Landscapes have been increasingly present in illustration for some time now. Not only in game development, but often in advertisement, especially for the travel industry
and certainly often in personal artist's portfolios.
Vector illustrations with clean and simplified shapes or a mix of vector and pixel texture brushes (Affinity Designer excels here!) are some of the ways artists experiment and often come up with beautiful samples of contemporary illustration artwork. The use of vivid colours, simple loose shapes, peaceful dreamy scenes depicting nature or beautiful everyday urban scenes are among those most prevalent in illustration for the last few years.
In this tutorial, we'll cover landscape drawing, composition notions, the focal point, how to lead the viewer's eye and how the HSL dialog (hue, saturation and luminance) allows for incredible versatility in colour choices.
One of the versions of the artwork (Click to enlarge)
This subject matter is one of my favourite too. I simply love a quiet relaxing illustrated scene, be it for decoration, for the sake of it or to accompany an idea or text.
We'll be creating a colourful vector landscape illustration in which we'll use basic shapes, the pen tool, a bit of pixel brushes, and a we'll also talk about composition, leading the eye, and the focal point. Composition is highly neglected subject matter when it comes to talking about drawing and painting but it makes all the difference when you get it right.
"Illustration from my series on random places from Google Maps."
Mountain Lake by Onlin Culture Shop for REI.
Landscape illustration applied to outdoors products.
You can additionally check the walk-through video version here. Leaving a like and a comment on the video, you will be helping me creating more free content. Thanks for chipping in!
Now, let's start!
1. Sketching the idea
I initially sketched very fast a rough idea of what I wanted to draw. I looked for an image that I liked and from it, I created a very quick drawing and basic composition.
As you can see, the original image is vertical and I wanted to go for a horizontal format since I wanted to do more of a postal card than a poster. Therefore, I had to add some elements that were not there, such as extending the walls and creating a landscape format document.
I also added some plants, to make the overall more interesting not only balancing the different elements, but also cause I can foresee that the green and orange colours from the plants will create a much more interesting palette once I start to illustrate the landscape.
Photo by Massimiliano Donghi @Unsplash
Quick and funky sketch to get some ideas of general composition and elements.
Obviously nothing that took me more than 2 minutes.
2. Document and background
Create a new document with a landscape canvas. You can choose how big you want it, I made mine quite big, something like 500o x 3000px at a 300DPI and that should be more than enough. I like to work with big resolution, but it's fine if you prefer lo stick to 72DPI (digital outputs, not to be printed).
Document and background settings (click to enlarge)
Using the rectangle tool I drag it over the canvas. The colour is # 00DDEF and I also put a little bit of noise to it, (around 1/8 of the slider).
*TIP - If you can't find the noise slider, head over the colour dialog and click over the "Opacity" circle colour chip. It will switch to "Noise".
3. The Building's Base
Placing my pencil sketch on the top corner of the canvas, I start drawing some basic shapes either with the pen tool or the primitive shapes, depending on what I need, and laying them out. As you can see, very simple shapes that will help me start perceiving how the mills and houses below will look and where they'll be placed.
As you can see by the squared sharp nodes surrounded by a circle on the image below, I used the Corner tool (C) on some of these shapes to smoothen the angles on those shapes that I felt needed it to make it look not so blocky and sharp.
(Click to enlarge)
Next, we add the mill tower shapes. As you see in the image below instead of plain white shapes, I decided to put a gradient to these two.
The gradient colour is # EBEAC8 on one end (right) and # FFFEF6 on the other (left). But because the sun will be on the right side (I'm left handed so I tend to put the light sources all the way around to most people), I changed its direction by clicking on the "Reverse" option in the Gradient panel. Easy!
(Click to enlarge)
4. Mill's Roof
We are putting the roof on the mills next. With the pen tool, trace two triangular shapes like those on the mills. You can then adapt the nodes to give it the perfect shape, or you can simply trace these shapes over the reference image. I also applied a bit of corner tool to the angles created by sharp nodes (squared nodes) on the roof shapes, as you can see in the image below.
Then, I switch to the Pixel Persona and with a textured brush I paint a stroke that I will use as texture for my roof. You have a whole array of different possibilities here. I used a textured chalky brush, but you can choose the one you like better. I applied a "Screen" blend mode to it and clip-masked it inside the roof shape. You can do this either through the layers panel (drag and drop), or using the "Insert inside object" icon under the "Insertion" menu.
*TIP - When you see a sharp node (squared nodes) with a circle around it, that means the corner tool was applied to smoothen it. See image below. If you later want to go back to a sharpen node or even a smooth or smart node, select it, and on the Pen tool contextual menu, click on any of the Convert menu options.
(Click to enlarge)
5. Walls, windows and other facade elements
Next, I start blocking some shapes over the wall, with different shades, following a bit the reference blocks on the image. I try to be loose, I don't need all the elements to be present.
Moreover, it is better not to overdo this, so my suggestion is that you draw loose and take some main blocks and create basic shapes out of them.
