Kimono-Inspired Summer Flowers by the River

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I’m sweating, no, wilting under the sweltering heat and humidity of August. But to keep a positive spin on things I decided to remind myself what I love about summer. I wanted to create a design that spoke of the beauty of the season: irises in full bloom, the sparkle of the aqua blue sea.

But before that we’ll go back into 19th century Japan, when artists created woodblock prints, a popular form of art that made beautiful artworks accessible to the public.

Three Beauties by Kitagawa Utamaro

The great ukiyo-e artist Utamaro is famous for his portraits of beautiful women. Today I’ll pick out three works, two for floral inspiration and one for background ideas.

Oomando Ogie Oiyo Takeji by Kitagawa Utamaro

青楼仁和嘉女芸者部(せいろうにわかおんなげいしゃのぶ)「大万度 荻江 おいよ 竹次」(おおまんど おぎえ おいよ たけじ)、1783年、大判錦絵、東京国立博物館。Oomando Ogie Oiyo Takeji, part of a series on Seirou-niwaka geisha. Large size brocade picture, circa 1783. Tokyo National Museum.

Two years after Utamaro took up his stage name, this work came out and is considered to be one of his best. It’s one of a 6-part series of portraits of Niwaka-Kyogen (traditional short comedic drama) actors. The picture shows the women preparing for their next performance.

I love the highly elaborate kimonos, especially the detailed chrysanthemum floral pattern on the standing figure.

Sagi-musume by Kitagawa Utamaro

当世踊り子揃(とうせいおどりこぞろえ)「鷺娘」(さぎむすめ)1793〜94年頃、大判錦絵、東京国立博物館。Sagi-musume, part of a series on Tousei odoriko (dancer). Large size brocade picture, circa 1793-94. Tokyo National Museum.

A 5-part series portraying geisha who specialize in dance. Sagi-musume (literally “Heron Girl”) was a popular stage dance at the time. It tells the story of a white heron spirit who transformed into a local village girl. In this piece Utamaro used a method to show the transparency of materials. You can see through the flowered bamboo hat on her head as well as the ones on her shoulder and hand.

I find the pale pink flowers here very interesting. The hat is called 花笠 hanagasa or bamboo hat adorned with artificial flowers.

For the background, I wanted a river-like effect.

錦織歌麿形新模様(にしきおりうたまろしんもよう)「白うちかけ」(しろうちかけ)1796〜98年頃、大判錦絵、ニューヨーク公立図書館。Shirouchikake, part of a series on Utamaro-style brocade designs. Large size brocade picture, circa 1796-98. New York Public Library.

白打掛 Shiro-uchikake is a long, white overgarment worn by the bride in a wedding ceremony. This piece makes up a 3-part series of pictures where Utamaro uses as few black ink outlines as possible. He also makes an attempt to express the patterns and textures of the kimono as close to the real thing as possible. In the scroll on the upper left hand side of the picture he writes about taking pride in using expensive, high quality materials to make his art (and also adds a few harsh words against those who use cheap materials to make similar art).

I love the curvaceous lines of the garment in this piece. It reminds me of 流れ菊 nagarekiku, chrysanthemums floating down a winding river or other body of water, a common pattern found in kimonos.

Flowers by the Riverbank

Inspired by the works above I wanted to draw a stylized fantasy flower that had layers of petals like the chrysanthemum but with a simpler structure, with wider, fewer petals. 

Here’s the sketch I came up with:

Flower sketch by Beverly Claire Kaiya

My sketch of a stylized flower combining chrysanthemum and artificial flower properties

More than a realistic chrysanthemum it’s closer to a 花唐草 hanakarakusa or floral arabesque design.

For the background I liked the curves of the kimono above, bringing to mind the flow of a river. I thought of a river with flowers floating above and growing along the riverbank.

The idea:

Sketch by Beverly Claire Kaiya

My sketch of a nagarekiku, showing the placement of the flowers on the water and along the riverbank

I drew the flower in Illustrator:

Screenshot by Beverly Claire Kaiya

Using the Pen tool to draw the flower

After the main flower was drawn it was easy to come up with the other “sub” flowers by taking derivatives from the main one.

Screenshot by Beverly Claire Kaiya

Drawing in the background

I then drew the background, shown above in outline view.

Early Summer Colors

For me, summer means the purples and violets of irises and hydrangeas in the early summer, and the turquoise and aqua of the sea during the heat of the season. I picked out a couple of photos from my archives and worked out the color palette from them.

Irises at Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by

Irises at Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, Japan

I love irises; I took this photo in June last year. The purple and violet hues are so pretty! You can see more photos and read more about the park I visited over at my travel blog.

Enjoying the turquoise and deep blue sea

Enjoying the turquoise and deep blue sea

This is a photo of the sea around Guam, a view of Tumon Bay from a cliff called Two Lovers Point. My husband and I were going gaga over how clean and blue and pretty the sea was. I took dozens of shots of just water, and this was one of them. It’s also the one I currently use for my MacBook Air’s wallpaper 🙂

Screenshot by Beverly Claire Kaiya

Working out the colors using the Gradient Tool in Illustrator

After picking out the palette based on the photos I colored in the illustration. I wanted mostly flat colors, with just a few objects in the stylized background having gradations. For the background I wanted a very dark color that would make the aquas and purples pop. In the end I went with a navy blue color, closer to marine blue than the black-brown shown in the screenshot above.

Final Design

Here is the completed design on a few gift items. I made sure there was space in the design composition for writing your own text. Add your names, initials or message for a unique, customized item. Makes a wonderful gift to anyone who enjoys original, stylized, kimono-inspired floral designs.

These make lovely, all-occasion gifts:

Here are products that would make wonderful housewarming presents or hostess gifts:

And here’s the collage ready for Pinterest pinning:

Kimono-Inspired Summer Floral Gifts in Purple and Aqua, by Beverly Claire Designs

Kimono-Inspired Summer Floral Gifts in Purple and Aqua. Click here to see prices and other products containing this design.

Another Pinterest-ready image, this time of the binder, one of my favorites to customize:

Kimono-Inspired Floral Binder in Summer Colors, by Beverly Claire Designs

Kimono-Inspired Floral Binder in Summer Colors. Click here for details and prices for this customizable binder.

I hope you enjoyed reading about how I created this summer design!

Continuing Inspiration

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753?-1806) created the most gorgeous woodblock prints of women. His work is an inspiration to me and so many others who do 和風 wafuu or Japanese-style designs.

Which among his works shown above do you like best, and why? Do share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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So, what do you think? Do you like this style? Do you have similar ideas or products to recommend? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

One Comment

  1. hanS says:

    love your floral design! so pretty. purple and blue is my fave color combo, not easy to find. will add the pillow, wallclock and binder to my wishlist! 🙂 nice how u took time to explain all those ukiyo-e terms lol!

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