Creative Guide: Express your personality through pattern and typography with Kris Andrew Small

As part of New World, our collaboration with Today at Apple, we developed a series of step-by-step Creative Guides which allow you to complete a project, guided by a leading creative.


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As part of New World, we worked with five artists, designers and photographers on a series of Creative Guides, designed to teach you tangible skills in an engaging and hands-on way. In these Guides, you’ll have the chance to follow along the stages of a project step-by-step. Whether you’re interested in learning more about poster design, how to create imagery in AR or the process of composing portrait photography, at the end of each Guide, you’ll have completed a full project and will have new skills to take into your own creative practice.

Kris Andrew Small is an artist and designer based in Sydney. His work often takes on societal issues, channelling them through loud, abstract visuals, typography, texture and collaged pieces that exude movement and colour. In the past, Kris has created work for a range of clients including Nike, Adidas, Adobe, Dazed, and Channel 4, and has exhibited his work around the world. “I always see my work as a way for me to process my ideas on the planet and to use it as a vehicle to express my views,” he explains. “I focus very heavily on equality for the LGBTQIA+ community but in general will always stand for equality for all in everything I do.”

Kris will be taking you through the process of collaging a self portrait by combining abstract pattern, photography and hand-drawn typography; signatures of his practice. The brief? To explore and represent your identity in the New World through this collage. In total, there are seven steps in the process:

Step 01: Explore your identity in the New World.
Step 02: Find inspiration for your portrait.
Step 03: Explore texture, brushes and colours.
Step 04: Select and edit your photograph.
Step 05: Sketch your typography.
Step 06: Design your abstract pattern.
Step 07: Compose your collage.

We’d love for you to spend as much time as you’d like completing this brief, so it’s been designed to work on several different levels. Spend an afternoon, a whole day or a week – it’s really up to you!


Kris Andrew Small

What you need to complete this Guide

This Creative Guide is designed to be completed on Mac using Adobe Photoshop and so the instructions are largely geared towards this pairing but you could also use Photoshop on iPad, or even Procreate or a sketchbook if you prefer. We’d recommend using Mac to take full advantage of Photoshop’s capabilities. Below is a list of apps you’ll need to complete the Guide – most of which are already installed on your device, or easy to download if not.

Camera is already installed on your iPhone or iPad.

Photos is where all the amazing photos you take with your iPhone and iPad live.

Adobe Photoshop is an image editing and design app. If you don’t have a Creative Cloud subscription, you can start a free trial here.

Apple Creative Pro Tips

If you’ve completed a Creative Guide already, you’ll be familiar with our Apple Creative Pro and you’ll find tips and tricks on all the technical aspects of Kris’ brief from them once again in this Guide. Just as they are when you visit your local Apple Store, they’re on hand to offer guidance on how to get the most from your devices. Keep an eye out for the Apple Creative Pro Tip box for handy hints to keep you on track throughout the project. Below is a preview of some of the work you’ll get to create during this Guide.

Imagine the New World. We think it’ll be a place where our identities are fluid, not limited by images or words. So for this Creative Guide, Kris is asking you to use collage to express your New World identity through a self portrait featuring a patterned background. This pattern will sit behind a photograph of yourself, communicating aspects of your identity and personality not visible at first glance.

The first thing you need to do is pin-down your vision of your New World identity. Start by describing yourself through keywords; emotions, colours, movements, your relationship to nature, phrases, feelings you want to give out or attract. Then, Kris suggests coming up with a mantra for your New World self.

Word association can help when generating ideas for your mantra. Try writing as many words as possible that relate to the core idea of your mantra, with no judgment, don’t rule any word out, and let your mind go on a tangent. You can then start to draw connections between these words to create the phrase for your mantra. We’ll be using this mantra in step 05 so make a note of it somewhere.

Kris Andrew Small: I think in the New World, my work and personality would be aligned as one. I would want my thoughts, views and emotions to be reflected in the work and so I will use bright contrasting colours and a lot of movement and boldness in my self portrait to express my personality. The work will be full of movement to align with my energy.


Kris started by exploring different options for his mantra, eventually landing on “Stay on it”.

“The best way to think about your New World mantra is to imagine what you would like to tell yourself every morning when you wake up... Try not to overthink it.”

Kris Andrew Small

My mantra is “Stay on it”. In a way, it’s my version of “Just do it”. If you just keep working, keep on your game and keep true to yourself then you will always be able to find the inspiration or the drive to make work. If you try to shut out the noise of the world and focus on you, your story and what you want to make, it’s a lot easier to stay focused. The best way to think about your New World mantra is to imagine what you would like to tell yourself every morning when you wake up. What would that one phrase be that would make you want to get up and make work that you were proud of, that would make you happy and/or that would tell your story? Try not to overthink it.

Now you need to take photos of your environment which you’ll manipulate in Photoshop to literally create a New World; these images will come into use later on in the project. Have a look around your house or go for a walk and snap anything you think could be turned into an interesting texture. This is something Kris does regularly in his work. Using a black and white filter (“Noir” is great for this) whilst taking a photo in Camera on iPhone is a handy way to focus on just shapes and patterns, and filter out the distractions of colours. 

