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Design

How to Create a Tribal African Inspired Pattern in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:AdvancedLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial we will create a simple yet beautiful circular African pattern in Adobe Illustrator. We'll use basic shapes to create various spiritual symbols such as the ankh cross and cowrie shells. Then we'll combine them into a neat composition, forming a seamless pattern that will fit perfectly as a wallpaper, prints, on a shirt, or any other things you would like to use this for. Let’s get started!

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1. How to Set Up the Artboard

Create a new 600 px by 600 px document in Illustrator with the given settings:

Setting up the canvas

2. How to Create the Base Circular Shapes

Step 1

Activate the Pen Tool (P), fill the first shape with black #000000, and draw a circular shape on the left corner as shown below.

Drawing the first layer

Step 2

Next, activate the Pen Tool (P), fill it with yellow #dc942e, and draw another layer as shown below. Then, Right-Click > Arrange > Send to Back.

Adding another layer

Step 3

We want to add more layers. Activate the Pen Tool (P), fill it with red #c8282f, and draw another layer as shown below. Leave a bit of white space.

Adding a red layer

Step 4

We want to add more layers, so select the Pen Tool (P), fill it with black #000000, and add another layer as shown below.

Adding a black layer

Step 5

Next, use the Pen Tool (P), and fill it with red #c8282f. Then, draw another layer and fill it with yellow #dc942e.

Adding two extra layers

Step 6

Now, use the Pen Tool (P), fill it with dark magenta #691125, and then draw another layer and fill it with yellow #dc942e as shown below. Next, activate the Pen Tool (P), fill with red #c8282f, and then draw a wavy shape under the yellow shape. Select the shape, and add a 4 pt black stroke.

Adding four more layers to the pattern

Step 7

Next, we want to add four more layers. Select the Pen Tool (P). Fill the first layer with yellow #dc942e, the second layer in black #000000, the next layer in red #c8282f, and the last one in black #000000, as shown below.

Adding 4 extra layers

Step 8

Next, we want to add four more layers. Select the Pen Tool (P) and fill the first layer with red #c8282f, the second layer in black #000000, the next layer in yellow #dc942e, and the last one in red #c8282f, as shown below.

Adding 4 more layers

Step 9

Now we want to add the final layers of the base. Activate the Pen Tool (P), and fill the first layer with black #000000 and the last layer with dark turquoise #065a5e.

Adding the final layers of the base

3. How to Add Elements Inside the Circular Shapes

Step 1

Let's start adding elements inside each circular shape, from the top. Activate the Pen Tool (P), fill it with dark turquoise #065a5e, and draw the shape shown below. Next, duplicate the shape to fill the space. Select the shape, hold down the Alt key, and drag the shape on the artboard. Then press Control-D to duplicate it.

Adding shapes inside the third black layer

Step 2

Next, we want to add circles inside the new shapes that we have just created. Activate the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with yellow #dc942e, and draw small circles inside each turquoise object as shown below.

Adding circles

Step 3

Now, we want to add more depth in the layer. Select the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with black #000000, and draw a small circle inside each yellow circle as shown below.

Adding black circles inside the yellow ones

Step 4

Now let's move on to the next layer. Activate the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with black #000000, and draw a stretched circle between each space as shown below.

Adding circles on the next layer

Step 5

Next, let's add more objects on the next layer. Activate the Rectangle Tool (M), fill it with black #000000, and drag four small rectangles on the red layer as shown below.

Adding rectangles inside the red layer

Step 6

Now, we want to add more depth on this layer also. Activate the Rectangle Tool (M). Fill the first rectangle with yellow #dc942e and place it inside the first black rectangle. Next, duplicate the yellow rectangle, hold down Alt on the keyboard, and drag it onto the second black rectangle, changing the color to dark turquoise #065a5e. Next, duplicate each colored rectangle and place them as shown below.

Adding more elements on the red layer

Step 7

Next, we want to add circles on the next layer. Activate the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with yellow #de9b3f, and fill the space with circles as shown below. Duplicate the first one by pressing Alt on the keyboard, and then press Control-D to duplicate more circles. 

Adding circles on the black layer

Step 8

Now, we want to add more elements on this layer. Select the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with dark turquoise #065a5e, and draw a circle inside each yellow circle as shown below.

Adding more circles

Step 9

Next, we want to add more circles on this layer. Activate the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with white #ffffff, and then fill the space with small circles as shown below. 

adding more circles

4. How to Create the Ankh Cross

Step 1

Activate the Pen Tool (P), change the stroke to white #ffffff, and draw a water drop outline.

