Textile Design Lab

Developing Ornamental Floral Patterns


Hello everyone, this is Chelsea, and today I’m going to be showing you my process for creating a highly detailed ornamental floral.

The inspiration for this tutorial came from a recent client request we got through Pattern Observer Studio. The client was looking for a large, intricate, and varied floral in a traditional style. We were provided with a pattern they liked for reference, which had a free-flowing layout and a limited tonal palette, and here you can see a snippet of the pattern I came up with. Today I’ll be using the same process to show you how I would create a floral in this style that would be ready to show a buyer.

So to start off, I drew a variety of detailed motifs by hand with my Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Pens. I kept telling myself to add more details and more ornamentation to push the design to the next level and add value in a pattern buyer’s eye. Here are the motifs in their original format, as photos I took with my phone. You could of course scan your motifs or use the Adobe Capture app if that is your preferred method for digitizing your motifs.

When I was drawing these I was looking at my reference image and trying to create motifs in a similar style without being too close to the original. If you have trouble with this process it can also be a good idea to surround yourself with several reference images at once so that you are finding inspiration in multiple sources. This decreases the chance that you’ll create something that is too similar to your reference.

Other things I thought about while drawing these motifs were trying to play with a bit of variation in line weight to add some interest, and creating motifs that went together somehow and would look cohesive when brought together in a single print. You can see I drew tapered shapes, dots, small lines, and other small ornamental details to try to unite the motifs and make sure they tied in together.

So, usually what I like to do first is to clean up my motifs by indexing them down to two colors. So to do this I go to Image > Mode > Indexed Color. 2 colors is already selected here but if not you can type in 2 to the Colors box. Now for maximum contrast I’m going to change this to black and white just so I can really see the details of what I’m doing. Image > Mode > Color Table, and then I can click on each of these squares to change the colors.

Now I’m ready to return to RGB color mode so I can work in layers and build my layout with each motif on its own layer. This is a nice way to set up a file for a buyer so that they have a file that is easy to adjust.

Next I’m going to delete my background white here with the magic wand tool, making sure contiguous is checked because I don’t want to delete the white within the shapes themselves. But first I need to unlock the background and to do that you just double click on the layer. Now I can click on the background with my magic wand tool and delete all of the extra white.

Now I’m going to use my lasso tool to select each motif and copy and paste them onto their own layer. When you’re doing this you’ll need to click back to the original layer each time in order to copy the next motif. Now that I’ve copied everything I can click back on my original layer and delete it, so I am left with each motif on its own layer which can be moved separately.

Next what I’m going to do is zoom in a bit and do a little bit of cleanup on each of my motifs, just to make sure everything looks really nice and polished. For instance, this motif had these bits crossed out in my original drawing because I didn’t like how it was looking, so I can just use my eraser tool to clean those up. I’ll switch between the eraser tool if I’m cleaning up edges, and the pencil tool if I need to fill in any areas of white or black in the motif. For both tools I like to turn on some smoothing and use the pressure sensitivity setting so that my Wacom pen feels more natural and flows better.

What I’m trying to do is make everything an open shape so that it will be easy to fill with the paint bucket tool later on. With these little stray white pixels in the black, instead of coloring them in manually which would take a long time, what you can do is, with contiguous checked, and using “add to selection” which is this little set of squares up here, you can click each of your white sections, then go to Select > Inverse, which will select the exact opposite of what you had selected, then uncheck contiguous and use “subtract from selection” (which is also the option key on a Mac) and then click your black and then your background. This will leave only the tiny white dots selected and you can go to Edit > Fill > Black and now you can see the white dots are gone.

We can do the same thing with any stray black dots. Let’s click all of our black sections with contiguous checked and using “add to selection.” Now we’ll go to Select > Inverse, uncheck contiguous and use the option key to subtract from selection, and then click our white and then our background. Now only stray black dots are selected and you can go to Edit > Fill > White to fill them in. I did notice we had one little stray bit over here so I’ll just erase that, and make sure this little guy is standing alone for coloring purposes later. Great!

Now here I am with all of my cleaned up motifs and we are going to move on to color. This part is super fun to play with and is often the part of the process that takes me the longest to make sure it feels right, but it’s worth it!

I pulled a color palette from WGSN and am going to use that to create a set of swatches I can use to color my motifs. To do this I’ll go to Window > Swatches, and then use my eyedropper tool which is hot key I to pick up a color. Click this plus sign to add each color to your swatches. I’m sticking to a mostly tonal palette as this was what the client requested, but I think a pop of this acidic yellow might be fun if used sparingly.

Okay, now that I have my palette set up I’m first going to add a colored background which helps me to see the motifs more distinctly than on the transparent background. So I’ll click on a new layer, drag it down to the bottom of my layers, and use my paint bucket tool which is hot key G to fill in the background.

Now I’m just going to play with color and use my paint bucket to fill in the different areas of my motifs! I do this process intuitively and really enjoy myself as it can be quite relaxing and almost like a coloring book! What I’m aiming for is a good balance of colors to start off with, and of course as motifs are moved around in the layout I may need to change colors later on to get them nicely distributed throughout the design.

So, as I did with the cleanup process, I’ll click on each motif layer and color them individually on their own layers.

