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Create a One Stroke Tropical Flower Using Adobe Illustrator CS6

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Read Time: 10 min

In today's tutorial I'm going to show you how to create "one stroke" flowers, inspired by a nail art process. It's aimed specifically at beginners and is great at showing some awesome effects with the new Adobe Illustrator CS6 gradient on stroke feature.


Recently, I've been following a friend's journey into creating nail art designs... such a delicate art form in such a tiny space. What grabbed me was a technique called "one stroke flowers", which is where you use two nail polish colors on a brush to produce a gradient effect for a petal.

I was curious to how this was done so I ended up checking out videos on YouTube. If you're like me, you'd recognize that this process can be duplicated in vector, especially with the new feature gradient on stroke in Illustrator's CS6. So let's get creating!

Step 1

Start with drawing an even circle using the Ellipse Tool (L). You can do this in two different ways. Click once on the canvas to get the below dialogue box and enter in the Width and Height values shown. Now hold Alt + Shift while drawing your circle. Both will produce even circles.

Step 2

Within the Stroke panel, change the Weight to 60pt and you'll get the donut-like shape shown below.

Towards the bottom of the panel, I'm going to use a Profile. Specifically I'm going to use "Width Profile 1". The reason I'm going with this profile is to give the impression of simulated pressure on the stroke.

Step 3

Now to rotate the circle so the thinnest part of the stroke is at the bottom. Select the circle and go to Object > Transform > Rotate and enter in the value 270 degrees, then click on OK.

Step 4

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), I'm going to move the top and bottom points of the circle to produce a flat bottom-teared drop shape. First click on the top point and then either using your arrow keys, nudge upwards or use your mouse/pen stylus to pull upwards. You'll want to keep the point still horizontally central; so if you're using the mouse/pen stylus method, hold Command while pulling upwards.

Repeat the process for the bottom point, select it first and then move it upwards slightly.

Step 5

I'm going to use the Free Transform Tool (E) to first reduce the width of the shape. Even though it's not required because it's a symmetrical shape, if you wanted to reduce the width only of a shape evenly on each side, hold down on Alt and pull inward one of the middle points of the boundary box.

After I did that, I decreased the overall shape to produce a petal shape. You can do this evenly by holding Alt + Shift and pulling one of the corners inwards.

Step 6

Now you have your petal shape, go into the Swatch panel and select one of the default gradients to be applied to the Stroke. I went for the yellow the red linear gradient. Within the Gradient panel, select the Stroke option "Apply gradient across stroke".

Step 7

Of course, with the flower I'm wanting to create, I'm not wanting to use all of these shades. Now it's time to modify the colors in the gradient. In the Gradient panel you'll have a visual representation of the transition of colors from one to another. You can modify the appearance of a gradient by moving the Gradient Sliders around. In this example, I've moved all the Sliders to the left to give a yellow tip to the petal.

Step 8

I don't actually want to use the red and I want to use a more tropical looking magenta pink, so I'm going to drag and drop the magenta pink (C=0, M=95, Y=20, K=0) from the Swatch panel over onto the red Gradient Slider.

If you want to add new colors without changing an existing color as I've just done, you can just drag and drop colors into the gradient in any available space. Below I've added a magenta pink/purple shade (C=35, M=100, Y=35, K=10) and then two purples (C=75, M=100, Y=0, K=0).

Step 9

There are other ways you can modify the color of an existing Gradient Slider. In this case, I want to darken the purple on the far right of the gradient. Double-click on the Gradient Slider you wish to alter and you'll get a Color panel. I've increased the value of "K" to 80 to add more black to the color. Just hit Enter once you're done.

I then moved the bottom Gradient Sliders around to make the dark purple look more like a vein in the petal.

Step 10

There are other things you can do in the Gradient panel, such as reducing the Opacity of Gradient Sliders. What this does is it produces a transparent gradient. Although we're not using those in this tutorial, you can find out more and try them out in this Illustrator bug tutorial.

If you're wanting more space to add colors or modify a gradient, you can increase the size of the panel by pulling the bottom right corner. If you're wanting to remove colors from the gradient, click on the Gradient Slider along the bottom you wish to move and click on the trash icon or "Delete Stop".

I've removed several colors from our gradient using Delete Stop, which you can see below:

Step 11

Now we have our basic petal shape and color scheme, I'm going to use the Transform effect to duplicate our petal. This way I don't need to go through the process of Copy and Pasting and then moving the petal into place.

Go into the Appearance panel. While your petal is selected, click on Stroke to highlight it as we're wanting to apply our effect to the stroke only. Along the bottom of the panel is an "fx" icon or "Add New Effect". Click on this and go to Distort & Transform > Transform.

