Create a Home Improvement Themed Digital Illustration


With this tutorial, I will take you through a step by step tutorial on how to create a unique piece of digital artwork. You will learn how to compose an image based on the "Rule of Thirds." This will teach you to build a dynamic composition that is aesthetically pleasing and professional-looking. On top of that you will work with selections, the Pen Tool, developing a color theme, patterns, shortcut keys, layer masks, and more.

Here are the links to the stock images used in this tutorial: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

Step 1

First think of a concept. With this tutorial, I chose a Home Improvement theme with a mixture of nature and abstract design. Also, I would like to add some Photoshop screens in the design to show the creative process. After you have your concept, either sketch some ideas on paper or go out and start to look for stock photos.

I normally get inspiration from great photos. Below is a picture of some stock photos that I paid for and also found for free to use. Try to find photos of high resolution and size so your final image can be printed!

Here are some links to some great stock photography sites:

Step 2

Now for some Photoshop fun!

Once you have images, sketches and your concept; you can start in Photoshop. Start by opening a new document around 10 inches by 13 inches, with a white background and at 300 Resolution. Here we have a document that is more tall than wide. Now press Command + R to bring up your ruler. Then click on the rulers that appear on the left and top of the document, and drag on top of your document. You want to drag the blue Guides on top of the document to cut it up into nine sections. Use the ruler to help break the sections down into thirds.

The areas highlighted in the picture are the areas where you want focal points to be. You want to place elements of your design into these intersections and not in the center or the corners of the composition. Command + H, will hide/show these guides.

Step 3

Now notice the top of the house image has a cut-off where the top of the image was. You will want to blend that into the white background.

Step 4

Let's add a Layer Mask to the house image layer. On the bottom of the Layer Palette, there is an Add Layer Mask button. Click it and it will add a second box on the house layer. This is the layer mask box, and while the box is selected, anything black painted on the layer will be removed. Anything white painted on the layer mask will appear. Right now the box is white and nothing from the layer is hidden.

Step 5

Select the Brush Tool from the Tools Palette and get a brush with a soft edge. You may want to lower the Opacity of the brush down to around 40%. (If you have the Brush Tool selected you can simply press the number 4 on your keyboard and the Opacity level on that brush will drop to 40%.) Now brush away the top part of the house image where the cutoff is. Notice on the layer mask box there is a black area from where you brushed away.

Say you went too far with your brushing and went over the house. You can bring it back! This is the beauty of the layer mask, nothing is lost. Hit the X key on your keyboard to switch between the background color and the foreground color. This should bring white to the foreground color and you will be able to brush back part of the layer you want to return.

Step 6

Next, we'll review how to use the Pen Tool in Photoshop. Click on the Pen Tool in the Tools Palette and make sure you have the Paths button selected in the Pen Tool Properties.

Step 7

Zoom in by simultaneously pressing Command and the Plus Sign on the keyboard, go to about 100% magnification or anything higher. Now we will use the Pen Tool to go around the house and make a path for the house. Start anywhere by clicking around the house on the document, then click on your next spot. If it is a straight line you can let go it will be a straight line. If it is a curve, as in the image below, you will click and drag until the curve of the path matches your house curve.

Once you have a curve, you can make your next point, but it will not be straight. Your next point will be a second curve. This is where a lot of Photoshop users that are new to the Pen Tool get discouraged. After you make your first curve, hold the Alt key and click on the last point you made. Then make a new point. It will be a straight line.

Step 8

Pen tool around the house and close off the last point with the first point you made. Once you have it closed off, go to your Path Palette. Double-Click on the Work Path and rename it to "Main House." This way you have your path made with hard work saved for the future, just in case you need it later.

Step 9

With your Pen Tool still selected, Right-click on the document area and select Make Selection. The house will now have a "Selection" around it. Now go back to your Layer Palette and make sure the house layer box is selected and not the layer mask box.

We will now copy and paste the house back into position. Instead of clicking Command + C and then Command + V, we are going to click Command + J. This command duplicates a layer. Since we have a selection around the house, it will duplicate just the house onto a new layer in the same spot it previously was. Now we can get behind the house.

Step 10

Next open up your other images separately. Repeat Step 9 with these other images. I found other stock photos by the same photographer where he had a series of these houses. For this type of design it might be best to have some similarity in your stock photos.

