How to create a water lily in Illustrator

05 Sep 2013

A while ago I posted a photo on Instagram of a water lily which sparked the idea of writing a tutorial on how to create this flower in Adobe© Illustrator. Hope you stick to the end, because this one is rather extensive…

The final result

Water lilies are beautiful flowers and ideal tutorial material. To get to the final result you'll do a lot of clever actions which mostly involve rotating and duplicating, and there is a lot of room for experimentation as well. For instance, you can try out different ways on how you build up the layers of petals, and play with different shades of pinkish gradients. This tutorial gives you the basic steps I followed, but while I was creating this flower I did actually way more than what I'm writing here. You see, every creation is never straightforward or perfect just right away. It takes some trial and error, because I also need to find the best explainable way.

Load the Water lily Swatches

To make it a bit easy for you each time you have to apply colors, and gradients, I have saved the swatches I've used into an Illustrator Swatch Library file. Download the Ai Swatch Library file. The easiest way to use an Ai Swatch Library file is simply by opening it as a regular Illustrator file via File > Open. You can still modify the settings of the document if you like such as dimensions or color settings etc. via File > Document Setup…. If you have already a document open and all set up then you can load it into your Illustrator document by going to the Swatches panel options menu, choose Open Swatch Library > Other Library…, and browse to the file Water-lily-Swatches.ai, select it and click the Open button. Then you select the swatches and drag them into the main Swatches panel of your document (Window > Swatches). Make sure the swatches are viewed into list view: go to the Swatches panel options menu again, and choose Small List View. This way you also see the name of the swatch.

the water lily Swatches Library

We'll start by building up the different layers of petals, level by level. Then we'll create the inner part of the flower, which I hope you don't mind me calling the core. At the very end I also explain briefly how I create the environment of the water and floating leafs. To help you with this part too, I have added all the colors and gradients I've used for this part as well into my Ai Swatch Library file.

Creation of the petals

Looking at the typical shape of a water lily's petal, I figured using the Ellipse tool would not give me the exact result I'm after. The petal has a rather pointy tip, so I thought of using a tool that I hardly ever use, the Arc tool. This tool is hidden under the Line tool in the Tools panel (hold down the mouse to reveal the hidden tools). First we'll set the right options in the Arc options window…

Create the first petal

Define the Arc tool options

To make sure you can preview things in the Arc options, click the Fill swatch in the Tools panel and select the Light Pink color swatch from the Swatches panel. We'll also need a vertical guide as we will create 1/4 of a petal, and then reflect this shape using the vertical guide as the axis. Drag a vertical guide from the Rulers somewhere towards the center of your document. If the Rulers aren't visible in your document, go to View > Rulers > Show Rulers, or hit Cmd/Ctrl + R.

Now double click the Arc tool in the tools panel. In the Arc options window that appears enter the value 40 px as Length X-Axis, and 70 px for Length Y-Axis, chose Closed type, Base Along Y Axis, 40 as Slope value. Then also check the Fill Arc option and click OK.

Create the Arc

With the Arc tool still selected, click precisely on the vertical guide. The Arc Window will appear showing the settings you've entered. Just click OK to create the arc object.

Copy reflect the Arc object around the vertical axis

With the arc object selected, select the Reflect tool from the Tools panel (hidden under the Rotate tool), and click precisely on the vertical guide while holding down the Alt/Option key. In the Reflect options window that appears, select Vertical Axis and click Copy.

Copy reflect the 2 Arc objects around the horizontal axis

Make sure both arc objects are selected, then select the Reflect tool again, and click precisely on the bottom line of the 2 objects while holding down the Alt/Option key to evoke the Reflect options window. This time select Horizontal Axis and click the Copy button.

Unite the 4 objects

Select the 4 arc objects, go to the Pathfinder panel, and choose Unite. This will unite the 4 shapes together into 1, and so now you have created 1 petal of the flower which is our most important base element of the flower. We will use and re-use this object multiple times during this tutorial. It's time to play and let those petals fly!

Creation of the middle level petals

Copy rotate the petal

First drag a horizontal guide from the Rulers somewhere towards the bottom of the petal. The intersection of both guides will serve as the center of the flower. The position of this point is crucial, so make sure it's properly positioned as shown in the image below.

