Inspired by the artwork I’ve seen during my time here in China, I bring you the Cherry Blossom Tutorial!
Name your Layer
We’re going to name this layer “Blossom”—double click on the layer in your right toolbar to change the name.
Create the Basic Shape With an Ellipse
Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to make an oval.
Use the Selection Tool (A) to click on the bottom anchor point. Keeping the handles at their current angle, drag the ends of the handles closer to the anchor point. This will make the base of the oval narrower than the top.
Feel free to use the Selection Tool (A) to click on the left and right side anchor points and adjust their handles as well. Play with it until you have the rough shape you’re looking for.
Add A Gradient for Color
Cherry blossoms are often darkest in the center and lightest on the edges, with the colors shifting seamlessly. To achieve this look we’ll use a gradient color our petals.
Click on the basic shape we just created with the Direct Selection Tool (V). Go to your Gradient area on your toolbar (the right toolbar–same region as the Layers Panel). If it isn’t pinned to your toolbar you can find it in Window>Gradient.
Select “Radial” for the type of gradient, then select your colors. I used d4145a for my darkest color and ffeee3 for my lightest.
Right now this looks pretty awful. We need to play with the gradient and its placement to get the organic gradient we’re looking for. Click on the Gradient Tool (G) in your left toolbar. When you hover over the inner end of your gradient line, the white circle in the center should become black, and your cursor will resemble the Direct Selection Tool.
Click on the black circle your hover revealed and drag the entire gradient circle so that the dark center is just below the bottom of your petal.
There is a small white circle right next to the black circle you just grabbed. This circle allows you to change the “center” of your gradient—where one end of the gradient begins. Drag this to the bottom edge of your gradient circle—this will change the angle of your gradient line as well.
To enlarge the gradient circle to encompass the entire petal, grab the outlined black circle on the edge of your gradient’s dotted outline and drag it to your desired circumference. Make sure the gradient is positioned so that the darkest portion of the gradient is just below the bottom of the petal. (Pay no mind to the edges of the ellipse in this picture–we’re getting there).
Adjust the distribution of the gradient in the Gradient area of your right toolbar, or along the gradient slider created by your gradient tool, until you get the effect you’re looking for.
Wrinkle the Edges with the Warp Tool
Cherry blossom petals have a thin, almost flimsy edge. To capture this we’re going to use the Warp Tool (Shift+R).
Find the Warp Tool on your left toolbar—right click on the Width Tool and the Warp Tool will be nested inside. Double click on the Warp Tool icon to bring up the Settings. Adjust the width and height of the brush to get a somewhat small brush to work with—my brush is 30×30 pixels, but yours may be different depending on the size of your original ellipse.
Working from within your petal shape, click and drag your brush outward in small motions to make the edge of the petal take on that flimsy, floppy look.
Create a Blossom with the Rotation Tool
Once we’re happy with the look of our petal, we can rotate copies of the petal to make the blossom. Using the Direct Selection Tool (V) select your petal. Then click on the Rotation Tool (R)—this should turn your cursor into a crosshair-like selector. Hold Alt and click a little below the base of the petal. A turquoise cross-hair will appear where you clicked—you’ve just identified this as your rotation point.
When you used Alt+Click to define your rotation point, the Rotate Options Window should have automatically opened. Now for the rotation angle…thankfully, you don’t have to even spend a moment on math (not my strongest subject). For the angle, insert 360/5 (360 degrees divided by the 5 petals I’m going to have in my 360 degrees)—Illustrator will do the math for you. Hit “Copy”—this is very important and will save you time and effort.
To make the five petals we need, just hit Ctrl + D. Because you hit “Copy” and set your rotation point, each new petal will automatically radiate from the center of your blossom.
Lock the Petals in Place
Before moving on, we want to make sure that our petals don’t get moved or accidentally edited. Go to the Layers Panel and lock the petals in place.
Do this by expanding the drop-down layer details (which displays all the shapes in the layer) and clocking the box to the right of the eye icon. A lock should appear in the box you have clicked, letting you know that the petals are now locked and unable to be moved or edited.
