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Core Art Skills: Part 6, Bringing It All Together

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This post is part of a series called Core Art Skills.
Core Art Skills: Part 5, Traditional Media Techniques

This is the final part of the six part series "Core Art Skills". Ben Mounsey will show you how to use texture, dimension, figure and visual reference as a basis for creating a final piece of artwork. This tutorial is broken down so that the workflow follows stages that replicate the order of the course and reinforces the value of each skill. The final image is the culmination of all the practices covered previously in the series.

Core Art Skills Series


To create my artwork, 'Moving Mountains', I've used sketchbook skills, figure studies, 3D space and Textures. You can follow along with this tutorial and recreate it exactly, but it's probably more beneficial to transfer the principles to your own creation.

Let's get started! We'll dive straight into the sketchbook, as I said in Part #2, the sketchbook is the best creative space to push around your ideas. When your not inspired, get out for some Reportage and see if you can spark off some creativity. I took to the streets to see if anything caught my eye -not a bad idea on a sunny day! This bit of quirky architecture caught my eye, the shapes are pleasing and work well well together.

After that, I ended up in my local sports center, where the climbing wall caught my eye. I sketched some of the climbers and one pose in particular got me thinking.

I started sketching a few thoughts down, thumbnail sketches, characters, compositions. I came up with the idea of a mountaineer, climbing down from a mountain top. I often find that great ideas can come from stripping things back to their basic shapes, I use a lot of angles and shapes in my work. This lead on to exploring geometric shapes, playing with perspective etc. It's a great chance to play with the 3D principles we talked about in Part #4.

By this point I had my basic concept and composition, so I looked back to my earlier figure drawing to work on a character. I took inspiration from my study of the climber, and combined that with the simple geometric treatment. Once I had all my artwork sketched out, it was time to prepare some textures to use. I already had some, scanned in and treated, paper texture that I wanted to use, in addition I created some Mono-Print texture as well -as discussed in Part #5. Using the roller to create a texture I was happy with.

Step 1

Now it's time to bring it all together digitally. Let's start by laying down a background color, using the Rectangle tool, draw a shape to cover the canvas. Make it a nice deep red, and lock the layer. On a new layer we're going to make a basic geometric cube. Again with the Rectangle tool draw an equal sided square -hold down the 'Shift' key while drawing. Make it a white to transparency gradient and blending mode opacity. Then use the Free Transform Tool (E) to skew the left side upward.

Step 2

Select the Reflect Tool and place the anchor point at the top right corner of the skewed square. While holding Shift + Alt drag the Reflect Tool over the shape so that a mirror image is created to the right of the existing square. Make the second square a black to transparency gradient, with the same blending mode. Now we should have two sides of our cube. With 'Smart Guides' turned on (Command + U), use the Pen tool to draw the top of the cube, using smart guides to line up the points. Make the top a shade darker than the previous side.

Step 3

Now to make the basic mountain shape, which resembles a pyramid shape. Take a copy of the left side of the cube and remove the top left anchor point (use the 'Delete Anchor Point Tool' (U)). Change the color to a nice contrasting blue and size it down much smaller.

Step 3b

Now it should make sense, as we repeat the steps we used to create the cube, use the Reflect tool to create the opposite side of the pyramid shape. Make this a slightly darker blue.

Step 4

The reason for the exacting nature of this process, is to make sure the cube and the pyramid fit together. We'll get to that next, position the pyramid into the top/center of the cube where all the points converge.

Step 5

Now duplicate the pyramid into rows, making sure the edges and points line up -this is aided by using the afore mentioned Smart Guides. You may need to size your pyramids up or down to get them to fit the cube top.

Step 5b

Now group the row of pyramids, and duplicate the row back along the top of the cube. Again making sure the edges and points line up. You should now have an abstract cube/ landmass and mountain range on top.

Step 6

Time to add a touch of Mono-Print texture. Look back and follow the Mono Print instructions in Part #5 of this series to get them into Illustrator. Select the left side of your cube and copy and paste in front (Command + C then Command + F), use that shape to mask off the texture. First color the texture white and choose the 'Overlay' Blending mode. Select both the texture and shape and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Create Mask.

Step 7

Group your landmass and mountains, and position them to the bottom left of the canvas. Now make a duplicate of the group, this is going to be the first of the mountain tops in the distance, and use the 'Unite' Pathfinder tool to create one solid shape. Give this new shape a vertical, black to transparent gradient, at 50% opacity, and place it behind and to the right of the original. Do the same another two times, moving each one off into the distance.

Step 8

Next, drop in the character sketch for reference, and duplicate one of the pyramid shapes from the mountain top. This is going to be our character's head. His body is all black and again very simple and geometric, use the Pen Tool to draw out his body. Make sure to keep the shapes straight and sharp.

Step 9

Group his body and then, for a quick enhancement, copy and paste it behind (Command + C > Command + B), use the 'Unite' Pathfinder tool, color it black, add a Gaussian Blur (radius 20px) and change the opacity to 80% with Color Burn blending mode. Then offset just to the left and below the original, to create a nice contact shadow.

Step 10

Now the last of the elements, a layer of cloud, to imply that our mountain tops are poking out from above the clouds. Use the Pen tool to draw some bubbly looking cloud shapes, apply a White to transparent gradient, and drop down the opacity a little.

Step 10b

Duplicate and place them around the canvas, this should create the effect that light is coming from above.

Step 11

Now copy and paste a couple of the pyramid shapes from our mountain top, onto a new layer above the others. These are going to make some nice foreground elements to add depth.

Step 11b

Stretch and scale up the pyramids (no need to be exact this time) and maybe add a cloud or two.

Step 12

Now that we have all our elements in place, we need to work on the depth of our image. There's some simple techniques you can use to add depth to your image, the first is to add focus and blur. Imagine your viewing your image through a camera lens -the focal point of your image would be in focus, and the things in the foreground and background become out of focus. To create this effect, select you foreground elements first, and go to Effect > Blur > Gauss ian blur and set the Radius to 40px.

Step 13

The elements in the foreground need to be the most out of focus, so next, as you work your way back applying the effect, make sure to decrease the Radius as you go.

Step 14

The second way to add depth, is to imply space above and below your canvas, we've already done some things to create this, like having elements that head off the edges of our composition. So to supplement this, we're going to add a couple of gradient overlays. On a new layer, use the rectangle tool to create a box the size of our canvas, no stroke, but a vertical gradient fill of black to transparency.

Step 14b

Now apply the 'Color Burn' blending mode, with an a opacity of 72%, this creates a fade to black at the bottom, pulling the floor out of our image, giving a sense of a height to our mountain tops.

Step 15

Next we're going to give our image a skyline of sorts -this will add distance to our background. Copy the fade to black gradient and paste in front (Command + C then Command + F), and flip the gradient direction around 360°. Next, change the gradient color to a light blue, similar to our mountain colors, and change the blending mode to 'Hue'.

Step 16

Finally, on a new top layer, File > Place the paper texture, and change the blending mode to 'Soft Light' with an opacity of 20%. That's it, aside from a few tweaks and customizations, your done!


I truly hope this course has been a valuable tool for all those reading and taking part. Whether your an old hand or someone still learning the ropes, there should be a few nice gems of information, a few handy strategies and some practical tools to take away and use in your own work. Even if you're a digital artist, there are great benefits to adding Core Art Skills to your workflow. Everything I've discussed is there to improve your skill-set, while keeping in mind that productivity and practical implementation are key. So keep an open mind, be self critical, and remember your Core Art Skills when working on your next project.

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