I think I’m officially an Illustrator?

Cause I’ve used Adobe Illustrator….right!?

Truth is, I have a long way to go. But I thought I would share my first ever vector art creation using Adobe Illustrator and the design process!

This piece was for a friend of mine who is getting married next July. I told her that I was taking a sabbatical from engineering to do writing and illustrating, and she asked if I would be interested in doing artwork for their invitation and website!

As I’m sure most artists can relate, to get asked to do something, regardless if you are getting paid, feels amazing.

“Someone thinks I’m good!”

“I matter!”

“I’m a real artist! I’m being commissioned!”

So of course I said yes!

Customer Requirements

She gave me a lot of good information along with the basic concept of what they wanted: a celtic tree of life with their initials in the trunk. They provided a rough sketch and a photo from the internet that was their inspiration.

It was also important that the end result be a vector graphic, such that it could be scaled to whatever size they wanted without losing resolution.

Research and Practice

Truth be told, I had never even attempted to draw a celtic knot before, so I decided that I should probably learn the theory of design behind them if I wanted to knock this out of the park.

Fortunately for me in 2016, there are a plethora of sites with tutorials on how to draw celtic knots:

A baby celtic knot. Easy enough.

Can’t be that hard, right?  Step 1) make some X’s,

So far so good.


2) make the inverse X’s in between and 3) erase some lines where you want them to join up to create interest

My terrible attempt at making my own celtic knot.

Voila!  You have a fun and original celtic knot!?


Wrong. Not as easy as I thought. You have to be careful to not have any loose ends, but this becomes quite complicated once you are not going in a straight line. Rounding corners can be tricky, and I found that it was difficult to keep consistent width in the crosses. I relied heavily on the lines of the graphing paper, and these first few drafts were on graphing paper from a dollar store….

I also did some research on celtic looking lettering and ran the options by my friend. She loved the letters with the swirls, as they imply the shapes seen in knots of tree trunks, and   her engagement ring has swirling as well.


Final Design Plan

I quickly decided that if I didn’t want to spend the next two months trying to master the art of creating original celtic knot designs, it was perfectly acceptable in this case to use the basic pattern of an already existing knot, and make it my own.

I decided to work off of this design that I found:


I didn’t like the branches, roots or trunk very much, so I planned on changing those quite a bit in addition to adding the initials. I also decided that I was going to eliminate the leaves, as I thought that distracted the viewer from the celtic design and made it too busy.

The Evolving Design in Process


I “splurged” for some top-notch artist graphing paper, and set out to duplicate the knotting design. Some other changes I made were to the proportions of the piece- I wanted to make the circular outline thicker (to the left and right of the trunk) and generally add more “white” space.

Shortly after starting to thicken lines. Take note of the trunk at this stage, I make quite a few changes before the end result.

I also strived to make any “loops” more pointy, because I found that celtic designs tend to appear more angular. I also felt that it gave the feel of being leaves, without having to actually draw leaves.

The graphing paper was EXTREMELY helpful in making the piece symmetrical in the knotted areas, as I could count the spaces and mark intersection points as well as peak points. In the trunk area however, I really liked that the image I was using for my inspiration had an asymmetrical trunk- and I planned to incorporate asymmetry there.

I thickened up the lines before inking because I wanted to get a sense for the value (darkness/lightness) of the overall piece and give myself the opportunity to make drastic changes if necessary.

Final sketch

I made a few tweaks, and then outlined around the pencil. I then erased the pencil so that I could fill in the white space with black.

Final inked drawing before scanning

Scanning and Vectorizing

Since I had never digitized/vectorized a drawing before, I was thinking that I was going to have to use the graphing paper for the drawing, then transfer it onto better paper for the scan.

Translation: A LOT OF EXTRA WORK. No thank you.

I had already been working on this piece for several weeks at this point, meanwhile I am trying to work on writing and illustrating children’s books.

Thankfully, I had the forethought when I was initially thickening the lines to do a preliminary scan- just to get an indication of the quality I could get with a scan at Fedex, and make a better game plan if necessary.

To my surprise, with a black and white scan, the dark pencil showed up crystal clear and black, and the blue lines of the graphing paper, of course, did not show up. Conclusion- no transfer necessary!!!

Vectorizing in Adobe Illustrator ended up being much easier than I thought as well. I watched several online tutorials (extremely helpful) and with the use of the “Image Trace” tool I had a piece of vector art in a matter of minutes.


Parting thoughts

I am extremely proud of myself that I taught myself some new skills: 1) celtic knots, 2) scanning for use in Illustrator, and 3) converting to vector art.

I also had a ton of fun along the way. Even as I wrote this post, I was reminded by how many decisions took place that greatly influenced the end result, and ultimately how happy I am and my customer is with it.

I enjoy the fact that the vision in my head at the beginning of the project does not match the finished product as a result of all of these little decisions.

And the beauty of that is those decisions can’t possibly be made before you start the project.

For example, I didn’t plan on adding little knots/bulges to the roots, but because of my earlier decision to create more white space, I had room and I felt that it gave it yet another aspect of asymmetry, and also an organic look to balance the angular points.

My customer did a great job also of giving me just enough information for their requirements, but they did not overly constrain the design- which would have made it impossible for me to adapt throughout the process and be creative (it would have also been much less fun!).

I think that this has good application to the corporate world. I have worked on engineering teams, but this could apply to any type of project.

It’s good to define the requirements and make a plan- but when that plan gets in the way of adaptability, creativity, and enjoyment of the team, your end product will likely suffer.

More life learnings from the design process!!!




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