Aim to gather five-ten photographs and begin to play around with them in Photoshop to see what patterns you can draw out of them. You can gather images through online research, of course, but photographing patterns you find at home or when out on a walk is the best way to complete this step. Below is a video in which Kris shows you how to manipulate your images in Photoshop.

KAS: I started making patterns when I worked in advertising. I was quite frustrated at the time and I think this was my way of dealing with it. Over time, I’ve realised that these patterns really change and reflect my mood. For example, when I’m calm I make very ethereal gradient works that seem light and calm. When I’m more restless or agitated, the works seem more complicated, harsh and messy. It’s such a good way to add organic or natural energy to your work.


A selection of images from Kris’ Photos that he’s taken while out and about. These provide inspiration for this work.

In terms of inspirations, I don’t really look at other designers but rather at music, films or photography. I take photos of things on a walk to work, or in the park, or down the pub – there is colour and movement everywhere once you start looking for it. I think all my work is a big collage of elements that I make or find. For this project, I am using some patterns that I created using pictures from my iPhone of plants and crops of a window with a reflection on it.


Kris will manipulate, edit and pull colours from the photos he snaps.

How Kris adds gradients to his photos in Photoshop on Mac.

On iPad, create a new layer above your imported photo and fill it with a gradient (hold down the paint bucket icon on the left-hand toolbar for the gradient tool). Then, under Layer Properties (three sliders on the right-side toolbar), select a blending mode that creates the effect you want – hard light and hard mix create a similar effect to Kris’ example. Then merge both layers under the ellipsis on the right-hand side.

Let’s look at brushes, textures and colours in Photoshop now – elements that will have a massive impact on what your portrait says about you. Channel your identity into these aspects and try to make choices that speak to you.

You should already have some textures from the previous step but try out making even more from scratch, it’s easier than you think. You could use textured or crumpled paper, flick some ink or paint onto paper to create splatters or rip up paper to create interesting tears. Take good photos or scan in these textures, then use layer blending modes in Photoshop like Multiply, Screen, Overlay etc to apply these textures to your composition. 

At the end of this step, you should have an “expression board” which displays your chosen colour palette, a few scribbles in your favourite brushes and a sample of the kind of textures you want to incorporate into your self portrait. You can reference this expression board alongside the moodboard you made in step 02 throughout the project, to ensure it’s going in the right direction.

KAS: The New World is calm and more free and accepting, so I wanted to use some free and expressive textures that are full of colour and movement. With the brushes, I wanted them to be really free and organic and feel hand made. These are the kind of brushes in Photoshop that I default to anyway to achieve the energy in my work, but for this I want them to feel even more energetic and exciting than normal.

“The New World is calm and more free and accepting, so I wanted to use some free and expressive textures that are full of colour and movement.”

Kris Andrew Small

Kris experimenting with several brushes in Photoshop.

To browse the brushes library on iPad, hold down the Brush icon on the left-hand toolbar. The outer stroke effect that Kris uses does not exist on iPad but as a workaround, we recommend layering up and drawing the same shape underneath using a bigger sized brush to create a similar effect.

How Kris warps images in Photoshop. To warp multiple layers simultaneously remember to flatten your image (Layer > Flatten Image). It’s also a good idea to duplicate your layers before warping, so you always have a backup of the original version.

To achieve similar results on iPad, create a clipping mask over your photo (on the right toolbar, it’s the black circle in a white rectangle) and using a black brush pen you can erase parts of the image. This works particuarly well when layering up reference photography.

Consider how you want your final piece to look, do you want it to be really chaotic and busy? In that case, pick a really crazy colour palette, use textures full of movement and really gritty brushes. If you want the final work to be calmer and more ethereal, maybe pick a more subdued colour palette, some more simple textures and lighter, more painterly brushes. The main point is to consider what mood you want the final piece to have.


Kris then compiled his favourite textures, colours and brushes onto an expression board. He’ll use this later on in the process to guide the aesthetic of his self portrait.

At the heart of your self portrait is going to be a photograph of yourself so you need to choose which image you want to use now. Have a look in Photos and find an image that you feel expresses your New World identity, or take a new one using your Camera on iPhone. You can then edit the image to ensure it really supports your identity and your mantra. This could mean cropping the image, making it black and white or adding a filter to it.

KAS: I have chosen a photo with a tight crop but with lots of movement and a dynamic angle. This means I already have an energy to the image to start with and can add on top to give it even more. I would just find an image that you like and that feels the most “you”. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and use an image that is very natural. We are going to add lots of personality in the graphics, so the photo can be quite simple. It’s best to make the background very simple too as we will be layering a lot of thing on top of it.


Kris experimented with using halftone effects over his photographs.

I have added a halftone effect to my image in Photoshop using the Pixelate filter. When editing your image, try and find an effect that you think will contrast with the graphics you intend to add on top. So if you are going to add lots of colour on top, maybe it’s best to make the image black and white. Or if you are adding a lot of neutral colours, maybe you could add a gradient map to your image and make it quite crazy and colourful.


Halftone breaks an image up into dots, a method that is often used in printmaking and which gives an image a graphic quality.