You'll get a Transform Effect dialogue box as shown below. I'm going to create a flower with six petals, similar to a clematis. As there are 360 degrees in a circle, I'll want the 6 petals to be evenly spread around the circle. Therefore 360 divided by 6 will equal 60 degrees between each petal. This means the Rotate Angle will need to be set to 60 degrees.

In the Options box, I'm going to want to rotate the petal from the middle bottom of the petal. So in the boundary box icon, select the middle bottom point. As for the Copies, enter in the value "5"... I'll explain why in a moment. Click on OK when done.

Although we're wanting six petals for our flower, we already have one petal created and that's our original petal. Therefore we'll need to duplicate the petal another five times. This explains why in the Copies field, you'll always need to enter in one less of the items you want displayed. Also worth noting that a positive angle value will duplicate your petals in an anti-clockwise fashion, whereas a negative angle value will duplicate your petals in a clockwise fashion.

Step 12

Now to begin work on the leaves. I'm going to use a similar method as I did with the petals by modifying a circle drawn with the Ellipse Tool (L). This time it won't have a flat bottom. I'll just be using the Direct Selection Tool (A) to pull the top point upwards.

I'm again using a Gradient on stroke, however it will be a 40pt Stroke Weight. It will still use Width Profile 1.

In the Appearance panel, I'm going to apply a different effect to the Stroke. Select the Stroke as before and go into Add New Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag with the settings shown below:

Step 13

Now we have our basic leaf shape, I'm going to alter the gradient within the Gradient panel. I've kept the yellow at the left and then added three greens: Light Green (C=50, M=0, Y=100, K=0), Medium Green (C=85, M=10, Y=100, K=10) and Emerald Green (C=90, M=30, Y=95, K=30). If you noticed in the previous step, the dark purple distorted in the center of the leaf, so I've moved the Emerald Green Gradient Slider to hide the distortion there.

Step 14

If you look at the flower and the leaf, you'll notice we have a bit of a gap in the center. So I'm going to get around this by drawing a Dark Purple filled circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) behind the flower and draw an Emerald Green shape with the Pen Tool (P) behind the leaf.

Step 15

I'm going to add a central vein to the leaf by using the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a vertical line. Hold down on Shift and click-drag down or up to draw a perfectly vertical line. This line will have a 6pt Stroke Weight and I've applied the Width Profile 5 to it. If the larger end is not towards the bottom, you can always change this by clicking on the Flip Along button to the right of the Profile drop down menu.

I've then applied our leaf gradient to the stroke and modified the Gradient Sliders to give a more even distributed gradient.

Step 16

Time to organise our shapes. First, I Grouped together all the shapes for the leaf (Command + G) and then for the flower. I moved the leaf group below the flower group. It's always good practice to organize your shapes and layers. If you'd like to read up on this more, you can check out this tutorial on organizing and saving a vector file - very useful!

Step 17

I'm now going to make some changes to the leaf group. By selecting the group, anything you apply to it (effects, etc...) will affect the whole group. It will treat all the elements within the group as one entity.

I'm going to be using the Transform effect, we did with the petals; yet, I want the leaves to appear in between each petal. So I'm going to rotate the leaf group by 30 degrees as it is halfway between the petals, which are at 60 degree intervals. Select the leaf group and go to Object > Transform > Rotate and then enter in the value 30 and then click OK.

Step 18

I moved the leaf group now into position with the bottom right tip of the vein on the bottom middle tip of the original petal. Now go into the Appearance panel, you'll notice it looks slightly different to the individual object options. You can still, however, go to Add New Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform.

In the Transform Effect dialog box, I want the leaves at 60 degree intervals and again, I just need 5 copies. This time, I'm going to select the bottom right corner of the boundary box in the Options section, as it's going to rotate from the bottom of the vein. Click on OK once done.

You'll notice in the Appearance panel that you'll now have your Transform effect listed, which is applied to all contents within the group - as if it was one entity.

Step 19

To finish off our tropical looking flower, I'm going to add some stigma by drawing several even circles with the Ellipse Tool (L) and give it the yellow to red gradient fill. Now this gradient was originally a linear gradient, yet you alter this simply by clicking on the Type drop down box and selecting Radial.


Today's tutorial is a beginners one aimed at those who wish to learn some basic tricks and to introduce just a couple of possibilities with the new Adobe Illustrator CS6 feature Gradient on Stroke. Why not try out different values in the Rotate/Angle and Copies options within the Transform effect dialog box to create different styles of flowers?

I have discovered since playing with this feature, that many strokes with complex gradients can be pretty memory hungry. In fact, the file size for this flower a bit over 22mb - eek!

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