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Create a Hill Scene Using Gradients in Adobe Illustrator

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Recently I came across an inspiring photograph by Felicia Simion, featuring hills with a gradient appearance. Once I fell in love with the image, I just had to create a version in vector. Felicia has been kind enough to grant me permission to use her artwork as inspiration for this tutorial.

Photography by Felicia Simion

So let's open up Adobe Illustrator and get ready to create your own hill scene.

1. Use Kuler to Create Your Palette

Step 1

I'm going to create a color palette directly from the photo. I don't want to trace the photo, but I do want to use the colors from it in my illustration.

Pop over to the Adobe Kuler website and log in with your Adobe ID. Once you're logged in, click on the camera icon to "Create from Image". 

I'm going to pick up from colors from the silhouette, top of the hill, bottom of the hill and the lighter shades from towards the top. Save your palette once you're happy with the combination you have.

If you're like to find out more on using Adobe Kuler, why not check out this handy screencast by Cheryl Graham on Using Kuler with Adobe Illustrator.

Step 2

Now to import your new color palette into Illustrator. Open up the Kuler panel by going to Window > Kuler. Click on the Refresh icon along the bottom of the panel and it should update to include your new palette. 

Click on the folder to the left of the palette and this will add all five colors to your Swatches panel. 

2. Create the Hills

Step 1

Let's start by drawing a Rectangle (M) for our sky/base and filling it with the lightest color in the palette. 

Step 2

Now to begin drawing shapes for the hills. I'll be starting from the top of the composition and every new hill will be laid on top of the previous.

With the Pen Tool (P), draw your initial shape. Create a waved top edge to simulate the hill. 

Step 3

This hill is looking a little bit too smooth, so let's give it a more random, textured outline. 

With the shape selected, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen. I'm going to set the Size to 2pt and the Detail at 15/in.

Step 4

Then I'm going to fill the hill with a Linear Gradient which goes from the pale sky color to the lightest blue from the palette.

Step 5

Now that I've got the gradient and the textured outline set, I'm going to continue adding further shapes to fill the rest of the composition.

Step 6

In theory, the hills towards the bottom of the image will be closer to the viewer. So with that, I'm going to change the Roughen settings to increase the Size of the effect to the shapes towards the front.

I start changing the front most shapes to 5pt and then work backwards and reduce the Size until I get back to 2pt, the original Size setting.

3. Refine the Hills and Add Texture

Step 1

In the original photograph, there is a gradient look to the hills which helps enhance the sense of distance. The hills towards the front are darker and the hills in the distance almost blend into the sky. In order to achieve this effect, I'm going to add Linear Gradients over the top of the hills.

The first will use the darkest color in the palette, then a mid blue, then the pale sky fill. I'll use it to fill a Rectangle (M) and set it to Blending Mode Color Burn, Opacity 100%.

Step 2

Then I'm going to use a transparent Linear Gradient to fade the top portion of the composition. I'm using the light sky color and again filling a Rectangle (M), this time set to Blending Mode Overlay, Opacity 100%.

Step 3

I want to add a subtle texture to the hills. This will help give the impression that there are rocks or even trees on the hills. To do this I'm going to use a default Bristle Brush called "Mop" from the Brushes panel. I'm going to use the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the light sky stroke color. I'll then set the Blending Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 50%.

4. Create the Foreground

Step 1

So let's start by drawing our hill in the foreground. I'm going to use the Pen Tool (P) and create a wavy hill and then fill it with a Radial Gradient going from the darkest hill color to the foreground color. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to modify the ratio and placement of the gradient.

Step 2

As this hill is in the foreground, you'd see a bit more of the detailing in the texture of the outline of the silhouette. So when I go to apply the Roughen effect, I'm going to first keep the Size to 2pt but increase the Detail to 60/in.

Step 3

I don't want to copy the inspiration for this scene, so instead of a person I'm going to use basic shapes to create a monument in the foreground. 

When I think of silhouetted monuments, I'm taken back to my childhood. Whenever I used to go into Newcastle Upon Tyne (my home city) by bus, you'd travel along one of the main roads into the city. You could see off into the distance a monument, about 30 miles away. Given I used to live in a conurbation, it's a little unusual to see such a sight on a hill in the distance.

So the inspiration for this silhouette is Penshaw Monument.

Step 4

Once you've created your monument, select all of your shapes and use Pathfinder > Unite to combine them.

Step 5

Then I've added further shapes onto the hill, to make it look as if there are ruins. I've selected the hill and monument shapes and went to Object > Expand, then I've used Pathfinder > Unite again. 

Then use the Gradient Tool (G) to position your gradient.

5. Add the Finishing Touches

Step 1

Now for the finishing touches. I'm going to start by adding small hills and textures to the already established hills. 

Create New Layer above the original hills but below the gradient overlays and foreground. 

Using the Pencil Tool (N), draw small bumps across the landscape. I've used a light blue to light sky fill with the use of transparent Linear Gradients. I've then applied the Roughen effect to the paths, set to Size 2pt and Roughen 15/in

These shapes are then set to Opacity 40%.

Step 2

I want to blend our hills further into the sky. So I'm going to use an inverted transparent Radial Gradient using the light sky color to fill a Rectangle (M). I'm then going to set this shape to Blending Mode Overlay, Opacity 50%

And with that, I'm done.

Awesome Work, You're Done!

Even if your interest is purely in vector art, try looking outside of your usual field of inspiration into other mediums. It's completely fine to be inspired by others, but be sure to give credit where it is due and if you're going to create something so close to the original, permission is highly recommended. 

With that, I wish to thank Felicia Simion for inspiring this composition and allowing me to share her work in this tutorial. 

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