How to Create a Witch's House Scene with Gradients in Illustrator
In this tutorial you will learn how to illustrate a cute quirky landscape with a witch's house. Starting with line art the tutorial moves onto coloring using Gradients and a variety of Blend Modes. The tutorial explains tools such as the Pencil Tool and shows smart Illustrator options to edit a whole illustration within minutes. The whole illustration was created in Adobe Illustrator, showing the powers of the program. This tutorial is more of a process walk through, one example of how such an illustration can be created.
Start by creating a New document in the dimensions of 1200 × 740 px landscape format. The whole line art will be drawn using the Pencil Tool (N). You do not need a tablet pen to do so, but it helps. Seeing that the style of this illustration is rather free and not precise, a mouse will eventually be just as good.
Let's start by looking at the Pencil Tool (N) settings. Using a mouse/tablet pen to draw with the Pencil Tool (N) may result in your shapes being different than your stroke with the physical tool. But you can change the Pencil Tool settings: double-click the tool in the Tool Panel and adjust the Tolerances.
Fidelity describes how close the vector line will be to your drawing, the smaller the number, the close the line, but also the more anchor points.
Smoothness refers to the amount of anchor points which will be in your line. The smaller the percentage the more anchor points and harsher curves, the bigger the less anchor points and softer curves.
Play around with the settings on random shapes until they are to your liking.
This is a walk through of how I draw the single shapes. I usually start at the top and draw clockwise around the shape. This one is a rock, so it is rather curvy at the top and flat at the bottom.
I do not try to close the path, but leave some space between the beginning and end of my line. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), I select those two points and join them (Command + J). This will result in two corner points.
Those two anchor points still selected, I change their corner style to Smooth using the settings in the Control panel along the top of the Illustrator UI. This creates a smooth line between the anchor points at the top of my shape.
Here we have the finished line art. Additionally to the Pencil Tool (N), I also drew some shapes with the Pen (P) and the Ellipse Tool (L). The tree trunks for example have straight lines, so I simply used the Pen Tool (P) and created trapeze-like shapes. I did not pay too much attention to working precise as the whole style does not call for it. This is both practical and annoying. I often start to redraw shapes I made with the Pencil Tool (N), because they did not turn out as expected. If you are always very far off in those results, you may have to adjust the Pencil Tool (N) settings again.
In order to better keep track of what I am doing, I always create as many layers as possible. In this case each level of depth has its own layer. That way I can lock and turn off layers I am not working on and not accidentally select an item. I also make groups out of shapes where it makes sense. For example the whole witch's house is in one group, as well as the fences and the well.
Now that we have the line art, let's take a look at the effect we are looking for. Each shape will eventually consist of a base color, a black to white and a yellow to purple linear gradient and a cel shading shape of the same color like the base shape. The black to white gradient is set to Blending Mode Multiply at 50% Opacity, same as the cel shading shape. The colored gradient will be set to Blending Mode Hard Light at 25 % Opacity.
For coloring I selected all shapes I want to be in the same color. Since I created a lot of groups, I do not use the Selection Tool (V), but the Group Selection Tool, hidden under the Direct Selection Tool (A). By default there is no shortcut to this tool, so in order to speed up your work flow, you can tear off both tools or give it your own shortcut. Go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts and under Tools select the Group Selection Tool (V) and apply the shortcut you want to use for it. To make things easier to remember I set it to Shift + A.
So far you can still see the black outline of each shape, but we will get rid of that.
To delete all strokes, Select All elements (Ctrl + A) and simply delete them; you can do so by opening the Stroke Panel or deleting it in the Tool panel. Now that we have no more stroke on our elements, the whole illustration looks very flat.
I am usually a supporter of using Layer Styles with multiple fills in my illustrations, but in this case I decided not to do so, as I could foresee it may slow me down a lot. I did, however, use Graphic Styles to speed up my work flow.
At first I only started out with one shape, which will be the base for all the rest. Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste in Front (Ctrl + F), apply a linear black to white gradient and set the Blend Mode to Multiply with Opacity set to 50%. The shape still selected open the Graphic Styles panel and add the shapes appearance as a New Graphic Style.
