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Create a Traditional Russian Khokhloma Ornament in Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, we are going to create a shiny pendant with a Khokhloma design—the famous traditional Russian ornament, which was widely used for pottery and furniture decoration. We'll be using simple yet spectacular effects, blends, and self-made brushes in Adobe Illustrator. Let's bring folk art to the masses!

1. Create the Pendant Base

Step 1

Let's start by making a New Document of 600 x 600px size, RGB Color Mode.


Step 2

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and put a square of 600 x 600px size above the artboard. Fill it with a gentle radial gradient from white in the middle to 10% black at the edges.


Step 3

Move on and make a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) of approximately 460 x 460 px size. Fill it with a radial gradient from burgundy in the middle to dark claret-red on the outer edge.


Step 4

Let's add a golden rim to our pendant. Select the circle and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Set the Offset value to 20 px and fill the new shape with linear gradient imitating the golden surface, as shown on the screenshot below.

Create another shape under the golden rim, making it a few pixels larger than the rim. Fill it with a darker golden gradient.


Step 5

Put a gentle shadow under the pendant by creating a flat ellipse and filling it with radial gradient from darker grey in the middle to white on the edges. Set the Blending Mode of the shadow to Multiply, so that the shape blends nicely with the background.


Step 6

Let's add some shiny details to the pendant. Duplicate the golden rim and move the upper copy down a bit. Select both copies and use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) to delete the unneeded elements (marked with green color on the screenshot).

Fill the new crescent shape with a linear gradient from light yellow to black and switch it to Screen mode.


The base for our pendant is ready. Let's move on to the fun part: the Khokhloma elements!


2. Form the Main Elements Using the Blend Tool

Khokhloma motifs are very simple, consisting of plain geometrical patterns and vivid floral elements of gold and red colors over a dark background.

Step 1

We'll start with the most primitive element: the chamomile. First of all, make a yellow circle, forming the center of our future flower.

Secondly, create a white circle on top of the first one, making it a bit smaller. Keeping the white circle selected, take the Rotate Tool (R) and click in the middle of the yellow circle, holding the Alt key. This way, you will rotate the selected object around the selected point and not about its own center. Release the mouse key and set the rotation Angle to 60 degrees in the pop-up options window. Click the Copy button to get a copy of your shape.

Finally, press Control-D several times to multiply the white circle.

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Step 2

Now let's make some shiny berries. Start by forming a dark-red circle. Put a smaller circle of the lighter red color above and move it up and to the left a bit. Select both circles and use the Blend Tool (W) or go to Object > Blend > Make. Set the Spacing in the Blend Options to Specified Steps, value equals 2.

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Step 3

Add some minor details to our berry: a couple of white spots to make it shine and a small sprig on the top. Use Pencil Tool (N) to form a sprig and edit its anchor points with the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) if needed.

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Step 4

Make a copy of our berry. Select the lighter red circle in the blend group with Direct Selection Tool (A) and change its color to beige. Color the dark-red circle to dark-yellow. The other circles will be recolored automatically.


Step 5

Move on and make the next element of our folk composition. Start by making a five-sided polygon (pentagon) with the Polygon Tool. Fill it with the dark-yellow color which we used for the berry in our previous step. Make an Offset Path and set the Offset value to -20 px in order to create a smaller polygon inside the first one. Fill it with light beige color and use the Blend Tool (W) to create the same color-blending effect as we did with the berries.

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Step 6

Now let's do some magic and turn the boring polygon into a cute flower! Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat. Move the slider to the Bloat side (value equals 70%). Voila! Now you have a cute flower.

Continue adding simple details to our flower: create a 40-pointed star with the Star Tool, fill it with brown color, and put it in the center of our flower. Finally, add two tiny circles above the star. Now it looks complete.


Step 7

We've reached the yummiest element of our ornament: the ripe red strawberry! Start by forming a dark-burgundy circle and move the upper anchor point down a bit in order to squash the upper part of the berry. Drag the lower anchor point down to extrude the bottom part and to create a more realistic look.

After you're satisfied with the form, add the same shape, but in a smaller size and lighter color, on the top of the first object. Use the Blend Tool (W) again to make our strawberry vivid and bright.

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Don't forget to add the distinctive feature of strawberries: a bunch of tiny yellow seeds all over the berry!


