Design insights & tutorials.

Draw a Windy Sunset Illustration

Introduction

I’ve always loved Asian art and particularly Japanese illustration. While Asian art is the main source of inspiration for my design, the point is not to create a traditional Japanese illustration, but rather to filter design inspiration such as this one through personal style and experience. Today, we’re going to create something new based on something old.

You will need a pen tablet to use these techniques, and standard Photoshop settings will do just fine (most important – keep pen pressure enabled).

Inspiration

Blogs posts on design inspiration are very popular, and I too love to see bits and pieces of what people are creating without having to scour the web looking for art. But often, inspiration is lost soon after closing the page, because it’s not put into practice, or properly harnessed.

Think of it this way: you find a piece done by some designer that you really like. You’d love to be able to create something as cool his work, so you either choose to imitate his technique and style or adapt it to your own concept, and / or style. You’re facing two problems.

One, the other guy spent hours, days, month perhaps even years developing a technique and style for himself that you are only now trying to achieve in a matter of hours. Your design will be inferior because it lacks experience.

But there’s another problem. Chances are that the design you were inspired by was born out of many sources of inspiration, and is a result of personal research.  Though he may have used a wide knowledge to put together his design, you base your entire inspiration on a single source: his piece.

While this is not at all a magic formula, it’s a method that has served me well so far: I suggest you bookmark your sources of inspiration and analyze them. Find things you like, dislike; think of possible improvements and write your ideas down. They’ll soon be gone otherwise.

Don’t limit your sources of inspiration to design work.
Read on the topic and listen too. I use music a lot as a source of inspiration, and a part of this tutorial’s design is listening to Hans Zimmer’s “The Last Samurai” Soundtrack.  You don’t have to be a music connoisseur, to notice that Hans took traditional Japanese music and instruments and put them in a modern context through his own style and technique.  This is exactly what I tried to do in this design.

What I’m talking about here is not spending months of study for something that’s just a personal project, but if you tackle a theme blindly without any research, you’ll probably find yourself halfway through the piece, all out of ideas. In an effort to finish the piece, you may end up going back to your inspiration and copy ideas directly. Well, that or you abandon the whole project thinking it’s just not good enough.

I think there should be a moment where you cut yourself off almost completely from your sources of inspiration and start working based on your own experience and style, even when it comes to something as representative as Asian art. Eventually you’ll get used to working solely on what you know.

Here are only a few examples of Japanese illustrations I looked at for my research. I liked the rich detail and flat look combined with a fading background. Depth of field is achieved through contrast and stroke width.

I love using color in my work, so that was an early decision- finding ways to integrate artistic and sharp lines with richly colored gradients.

Now let’s get to work and begin this illustration. There is a lot of detail that won’t be very noticeable in the screenshots, so there are occasional close-ups to help.

Create the misty background

Make a new document and fill it with this color: 35293c. I’m using a custom size (42 x 21,15 cm), which is basically a narrowed down A3 document.

Choose a very light pink (d4ccd8) and while using a large, soft brush, click a few times around the bottom of the canvas to create an imperfect horizon line.

Transform (Ctrl + T) the light pink layer and skew it upward into a thinner surface.

Now, grab the brush again and paint a few larger spots in certain areas so the line won’t be perfectly straight anymore.

Repeat this process to these next few colors. Start by adding a dark purple (same as the first) on the bottom.

Add a red part to the sunset using this shade: da564b. Put its layer behind the purple ones and over the light pink.

Add a red part to the sunset using this shade: da564b. Put its layer behind the purple ones and over the light pink.

Now add a darker purple (1a121f) on top of all the layers.

And now yellow: f9e16d.

Draw a line art tree

The trick to creating the line work in this style is to use a larger sized brush than the actual stroke you intend to create. All the lines in the image below were drawn using the same brush size, seen in the right top corner.

For those of you that do not own a pen tablet, I can sympathize. For about half a year I convinced myself that I don’t need one. I was wrong.