Since my image is on a landscape format, I extend these shapes and add some elemnts that don't exist in the reference image. Again, I am relaxed and flexible doing this. I don't need full details.
(Click to enlarge)
Next, I added some basic rounded rectangle shapes. I thought of giving it a cubist flavour that will make it look really well, as planes and basic shapes will cut each other and that's the look I want to go for as said before: basic loose and down to the essential shapes to create the scenery.
"In cubism, the artists used flat geometric shapes to represent the different sides and angles of the objects. By doing this, they could suggest three-dimensional qualities and structure without using techniques like perspective and shading. This process also emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas by breaking down the real world into flat geometric shapes." - The Impact of Cubism Art Movement on Architecture
Braque: "Viaduct at L'Estaque", 1907
Picasso: "Reservoir at Horta de Ebro", 1909
To keep going with the architecture, I place some basic rounded rectangle shapes in the places where I feel fit best following a bit the reference. Note how I also inserted other shapes inside to give them some depth, and also made some of the lines in all these different objects coincide and look continuous, not to drive spectator's view too crazy with a frenzy party of lines, shapes and tangents.
You can also tell they're basic shapes by looking at the little orange dots on them.
Basic rounded rectangle shapes to create windows (Click to enlarge)
I realised I needed to add a piece of wall that was clearly missing on the left side of the street, where the stairs will be later placed. I determined it would be rounded to add some softness to the whole and match the upper side I already had drawn at the very beginning, so I add it plus some more basic shapes so continue conforming the streets, walls, and ups and downs of this corner scenery.
Note how I also apply different colours to each shape. I want the whole to work well together also colour wise so I stick to a few colours on my palette. If you struggle with your choice of colours, you can always get inspiration from other artwork and import the palette into your Swatches panel (see how on the image below).
Basically, you pic an image you like and tell Affinity Designer to import it for you so you can use it in your own work. The new palette will have the name of the original image, in my case "beachloose", which is the name of the illustration file with the colour palette I imported.
Import palette from another image
Additional basic shapes to build the village corner (Click to enlarge)
I keep adding elements the same way. Looking at both reference and my sketch, and deciding where to place things, what to keep and what discard. In general, my decisions are taken in order to not clutter things and not to lay down elements that collide with each other.
Also trying to determine the focal point, which in this case it clearly on the right side, even though the text will be adding weight once this is finished, and will be placed right on the opposite side.
But when the eye looks at this image, the first thing is going to see will be the sun, the plants and the main mill building, which I will show later, form a triangle that conforms the main focal point.
For the main mill tower, I draw some more loose shapes to create the windows. To experiment a bit more, the forged grid on the lower window is painted in the pixel persona.
Just my personal choice this time. You can trace it with the Pen or Pencil tool just as well in the Designer Persona.
Basic shapes to create the mill windows and decorations (Click to enlarge)
Forged window grill drawn in the Pixel Persona (Click to enlarge)
6. The sky: sun, clouds and subtle light effects
Now we need to detach a bit from the main architecture and we want to start thinking a bit more about the sky, which will be the background, plus the bottom area of it, which I decided it will be the sea. It is not very perceptible in the reference, but I want to make it clear we are in Greece, in Thera, in Oia to be more precise, so there has to be sea around!
I use again very simple shapes to create these elements. Basic vertical rectangles for some lighting and some sharp angled shapes for the clouds. You see, not a single smooth node in there.
Then, add the sun. A simple circle will do. To make is a bit more interesting I overlap a rectangle that cuts it in the middle.
Things start to take shape!
(Click to enlarge)
7. The mill blades
To create the mill blades, the safest bet was to trace over the reference image, not to make a mess. I could think of several ways to do this, even using basic shapes and the isometric grid, but to make things easier, I simply grabbed the Pen tool and traced over the whole of the structure as you see in the image below. The thin lines are 0,2 pixel strokes and the thicker are shapes I traced and filled with colour. Some are connected to each other, some are not. You can appreciate that on the drawing's nodes Nothing overly complicated.
(Click to enlarge)
Add a bit of shadow under the roof hoods on both the mills. For this, use a simple rectangle and give it an angle.
(Click to enlarge)
8. The Plants
First, the flower pot.
I traced two shapes in the Designer persona, one for each side of the pot and gave them colours # D6794D and # FFDC5D. As usual, I added a bit of noise, almost half the slider.
Just make sure you don't put too much. It has to be present but not overly conspicuous.
Then insert a textured brush stroke inside created on the Pixel persona. You can use any textured brush of your liking. I used a watercolour brush.
As you see, again I worked loose and not worrying too much about making things perfect.
I want them to have the freshness and vividness of what is traced almost on the fly.
(Click to enlarge)
For the green on the plant trace some shapes and again, insert the darker shapes inside the leave main shape so it looks more volumetric. The leafs on the back are darker than the ones on the front, so it all looks like it has more depth.