Step 8

Our strawberry also needs a cap on top of it. Create a 10-sided polygon and apply the Pucker & Bloat effect to it, setting the Bloat value to 19% in order to form the petals.


Step 9

Put the newly created shape above the strawberry and delete the unneeded part with the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) by holding the Alt key and clicking on the selected part. Make a nice smooth blend on the cap.

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3. Create Plain Leaves and Set Up Your Brushes for Stems and Sprouts

Step 1

Make the basic leaf shape from an ellipse by modifying the position of its upper and side anchor points.


Step 2

Take the Pencil Tool (N) and draw a freehand zig-zag shape with sharp corners. Use the Reflect Tool (O) to mirror the zig-zag shape over the vertical axis and put it on the other side of the leaf. Unite all of the shapes in the Pathfinder panel to turn them into a single object.

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Step 3

Use the Arc Tool (you can find it in the same folding menu together with the Line Segment Tool) to make a slightly arched line separating the leaf into two parts. Select both the line and the leaf, and click Divide in the Pathfinder panel to break the leaf apart. Make one side of our leaf slightly darker.

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Step 4

Let's add some highlights, making our leaf more detailed. Form several curved triangle shapes above the leaf, aligning the sharpest corner of the triangle with the outer points of the leaf. Select all of the triangle shapes and the basic leaf shape and use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) to cut off the unneeded parts (dark blue on the screenshot).

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Step 5

Fill the highlight with light beige color to add a smooth, golden texture to our elements.  Reflect the same highlights to the second side and edit them so that they fit the composition perfectly.

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Step 6

Let's form some simple shapes for the curly stems and create our own brush.

Make a circle and transform it into the extruded shape with a sharp corner on one side. Drag the created shape to the Brushes panel and form an Art Brush.

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Step 7

Leave all the options as default, except the Colorization Method. Set it to Hue Shift, so that you can change the color of the strokes anytime, without expanding your object.

As you may notice, I've rotated the shape 90 degrees. You may leave the shape in a horizontal position or rotate it, depending on the position of your hand when making strokes. Try both positions and decide which one is more convenient for you in the process of drawing.

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Step 8

Create another object by modifying an ellipse and forming sharp corners on both sides of it.

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Turn it into an Art Brush as well.


4. Render the Khokhloma Composition

We are on the final straight! All the elements are ready, and we can start rendering our unique Khokhloma ornament, inspired by the beauty of nature.

Step 1

Let's start by placing the major object: the berry. Make several copies of our strawberry and position it near the center of our pendant. Vary the size of each berry.


Step 2

Use the brush with sharp ends that we created in the previous part to form wavy stems under our berries, connecting them to each other. Put some tiny chamomiles above the berries.

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Step 3

Use another brush to make smooth strokes around the berries in a traditional Khokhloma style. Add a group of leaves.


Step 4

Start adding golden flowers to the bottom and the upper part of our pendant. Rotate them and change the size slightly to make the composition more versatile.


Step 5

Make a swirl using our sharp-ended brush. Add more strokes with the second brush, wrapping them around the swirl. Finally, place a group of red berries in the center of the swirl.


Step 6

Create a similar sprout on the other side of the pendant.


Step 7

Continue filling blank spaces with flowers and berries, where needed.  As you can see in the screenshots below, I put more chamomiles in the upper part of the pendant and filled the spaces around the golden flowers with golden berries to balance the composition.


Here is an example of how it should look, when you are satisfied with the quantity and the position of the elements.


Step 8

Just a few finishing strokes left! At this stage, we need to make our pendant shinier and glass-like.

For this purpose, form a mild crescent shape in the upper part of our pendant and position it according to the screenshot. Fill it with linear gradient from light-yellow on the top to black at the bottom, and switch the Blending Mode to Screen in order to add some transparency to it.


Step 9

The last but not the least detail will be a few gentle highlights on the edge of our pendant. Form three ellipses and fill them with radial gradient of the same light-yellow and black colors, switching to Screen mode to make them shine.


Your Masterpiece Is Finished!

In this tutorial, we've learned some simple tricks for using the Blend Tool (W) and created our own brushes for floral elements. I hope you've discovered some useful things in this tutorial and learnt how to create a traditional Russian ornament!


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