Use the Pen tool and textures to add depth in Photoshop

Warm digital illustration of a hiker in a beautiful mountain landscape

In this Photoshop tutorial, London-based illustrator Charlie Davis walks through a series of core techniques in Photoshop CC 2018, while creating a peaceful countryside scene.

Over the following short screencapture videos, he covers how to use the Pen tool and brushes to build a composition. You’ll also learn how to apply masks, and how to use textures from Adobe Stock to add depth and warmth.

Davis took a mental trip to the country when he was asked to illustrate this scene, which evokes silence and solitude. “This scene is about getting away from the digital noise of modern-day life,” he explains.

Once you’ve mastered the techniques here, you can apply them to your own artwork. And you can download 10 images from Adobe Stock for free to get started.

01. Begin your composition with the Brush tool

After importing his initial sketch into a new Photoshop CC file, Davis begins his composition, using the Brush tool (B) to draw in major elements.

Davis works on a Wacom Cintiq – his graphics tablet of choice – and the majority of his brushes were created by Kyle Webster. (If you haven’t updated your copy of Photoshop CC, you’re in for a happy surprise – many of Webster’s brushes are now built into the app.)

02. Add solid shapes using the Pen tool

Davis switches to Photoshop’s Pen tool (P). He draws simple, solid shapes to build up the most distant elements of the illustration.

03. Add mid-ground elements

In this clip, Davis uses a combination of freehand drawing and the Pen tool to introduce the mid-ground elements of his illustration.

05. Focus on the foreground

Now Davis turns his attention to the foreground elements, which he colors in dark shades to enhance the composition’s sense of depth. To create the leaves of a plant, he draws one leaf with the Pen tool and then duplicates it. Next, he rotates angles and plays with size to introduce more natural-looking variations.

06. Add more plants

At this stage, he returns to the Brush tool (B) to freehand another plant.

07. Add highlights with colour

Davis drew the general shape of the foreground bird with the Pen tool (P), and made it one solid colour. In this clip, you can see how he adds highlights with a lighter colour.

08. Add texture with masks

Davis adds details to break up the flat expanse of snow in the centre of the illustration. Towards the end of this clip, he creates a layer named “tone ledge” and walks through a technique he uses again and again.

He masks into a shape, then draws up against the mask to give one side a textured edge. This combination of freehand drawing with the more precise vector shapes and masks is a hallmark of his process.

09. Think about the light source

With all the elements of his illustration now in place, Davis adds long shadows that indicate the light direction and time of day. These helps enhance the mood of the image.

10. Add definition

Now, Davis returns to the background. He uses the Brush tool to apply shades to the mountain-sides, giving them definition.

11. Make it more organic with brushwork

To give the appearance of a sun that’s low in the sky, Davis brushes highlights onto the edges of the forms in the illustration. An added benefit is that the pixel-based brush roughens the too-perfect vector shapes, making everything feel more organic.

12. Create shadows

In this clip, Davis adds snow and shadows to a rock.

13. Add dimension

To give the foreground more dimension, Davis works in a bright ray of sun hitting the rocks. This not only enhances the drama of the lighting, but it also calls attention to the bird – an important element of the composition.

14. Add warmth with Adobe Stock textures

To enhance the organic feel of the illustration, Davis adds textures from Adobe Stock using the Creative Cloud Libraries feature inside Photoshop. This clip is a fascinating look into how small details can elevate an artwork.

15. Refine colour with Adjustment layers

Davis’s finishing touches include adding more textures and refining colour via Adjustment layers. 

See more work from Charlie Davis.

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