Tesselations bring order to a confusing world
A tesselation is nothing more than a pattern of interlocking shapes, with no spaces in between them. They are one of life's great visual mysteries -- a way that the world orders itself, not just in a myriad of man-made creations, but also the natural world.
As part of my children's book-making journey, I wanted to explore the ways some tesselations can be found in nature. So I've started putting together a learning page on tesselations where you can explore some images of tesselations, both natural and man-made.
But tesselations also feel deeply personal to me. My affection for them goes a lot farther than just seeing them as something cool to look at.
A history of pattern-making
I made my first tesselation in a fourth grade gifted class. To be honest, it wasn't that great. It was a series of interlocking images of a seal poking its head in and out of the waves. I was trying to recreate it the other day.
It looked something like this.
It doesn't look like much by itself. Maybe some kind of pacifist Chinese star that wouldn't stick in anything you threw it at.
But when you tesselate it out -- put the pattern next to each other in a repeated pattern, it becomes something else: A sea of seals.
Ok, this might not win any tesselation awards. But! Even in this rudimentary form, you can see what kind of fun tesselations can provide. They create groups out of individuals, they allow you to see single things or objects or shapes as part of a fascinating whole, an unending series of individuality becoming a collective force.
Visually, they never stop engaging. In other words, tesselations can help you feel a visual peace in a world that often provides chaos. They are calming, in the way that all patterns are calming.
Tesselations in my book Tessalalation!
I had several goals in writing my children's book Tessalation! For one, I wanted to capture the feeling of what it was like to first discover that thrill of interlocking patterns. The first words of my book are a testament to that:
"Tiny Tessa Truman-Ling
finds patterns in the strangest things!"
In the first pages of my book, Tessa is at home with her mother, where she is surrounded by patterns -- in the curtains, on the tables. Her home is filled with patterns.
But I also wanted to make the connection between patterns in man-made environments and patterns out in nature. So I sent Tessa outside, where she becomes enveloped in the patterns of nature and finds herself a place in those patterns.
My hope is that small readers will find several entry points into the book -- through the words, yes, but also in the images, where they can look for Tessa and imagine how they might also fit as a piece in a whole.
After all, isn't that what we all yearn to be? A piece of a whole, our individuality intact?
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Emily Grosvenor, author of Tessalation!, a children's book about tesselations and patterns in nature.