Tutorial: Nature-inspired Art Brushes

I have vague memories of a particular Christmas that involved endless silk screening of a cedar twig onto heavy red paper for Christmas cards - back when greeting card volume was socially necessary AND crafting was big. I was too young at the time to do more than beg to have a turn and the equipment got buried in a move not long after. 

If you remember this era at all you'll probably recall similar leaves and things screen printed onto bags and tea towels and endless other products that could be made flat enough to get the dang thing to work.

Fast forward a few years (ahem) and I was sitting in front of the computer playing around with some peony leaves I'd picked. For no good reason other to try it I decided to scan them using the cheap scanner I'd purchased a few years before. It gave up printing correctly almost immediately so it had been sitting around gathering dust except for endless scanning of documents during the house purchase last year. There it sat promising poor quality but speed. Worth a try.

Maybe this was what it was meant for - because for all the blurry text it had produced it's ability to capture nature was truly surprising.  None of this is technically new, but if you haven't experimented with this technique, and you have a scanner handy, give it a try. You might be surprised by what you can make.

1. First, find something lovely, flat and fairly open for the best effect, it will have to fit in the available scanner pane - here I went with a fern segment.


2. Scan it and open in Photoshop. Crop to just the desired element (I used the middle one for obvious reasons), select all and copy

3. Paste into Illustrator. Set the LiveTrace to Black and White and trace it.


4.Expand the image and hit Ungroup as many times as it takes to make that command grey out.


Select an outside (white) edge and delete, continue around the design until the background is gone. For a safety check, select the design and change the fill color to something wild like pink. If you still have solid areas where they shouldn't be continue selecting and deleting. Change the color back or leave it, it doesn't really matter.

5. Now you can make it into Art and Pattern brushes and go crazy!