Select the Rotate tool and click precisely on the guides' interestion point while holding down the Alt/Option key. In the Rotate options window that appear, enter the value 90° and hit the Copy button, to duplicate the object. Now repeat this transformation action twice by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + D two times (or go to Object > Transform Again twice).

Apply radial gradient

Select all objects and select the 'Radial Gradient Swatch' named 'Darker Radial Gradient'. The gradient is now applied to each petal separately, with the dark area in the center of the each petal. To change the position to the center of the flower, we need to re-apply this gradient, by selecting the Gradient tool and click dragging the mouse from the center of the flower towards the outside, or the end of a petal. I usually do that in a straight horizontal move, holding down the Shift key.

Copy rotate at 45°

With the object still selected, copy rotate the object, by first copying the object (Cmd/Ctrl + C), and pasting it in front by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + F (or by going to Edit > Paste in Front). With the Selection tool selected, go with the mouse towards a corner of the Bounding box until the rotate cursor appears. Hold down the mouse and slowly start rotating the object while also holding down the Shift key so that the rotation will jump to 45°. If it reaches the 45° degrees, first release the mouse, and then the shift key.

Apply new gradient

Select the swatch 'Light Radial Gradient 2' from the Swatches panel to apply this gradient to the new petals. If you like you can tweak some of the color swatches in the gradient by double clicking on the gradient stops (in the Gradient panel), or by sliding them to the left or right. While working on this I've tweaked them a little here and there, and decided to save the gradients I liked best. Feel free to play around by making them a bit more white or more pink etc.

Creation of the bottom level petals

From now on, it's best to keep things as organised as possible because we will be creating different levels of petals to build up the flower. Besides the flower's core and the stamen which are also in a separate layer each, I've worked with 5 different levels, putting each level in a separate layer:

  • top yellow petals (to be created in the last step)
  • yellow petals (to be created in the last step)
  • top petals (to be created in a later step)
  • middle petals
  • bottom petals (to be created in this step)
Create the first bottom level petals

Name the layer with the middle level petals that we've just created by double clicking the layer. I've called it 'middle petals'. Select the top most vertical petal, copy it and lock the 'middle petals' layer, by clicking in the column next to the eye icon of the layer in the Layers panel. A lock icon should appear. Create a new layer by clicking the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Paste the petal in the exact same place, by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V. Double click the layer and enter the name 'bottom petals'. With the layer still selected in the Layers panel drag the layer below the middle petals layer.

First we'll resize the petal a little bit, making it vertically taller. Select the Scale tool and click precisely in the intersection point of the 2 guides, in other words the center of the flower, while holding down the Option/Alt key to evoke the Scale window. Choose the Non-uniform option and enter 85% for Horizontal and 115% for Vertical. Check the Preview option to see how this will look, and click OK.

Apply gradient

Apply the 'Light Radial Gradient 2' by selecting the swatch from the Swatches panel, and by selecting the Gradient tool. Now drag vertically straight towards the top of the petal starting from the center of the flower, and by holding down the Shift key. To keep the petal light towards the end, stop somewhere 1/4 from the end.

Copy rotate at 45°

With the petal still selected, select the Rotate tool and click precisely in the guides' intersection point while holding down the Alt/Option key. In the Rotate options window that appears, enter the value 45° and hit the Copy button, to duplicate the object. Now repeat this transformation 6 times in a row by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + D 6 times.

Rotate at 27.5°

To create a bit of natural variation in the position of the different levels of petals, we'll rotate them at 27.5°. You can of course also choose another value. You could for instance keep the petals perfectly symmetrical and go for 22.5° instead, which is exactly 1/2 of 45°. This is totally up to you. Make sure all petals of this level are selected. Click precisely in the guides' intersection point again while holding down the Alt/Option key. In the Rotate options window enter the value 27.5° and hit the OK button.

Tweak gradient where needed

While creating these different levels of petals, you can always tweak the gradients of the petals at any time, making them a bit lighter or darker by sliding the gradient stops to the left or right, or by changing the color of the gradient color stops, by double clicking one of the stops of the gradient (in the Gradient panel). You can of course also plan this process at the very end too.