A pen tablet does not make you an artist. Your shaky hand and uneven lines won’t magically go away with your first purchase. Actually, it will probably get worse at first. Since the surface does not absorb pressure just like paper, it’s more difficult to draw on it. Also, you can’t turn the tablet sideways to get the best angle for long strokes if you don’t have a tablet with that added feature (Most don’t).

When I gave in to buying one, I blindly convinced myself to get an expensive tablet, at the very least something like 6×8 or 6×11 in size. Luckily I listened to the advice of one of my college professors and started out small, without taking any risk of buying something expensive that by the time I’d master, I’d need a new one. I bought a tiny Wacom bamboo that I can practice on. Perhaps a year later, I’ll buy a nicer one and slowly work my way up the ladder once I’m ready.

A bamboo, all three kinds, is pretty cheap. If you think it would be an advantage to your work, go for it. If you can already draw art well on paper (the kind you’d make on a computer), then consider moving to Intuos for the sake of a better resolution and pressure sensitivity. See the differences here.

Begin by drawing a general orientation of the tree trunk, as well as positioning it in the scenery. Use this purple: 6f6575.

Now, add the main branches. I suggest you make a separate layer for each of these steps.

Now change the brush size to a much smaller one, and draw the tree bark.

Repeat the process for the branches.

Choose the previously used light pink (d4ccd8), and draw underneath all the tree layers. Those will give the impression that the tree is highlighted.

Now add a new layer (Ctrl +Shift + N) on top of all the tree layers and with the same color draw more depth lines toward the center of the tree. That will make the tree look more 3D.

Make a windswept tree crown

The shape of the crown is not only made to look like it’s swept by the wind, but also gives a resemblance to Japanese bonsai trees, which is in relation to our theme.

Underneath all the tree layers, add a new layer and draw the first large stroke of foliage. Use this orange: c87f56

Keep your orientation in mind at all times. Make it look windy, but try to give it a certain elegance too. The point is not to make it look skewed horizontally from side to side, but carried away with the wind. It needs to be continuous, so it doesn’t give the impression that the crown will run out of leaves just as you’re watching it.

Continue these lines by creating thinner and very thin lines. Basically, make them match the aspect of the tree. Don’t add to much detail though, so that it doesn’t look overcrowded.

Again with the light pink, paint a highlight over the orange strokes on a separate layer.

Add a new layer, this time over the tree and create strokes that go from side to side with this yellow: d2ad65.

Add smaller strokes, just as before.

Finish them off with highlights, using the same shade of light pink.


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Create a grassy crest

Draw some light pink grass, and make the dark edges of the mountain on a separate layer using the darker purple (same as the tree color).

On a new layer above these two, add some light pink strokes that follow the wind pattern.

Now add some more detail with thinner strokes.

We’ll now start to create depth in the grass. First, draw a few thick dark purple lines across the space.

As usual, use an increasingly smaller brush to add details.

Now make a new layer and add another layer of light pink streams that resemble grass. Make sure that they cover the dark purple areas.

Create a new layer over the tree layers this time. Add very thin dark lines in the same way, but at a much smaller scale.

Make yet another layer, and just as the previous step, paint thin strokes but with light pink this time.

Draw a few distant mountain tips

Create a new blank layer underneath the grassy hill and draw the outline of the two mountains, left of the tree.

Make a layer beneath the mountain outline and draw a purple background for them. Fade out the end by using a soft brush with the same color. That part will later be hidden under fog, so don’t worry about making a very smooth transition, as long as it goes down enough.

On top of the right mountain, add another tree.

Add two more mountains in the distance. Simply draw all the colors on the same layer and erase the bottom with a soft brush.

Create some more mist

Now create another new layer on top of the mountain layers and draw a stream of yellow using this shade: d3b766.

Add a red shade too: d9564b.

And finally, add the really dark purple we used originally to darken the sky.

