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How to Make Ornate Mandala Art with Radial Symmetry

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Balinese illustrator and graphic designer Raka Jana is back with a follow up to his popular Ornate Illustrations tutorial. That step-by-step tutorial focused on using vertical symmetry to create traditional Indonesian masks, but there is now an even more powerful tool in SketchBook called Radial Symmetry, which we’re covering in this tutorial. This tool is absolutely perfect for making elaborate mandalas, and the beauty of it is that you can set the tool to partition up to sixteen sectors. Just draw one simple design and your work will be multiplied — perfectly symmetrical down to the pixel. Besides saving you time, it can let you get incredibly detailed with your mandalas. The end results may make others say, “How could you have possibly done that?” It’s a lot easier than you might think.

Start with Multiple Rough Sketches

When you’re designing a mandala for a product, such as the t-shirts this mandala will end up on,  being confident in your design is very important. Raka sketches out a number of test mandalas using SketchBook’s Radial Symmetry tool. These may seem quite detailed for rough sketches, but in truth they are not that hard to make. When using Radial Symmetry, you’re only adding the details once and letting the tool copy it across the mandala. You get a much more detailed sketch so much quicker, so it pays to make multiple rough drafts and experiment with drawing and shading some of the details. If you like to partition your mandala designs across many diameters, you can perfect each area with these kinds of rough sketches before tackling one big, all-encompassing mandala.

Raka Jana Mandala Tutorial - Step 1
Crank up the Radial Symmetry tool to 16 sectors and work out some of your details before committing.

Pro Tip: Draw on a Gray Background

After choosing the best details of your mandala sketches for your final product and drawing it out, start a new layer — or multiple layers — for the inking. Raka suggests that you not simply work on a white background. Tint your background layer gray as he has done in this design. He’s going to be putting these mandalas on t-shirts, so this design might be printed on different colors of fabric. By drawing on a gray background, you can get an idea of what works and doesn’t work so well on white and black backgrounds. Of course, you could also swap out multiple background colors if you want to see exactly what your design will look like on a specific color of background, but gray is probably your best bet.

Raka Jana Mandala Tutorial - Step 2
Take advantage of all those layers you have at your disposal.

You can see from Raka’s layer stack that he has changed and edited his original sketch as he inked the final image. Raka used a “Tattoo Inker” brush from the default Basics brush set that’s in the latest iOS version of SketchBook, but of course you should customize a brush so that it works for your style of drawing. Raka has the Radial Symmetry tool set to 16 segments, which as you can see mirrors at every peak of the outer ring of lotus leaves.

Flat Color, Shading, and Layer Styles

Raka uses two layers for color: a base layer of flat colors and a second layer of shading. He keeps his inking layer (from the last step) on top of it all. You can shade by drawing shadows or by using crosshatching, whichever you think looks best.

Your mandala can be flat, but adding shading will give it a more three-dimensional look — almost like a medallion.

Putting your flat base colors and your shading on separate layers is a great workflow because you can easily change the opacity, saturation, or values of your shading all at once. If you’re someone who likes to use Layer Styles in apps like Photoshop (e.g., Multiply, Overlay, Glow, etc.), you undoubtedly already know how powerful Layer Styles can be. All those Layer Styles are in SketchBook, and putting shading on a separate layer means you can tweak that layer more easily in one fell swoop. Of course, it can also help you if you don’t end up loving all of your color choices. Just create a new layer and try something new.

Raka Jana Mandala Tutorial - Step 3

The Final Illustration: Transparent If You Need It

The final image is ready with the working background color removed so it is transparent and can be easily printed. Mandalas can be hypnotic, and this one is no exception. It’s beautiful.

Raka Jana Mandala Tutorial - final img

Print it. Ship It. Enjoy it.

Raka’s mandala design is ready to print on t-shirts. If you’re planning on printing on paper or fabric or anything else, be sure to set your canvas or image size in SketchBook for large, high res output. For something elaborate and detailed like this, it’s best to start your image at 300dpi and at least as large as an 11×17 sheet of paper.

Raka Jana Mandala Tutorial - Step 4