Copy rotate at 27.5°

Click precisely in the guides' intersection point again while holding down the Alt/Option key, and enter the value 27.5° in the Rotate options window. Hit the Copy button to copy this action. You can choose another value here if you like. If you go for a fully symmetrical style, maybe 22.5° is the value you are after. Apply a gradient that is light towards the end of the petals. Select one of the light radial swatches and tweak if needed.

Creation of the top level of petals

To finish off the petals of the flower, we need to add yet one more level of petals at the top. Select the 4 petals stacked at the top (first unlock the layer 'middle petals', by clicking the lock icon of the layer in the Layers panel), and put them in your copy memory by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + C. Lock both layers 'middle petals' and 'bottom petals', and create a new layer by clicking the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Give the layer a name by double clicking it. I've named mine 'top petals'. Now paste the petals into the exact same place by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V.

Rotate at 27.5°

With the petals still selected, select the Rotate tool and click precisely into the center point of the flower while holding down the Option/Alt key. Enter the value 27.5° and hit the OK button. Again, you can choose whatever value you think fits best. Just check the Preview so you can see what the result will be.

Apply radial gradient

Apply the radial gradient swatch named 'Light Radial Gradient 3'. This gradient is almost the same as 'Light Radial Gradient 2', but the lighter color is a bit tweaked (lighter) and the color stop has been moved a little to the left, to shorten the transition of the gradient and so also making the petal lighter from middle to the end. Again feel free to play around with the gradient color stops to create the color you like best.

Creation of the core & stamen

In the next step we'll be creating what I call, the core of the flower. To get started, lock the 3 layers. Create a new layer, and name it 'core' (or whatever you feel suits best).

Creation of the core

Draw a circle and apply gradient

Select the Ellipse tool and draw a circle from the center out, by holding down the Alt/Option + Shift key while dragging. Apply the radial gradient named 'Radial Core Gradient' from the Swatches panel.

Creation of the stamen

Create a filament by drawing a rounded rectangle

First lock the 'core' layer and create a new layer, and name it 'stamen'. Select the Rounded Rectangle tool and draw a vertical rounded rectangle as shown in the image above. Start at the top to the left of the vertical guide and drag diagonal to the bottom and the right of the vertical guide. While you drag you can modify the radius of the rounded corners using the up and down arrow keys.

Horizontal align center

To position the object perfectly in the center, select both the object and the core circle below it. Temporarily unlock the core layer to be able to select it. To select the 2nd object in a row you hold down the Shift key, now select the core circle again, but this time without holding down the shift key. You should see an extra thick selection line. This means that this will be the target object to align with, and so this object will stay into its position, only other objects will move if needed. Now select the Horizontal Align Center option from the Control bar at the top. If you don't see this bar go to Window > Control. After you have aligned the object, make sure to lock the 'core' layer again.

Apply linear gradient

Apply the 'Linear Gradient', and enter 90° in the angle field.

Scale down the bottom anchor points

Now we need to make the bottom part of the filament smaller. Select the Direct Selection tool (white arrow) and draw a selection over the 3 bottom anchor points. Select the Scale tool and click precisely into the top anchor point of the object. Make sure you see the scale arrow cursor first somewhere towards the bottom right of the object. Now start dragging from right to left to make the bottom part smaller (see image as example). It might also help to have Smart Guides turned on: go to View > Smart Guides (or hit Cmd/Ctrl + U to with them on/off).

Cut a slice to create the anther

Now we'll create the anther. Select the Knife tool which is hidden under the Eraser tool, hold down both the Shift and Alt/Option key and drag from left to right, crossing the object in a straight line at the very bottom (as shown in the image above). Now the object is cut into 2 parts, the filament and the anther. Select only the bottom part and apply the 'Soft Brown' color from the swatches panel.

Copy & paste in front and apply different colors

Copy the 2 object and paste them in front by hitting Cmd/Ctrl +F. Apply the 'Linear gradient 2' to the filament part, and make sure to enter 90° in the angle field. Give the anther part the 'Brown' color.

Scale down and rotate manually

In this step we need to position the 2nd stamen next to the first one, in a slightly rotated position, with the rotation from the center of the flower, but also in a slightly smaller size. We'll first scale the object down and then rotate it into the perfect position. First make sure you have the stamen properly selected. Go with your mouse to the top left corner of the bounding box until you see the resize arrows. Click and drag slightly towards the bottom right to make the object smaller. There is no need to keep the proportions exact, just make it slightly smaller (see image below).