Download this texture and paste it on top of all the layers. Set its layer’s blending mode to Soft Light.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Use the light pink and purple as colors. This will define the luminosity, though we’ll eliminate the saturation in the next step and add contrast too.
Make it a clipping mask for the paper texture, so that the gradient map only affects the photo and not the whole image.

In the same way, add a Channel Mixer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer). Use the Black and White Infrared setting, which is the first option in the drop down menu.

Now we’ll create the worn feel for the illustration by using the bittbox Grungy Watercolor brush set. Select the first brush, and while using the light pink, paint on a new layer on top of all the other layers. Cover almost the entire canvas, and choose the Eraser tool (E).  Load the same brush and start to erase main areas, as well as portions that are too bright. We don’t want it to interfere with the design too much; it’s just to age it and to give it a texture.

And finally, slightly adjust the color to a more intense red by adding a Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer. Change the Hue to -5.

Your new color scheme should look something like the one below. The close up might help you with drawing the tree too.

The Finish Line!

Well that’s it! Our illustration is now finished. While the outcome of such a design completely depends on your own skill, style and, well, patience… always choose to take your inspiration one step further and adapt it to your own style.

What do you think of these techniques? Share your own in the comments. Thanks for reading!


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Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Shoaf

    Great article! Thanks!

    And I couldn’t live without my Wacom tablet. I’ve often said my Mac is my favorite peripheral attached to my Wacom! (Currently rocking an 8-year-old 9×12 Intuos 1 that I use 8-10 hours/day since it was new.)

  • Shoaf

    Great article! Thanks!

    And I couldn’t live without my Wacom tablet. I’ve often said my Mac is my favorite peripheral attached to my Wacom! (Currently rocking an 8-year-old 9×12 Intuos 1 that I use 8-10 hours/day since it was new.)

  • http://www.gomedia.us Adam Wagner

    Great tutorial Alex – I love how you let us all peek deep into your process.

    + 1 for designing on Vista. I’m definitely an MS fan.

  • http://www.gomedia.us Adam Wagner

    Great tutorial Alex – I love how you let us all peek deep into your process.

    + 1 for designing on Vista. I’m definitely an MS fan.

  • Alex_Beltechi

    Thanks guys! PC. WACOM. NIKON! :D

  • Alex_Beltechi

    Thanks guys! PC. WACOM. NIKON! :D

  • http://seedstotrees.com/blog Lynn

    Wow nice. That was a great tutorial :)

  • http://seedstotrees.com/blog Lynn

    Wow nice. That was a great tutorial :)

  • http://www.pushingbuttons.net Timothy

    Wow. Really cool. Great end product

  • http://www.pushingbuttons.net Timothy

    Wow. Really cool. Great end product

  • http://forthelose.org Wordpress Themes

    Damn, must’ve been a pain to make all of those individual pictures. Came out great though

  • http://forthelose.org Wordpress Themes

    Damn, must’ve been a pain to make all of those individual pictures. Came out great though

  • http://www.makepapereasy.com ProjectCenter

    Nice tutorial. I like the detail by which you explain the process. It’s great for keeping up my chops and learning something new.

  • http://www.makepapereasy.com ProjectCenter

    Nice tutorial. I like the detail by which you explain the process. It’s great for keeping up my chops and learning something new.

  • redphayze

    Very impressive and great tips!

    I’m only starting to test the waters with using a pen/tablet. It’s quite a different feel indeed!

  • redphayze

    Very impressive and great tips!

    I’m only starting to test the waters with using a pen/tablet. It’s quite a different feel indeed!

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff Finley

    Nice one Alex, glad to have you as part of the Zine!

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff Finley

    Nice one Alex, glad to have you as part of the Zine!

  • http://www.psdfan.com Tom Ross

    Awesome tutorial, really detailed with a great outcome.

  • http://www.psdfan.com Tom Ross

    Awesome tutorial, really detailed with a great outcome.

