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I am a software engineer but I also like becoming a good graphics designer but I don't know where to start.

I especially like mastering the skills necessary for designing textures and patterns but I am totally lost as most books and tutorials are about the tool set and not the theory and skills required to transform a pattern I see in the real world (e.g. a brushed metal surface) into a pattern or texture.

Also the texture/pattern tutorials on the Web are again very specific and not theoretical (e.g. they show you a finished example and the steps required to produce it).

So, how can I master the art of texture/pattern design

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There is no 'master class' theory or technique for making patterns. It's just a general term for a repeating motif. A texture is simply a term to describe surface variation. But for a start, you could maybe play with but one example of a pattern that's kind of fun: tessellations: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tessellation –  DA01 May 10 '12 at 17:12
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Read/view tutorials to learn the tools and intricacies of creating the visual elements needed for a pattern/texture.

Texture is merely a pattern with a perceived depth. So learning what tools and how to add depth to flat objects will assist in texture creation. So look for items covering depth, lighting, and shadow. If viewing a tutorial on a specific texture creation, pay attention to how the writer adds light and shadow to the texture. It's the steps which will help, not necessarily the specific settings they use.

Then you'll need to study pattern construction. You'll find a great deal of pattern theory related to textile/fabric design since that's where patterns are heavily used.

There are many books which cover pattern making:

http://www.amazon.com/Paisleys-Textile-Designs-Pictorial-Archive/dp/0486279596/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

http://www.amazon.com/Plaids-Visual-Pattern-Variations-Schiffer/dp/076430481X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336677386&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Mosaic-Tessellated-Patterns-Create-Instruction/dp/0486243796/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336677751&sr=1-1-spell

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