Sea Turtle Paradise


The “Sea Turtle Paradise” design for wallpaper and fabric has been a popular print, so I thought I’d put together a quick share of the inspiration and process behind it.

The seed idea for this theme came from my sister, and so requires a tiny backstory. Before my designs ever reach wallpaper or fabric, I print paper proofs to check the repeats for accuracy. In the spirit of sustainability I hand off these paper proofs to my sister when I’m done. She then reuses them to handcraft unique journals and notebooks, which she sells. She recently had a request for a guestbook with “any kind of turtles” on it.

I live in Maine, so my turtle exposure consists primarily of the snappers that occasionally make their way up the steep hill from the pond behind my house. I’ve been on a bit of a coastal kick lately, though, so I ultimately decided to do sea turtles. My desire was for the design to be “loosely based,” rather than zoologically accurate, but I still did a bit of research to get the basic shape of their fins and shells cemented in my mind. 

The Hand Sketches

I completed a couple rough sketches of the turtles. One was a bit smiley and did not make the final cut for this project. She is saved on file, though, as I think she has potential for a children’s print.

I kept all the art very basic. My plan was to trace my work on the iPad and I was unsure how I wanted to treat the turtle’s patterning, so I left it for later.

A previous doodle of a snail shell, and the addition of some kelp and fish rounded out the motif inventory. I also drew a couple seaweedy-coral-ish shapes – artistic license and viewer interpretation is a wonderful thing.

Sea turtle sketch
My final sea turtle sketch.
another sea turtle sketch
Sorry smiley! I'll keep you for another project!
a sketch of some seaweed and fish
Seaweed and fish motifs

The Digital Work

I’m a big fan of easy. I imported the sketches by snapping pics with my iPad – no scanning required. I had recently installed Adobe Fresco, so I decided to play with that. I imported the photos and decreased their opacity so I could easily trace over them. I locked this layer and created a new vector layer to work on.

Fresco has several options for true vector brushes. I selected the least jittery of the jitter brushes, as I wanted organic, but not messy.

Using a dark color, I traced all the elements I wanted and took this opportunity to make minor adjustments, such as lengthening the turtle’s neck a bit. I choose a second color to add details and markings. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to color it and I felt it best to keep these elements on a separate layer. I did simple “blobs” for the markings on the fins and head, and used brush strokes for the shell patterning. I also added some texture to the fish with short dashed marks.

I applied the same process to my remaining sketches. Once I had completed all the motifs I planned to use, I was ready to export to Illustrator. One brief snag, though. Fresco did not appear to have a way to do that. (Eye roll.) Oh, but there is a function to open the drawing in Illustrator! Crisis averted! It allowed me to select whether I wanted to open it on my iPad or laptop. I chose my laptop and it just popped up automatically on my screen, so that was more convenient then I could have imagined.

Screenshot from my iPad using Fresco
imported a sketch and set opacity to 40%
screenshot from my iPad using Fresco to trace a sketch
Traced the turtle using a "jitter" brush.
Screenshot from my iPad using Fresco to add to an illustration
Added brush strokes and "blobs" in a second color on an additional layer.

The Pattern

I had a fairly good idea how I wanted to organize the motifs. I started with a square art board and a basic repeat format. I placed the kelp and the turtles first, as these were the largest elements, and then began filling in with the fish, snails and other shapes. I fine-tuned … for awhile.

The Color Play

Once I was happy with the layout I started playing with color. At this point I decided to keep the palette fairly simple and keep the turtle’s line work and shell patterning one color. So I grouped the outlines, blobs and brush strokes together.

I should mention at this point that I also decided to enter this design in a Spoonflower Pantone challenge. The contest specified a very limited color palette, so I created several color variations based on their parameters. One of my first color attempts was a light grey on a dark charcoal background. It worked well, but I continued to swap out hues.

Sea Turtle Paradise

What better place for sea turtle wallpaper than the bathroom? Create a peaceful sanctuary with soothing colors to make it feel like a private spa. Shown here is Sea Turtle Paradise No. 10 in Sea Grass and Aqua. Now available for purchase on Spoonflower.

I also decided to try adding a third color. I used the blob brush to create solid shapes that loosely filled the motifs. This allowed me to I apply a slightly lighter color than the background to create more contrast. I liked the colors dictated by the challenge, but I experimented with my “vintage” colorway for a few more options. When I was done, I had eleven color combos in total! Oops! Several are very similar, so I may be self-auditing my work to eliminate a few.

The Final Sea Turtle Wallpaper and Fabric Design

My sister chose “Sea Turtle Paradise No.8” for her project, which is a tonal pattern of charcoal and greys. She has already completed the guest book for her client and rumors are that everyone is happy with it.

For the Spoonflower Pantone Wallpaper challenge, I entered No.5, which I felt was the colorway that best honored the directives of the theme. I love that these challenges keep expanding my art practices with concepts I might not have explored otherwise. It was a fun project and the result is a design I’m really happy with.

Tropical Vibe

Add a touch of tropical whimsy with Sea Turtle Paradise No. 5 Wallpaper in Aqua and Storm Blue. Now available for purchase on Spoonflower.

Sea Turtle Paradise

a coastal design for wallpaper and home decor

Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in aqua
Sea Turtle Paradise No.5, my entry into the Spoonflower challenge
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in sage and brown
Sea Turtles No.11 from my "vintage" colorway
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in grey
Sea Turtle Paradise No.8
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in teal
Sea Turtle Paradise No.7
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in sea foam
Sea Turtles No. 6
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in navy
Sea Turtle Paradise No.2
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in grey
Sea Turtle Paradise No.3
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in sage green
Sea Turtle Paradise No.10
Sea Turtle wallpaper and fabric design in periwinkle
Sea Turtle Paradise No.1