  • Adam

    very nice tutorial. learned some little tips here that i will be putting to use. i need a wacom so bad…

  • http://smashill.com smashill

    This is a great tutorial. I wonder how long it took you to actually create this piece. The artwork itself, not the tutorial

  • http://smashill.com smashill

    This is a great tutorial. I wonder how long it took you to actually create this piece. The artwork itself, not the tutorial

  • Adam

    very nice tutorial. learned some little tips here that i will be putting to use. i need a wacom so bad…

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  • Miro!

    haha i knew it was u Alex, when i saw the preview.
    U got such a nice style dude.
    BUT, yes, i think there’s a BUT here for me : u shouldn’t have make the grass that detailed.
    A more simple zone could have been nice for the tree that disapeers in this grass setup.

    Anw, keep this up Alex o/

  • Miro!

    haha i knew it was u Alex, when i saw the preview.
    U got such a nice style dude.
    BUT, yes, i think there’s a BUT here for me : u shouldn’t have make the grass that detailed.
    A more simple zone could have been nice for the tree that disapeers in this grass setup.

    Anw, keep this up Alex o/

  • http://abdusfauzi.com abdusfauzi

    the tutorials and the output are awesome! the brush strokes were clean. Kudos.

  • http://abdusfauzi.com abdusfauzi

    the tutorials and the output are awesome! the brush strokes were clean. Kudos.

  • Simon H.

    Nice :-) It changes from the usual stuff (which is still interesting) and gives fresh ideas !

  • http://aetoricdesign.carbonmade.com Aetoric Design

    Interesting tutorial. Nice description of Wacom capabilities!

  • http://aetoricdesign.carbonmade.com Aetoric Design

    Interesting tutorial. Nice description of Wacom capabilities!

  • http://forthelose.org Wordpress Themes

    I like these kinds of posts, really informative. Great to see the pros work.

  • http://forthelose.org Wordpress Themes

    I like these kinds of posts, really informative. Great to see the pros work.

  • http://www.logodesignguru.com/A/Logo-design-Articles.asp logo design guru

    very nice. It’s always fun to create effects in art that you can’t see with your eyes such as wind. All you can see is the effect it has on objects. Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.logodesignguru.com/A/Logo-design-Articles.asp logo design guru

    very nice. It’s always fun to create effects in art that you can’t see with your eyes such as wind. All you can see is the effect it has on objects. Thanks for the post.

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  • Simon H.

    Nice :-) It changes from the usual stuff (which is still interesting) and gives fresh ideas !

  • uneekGrafix

    WOW its like a digital Bob Ross!!

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  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Michael Thomas

    Nice Tutorial. I can use this way of working for creating website backgrounds and work for print. I can see some nice canvas prints coming along! Would this not be better to do in illustrator as vectors?

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Michael Thomas

    Nice Tutorial. I can use this way of working for creating website backgrounds and work for print. I can see some nice canvas prints coming along! Would this not be better to do in illustrator as vectors?

  • uneekGrafix

    WOW its like a digital Bob Ross!!

  • Ruben

    wow…thank you

  • Ruben

    wow…thank you

  • http://www.livecube.es seeal

    nice tutorial thx ^^

  • lo

    I really like the outcome. But how do you get those strokes? What are you brush settings? The strokes I make seem to be a lot rounder, opposed to the more flat pointy ones you have.

    I hope you understand what I mean.. thx for the tutorial!

  • http://www.cgtrade.net imsraaia

    Awesome

  • http://www.biancayvonne.com Bianca Yvonne

    This is fantastic! Thank you!

  • IN8

    Can you do photoshop line art without a whacom tablet?…. also, when i use my photoshop brush it stamps and repeats itself over and over and doesn't create a fluid line for me.

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  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk Mat

    A pretty fantastic step by step guide there. Nice post.

  • http://visual-blade.com Daquan Wright

    That's why the pen tool exists, that tool that you can section off as line segments can do line art as well. Just takes longer.

    Great piece!