Colours for the leafs are, for those in the back # 385C1B and # FDE259 (the latter with a "Soft light" blend mode), and for the leafs on the front # 597C3B # FDE259 (again with a "Soft light" for the latter). You can make variations to these, and mix different green hues.
Finally add a blurred out shape to create the shadow at the bottom of the leaves. I put it on top of the whole plant but I could have placed it in between the pot and the leaves. I decided to put in on top and give the lower part of this blurred out shape a transparency so it is not so visible.
Leafs and clipped masked shadows (Click to enlarge)
Shadow to help with depth (Click to enlarge)
Now, duplicate the plant and place them in such a way they form a composition that leads the viewer's eye. Take special care in not putting in too many, just the right amount.
How can you see what's the right amount? Well, it is something one trains on over time, but again, make sure things are not colliding with each other, make sure they "breath" and make sure the scenery is not cluttered. Feel the rhythm, make it elegant, look for smoothness in everything from colours to composition.
I always trust my eye when it tells me something really works and something is not 100% there. Then I need to analyse what is it that don't feel right, so I keep experimenting until my eye feels easy and comfortable with what I have.
Needless to say I often struggle to get things as I want them to be, so don't be discouraged and if you feel things are not going where you want them to go, take it easy. We all feel like this more often than we'd like.
I also take into account that I want most of the image weight on the right side of the illustration, so I make sure the plants help this purpose.
Then I realised it'd be nice to create some sort of frame, as if the viewer was looking through a window. At the end of the day, what is a postal card other than a little window in our hands? Well, at least that was maybe in the past. Today it is more of a small window inside our browser window.
Plants in place creating a soft curve towards viewer (Click to enlarge)
Focal point formed by main elements that lead the viewer's eye (Click to enlarge)
Let's add the frame!
9. The Frame
For the frame I have decided that the viewer is going to be looking as if it was window.
Basics shapes traced with the Pen tool will do for this one too.
Now fill with colour so it looks like it has depth, applying lighter and darker hues of blue on the inner frame area to convey this idea. The frame is loose and not a straight structure.
I also suggest that the bigger plant, the one at the bottom is over the window frame, leading the scenery inside the viewer's standpoint.
Shape to create the window frame (Click to enlarge)
How the scene looks now through the window frame (Click to enlarge)
10. The Seagull
Add a seagull in the sky to give some more gracious elements to the scenery. I traced it and then inserted another shape inside it, to give it a bit of depth. Even if this is almost imperceptible, all details count.
Seagull (Click to enlarge)
11. The Text
Picking the right font for your artwork is also key to make things succeed.
The most straight forward thing that may come to mind is looking for a font making a search such as "Greek font".
The problem I see with this is that we will then find loads of fonts with the ancient Greece reminiscences, which sure bring those Greek flavours, but maybe when we talk about the Olympian gods and mythology. But this is not what I am looking for here. I am more into finding a font that works for a postal card with a bit of a retro look to it.
So after researching a bit I found a font called "Nueva Std" that seemed to me worked well for this purpose. I used the "Bold Condensed" version of it and different sizes for groups of letters, as I didn't want a blocky text, considering the font is already a bit blocky when used in capitals, as I have.
(Click to enlarge)
So this is where we are at by now:
(Click to enlarge)
12. Final Touches - HSL dialog.
We are almost done. Now we have to touch a bit here and there to amend things we feel are not completely right, like a couple of the paths for the mill blade that have the wrong width, and moving some nodes here and there until we feel everything is in place.
I could leave the illustration as is, but I feel I want to play a bit and look if there's a new colour palette I might like more. So I have several possibilities here, and I usually combine them.
Go to the menu Layers>New Adjustment > HSL
Now you can start experimenting with the HSL dialog. HSL stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminosity or Lightness.
Hue represents a shift in the colour. Saturation is the pureness of the colour. A fully desaturated colour appears as grey. Luminosity is the brightness or darkness of the colour.
Let's see which one I like the most! I usually spend a bit of time playing around with this, as it is so easy to change the colours and the possibilities are so many, I tend to get a bit absorbed by it, for good or bad. The layer created can be placed anywhere in the Layers panel so it affects only the elements of your choice.
You can check some other versions on the video walk through, but here, I will leave the final version which has the settings you can see in the image below for the HSL sliders plus a top layer where I put a rectangle all over the canvas, colour # FF4C64 and half the slider of noise, plus a "Hue" blend mode.
This is my personal choice for colours here and now, but as you experiment, you will find so many beautiful variations!
HSL settings & top colour layer (Click to enlarge)
Final Artwork (Click to enlarge)
And because I can't resist, here's a different version where I changed the hues a bit applying them to all layers except the plants and the sun. I also added an additional plat :D - I think the composition can take it well! - As said... possibilities are so many!
Final Artwork Version 2 (Click to enlarge)
Yet another version. I can't stop! (Click to enlarge)
And we are done! Or not, maybe we can create 1 or 2 or 45 more variations of it :D
Join and show us all as many as you want on the Illustration Faction help group
Cheers and thanks for reading,