We’ve moved a long way beyond fridge magnet poetry. Asao Tokolo’s winning entry to the 2006 Japanesque Modern Collection was a set of karakusa-inspired magnetic tiles. These magnets stand out because their bold lines and curves interlock seamlessly, prompting user involvement in the creation of a vibrant composition. The borders of each tile are subverted by the cross-border flow of the overall design.
You can make your own interlocking tile patterns with just a grid and a bit of forethought. The secret is to be vigilant at your tiles’ borders.
Border Patrol: Edges
Tokolo’s magnetic tiles are each distinct landscapes of curves, but each tile’s border pixels are absolutely identical to every other tile’s border. If you took an Exacto knife and sliced off any edge of any tile, you’d see that the ten-unit border is simply nine one-unit alternating stripes of black and white, flanked by half-unit white stripes. This repeated border pattern ensures that all edges match all other edges without fuss.
Though the borders between Tokolo’s tiles disappear in a serpentine mass of curves, every single line in his magnetic tile design crosses the border at a 90 degree angle to the border. This means that within a tile, it’s okay for a line to travel directly across the tile’s border. It’s also okay for a curved line to meet the tile’s border, as long as the curve meets that border at a square angle. It is NOT okay for a diagonal line to meet the border.
With these principles in mind, draw your first interlocking tile. Using a sheet of gridded paper, map out a 20×20 square design space. On each edge, skip the first square and then lightly shade the border edge of the next two squares to remind you that this region should be black in your design. Skip the next two squares to indicate a white border area. Continue around the entire perimeter.
Now you have a visual reminder of the tile’s edge color, and the grid will help you make lines that cross the border at right angles. Time to design!
A simple approach for your first tile is to simply draw inward from the borders, creating a fill of curves and branches. Draw an aesthetically pleasing maze to link the four borders of your tile.
One of the reasons that Tokolo’s tiles are standouts is that his magnet set includes several subtle showstoppers–tiles that are built-in centers of interest within a larger composition of tiles. You’ll want a few of these, too. To make a few focal tiles, set up the borders, and then draw a bold pattern on the tile’s interior. Work outward to connect your composition to the proscribed tile edge patterns.
There are plenty of practical design uses for Tokolo’s technique. Use continuous-pattern tile for website fills, wrapping paper, or textile design. The subtle repetitive quality of these tiles makes them a natural choice for a large printmaking project. Or design your own magnetic tiles, and make every walk past the fridge like a trip to a museum.