  • http://www.sblgraphics.com/ photoshop image masking

    I love the amount of details you gave in your instructions through this tutorial. Great example. Looking forward to more from you.

    Regards,
    image masking services

  • http://www.printplace.com/printing/brochure-printing.aspx On Brochure Printing

    I appreciate being to see right into the mind of another designer. This was a very informative post for me. I love how detailed you are through each step of the process.

  • http://www.club-penguin.org/ club penguin

    Cool!!! I like the detail by which you explain the process. It's great for keeping up my chops and learning something new.

  • http://www.club-penguin.org/ club penguin

    Cool!!! I like the detail by which you explain the process. It's great for keeping up my chops and learning something new.

  • http://bestcharlottepainters.com/ Charlotte Painting

    Wow great art love the pictures.

  • http://www.superchinawholesale.com/ handbags

    I've often said my Mac is my favorite peripheral attached to my Wacom! (Currently rocking an 8-year-old 9×12 Intuos 1 that I use 8-10 hours/day since it was new.)

  • http://twitter.com/ios0se Samuel

    Wow, really cool and beautiful. Wish I could draw like that with my wacom!


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  • http://www.aravindtemplates.com/ Aravind

    Nice…..work with nice explanation…..Thanks……

  • chris_repeto

    great job
    thanks for the tutorial

    I invite you to visit my site drawings http://drawingstree.com

  • ronartswebdesign

    It is a great step by step guide, very well explained and easy to understand. Good post!!!!

  • http://www.mrpayday.ca Payday Loans

    Very good!!!
    It's always fun to create effects in art that you can't see with your eyes such as wind. All you can see is the effect it has on objects. Thanks for the post!

  • Matt

    Thanks for this nice work!
    dizi izle

  • http://www.clippingimages.com/ Clippingimages

    wow…Very very handy one…thanks for sharing mate…

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    To create or produce, as a work of art; to form a plan or scheme of; to form in idea; to invent; to project; to lay out in the mind; as, a man designs an essay, a poem, a statue, or a cathedral.

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  • Windows License Key

    Great article! Thanks!

    • yiwu wholesale

      Thanks once again for the great tunes.

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  • http://www.ticketloot.com/rush-tickets Rush Tickets

    This is a great tutorial. I wonder how long it took you to actually create this piece.

  • gucci cosmetic case

    Thanks for the post!It’s always fun to create effects in art that you can’t see with your eyes such as wind. All you can see is the effect it has on objects.

  • Moazzem Hossain

    What a post! Fantastic. Get going

  • Moazzem Hossain

     What a brilliant post. Fabulous. Keep it up.

  • Alexander Pereira

    The artwork looks great, Imma try the tutorial, but really, the value of what you have written about the creative process is priceless, worth more than 4 years at art school or at a design job, You should make a seperate post about such matters. Creativity = copy, modify, combine. There is no virgin birth in art. You should check out ‘Everything is a Remix’ video series on vimeo, you’d love it.

    PS> facebook sign-in keeps giving me an error. Id check that.

  • Alexander Pereira

    The artwork looks great, Imma try the tutorial, but really, the value of what you have written about the creative process is priceless, worth more than 4 years at art school or at a design job, You should make a seperate post about such matters. Creativity = copy, modify, combine. There is no virgin birth in art. You should check out ‘Everything is a Remix’ video series on vimeo, you’d love it.

    PS> facebook sign-in keeps giving me an error. Id check that.

  • Aythami González Díaz

    Hi, sorry but i’m stuck in this step: Draw a Line Art Tree. To make these brushes, I need to take the part you have selected in the image? Or I need to download it? 

  • http://www.drmustafaerarslan.net/ panax

    A more simple zone could have been nice for the tree that disapeers in this grass setup

  • http://www.drmustafaerarslan.net/ panax

     It’s quite a different feel indeed!

  • http://www.webdizajn.ws/ Web Dizajn

     Great! i’ll try this. please share some more information i am waiting.

  • Gustaf Johansson

    Real nice!