With the object still selected, go with the mouse towards the top right corner of the bounding box until you see the rotate arrows cursor appear. Now click and drag a little bit to rotate the object only slightly. Another option here is to use the Rotate tool and rotate the object from the center of the flower. At this point I don't have any exact measurements to give you as it all depends on the size of both stamen. As you'll see in the next steps that follow (2nd image that follows), this might require a bit of trial and error until you get things right.

Copy rotate 20°

If you think you have both stamen aligned up nicely, select them both and Alt/Option click in the center point of the flower. In the Rotate window that appears, make sure you have the Preview option checked, and enter the value 20°. Click the Copy button to copy them.

Tweak until you get things right

If you end up with a result as shown in the image above, you need to undo your action (using the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + Z), and reposition the 2nd stamen. You have to make sure when you rotate the stamen, that they don't overlap each other. You might need to make both stamen a bit thinner or smaller, adjust the rotation angle or/and the position of the 2nd stamen. So this step might require some trial and error until you get things right. Another option is to go with another rotate value (for example 24°) and end up with fewer stamen (15 instead of 18, see the next step).

Transform again until you get a full circle of stamen

When you get a nice rotate position of all 4 stamen after you have hit the Copy button, repeat hitting Cmd/Ctrl + D to apply the transformation again and again, until a full circle is completed (as shown in the image above).

Creation of the core petals

Create the first layer of petals

Copy & paste a petal in place, and resize it

There is one final step we need to do to complete the flower and that's the creation of a layer of small yellow petals around the core of the flower. First create a new layer, and give it a name. At this stage I named the layer 'yellow petals'.

First unlock the 'middle petals' layer and select the vertical petal at the top. Copy the petal, lock back the 'middle petals', click the new 'yellow petals' layer, and paste the petal in the exact same place by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V. Apply the color named 'Soft Yellow for Petals'. Select the Scale tool, click the center of the flower and manually scale the petal down as shown in the image above.

Copy rotate at 60°

Select the Rotate tool and Alt/Option click in the center of the flower. In the Rotate window enter the value 60° and click the Copy button. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + D 4 times in a row to duplicate this transform action 4 times in a row to complete the circle of petals.

Create the 2nd layer of petals

Duplicate the layer of petals

We could use the same actions like before for this next step and choose to copy and paste the layer of petals in place in a new layer. However instead, we'll duplicate the petals directly onto a new layer, just as a matter of showing you another easy technique. First create the new layer on top of the current one and give it a name such as 'top yellow petals'. Now select the layer of petals by going to the Layers panel and click into the area to the right of the circle icon, located on the right side of the current layer. This selects, or better put targets, all selectable objects of the layer. A small colored square appears indicating selected art. This square wouldn't appear if this layer was empty, which makes this a handy check whenever you want to remove unnecessary empty layers, during or at the end of your process. Now we'll duplicate the selection onto the new layer by first holding down the Alt/Option key and click drag the colored square towards the new layer above (see image above).

Apply gradient

Lock the layer of yellow petals to make sure you don't accidentally modify them. Select the newly duplicated petals and apply the 'Radial Petals Gradient' swatch.

Copy rotate at 30°

Select the Rotate tool and click precisely into the center of the flower holding down the Alt/Option key. In the Rotate window that appears, enter the value 30° and click the Copy button.

Create some environment

That's it! The flower is now finished. All is left for you to do is adding a layer of water and leafs below, give the flower a subtle shadow etc. For the water I used a radial gradient, making sure the lighter blue surrounds the flower. To help you create this environment I've also added all the colors and gradients I've used to create this into the Ai Swatches Library that you can download.

the final result of the water lily placed in a natural environment

For the shape of the leafs I created a circle and a very sharp triangle on top, which I then subtracted to create this typical tiny gap. I used the Minus Front Pathfinder option to do this, but you could easily use the Shapebuilder tool as well and hold down the Alt/Option key to remove the triangle shape. Then it's a matter of duplicating, rotating and scaling the leafs and applying some different shades of green.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial to the end creating this flower, and maybe even learned a few things here and there. Keep experimenting and keep it fun! :)

Comments

  1. 1 Fiefie Huber 17 Sep 2013

    This is beautifully made. Thanks for sharing how to make this.

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