Now for the rest of the shapes, I repeated Copy and Paste in Front for each shape and then applied the newly created Graphic Style to each duplicate. Since the moon is my light source, I adjusted each gradient to where the light would come from. This is a bit tedious, but the result will speak for itself. Applying each gradient singularly will make the image much more vivid in the end.
Here you can see the directions of all Gradient Fills I applied. The big circle always refers to the beginning of the fill, in this case the white end of the gradient.
Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste in Front (Ctrl + F), apply a linear gradient from yellow (R: 255, G: 251, B: 148) to purple (R: 95, G: 12, B: 204) and set the Blend Mode to Hard Light with Opacity set to 25%. The shape still selected open the Graphic Styles panel and add the shapes appearance as a New Graphic Style.
As in the previous step, I repeated this to each shape on my canvas. For some shapes, like the moon and sky, I changed to a radial gradient.
Here is an overview of how the colored gradient was applied to each shape.
The next step was to add cel shading to the shapes. This shape will always have to same fill color as the shape it is on, but with Blend Mode set to Multiply and Opacity to 50%.
I used the Pathfinder panel for creating the cel shading shapes. Select the shape you want to apply the cel shading to. You may have to dig in your Layers panel to reach the base shape which has the Color Fill we need. Using the Pencil Tool (N) draw a rough, quirky shape where you want the cel shading to be.
In the next steps I will add some more atmospheric elements to the scenery. First will be some adjustments to the moon.
I start by duplicating the solid filled base shape of my moon and proportionally increase its size. Then I will change the fill to a gradient fill of the same color, but going from 100% Opacity in the center to 0% Opacity at the edges. Because I want this glow to be coming more directly from the moon, I will drag the gradient slider with the 100% Opacity closer to the edge, until it looks like the glow is strongest at the edge of the moon itself.
I will give the moon some simple structure, by creating a set of smaller circles in the same color like the base shape. Then I will reduce their Opacity to 20% and set their Blend Mode to Multiply.
For them to stay inside the moon surface, I duplicate the base shape and paste it in front, then I select this shape and the smaller circles and create a Clipping Mask; Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make or use the shortcut Command + 7.
The next step will be to add stars to the sky. I start by creating a Scatter Brush which will be used to create stars.
The idea is to have a circular shape as base for the Scatter Brush. I could draw a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L), but I decided for a different approach: a single dot.
Start by drawing a line anywhere on your canvas. Open the Align panel and with the Direct Selection Tool (A) I will select each of the line's two anchor points and align them vertically and horizontally centered on the canvas. This will result in one line which is exactly 1pt long.
In the Stroke panel I select a Round Cap and Round Join for the line. This will create a tiny circle or dot, which you can only see when you zoom in.
This dot selected, I will create a new Scatter Brush. Open the Brush Panel and create a New Brush; select Scatter Brush.
We want the brush to be as random as possible, so we change Spacing and Scatter to its extremes and change the Size to a very small amount. The Rotation can be neglected as it won't be visible on a dot anyway. Change the Colorization Method to Tints, so that the brush can be colored later on.
In the example I displayed the brush with a purple color and in four different Stroke Weights.
To create the stars, just draw some random lines using the Paintbrush (B) or Pencil Tool (N) and change the Stroke color to white and it's Stroke Weight to 5pt. I created a second bunch of lines, with a Stroke Weight of 10pt.
Next up we will add light to the windows of the Witch's house. Draw a circle and fill it with an orange gradient, going from 100% to 0% Opacity. Copy the shape in front of each window.
The door has some ragged planks, so the glow from there will come in beams, rather than circles. Draw some trapeze like shapes and use the same radial gradient as fill. Instead of in the center of the shape, the center of the gradient should now be where the beam starts between the planks.
Now we will create some smoke coming out of the chimney. I drew two white shapes, one of them being wider and more curvy, the other being slim but inside the bigger shape. The big shape will have 0% Opacity.
