Brushes at work: snapdragons, daisies and leaves.


It’s springtime and with it, flowers are in bloom everywhere – including in my designs. For past illustrations, I’ve made custom brushes in Illustrator to make repetitive designs easier: tulip brushes to create a field of tulips, blueberry brushes to create a mountain full of blueberry bushes, leafy brushes to create a backdrop of trees, etc.

The floral designs I wanted to create this spring required something not quite so simplistic in design as the bushes in the picture below; not exactly photo-realistic — still illustrations — but not strictly cartoonish either. I thought it would be fun to create a set of floral brushes to design with. I learned a few things along the way, some more “do’s” and “don’ts”, and places where choices need to be made, trade-off’s evaluated. I’m going to talk what works for me in this post.

Brushes used for the blueberry bushes, trees and texture on the hills.
Brushes used for the blueberry bushes, trees and texture on the hills.

Creating an image for the brush

To begin, I create a simple flower form using flat, solid colors — no gradients, no gradient mesh, and some types of transparency: the brushes panel doesn’t like any of those.  (There are workarounds & options to discuss later.)




Here I’ve drawn a simple cosmos flower and a leaf form using flat shapes. The lines on the petals and the veins in the leaves were drawn as strokes and then expanded so they become flat shapes as well.

  • Make sure your flower image is straight up and down – no curves. Bends in the stem and leaves are created by the arc of the brushstroke when using your new brush.

Everything is grouped together. I can now take my grouped image and drag it into the brushes panel.

  • If your brushes panel is not open in your workspace, you can go to Window > Brushes from the top menu, and the brushes palette will open.

Setting up the brush

When you drag your flower image into the brushes panel, a dialog box will pop up.Box1

Select “Art Brush”, then click “OK”.

If you have any elements that the brushes panel can’t process, such as gradients, strokes or transparencies, you’ll get a generic warning that something is wrong with your image. (If that happens, select the entire image and try Object > Expand or Object > Expand Appearance, then drag into the brushes panel again.)

If the image passes muster with the brushes panel requirements, a second dialog box will pop up.



At the top of the second dialog box, give your brush a name. I named this one “Cosmos.”

From Brush Scale Options choose “Scale Proportionately” so that your flower doesn’t get distorted by the length of the brush stroke.

For Direction, choose the arrow pointing from top to bottom. For flowers, this is the most natural direction to brush. (For leaves, I generally stroke from the bottom to the top — outward from the stem of the flower or from the vase.)

For Colorization Method choose “None.” Ignore the Options choices.

When you click “OK” your flower brush will show up in your brushes panel and is ready to use.


Repeat the process of dragging the artwork into the brushes panel for the leaf form using all the same settings.

Now you have both the flower and the leaf in your brushes panel and you’re ready to brush a field of Cosmos flowers like I have done below. In the next post, Using Gradients in Illustrator Brushes, I’ll add some detail to the flowers, and create a “new and improved” cosmos brush from them.