page off the screen… grrrr.

        today is day four of a ‘workers holiday’ weekend, so i’m online briefly and heading back home. tomorrow will be a day on the road and with internet, so hopefully i can reconstruct my thoughts for the upcoming comment!

  8. There are so many beautiful patterns here, Lynn. I especially love the veins of fallen leaves and the mushroomsโ€™ striate caps, the lizard, and the brick and wall patterns. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. You’re displaying a definite pattern of excellent photos. It’s neat how an iron bridge from the 1930’s can look so cool and “modern” like an extension of a space station.
    I love the stylized flame effect in #13 and the mushroom striate caps in #10 are so crisp and exact. they might be bevel gears, fallen off some sort of woodland machinery.
    I had a leopard gecko when I was a kid, so I love the lizard getting the Hollywood treatment. And my favorite is the last one, seeing something absolutely beautiful
    in a piece of wet nylon deer netting, that’s so great! “)

  10. Beautiful images, my friend >>> but I have to say that 10 knocks me absolutely flat, it is outstanding and stunning – for its overall composition, and its shapes, textures, colours and tones – it is a piece of art. I also think highly of 5, and (like Paula) 7. A ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you….I have to say, there are scenes like that everywhere here, but I’m not usually adept enough at recording them. In closeups like #10, I often have the shutter open too wide and the depth of field is too shallow – simply because I forget to adjust the aperture. It’s all an ongoing learning experience!

  11. I love the way you’re pulling together themes of recurring patterns in your images. You have me intrigued to perhaps look through some of my stuff for patterns. It could be an interesting exercise if nothing else.
    Hard to pick favorites (as usual), but I think 10 did it for me this time. Then again there seemed to be some confusion with a repeating #5… I think I liked the carpet better than the steel structure. (no surprise?)

    • Yes, it’s a good exercise, and could be done again and again. Now I see I messed up the numbers, oops! Thanks for pointing that out. I should fix it….when I have time….meanwhile, I’m glad you’re here.

  12. LOVE the theme and photos here! I am drawn to patterns too and included so in my artist statement, written years ago. When I did illustration patterns were part of my style. And now I look for patterns to use as backgrounds for stock photography. I think it appeals to the desire for order. Your last B&W image with the water drops in the netting is my very favorite in this set. That would be a fun one to print and frame … or maybe see how it looks on metal!

    • It makes sense that you’re’ drawn to patterns, Denise, and I agree, it appeals to a desire for order, which I suspect relates to the way our brains work on a very minute level. Great idea to do the water drops on metal, thank you!

  13. I have to confess it: my first thought was of Pete and Repeat, the 1931 comedy directed by Fatty Arbuckle. The film turned into this common joke that I remember learning from my father: “Pete and Repeat went fishing. Peat fell out of the boat. Who was left?” Of course the answer is Repeat, and the point was to repeat the question and answer until everyone dissolved into giggles.

    I’m wondering if you knew Pete and Repeat, and titled your post as you did — REPEAT and Repeat — as a sly reference. In any event, this wonderful series of unrepeated patterns is pure joy.

  14. I marvel at your perception of the intricate and small details around us in life ~ and your ability to capture the patterns and art in such details. Excellent photos, my favorite is “Deception Pass Bridge” ~ I could sit for hours at what you’ve captured…and without your capture, I’d probably just walk past such a scene/photo.

    • I guess I’ve been looking at the details, and being enchanted by them, since I was very, very young. I can’t believe you would walk by that scene of the bridge – it would grab you, I’m sure, and yu’d take a gorgeous photo of it. Maybe one day this year, when you’re back in the area, who knows?

  15. Again an interesting topic and a good mixture of your thouhgts and beautiful photographs. You make me think ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree with you, patterns are important, necessary, appealing and beautiful. Is it more work for the brain or less? Patterns are inspiring, but they are also soothing. Fascinating somehow. I really have to think about it .-)! – I love this kind of bridges! and the “raindropcurtain” is beautiful (where to buy ;-)??). The patterns of flora and fauna are wonderful and unlimited. Thank you for this excursion to your files!! – About the skunk cabbage: it reminds me of our “Aronstab”. I believe, they belong to the same family I don’t remember the blossom here, but these red “fruits” can be seen all over the forest in town. The american yellow form is very striking!! – And finally the word “gestalt” – I am surprised ๐Ÿ™‚ We use it in German too, but then it is capitalized like “Gestalt”, the verb is gestalten (to create something). Is it a common English word? Funny, what words find their way to a foreign language!