Base of the Ankh cross

Step 2

Next, activate the Pen Tool (P), and draw the outer layer to finish the cross as shown below.

Finish the cross

Step 3

Now we want to change the color of the ankh before adding it on the next layer. Activate the Selection Tool (V), select the first shape, and fill it in black #000000. Select the outer shape and fill it in white #ffffff, and then Right-Click > Arrange > Send to Back.

Changing the color of the cross

5. How to Add the Ankh Cross & Other Elements

Step 1

Now we want to add the cross on the black layer. Drag the cross on the layer, activate the Selection Tool (V), and resize the cross, holding Shift while resizing. Then, hold down Alt to duplicate the object and fill the space as shown below.

Adding the Ankh cross

Step 2

Next, we want to add elements on the next layer. Activate the Pen Tool (P), no filling, and change the stroke color to white #ffffff and the stroke size to 3 pt. Then draw three vertical lines and press Control-G to group them. Then, draw four horizontal lines and press Control-G to group them. Next, duplicate each grouped object by holding down Alt on the keyboard, and fill the space as shown below.

6. How to Duplicate the Design to Fill the Artboard

Step 1

Now that we have finished drawing all elements, we want to duplicate the same design on the other side of the artboard to finalize the pattern. Activate the Selection Tool (V), select all elements, and press Control-G to group them. Next, press Alt on the keyboard and drag the duplicated shape to the empty side of the artboard. 

Step 2

Next, select the duplicated design, and Right-Click > Transform > Rotate. Change the Angle to 180 and click OK.

Step 3

Now that we've rotated our design, we want to change the turquoise color to red and the red color to turquoise to bring a bit more contrast. Activate the Direction Selection Tool (A), click on the turquoise layer, and use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to sample the red color from any red layers. Use the same technique to change the red layer. 

Changing colors of the duplicated design

Step 4

Next, activate the Pen Tool (P), change the stroke to black #000000, and draw a line at the border of the turquoise and red layer as shown below.

Adding the black layers to break down the design

7. How to Add More Objects to Fill the Remaining Space

Step 1

Activate the Selection Tool (V), select one grouped design, and hold down Alt to duplicate it. Then resize it and place it in the bottom left corner. Then, activate the Direction Selection Tool (A) and click on each turquoise area, changing the color to yellow and the last layer to black as shown below. Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to sample colors.

Adding more designs on the artboard

Step 2

Next, duplicate the designs from the bottom left corner to the top right corner. Select the design, press Alt, and drag it to the top right corner. Then, Right-Click > Transform > Rotate. Change the Angle to 180 and click OK.

Duplicating the designs at the top right corner

Step 3

We want to fill the white space. First activate the Pen Tool (P), fill it with yellow #dc942e, and draw over the left white space. Then Right-Click > Arrange > Send to Back. Next, use the Pen Tool (P), fill it with red #c8282f, and draw over the right white space. Then Right-Click > Arrange > Send to Back.

Adding colors on the white background

Step 4

Activate the Pen Tool (P), fill it with black #000000, and draw some layers on the shapes we've created previously as shown below.

Adding black layers on the colored shapes

8. How to Draw the Cowrie Shell

Step 1

Activate the Pen Tool (P), and draw half of the shell as shown below. Start from the top. Don't worry—it doesn't have to be perfect. 

Drawing the cowrie shell

Step 2

Continue drawing the shape as shown below, and close the path at the starting point. 

Finishing the cowrie shell

Step 3

Now that we've finished drawing our shell, select it and change the color to white #ffffff.

Filling the color in white

Step 4

Next, we want to add the shell on the two black layers in the middle. Select the cowrie shell, resize it while holding Shift, and duplicate the shells to fill both black layers as shown below. Press Alt, and drag the shell to duplicate it as many times as needed.

Adding the cowrie shells

Step 5

Now that we've added the cowrie shells, we want to add circles on the empty black layers under the triangle created previously. Activate the Ellipse Tool (L), fill it with white #ffffff, and draw circles as shown below.

Adding more circles on the black layers

9. How to Make a Seamless Pattern

Step 1

Here is the fun part!. We want to make the pattern seamless, but first we want to get rid of any objects hanging off the canvas. Select the Rectangle Tool (M), fill it in any color, and then drag it on the artboard. Next, select everything on the artboard, and Right-Click > Make Clipping Mask.

Making a clipping mask
End result of clipping mask

Step 2

Now, we want to create a seamless pattern. Select the pattern, and go to Object > Pattern > Make. Change the Width and Height to 600 px.

Showing how to create a seamless pattern

Congratulations! Our Circular African Pattern Is Finished!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tutorial and discovered some useful things! Keep creating!

Final Pattern
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