Once you've brought in your stock photos, you will need to arrange them. It's best to build some hierarchy here, so make sure your houses aren't all the same size. If you press Command + T you can resize the photos. I moved them around the document to build some movement. Notice that I put two of them near one of the intersections of the guide grid. By doing this your main focus will be the main house, and then your eye will naturally move to the two other houses.

Step 11

Now add some color. Make sure your top layer is selected. Go up to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance. If you move the top bar to the right and the bottom bar to the left you will get an orangish color. This Color Balance layer will affect all layers below it. This helps bring all of your stock photos colors together.

I made a couple of other adjustment layers and grouped them together. Once you've selected all the layers you want grouped together, press Command + G.

Step 12

Now lets make some paths with colored patterns. Using what you learned from Step 7, make a curved rectangle shape to connect the main house with one of the smaller houses. Once the path is closed make sure you save it in your Path Palette.

Step 13

On this new path, right click on the document and click Make Selection. Make sure you have a new layer with nothing on it (Command + Shift + N) and call it "Pattern_Path."

Next we need to fill this selection, so press Alt + Backspace. This will fill with your foreground color. If you want the background color to be filled instead, press Command + Backspace.

Right-click on the layer in the Layer Palette and go to blending options. Click the check box next to Pattern Overlay and add a pattern. I found a really nice gird type pattern online.

Here are some links to some great stock pattern sites:

Step 14

Next we want to add color to this pattern. First start by applying the pattern overlay to the layer. Make a new layer below your "Pattern_Path" layer. Select your "Pattern_Path" layer and click Command + E. This will merge the layer you have selected with the one right below it or to any layer that is selected with it.

Notice now we don't have the drop down arrow showing a pattern overlay. That's because you applied the layer style to the layer.

Step 15

With your "Pattern_Path" layer still selected in the Layer Palette, press Command + U. This will bring up the Hue/Saturation, which is where we'll change the color of the pattern. Next, click the check box next to Colorize and Preview.

This is where we are going to start with a color theme. With this piece we're using a Green and Red color theme, while the rest of the image will be Light Blues and Brownish/Yellow colors. So drag the bars in the Hue/Saturation window to get a green color similar to the picture below.

Step 16

We are going to continue with these connecting curved patterns. Repeat Step 12 and connect to the next house.

Step 17

Apply the pattern overlay to the layer.

Step 18

Next, add some red!

Step 19

Continue with the previous steps and go crazy making more paths. Make sure you don't do too many and over populate the canvas.

Step 20

Group all of your new path layers into a new set and call the new group "Paths."

Step 21

Next we will make the paths have grungy edges. Add a Layer Mask to one of the path layers. On that Layer Mask you will use a grunge brush instead of one of the default round brushes. It would be best to find some brushes that have a hard edge.

Here are some links to some grungy Photoshop brushes:

Once you have your brushes downloaded you will need to put them in your brush folder. Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CS3/Presets/Brushes. Then in your Brush Palette you will need to load them. After they are loaded start brushing away at the "Pattern_Path" layers.

Step 22

Continue to do it to the other paths. Make sure you do every edge on the path. You want to make sure the original shape is still there.

Step 23

Next we'll work on adding type to a path. Go ahead and make a curved path somewhere.

Step 24

Now press the T key on your keyboard to bring up the Text Tool. Then click on an end of the path and add a bunch of periods.

Right-Click the layer and click Rasterize. This will make the text uneditable, but we will be able to treat it as a layer and not text. Now add the pattern and color the dots the same way you did for the "Pattern_Path" layers.

Step 25

With the "Period layer" selected press Command + J to duplicate the layer. Then press Command + T to bring up the transform square. If you press and hold Command + Alt while dragging one of the corners of the transform square, it will scale the layer in proportion. Scale your periods down and move them to the left. Then duplicate that layer and scale another set of periods down. This will produce an effect that looks like the curves of periods are getting smaller.

Step 26

Select the period layers and press Command + E. This will merge the layers together, and you can add a Layer Mask, then add some of the grunge brush to that mask.

Next, we'll make a selection around the top house . Since this "house" layer has a Layer Mask still, you can Command-click on the Layer Mask. This will make a selection around the mask.

Step 27

Now that we have a selection around the house, we can add strokes and fills.