How Kris applies a halftone filter to his photographs in Photoshop.

While halftone isn’t possible on iPad, you can use various blend modes to alter your photograph, along with playing with contrast, hue and saturation etc.

“When editing your image, try and find an effect that you think will contrast with the graphics you intend to add on top.”

Kris Andrew Small

Clipping masks can be created by going to Layer > Create Clipping mask (shortcut ⌥⌘G). Kris used the black fill to mask off areas; white fill/brushes can be used to unmask an area on your clipping mask.

It’s now time to sketch some typography for your portrait, using your New World mantra. You can go totally freehand here, use an existing typeface or even modify an existing typeface. Whatever you choose, it should denote your identity in some way or another. If you’re totally new to typography, Kris has outlined some tips below.

Photoshop’s Adjustments section is being used a lot in this step, so if you haven’t done this already, you might want to have the Adjustments toolbar visible at all times. You can do this by clicking on Window and making sure Adjustments is checked. 

KAS: Start treating the letters or words as shapes that can be arranged around a page. Drop all the design rules around kerning, leading etc and just play with the letters. Try and make an interesting composition with the text on the page and don’t be afraid to make it all different sizes and scales or play with colours. Basically, forget everything you’ve ever learnt about typography and just allow yourself to play with it.

I’ve modified an existing typeface using the Distort tool in Photoshop. Much like in the step before, I played with the scale and size of each letter to create more fun and interesting letterings.

How Kris distorts type in Photoshop. Press , ⌘+T to distort your type and hold Shift to whilst distorting to unlock constraints.

On iPad, you can distort text easily using text modifications (tracking, vertical scale, horizontal scale, tracking etc) under Layer Properties. Also, you can free transform by selecting your object and clicking the Transform icon on the left tool bar.

GalleryKris played with the scale and size of each letter to create more fun and interesting letterings.

GalleryKris played with the scale and size of each letter to create more fun and interesting letterings.

This is perhaps the stage in the project where you can say the most about your identity as it’s now time to design the abstract background of your self portrait. Bring together all of the colours, textures and brushes you’ve discovered throughout the project and go wild. You can also play with the photos you took in step 02.

Kris has designed a series of abstract patterns that you can use as the backdrop for your self portrait if you’d prefer and these can be downloaded below. You can jump straight to step 07 if you choose to work with Kris’ designs.

Download Kris’ patterns

Kris has designed three patterns which could form the backdrop to your self portait.


KAS: At this stage, find an image you like and try to warp and skew it. Maybe play around with the hue and saturation, or add a gradient map. You can then crop into a part that is working well and continue skewing, add some new colour, or play with the hue and saturation again. Basically, you just want to keep trying new things and editing until you have created something that you find interesting.

I feel really energised about the prospect of this New World, so I wanted that to come out in my patterns. I’ve created three textures made entirely from photos on my iPhone, using a bunch of Warp and Distortion tools. They’re therefore full of energy, contrast and colour – fluid and full of motion, just how I think the New World will be.


Kris added hand-drawn motifs to his pattern.


He also used clipping masks to make marks.

“I feel really energised about the prospect of this New World, so I wanted that to come out in my pattern. It’s therefore full of energy, contrast and colour.”

Kris Andrew Small

Finally, you can bring all of the elements of your self portrait – the photograph, typography and abstract pattern – together to compose your collage. Needless to say, you don’t need to go for just one iteration here and you definitely shouldn’t aim to get it right the first time. Try out different compositions and see what works best until you find one which best expresses your personality and identity.

KAS: When it comes to composition, I don’t have any rules. I do always like to fill the space though and make sure every part of the frame is full. You can almost treat all the elements like Tetris – you have them all and just keep arranging until they all fit and it looks balanced. Try not to work to a grid and use your eye to find the balance, these collages always work better when they are more organic and less structured.

I always make about three versions of a final outcome. If you get stuck, you can just start another. And when you get stuck on that, start another. Then you go back and work on the first one again, this way you feel a little freer as you can keep the movement of creativity going. Once you have all three in a good place, then you can make a decision on which one you think works the best. One way to do this is to make a composition and then group it in Photoshop, then turn that group off and start again, do that a few times and you’ll find your flow comes out a lot more naturally.

The collage I have chosen expresses how I think, in the New World, people will be a lot freer to express themselves and be themselves. They will be free to be whatever gender or race or sexuality they are without any inequality or judgement. So in that way, there is no fear to create or express themselves fully.

GalleryKris’ final collages expressing his New World identity.

GalleryKris’ final collages expressing his New World identity.

Kris will be keeping an eye out to see what you have produced and has shared some thoughts on what he hopes you might take away from this Guide.

KAS: I really hope people try to just be a little freer with their work. To try not to be too worried about referencing, grids or design rules and just allow themselves to be themselves and to create something super cool that they can be proud of, and that they feel represents them.

Whether your collage is loud and bright or introspective and calm, we want to see what you’ve created by completing this Guide. Make sure you share your work on social media, explaining the message of your collage. Use #CreativeNewWorld and #TodayAtApple, and also tag @krisandrewsmall.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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