Pattern design : using watercolor sketches

Watercolors and the print on the fabric

Hello, pattern lovers!
Welcome to my blog!
I am so excited to be a part of the blog tour held by a very talented 
Bonnie Christine who is a fabric designer for the Art Gallery Fabrics (my favorite fabric company, love their textiles!)
She also a quilter and an avid DIY-er, you can see her beautiful creations on her blog @

Don't forget to check out these lovely blog hoppers that are linking to the party:
 Erin Stewart @
Racheal Mckeeman @
(I love how there is a flower in each blog name!)

Click on the image below to see the list of cool blogs participating in the tour 
and see what interesting they are sharing.

design surface patterns from scratch blog tour!

As a part of the tour I am going to talk about how I transform my watercolor sketches into a pattern repeat. This is a super fun way to create a unique pattern using fast watercolor paintings, drawings,
pencil sketches, etc. 
So, to start with turning your lovely watercolors into a pattern you will need Adobe Photoshop for editing your artwork and Illustrator to make a repeat. You need a basic knowledge of these programs and some experience in editing and arranging images. I will try to describe the process in details, but it is not a tutorial, more of an inspiration. (You will find the resources for learning at the end of this article).

Here is the final product of what I am going to talk about today - the top I made from my own fabric
and I can't be happier with it!

I designed the fabric using the watercolor with butterflies I painted earlier this summer

So here is how I did it.

- 1 -
I watercolored lots of wings, small and big butterflies, mixing different shades of blue, with a big round brush on a regular watercolor paper, and let my imagination flow. A lizard made it there, too. 
I painted freehand emphasizing on texture and a fluid effect of watercolor.
There is no end of possibilities here!

Watercolor wings

- 2 -
I photographed each sheet individually in a crisp day light, making sure the paper is flat and there is no shade. I prefer to take photographs for digitizing the watercolors rather then scanning. My scanner works better for black and white images and looses a lot of fine details of watercolors.
I transferred  images to the computer, cropped and then opened them in Photoshop.
When I have done that, I cleaned the artwork by erasing speckles, sharpened and adjusted the colors, saturation, levels, brightness, etc. to the way I was happy.
I made sure I had an image on a transparent background, by deleting the white part completely.
(There are different ways of doing this, look up tutorials on-line).

This is how it looked like in Photoshop at that point.
(still not sure how the lizard fits in here:))

Fullscreen capture 982014 104155 AM.bmp

- 3 -
I arranged butterfly wings and middle parts (the lizard will wait for another time!),
reflecting and copying the wings, rotating and adjusting the scale of the parts.
I also warped and free transformed the wings a little bit to make them not too symmetrical.
Make sure the layers are set to "Multiple", so that your images have that "see through effect".
Here are the two final butterflies after editing. 


I saved the images as Photohop files and opened them in Illustrator by Placing in the New Document.
Embed and scale. 
Now the fun part begins!
Creating a future repeat is the most creative part of this process.

- 4 -
In Illustrator I created a square for a background and placed my butterflies on top on a different layer and started arranging them in a repeat.
To compose a correct repeat is a tricky part and there are different ways to approach it. 

You must have learned ins-and-outs from watching the Bonnie Christine's online class Design Surface Patterns From Scratch 
it is the greatest online video class on the subject and still available for download. 
I learned that she does not use the Pattern Mode that built-in the new Illustrator SC6. She instead creates a swatch by choosing the repeat and dragging it to the swatch menu, and then fills the new box with the new fill. It allows to control the motif placement easier, but I am still not sure how to create more complex repeats. Also, the part of re-coloring the artwork is most amazing! Of course, the pattern has to be in Illustrator format in order to be re-colored. 

Overall, everybody seems to find their own way that suits their unique design style, some people use only Photoshop to create a pattern, some use a combination of both programs, some use only Illustrator. I watched many tutorials before it got clear to me. I also found bits and pieces about it in the books that are on the picture below. If you did not see the video class, I recommend to check out these links:

1. How to get started with Adobe Illustrator 
2. How to make a repeat pattern swatch in Adobe Illustrator
3.  How to make an Overlapping Halfdrop repeat pattern (by Bari J.)
4. Pattern making tool in Illustrator
and many many more that you can find just searching the web.


  1. I love these wonderful creations. I especially love all of the shades of blue.

  2. Your designs are so lovely! and I love the lizard. =) I can't wait to see what you do with him in your designs.

    I love that you showed your creative process using watercolor! I love painting with watercolors but I have not yet tried to create a repeating pattern with my watercolors, though it has been on my list of things to try. =) I do love watercolor patterns. Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you, Erin! I am glad to share something useful and make a connection with the pattern people! I am so motivated to keep practicing the new ideas now and see what others are up to!

    2. It has been so inspiring to see what everyone is creating. =) This blog tour was such a great idea! I love that we get to 'meet' each other and encourage one another!

  3. Thanks for showing this process! Watercolor on fabric is just beautiful and I love your butterflies!

    1. Thank you, Meg! I am happy to share!

  4. Great post!! Very helpful, and the fabric turned out gorgeous!! :)

    1. Thank you so much, Jessica and I am glad you stopped by!

  5. Spoonflower prints watercolors beautifully. Your designs are so lovely!

  6. Oh my my! These are beautiful!!! And I've always been curious how to get such a true watercolor look to come through (not that I'm a painter--but totally fascinated!) Wonderful job explaining!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and great that it might come in handy!

  7. Love your designs. And it looks great on the fabric. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Happy to hear that, Happy Turtle and thank you for visiting!

  8. Your butterflies have made a wonderful fabric design. I can imagine it would be wonderful on silk as a scarf design. You are very clever to use photoshop so well.wonderful results.

    1. Thank you so much! I really want to make scarves, too. It will be my next project!

  9. Your watercolors are gorgeous!

  10. LOVE, love, love your designs. My favorite colors. Thanks Sofia for sharing how you work with watercolors in AI, that is what I am wanting to do. Thanks for mentioning using the Multiple setting... I would not have thought of that. I have a lot of watercolor designs, I will have to go back and update them. Great post!

    1. Hi Sheila, thank you very much for your nice words! I am happy that you found something useful in my tutorial. I would love to see your watercolor designs! If you have questions about something I did not cover ( I believe I did not mention a lot of good points) you are welcome to ask!

  11. WOW! This is fantastic!! You are so talented. I wish I was better with watercolor because I love the look. So beautiful.

    1. Thank you so much, Rochelle!

  12. How did you get your striped pattern to line up so precisely? I find it is very difficult to repeat a watercolor stripe. Thanks.

    1. Hi Ali, I lined up 2 repeats in Photoshop on top of each other and cleaned up the horizontal seam with a brush tool.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing Sofia….Your work is beautiful! I did have one question. I always thought that the artwork within the pattern needs to be vector based so the pattern can be scaled depending on how you are going to use it. Do you turn the watercolor artwork to vector art at some point? If so, how? I appreciate your help.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! For this pattern I used a scanned image of the watercolor painting to create a pattern and used it as it is in Illustrator without vectorizing it. Sometimes I do trace my artwork using tracing command in Illustrator to vectorize it, it gives a different look and possibility to re-color, but I did not cover it in this article. Hope this helps, Arezo!

  14. Hi Sofia, thanks so much for sharing! What printing technique did you use? Digital printing or rotary printing? Usually in rotary printing there's a maximum quantity of colors you can use buy somehow the watercolor print was great!!

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