Go to Object > Blend > Make to create a Blend of the two shapes. Depending on your default settings, you may have to adjust the Blend. Therefore, with the Blend selected, double-click on the Blend Tool in the Tools panel. I changed the settings to a specified distance of 0.4 mm, the smallest available.
Change the Blending Mode of the blend to Soft Light, to give the smoke a less harsh appearance.
Add some more light beams in orange shining out of the chimney.
To add some of the light onto the surrounding trees, we will apply an orange gradient, similar to the one actually shining out of the windows and doors, to the tree tops. Select all the tree tops using the Direct Selection Tool (A). Copy all those shapes, paste them in front and using the Pathfinder panel, create one big shape by combining them all.
Now apply the radial gradient, changing its Ratio to a stretched ellipse and place its center where the house is. Finally change the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and Opacity to 40%. You can save this as a Graphic Style, as you may want to use it on more elements surrounding the house.
Same as in the step before, we will add some orange light coming from the hut onto the hill it stands on. Copy and Paste in Front a hill shape and fill it with the orange gradient, switch to a linear gradient and again set the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and Opacity to 40% or, if you saved a Graphic Style in the previous step, simply apply that one to the hill shape.
Now that the house is offering another light source, we will have to add some cast shadows. I will add some shadows cast by the fence in front of the house.
Select the fence shapes, duplicate them and flip them vertical. Of course this does not give us the needed shapes yet, so we have to adjust. Group the duplicated shapes and double click the group. You can now edit the shapes in that group without worrying about accidentally selecting shapes you don't want.
Move the singular shapes until the are in appropriate places.
To change the shadow's direction according to the light source the Free Transform Tool (E) helps. Click out of the group to work on all shapes at once. Select the Free Transform Tool (E) and click one of the group's corners. Hold the click and press Command to transform the group. This is a bit tricky, it is very important to click first and then press Command. You can also click into the group again and use the Free Transform Tool (E) on singular shapes.
Once the shapes look alright, it's time to combine them. Open the Pathfinder panel and Unite the shapes. Fill them with the brown of the fence and set their Blending Mode to Multiply and 25% Opacity.
Repeat this for the fence on the other side.
Now we will add some light fog to the hills in the background. Draw a circle and fill it with a yellow-greyish gradient going from 100% Opacity to 0%. Change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.
Change the shape into an ellipse and place and resize it to your liking. You can duplicate this shape as often as you want.
I also added some fog behind the small hill you see in the examples.
This is what we've got so far! If you are happy with this, awesome! But I still wasn't completely satisfied, especially with the colors. When you start out, you sometimes just don't know which direction you will be going. Luckily Illustrator makes it really easy to correct colors.
Select all the shapes on your canvas and go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork. This menu will show you all the colors of the elements you used in your illustration and lets you change their values. This happens via live preview, so you can see the immediate effect of your changes.
In the examples below I changed the color of the light coming from inside the house and the purple color from colored gradient you can see explained in Steps 5 and 9. You can change as many colors as you like, until you are happy with the result.
After the corrections the whole image has a warmer touch. That is also a reason why I choose to apply the yellow-purple gradient to each shape: if I want to correct it later on, I only have to go to Recolor Artwork to add a different feel to the illustration. I don't have to correct every color I used, I only have to correct two and see immediate results.
As a final step, I like to bring the colors of the whole illustration closer together. The yellow-purple gradient already helps creating an overall look to the work, but I like to try different color atmospheres before I think I am finished.
Since Illustrator does not have the Adjustment Layers like Photoshop does, I have to work around this. Especially because I don't want to open the file in Photoshop to do my final edits. I like to keep everything in Illustrator.
I create some solid colored squares that cover the whole canvas. In this case I went for yellow, purple and red. You could probably go for yellow, cyan and magenta or red, green and blue as well; the colors you choose are up to you. I change each shapes Blending Mode to Overlay and play with each shape's Opacity to create the kind of feeling I want the colors in my illustration to have.
And this is the result! You can still add more elements later on, maybe some cauldrons or a cat? Some eyes in the cave? Spiderwebs between trees? There is no limit to your imagination!