Great! I’m happy with how these look so now I’m going to work on building my layout. As I work through this process, I will be duplicating motifs, flipping and rotating things, and changing scale in order to get that nice varied look that the client wants. Because my pattern is already color separated, I want to make sure when I use any of the Edit > Transform commands that I have Nearest Neighbor selected for the interpolation setting. This will keep my colors crisp and prevent pixelation. 

Okay great! So now I like this layout that I have, and I want to put the finishing touches on the design by adding a bit of interest to the background and tying the motifs together so they don’t feel so much like they are “floating.” You can see in my original design the motifs are grounded with these small swirls and some vines. Now remember, I don’t want to knock off this design, so I need to think of something else that can work in the background that isn’t too similar. I like the idea of pairing another classic pattern style with these ornate florals, so I decided to do a spin on ikat which I think will make for a nice subtle background texture and also help direct the eye through the free-flowing layout. I used the pencil tool and made a new layer just above the background layer. It’s just one motif repeated over and over again but because it’s disguised by the foreground motifs it doesn’t need to be very complicated. I’m using the Command/Option hotkeys together in order to duplicate the motif and place it throughout the design. This keeps all of the motifs on one layer rather than copy and paste which would create a new layer for each individual motif. So now I’ll just finish up this background.

And I think that looks good!

Of course there are a zillion ways you could create an ornate floral, and this is just a method I enjoy and thought would be fun to share. When creating an ornate floral don’t be afraid to mix in other motifs like paisleys, swirls, leaves, or ogee shapes like I have here. Look to oriental rugs, upholstery fabrics and vintage wallpaper for ideas about layout and how to combine motifs. Cabana magazine is one of my favorite resources for inspiration on this trend!

Ornate florals have become quite trendy these days and they’re not just for home decor anymore, but have crossed over into the apparel market as well. It’s easy to imagine this design on curtains or bedding or a rug, but look how pretty it would be on a blouse, too!

I look forward to seeing your take on ornamental florals on the forum. Thanks for watching!

March 9, 2020

18 Responses on Developing Ornamental Floral Patterns"

  1. bethania says:

    @chelsea love this tutorial. You are an amazing teacher! Thank you for another great one!!!

  2. renealynzee says:

    @chelsea thank you for the wonderful tutorial. What type of Wacom pad and pen do you use?

  3. Thank you, Chelsea ! So much fun to watch you work . I will use these ideas !

  4. Dora says:

    Thanks Chelsea, great tutorial and technique with indexing your drawing to 2 colors from the start!

  5. Thank you for another great tutorial, Chelsea @chelsea! I love seeing your process and every time learning something new!

  6. Marci says:

    Hi Chelsea, Just loved this tutorial and your process. I love this trend, and am a big fan of your style!
    One question I had, has to do with best practices for providing this to a client. Would you consider putting any of those layers into smart objects at any point during this process (I noted your thumbnails were placed as SOs.) How would you organize this for clients (maybe the colored layer tabs ? Or, any group folders, once the layout is set?

    • Hi Marci! I’m so glad you enjoyed the tutorial! These are great questions. Yes, if I were sending this to a client I would definitely clean up my layers panel rather than leaving a big long list of layers. Typically I like to group things into folders by motif type. But sometimes a client will ask us to get the file ready to go for production rather than doing that part in-house, and in that case I would save a layered copy just in case, but then send them an indexed file (in repeat) and with color tabs on a separate layer. This is what most of our clients in the past have needed to send to their factory for printing. If I’m honest I never really use Smart Objects even though I totally understand the value of this practice and I know Sherry would shake her head at me, haha! But I just never got into the habit of using them and it hasn’t come back to bite me (yet!) 😉 The thumbnails were smart objects because I dragged them into the Photoshop file rather than opening them as separate PS files and then pasting them in, and when you do it that way that is just how Photoshop automatically prepares them. Does this help at all? Everyone does things differently so don’t feel like you have to do it my way if you have a process that works better for you! 😀

  7. Great video. My question is: is this a repeat? How will you adjust the design so it has a seamless repeat?

  8. Dora says:

    Hi @Chelsea,
    I had a question about the paint brush tool. I notice when I use it to fill a space, I end up with a white halo and it doesn’t seem to fill the entire space. I played with the tolerance, but no change. Any suggestions?
    Thank you!

  9. Dora says:

    Hi @Chelsea,
    I am not making a selection, only using the paint bucket to add color to a space. I tried varying the tolerance from 1-255. Also tried with anti aliasing checked and not checked, with pretty much the same result. I know I can work around it, by making a selection and then expanding that, but it seemed to work so nicely for you.. If I remember correctly, @prancingpixel, was not that keen on the paint bucket tool. Not sure what I’m doing wrong. Or maybe it’s the way I created the art, was different than how you created it? I don’t even remember if I scanned it in or did it in Procreate. ; )

  10. Dora says:

    @Chelsea and @prancingpixel, I think it’s because Chelsea Indexed down to 2 colors, so when using the paint bucket tool, it had not problem filling in the white space. I’ll try the indexing!

    And I see in my question above, I called it a “paint brush tool”, instead of a “paint bucket tool”. Sorry for the confusion.

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