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It’s interesting how animal imagery permeates our lives in ways that we probably don’t even notice. As children, we learn to read the alphabet and count helped along by drawings of animals while our clothing has all kinds of prints featuring baby animals. The decor of childhood bedrooms is often centered around animals, and toddlers drift off to sleep to the tales of Winnie the Pooh and the Cat in the Hat.

For adults, the animal imagery decreases, and to some extent is replaced by animal patterns. Animal patterns, which imitate the coats of wild animals, appear on our clothing and accessories such as gloves and handbags, as well as on household textiles such as carpets, decorative pillows and sheets.

Not surprisingly, these patterns have made their way onto papers as well, both realistically and in a highly stylized way. Translating an animal’s markings leaves so much room for creativity. They lend themselves well to stark, graphic shapes or can be simplified yet realistic. They can float on a textured or modulated background, and are highly readable in almost any form.

In any paper store, you’ll find a large selection of sheets based on animal patterns. The big cats are popular. We’ll start with the tiger.

Leopards and cheetahs are well represented also. These papers are fun to work with because although they are often crisp and graphic, they seem to impart the warmth of animals.

Look how abstract they can get. This print is metallic gold, yet still reads as an animal pattern.

The next paper shows how a simple color switch can change the interpretation of a pattern. This print is probably derived from a cat and if it were printed in black on tan, might read as such. In black and white, however, it seems to belong to a  Dalmation puppy.

One of my favorite ways to use animal pattern papers is for making bookmarks. The graphic shapes often create a crisp counterpoint to more complex elements, as you can see on the bookmarks below. On the left is a stylized zebra print, in the center is a sliver of lizard skin overlapping the seashell, and on the right, a big splash of giraffe print sits incongruously above the carefully dressed maiden. The bookmarks are laminated, with the theme continuing on the other side as well.

An interesting question is why the coats of animals have patterns at all. For predators, the answer is mainly related to camouflage, but in the case of zebras, it may be so that predators have a more difficult time singling out an individual animal from the herd. A few zebra prints follow.

Even in another color, a zebra is a zebra.

This zebra pattern seems to have been caught in a windstorm.

Giraffe papers are a favorite.

If I were an alligator or crocodile, I’d rather stay in my swamp while someone imitates my beautiful skin with paper. The two colorful papers below are embossed. This means that they have actual dimension; the pattern is raised and printed in a shiny color, further lending the paper a realistic leather look.

The detail in some of these sheets is amazing. I think this is an imitation of shagreen, which is the skin of sharks and stingrays.

I love this embossed sheet of white on white.

Some animal print sheets are a mystery. What animal might this be? I don’t know, but it sure is furry.

I’m not sure about this one either; it’s probably cheetah. This lovely flowing pattern is a batik sheet, its shapes created using a lost wax method.

And to finish, a few more bookmarks, each using imitations of reptile skin.