An illustration of a woman and a fish, by Maria Grønlund, created with Adobe Shape, Adobe Illustrator Draw, and Adobe Illustrator CC, titled "Nature and I Are One"

Nature and I Are One

By Maria Grønlund

I’m a designer who is equally inspired by digital tools and the natural world: I love to explore them both. I recently put my iPad and iPhone in a bag and biked to Denmark’s Marselisborg Woods. It felt luxurious to shut down the computer on a workday, put the iPad and iPhone in a bag, and take a ride—goodbye computer, hello sunshine! I collected inspiration, pictures, colors, and shapes; then I sat by the water to draw. Now I want to share with you my process and the library of assets I collected.

The base for this illustration is outlines of clouds. The mobile app Adobe Illustrator Draw CC is nice for this, since Draw has a Photo Layer. You can easily import a picture from your iPad, take a photo, or fetch one from your Creative Cloud files or from Creative Cloud Market. 

I used a Draw Layer in Draw for the outline strokes of the clouds. I recommend zooming in as much as possible if you’d like to draw detailed strokes like these. I don’t have the Jot pen that works with Draw, but for simple drawings like this, drawing with the hand is just fine. Draw also provides trace shapes—even though I’m drawing by hand, I can choose a circle as a guide and draw a perfect circle for the sun.

When I came home, I chose the Send To Illustrator function in the menu, and to my surprise the drawing instantly opened in Illustrator on my computer! No “Save As” or choosing where to save—I can continue to work on the drawing in Adobe Illustrator straight away.

The way to integrate these three tools is with Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries. All your elements are synchronized when you save to Libraries and are accessible on the iPhone, iPad, and computer—nice, smooth, and effortless.


I used the Live Paint feature to add colors to the artwork. To ensure that each group of strokes for the clouds would be enclosed, I placed colorless strokes at the artboard edges.

I turned the clouds into four individual Live Paint groups. The woman and her reflection are also a separate Live Paint group, as are the fish and its speech bubble. Then it’s easy to scale and move the elements around independently. (This would have been more cumbersome if the whole artwork had been one Live Paint group.)

I chose bright, summery blues for the illustration, with small spots of complementary orange and coral red to make the colors extra fresh and sparkling. You’ll find the swatches in the shared library I’ve created for this project. (If you would like to learn how to use CC Libraries, check out this tutorial for all the basics.)

The Live Paint feature is also very handy for the next step: applying textures to the artwork. To create the textures, I used the Adobe Shape app.


With the mobile app Adobe Shape, you can convert photos into vector shapes—either by using photos you have stored on your device or by using the Shape capture mode to create a shape with your iPhone or iPad camera. Shape can be used to capture figurative motifs, like a watch, a spoon, or a drawing done by hand. But it’s also a great tool for creating your own unique vector patterns, which is what I’ve done here.

Inspiration can be found in places you wouldn’t imagine. Once you’ve started to explore with the Shape app, you’ll be surprised by how many places provide inspiration and motifs for new patterns. You don’t have to look far.

One of the first objects that turned out to be a really great candidate for a pattern was a crumpled towel on the bathroom floor. By pulling the slider in the Shape app, you can adjust the amount of detail in your vector shape. This towel turned into a really rich and lively texture that reminds me a bit of Van Gogh’s impasto paint strokes.

I’ve captured patterns with Adobe Shape both inside and outside. Moss, soil, stone, pebbles—all worked fine. Even the light sparkles on the illustration were captured with Shape, by the lake near where I live. More surprising materials like lentils, spices, and cake sprinkles poured onto a piece of paper turned out to be useful also. My handsome cat Kenzo’s fur also turned into a very fine texture, of course. (These are all also available in the shared library.)

Original photos depicting cat’s fur, human hair, thyme, rice, and moss. The photos were captured by mobile devices and turned into vector shapes by artist Maria Grønlund.
Vector graphics captured by Adobe Shape: a towel, a cat’s fur, human hair, thyme, rice, and moss.
Vector graphics, with color applied, captured by Adobe Shape: a towel, a cat’s fur, human hair, thyme, rice, and moss.

These three images show (from left to right): original photos, the vector graphics as captured by Adobe Shape, and those graphics with color applied. Clockwise from the top left in each image, you see a towel, my cat’s fur, my hair, thyme, rice, and moss.


The vector shapes you save in Adobe Shape are automatically synced to Creative Cloud. So to access them in Illustrator, simply go to the Libraries panel and drag and drop the wanted shape to your artboard. If you would like to use the shape as-is as a pattern swatch, simply drag and drop it on the Swatches panel, and you have a new pattern swatch made of your shape. You can also add a new fill color and new stroke color, as I’ve done here. You may also want to scale it before making a pattern swatch of it.

I copied all the Live Paint groups to a new layer. The fill and stroke were set to none, and then pattern swatches were applied. If you would like to change the colors of the pattern swatch, just select the Live Paint area where it’s applied and open Recolor Artwork. Here you can change both fill and stroke colors. When you click on OK, a new pattern swatch is automatically created in the Swatches panel.

I recommend not setting too many limitations on how to use patterns and textures. It’s surprising to see how Kenzo’s fur can be used both as water reflections on the woman and as a rough structure on the mountains. It all depends on the colors, the shapes it’s applied to, and the scaling.

If you want to have complete control over which area of the vector shape is masked, a clipping mask or an opacity mask is also an option. But they are not as fast and nifty to work with as Live Paint if you want to try out many pattern versions, as I’ve done here.

If you find this as intriguing to work and play with as I do, you will soon have a vast collection of unique pattern swatches that can be used for all kinds of things!


Below is another version of the drawing, with mountains instead of clouds. When you have a collection of colors and pattern swatches, it doesn’t take long to make alternative versions of your creations. I hope this inspires you! Here’s a little poem that came to me with the vision of the artwork:

The fish approaches me from the depths.
He’s talking about earth.
Saying we’re all one. One earth, one sea, one soul.
I’m standing naked, open, receiving, and listening.
Very aware the message is important.
In the midst of this wild and pure environment I’m reminded of who I am and where I origin from.
Nature and I are one.

An illustration of a woman and a fish in a lake, by artist Maria Grønlund

(For more inspiration, see how artist Timothy Goodman uses Adobe Shape CC, Adobe Illustrator CC, and CC Libraries to create anywhere.)

June 4, 2015

Author:  Maria Grønlund is a graphic designer who specializes in branding, corporate identity, digital art, design, and colors.  

Layout: Nicolle Rodriguez