Step 28

In a layer under the house layer, go up to Edit > Stroke and add a brownish stroke. Now on a new layer add a fill. If you lost your selection you can press Command + Shift + D to bring back your last selection (to deselect press Command + D). Then go back to Edit >Fill, and move the filled layer around just a little bit so you can see it behind the house.

Step 29

Next we are going to take a Print Screen of our Photoshop screen and put it in the background. So press Command + U to get your Hue/Saturation window up, then make sure you zoom in on a part of your project to 100%. You can still zoom while the Hue/Saturation window is up by putting your cursor over the document and pressing Command and the Plus key simultaneously. If you don't like where you are looking at in the document, then hold the Space Bar and grab the document, then move it to your desired spot.

Next press the PrntScn button on your keyboard. With different keyboards you may have to turn off the Function Lock key. On a Mac you will press Command + Shift + 3.

Then press Command + N. A new window will come up asking if you want to open a new document. Select OK and press Command + V to paste your new screenshot.

Step 30

Drag the layer with the new screenshot onto the canvas of the piece you are working on.

Step 31

Get rid of the taskbar on the bottom of the screenshot. You can do this by pressing M and making a selection box over the taskbar and pressing Delete.

Step 32

Now move the screenshot to the background. If you press Command + Left Bracket key it will move the layer one layer back at a time. Keep pressing the Left Bracket key until you have it where you want it.

Step 33

So the white background is getting kind of boring. Lets add some nice clouds! Below is a sky photo found at stock.xchng.

Step 34

Place the sky photo in your document near the bottom of the layer palette. Mess around with the blending modes of the layer. Also, the opacity of the background image is overpowering. Try setting the Blending Mode to Color and the Opacity to about 54%.

Step 35

Now the top is too blue and the bottom is too yellow. To fix that we will lightly brush over the yellow with some blue.

Make a new layer (Command + Shift + N) and set the Blending Mode to Overlay. Grab a brush with a soft edge at 50% Opacity. Then brush over the yellowish areas. Notice how the top and bottoms match better now.

Step 36

Next add a leaf photo behind the "Main House" layer.

Step 37

Duplicate it, then we'll scale, do so while holding the Command + Alt keys and dragging on a corner. Click Enter after you get to your desired size.

Step 38

Then press Command + U and change the green to a red color that matches the reds of the rest of the document.

Step 39

Duplicate the first leaf and press Command + Right Bracket key to put it above the ref leaf. Then scale down in proportion again. So now there are three leafs.

Step 40

Try this same effect from the leaves of other shapes, like triangles.

Step 41

Now we are going to add some path lines to the scroll from the main image.

Step 42

Use the curved line on the scroll to help you make a perfect curve.

Step 43

Remember to always save your paths! :) You never know when you will need them again. For this path we will be using it again.

Step 44

You can now stroke that path. When you have the path selected press B. It will bring up your brush. Under the brush setting change it to a very small brush and a 100% Opacity. Then click P to bring the Pen Tool back up and right-click on the document. Choose Stroke Path and in the drop down box select Brush. This will stroke the path with the brush settings you just set up.

Step 45

Use your "scroll" path to create a shape on the scroll, then fill it in green and add your pattern. Next, Command-click on the box in the layer palette of the Path Fill layer. It will put a selection around the shape. We need to do this to add lighting to the shape. Press B and get a soft edge brush at low opacity and color in the bottom part of the shape with a black color. This will give some shadow to the shape and make it look like it is wrapping around the scroll.

Step 46

Add white near the top to show more light is hitting the paths.

Step 47

Next, lets make some grid lines of the house and of the scroll bar. Use the Pen Tool to make some boards and stroke those paths with a hard brown brush. Then go up to Filter > Pixelate > Facet. This will apply a filter to the lines to make them look more drawn.

Step 48

The top of the composition is looking pretty heavy so lets add another "Path_Pattern" layer with another stock photo of a house. Add some shadow under the path by duplicated the layer and pressing Command + U. Click Colorize and move the bottom bar all the way to the left. It will turn black. Then add some Blur to the shadow and set the Blending Mode to Overlay or Soft Light.

Now take away from the house by adding a layer mask and brushing it with some of your grunge brushes.