    • I’m happy when people enjoy my images, but even happier when they make someone think, so thank you for saying that! ๐Ÿ™‚ I think patterns are less work for the brain, because the brain’s underlying structure is patterned. That’s my theory anyway. You’re funny about buying the “rain drop curtain.” We have trouble with deer eating plants here, so that’s a kind of plastic netting made to put over plants when they’re vulnerable to deer. I guess you could create a sculpture if you wanted to, arranging the netting and spraying it with water. Why not? ๐Ÿ˜‰
      You’re right about skunk cabbage – it’s in the Arum family, Araceae. It had red berries in fall, too.
      Gestalt is used here regularly, and I knew it was German but I didn’t know the meaning in German. I would say the meaning has changed in English usage. The meaning as we use it is: “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.” In the 60’s a branch of psychology called “Gestalt Psychology” became popular in the US, and the word gained more recognition here. I thought that branch of psychology originated here, but I just read that it’s from Germany, well, that figures! ๐Ÿ™‚ Apparently though, the American version is a little different, and it’s called Gestalt therapy instead of Gestalt psychology. I’m glad there are so many different languages across the earth, it keeps life interesting.

      • Okay, thats interesting!! I know it as “Gestaltherapie”, too, as it is called in German. Maybe it has changed in the last decades…. But your description of Gestalt, as I get it, seems to be a bit different but not totally far away. I found two descriptions here: “the scheme of a person” or “the outer appearance of a human being related to his body” (ohoh, not so easy to describe in a foreign language, haha). Yes, languages make life vivid ๐Ÿ™‚

        The curtain against the deer looks so beautiful, like an artwork ๐Ÿ™‚ I nice fence ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • I’m sure the basic ideas are the same….a little gets lost in translation, as they say, but languages are also enriched through translation, and borrowing. As for fences, I’ve been attracted to the way the regularity of fences plays against the irregularity of nature, like seeing leaves on a grid. In this case it was raindrops, but often it’s plants coming into contact with a fence, a man-made structure with a pattern, and it’s interesting to see the two together. I hope that makes sense!

  16. How did I miss this post? I must be even more discombobulated than I thought I was. What a great eye (yes, we all know this already) you have to see a photograph in the window and window treatment of #2. The lines are fantastic. Remember when people said, โ€œWay to go!โ€? Well, way to go, Lynn. What a treasure #7 is. Yes, pattern, but itโ€™s surrounded by asymmetry of the nicest kind. And the colors! Wow. The alley photo is my favorite, but you probably would have guessed that. The opposing curves of the lizard and the branch are wonderful in #9. They get me even more than the pattern, but I like seeing some similarity between the lizardโ€™s tail markings and the worm excavations in the wood. You want me to look at the patterns in the mushroom caps in #10, I think, but Iโ€™m distracted and blown away by the coloration of the leaves. Your Frank Gehry building (#13) is really exciting. Iโ€™d never seen this building before, even in photographs. That copper coloring and the shapes it has in your photograph are just beautiful. And then thereโ€™s your narrative. Sigh. And all the other photos . . .

    • ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you Linda! I wish I spent more time in those Seattle alleys. There are a lot of them, and now they will b farther away. Maybe there are some in the small cities near the new place. And that Gehry building is just amazing. Best place ever for reflections on a sunny day!

    • Yeah, the girders are pretty manly, aren’t they? (Sorry).
      Speaking of the girders, that’s a bridge near here, so obviously a popular local subject. I saw a large print of a photo taken in the same place (no doubt tens of thousands have done it) but in fog, so that girders towards the back slowly disappear. I think it’s going to be fantastic around here in the fog.

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