Drawing Flowers and Leaves

Drawing flowers and leaves can be challenging at times.  There are so many different variations that can be adapted and designed to fit the particular look that you are looking for within a pattern.  It is very easy to get in the habit of using the same flower and leaf combination in all of your designs, especially if they work well and you can draw them quickly.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with using only a few different combinations of these elements in the majority of your designs and this usually will lead an artist to develop his particular style.  The thing that I want to challenge you to do is to work on at least stretching your skill set in designing some new ones from time to time.

In this article I will show you my process for brainstorming new designs and how I use the process within my pattern layouts.  Designing a new flower and leaf combination can lead you to discover a completely new style within your work.  This is also a great way to rediscover some of those older ideas you had and make them work a little better now.

What are Primary Elements?

Unless you are incorporating a brand, initials or a figure drawing into a layout, the primary elements are simply the flowers and leaves within the pattern.  


I am guilty of using my favorite leaf and flower set as much as anyone else.  I usually look up one day and realize that I have been using the same elements in the majority of my patterns for a couple years without much variation.  This is usually the point when I go back to the drawing board and work on designing a new flower or leaf.  This is a good practice so that you can always be contributing to your skill set as a designer.  Out of 50 – 100 new flowers that I draw, maybe one or two of them will get tooled into a project.  And of these, one of them may become my new favorite flower.

It seems to be a constant battle as a designer to attempt to keep your designs fresh and cutting edge.  Don’t stress too much about it if you have a set of elements that work best in selling your pieces.  Customers become interested in your work partly because of those elements and those are usually the patterns they have seen and the patterns they request.  This is a good thing.  Give the people what they want… but always be working to introduce them to some of your newest work as well.

Where to Brainstorm

When I am designing a new flower I will almost always do this on paper in my sketchbook.  I suggest that you start a sketchbook just for primary elements.  This will be a great place for you to have the freedom to design new ideas.  This is also a great way to preserve all those ideas (both good and bad) that come to you throughout your career.

I started out with random sketches of flowers between many different sketchbooks and there was no organization about it.  Now years later I will still run across an interesting idea on a flower concept in a random sketchbook.

I have recently started a sketchbook for just this kind of work and that way I know where they are and can refer back to them whenever I need new inspiration for a piece.

Many times you will design a few flowers based on something you have seen and they just don’t work out the way you thought they would.  Then a month, year or a few years later, you will be perusing through the sketchbook and will run across these drawings and something will jump out at you.  All of a sudden you will see something different in them and find a way to make the design work.  This is a great way to insure that your vision for those elements is not lost.


So we have our sketchbook specifically for primary element design work.  How do we start drawing our elements?

Drawing Flowers and Leaves

I will show you how I start a flower concept here, but what this boils down to is just putting lead or ink on paper and seeing what happens.  This is why the sketchbook is so important… for any of your practice sessions in design work.  You need to be free from trying to make a perfect drawing.  You should be making as many marks on the paper as possible until the image in your mind is on the paper.

Many new artists believe that they should draw very deliberately and make only marks on the paper that will be a part of whatever they are drawing.  This is just simply not the case for artists in any art form.  The majority of artists draw, paint or sculpt very loose at first and just get the basic shape of the form in place so that they have something to build upon. 

That is what I want you to do here.  Just “sketch” the basic shape of the forms.  It does not have to be perfect at this stage.  Much like what we talked about in the last article on Flow, we are just making decisions on size, proportion and any motion that will be present in the final flower or leaf.  After this is drawn, we can then begin to add the detail and style that we want to see.


As you can see in this drawing, I have roughly sketched the basic shape of the petals and basic outline structure of the leaf.

This gives me a chance to decide on size and proportion of each piece of the flower and leaf.

This is the way I decide if the size of each petal will work in the space I am designing for or if the number of petals I am using will work on this particular flower.



After the initial sketch is drawn, I now can play with different petal types and styles using the framework as a guide.


Once the size and placement of each petal or structure is in place, it is much less intimidating to try different petal styles and designs.



Designing in this way makes it much easier to layout a full pattern as well.  After the layout circles and flow lines are in place within the tooling window, you can add these framework flowers into the middle of the circles to get a feel of the size and shape of the flowers you want in the pattern.

The details of the flowers are just details and we do not need them for the layout process.  Doing this allows you to remain focused on the basic concepts of the design so that you can insure the placement and size if correct for your design.



As I mentioned before, the sketch of the framework is only the basic shape and size of the petals and the leaves.

The detail and style that you decide to use is completely up to you.  This is where the fun part of design comes in.

Since you know that the framework you have sketched is the proper size and shape, you can now just decide on how you want the petals or the leaf to look for your particular pattern.


This area of design is limitless in its possibilities.


One area of design where this is really useful is in areas where the space for flowers is limited or oddly shaped.

As you can see here, the shape and spaces in these two examples are less than open for flowers this large.

Using the rough sketch of the framework, we can easily adjust the petal placement to bend or squash the petals to make them appear to fit nicely.

Then as we begin adding the detail to the petals we still have a correct shape to follow as a guide.


The biggest take away here is to not get wrapped up in the details of the flower or leaf at first.  Take the freedom to simply sketch in the basic concept of the flower or leaf that you are wanting to create.  Bend the petals, fold them over, turn them back or cover part of them with a scroll… don’t worry about what happens to the detail of each petal at first.

Once the basic framework of the forms are in place and appeal to you, then you can spend some time detailing the petals as you like.  This will give you the chance to play with your ideas and see things you may not have seen before.  If a flower you are working on doesn’t work the first time, move onto another idea and come back to it later.

Design work is not about sitting down and creating a masterpiece the first time.  It’s more a process of creating a sketchbook full of errors and learning from them.  Then, out of all the mess, one or two brilliant ideas will stick and become your favorite creations.

Let me know what you think about this article and feel free to email me some of your drawings as you go along.

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