Step 49

To finish off the bulk of the composition the bottom left area feels bare. Lets adding something there.

Step 50

Make another path to connect to another house image. Make sure this house image isn't bigger than the main house or the ones above it. You want the viewer to move their eyes around the composition from the big house, to the house at the top then to this new house. This is setting up hierarchy.

Step 51

Next add some details to the house, like a stroke and masked out some of the house.

Then we want to take another screenshot. Zoom in to 100% and press Command + T on the house layer. Then press the PrtScrn button (or Command + Shift + 3 on a Mac) on your keyboard to save the shot of the transform tool square.

Step 52

Press Command + N and in the new document press Command + V.

Step 53

Now press M in the new document and make a selection box just around the screenshot area of where the transform tool is. Then press Command + C to copy this new selection and paste it into your piece.

Step 54

Now lets start adding little details to the composition. Next, add a paint bucket photo.

Step 55

Pen Tool out the bucket and the paint. After you click Make Selection, click the Layer Mask button and it will mask out the background.

Step 56

Next, right-click on the "Bucket" layer and click Apply Mask. This will make the layer just be the Bucket and lose the background.

Step 57

Then press Command + T, then right-click on the document and in the menu that comes up press Flip Horizontally.

Step 58

Next press L to bring up the Lasso Tool. Make a selection around just the bucket. We are going to use the bucket shape to make a shadow.

Step 59

Press Command + J and move the new layer back one step (Command + Left Bracket key) Also, transform the new layer around to so it lines up with the bucket.

Step 60

Next press Command + U and turn the bucket black by moving the bottom bar all the way to the left.

Step 61

Now set the layer to Overlay or Soft Light, whichever one looks better. Also, apply a Gaussian Blur from the Filters. Then right next to the bucket add some black brush to create a darker shadow.

Step 62

Now notice the paper under the bucket is a bit blurred. We will want to blur the bucket a bit to match the paper. So go back to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and mess with the amount until it matches with the paper in the main photo.

Step 63

Next, smudge some of the paint to make it look a bit runny. You can grab the Smudge Tool from the Tool Palette and use a soft edge brush at a strength of 50%. Then just pull at the sides of the paint.

Step 64

To finish off the paint bucket you may notice the red is off from the red of the rest of the image. That can be fixed.

Step 65

Make a copy of one of your paths that is red and pull it down towards the paint bucket so you have a reference to match your red color with.

Next press the L key and use the Lasso Tool to make a selection around the paint and the reflection of the paint on the bucket. After making your selection, go up to Select > Modify > Feather. This will make our selection not as hard and make the edges of it softer. So put a Feather Amount of about 3-5 on it.

Step 66

Then go up to Image > Adjustments > Selective Color. Here we will change the Red values. Mess around with the bars until it gets closer to the red you need. You may not match them just yet.

Step 67

If you didn't match them, go back to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Don't click the check box next to Colorize here. Mess around with the values here to match it up even better.

Step 68

Keep adding smaller details like drips coming out of the chimneys, or anything you can imagine!

Step 69

Once you are done adding your smaller details you can mess around with the Color Adjustment layers at the top of the Layers Palette to bring all of your colors together.


And we have a finish piece! It has a nice composition, hierarchy and a nice color theme. The final illustration is below, multiple views are shown. You can view the large version here.

Shortcut Keys Table

Here are all of the shortcut keys mentioned in this tutorial. Print this table out for future reference.

Key Action
V Arrow Tool
B Brush Tool
L Lasso Tool
P Pen Tool
T Text Tool
X Switch Foreground/Background Colors
Command + [ Move Layer Back One
Command + ] Move Layer Forward One
Command + C Copy
Command + V Paste
Command + "+" Zoom In
Command + "-" Zoom Out
Command + D Deselect
Command + Shift + D Reselect
Command + E Merge Down
Command + G Group
Command + H Hide/Show Guides
Command + J Duplicate Layer
Command + N New Document
Command + Shift + N New Layer
Command + R Hide/Show Ruler
Command + T Transform
Command + U Hue/Saturation
Hold Space Bar Drag Document
Alt + Backspace Fill With Foreground Color
Command + Backspace Fill With Background Color
Numbers (While Layer is Selected) Change Opacity of the Layer
Numbers (While a Brush Tool Selected) Change the Opacity of the Brush
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