Create the Center of the Blossom with Ellipses and the Pen Tool
Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to make an oval large enough to fill the empty space left in the center of our ring of petals. This is the darkest part on a cherry blossom, so I chose a dark pink: 631736.
Place this over the center of the blossom. Right click on the selected ellipse, then select Arrange>Send to Back.
To make the hair-like stamen in the center of the blossom, use the Pen Tool (P) or Pencil Tool (N) to draw a small curved line coming out of the center of the blossom. Set the stroke to 2pts and have the same stroke color as our previous ellipse.
Make a small ellipse with the same fill color as the center of our blossom. Place this on the top of your curved stroke. Select the curved line and ellipse and group them (Ctrl+G).
Now we’re going to rotate that stamen around the center of the blossom, just like we did with the petals before.
Select the grouped stamen with your Direct Selection Tool (V), open the Rotate Tool (R), and hold Alt as you click somewhere in the very center of your blossom. I clicked just off center, for a more organic feel. You have now defined your rotation point for the stamen. When the rotation dialogue box opens set the angle to 360/9 and hit “Copy”. Hit Ctrl + D to continue placing stamen around the center of the blossom.
Having exact duplicates of the same stamen looks flat and boring. Using the same steps as before, create another stamen, perhaps shorter or longer or smaller than the first, and rotate/copy another ring of stamen.
To make it look more natural, use the Direct Selection Tool (V) to grab a few of the stamen and move them around. Add variety by right clicking on a stamen and hitting Transform>Reflect to change the direction the stamen is leaning.
Our blossom is now complete! Now we’ll create some leaves.
Lock your “Blossom” layer (press the box beside the eye icon beside the layer name) and create a new layer for our leaves.
Make the General Shape with the Ellipse Tool
Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to make an oval.
Use the Convert Anchor Tool (Shift + C) and click on the anchors located at the top and bottom of the oval–these will become pointed, rather than rounded.
Using the Selection Tool (A), drag the topmost anchor upwards to make the tip of the leaf. Click on the left anchor, hold down Shift and select the right anchor as well. Drag these slightly downward, to give the oval a more leaf-like shape.
Leaves seldom look completely straight, so we’re going to give our leaf a slight curve. Use the Convert Anchor Tool (Shift + C) to click and drag on the top anchor. This is going to affect the line segments on either side of the anchor—don’t worry, we can fix this in a moment. Just focus on adjusting one side to curve slightly inward towards the tip.
Once you’re content, grab the anchor on the offending side and carefully—without changing the angle—drag it as close to the anchor as possible. That should bring the unruly line under control.
Add a Vein by Creating Two Segments
I’m trying to create the appearance of the vein down the center of the leaf, without actually drawing a line. I’ll do this by creating two separate segments with their own gradients.
Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a line that will split your leaf shape down this imaginary “vein line.” Turn the line into a shape that encompasses the entire half of the leaf.
Using the Direct Selection Tool (V) select both the new shape and your leaf shape. In the Pathfinder Panel select “Divide.” With the objects still selected, ungroup them using Shift + Ctrl + G. Delete the part of the shape that extends beyond your original leaf shape. You now have two halves to your leaf.
Add Depth with Gradients
Select the left half of your leaf using the Direct Selection Tool (V). Go to your Gradient Panel and select “Radial” for the type of gradient. Click on the Gradient Tool (G) and reposition the radial gradient so that the darkest region is at the bottom of your gradient circle, with the base of the circle just below the bottom right of the leaf.
Adjust the size of the gradient circle to include the entire leaf segment. Repeat these steps on the other half of the leaf, with the darkest region being just below the bottom left of the leaf.
Add Color to the Gradients
Select one of your leaf segments with you Direct Selection Tool (V), then go to your Gradient Panel. Select a green for each end of your gradient–I went with 004337 for my dark green and 46b540 for my light green. Repeat this for the other segment of leaf.
Play with the gradient sliders to make one segment of your leaf slightly darker than the other–this will add to the feeling of depth and emphasize that “vein line.”
Once you’re happy with your gradient shapes, angles and colors group your segments (Ctrl + G).
You now have cherry blossoms and leaves to use in your artwork and designs. I can’t wait to see what you make!