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Create an Attractive Arctic Landscape Environment in Illustrator

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Establish a foundation on which to build more advanced Adobe Illustrator skills by completing this tutorial. We'll cover how to use shapes and gradients to achieve a simple landscape environment.

Final Image Preview

Here is the image we'll be creating.

Step 1

Start by drawing a rectangle with the Rounded Rectangle Tool. You can use the Pathfinder Palette to make a traditional matte or the more simple technique is to give your rectangle a really thick stroke. Place your rectangle on it's own layer and keep all other layers below it. As we continue throughout the tutorial you can make new layers as you see fit to place your different objects on. We will leave that up to your discretion; as such, we won't be pointing out when we make new layers.

In lieu of making a matte that covers the square edges of your artwork, you can again use the Pathfinder Palette to trim any of the art that touches the corners of the rectangle. This is more time-consuming and mainly useful when your final artwork should not contain any additional objects, like a matte.

Step 2

Draw a rectangle and give it a nice greenish-blue color. This is the basis of what will become the sky. Note that this looks like a rounded corner rectangle because it is behind the matte layer.

Step 3

Add your color to the Swatches Palette by dragging it to the palette.

Power Tip: You can change the size of the swatches in the palette by clicking the flyout menu (highlighted below) and selecting Medium Thumbnail View.

Step 4

Double-click on your swatch and the Swatch Options dialog box comes up. Select Preview and move the CMYK sliders around to find a color in a similar tone as the current color. Once you find a color you like select OK to add it to your Swatches Palette.

Step 5

Drag both colors to your Gradient Palette. Select Radial from the drop down list and adjust your gradient to resemble the one below.

Step 6

Create the illusion of water using the same technique we used to create the sky. The only difference is that instead of Radial we will select Linear from the drop down list.

Step 7

Using the Pen Tool (P) draw a shape that will become your snow-covered mountains. Even simple shapes can come to life when we add a couple gradients to them.

Step 8

Draw another shape that covers the tip of the mountain. Intentionally going outside the line of the mountain will ensure that the edge of both shapes meets at the same place once we complete the next two steps.

Step 9

Select both shapes and in the Pathfinder Palette click Divide (shown below.) Go to the top of your screen and select Object > Ungroup.

Step 10

Once your objects are ungrouped you can delete the extraneous parts of the mountain tip. This technique allows the edges of both shapes to meet perfectly.

Step 11

Use the same technique as we did for the tip of the mountain to create the shadow on the left side. Keep in mind that the colors will change, these colors are just to show you where the different shapes are.

Step 12

Using the Pen Tool, draw a few wavy shapes that resemble stress or divits in the mountain.

Step 13

We can quickly and effectively give many of our shapes the same gradient based off of a single gradient by changing the options that the Eyedropper Tool selects. Double-click on your Eyedropper Tool to open the Eyedropper Options dialog. Turn down the triangle to reveal all of the options. Select everything in both columns making sure to select Appearance last. Select OK when you are done.

Note: The Appearance checkbox remains unchecked until you turn the triangle up to close the options (second screenshot.)

Step 14

Give your mountain a subtle grey to white gradient. Since these various objects that are colored below aren't similar in shape we will not use the Eyedropper Tool to duplicate colors. Instead, manually fill each shape with the grey to white gradient.

Step 15

This is where you'll sample the gradient from the first stress line or divit that you just colored. Select your object that needs a gradient, then select the Eyedropper Tool, last, select the object you wish to duplicate color from. Even though there are only three stress marks on the mountain, this technique is good to learn for future reference as there are many applications for it.

Note: Duplicating attributes such as color is commonly referred to as sampling.

Step 16

Repeat Step 15 to color the last stress mark.

Step 17

Vary the size and flip of your mountains to achieve a series of mountains.

Step 18

Next we'll create a sense of atmosphere in the sky. Draw a few flowing lines similar to what's shown below.

Step 19

Place these shapes over your sky area and use the Eyedropper Tool to sample the attributes of the sky. This quickly allows the shapes to blend into the surrounding colors.

Step 20

Click on each individual color in the Gradient Palette and move the slider slightly in the Color Palette to obtain a new color that is similar to the surrounding colors.

Step 21

Notice how the lines in the sky naturally fade into the background? This technique is handy whenever you need a subtle color change and is much easier than trying to guess what color you should pick to match an existing color.

Step 22

Give the water motion by using the same technique for creating atmosphere in the sky.

Step 23

This is what your image should look like right now. See how it is starting to come to life? All we've done is used simple gradients that suggest depth and movement.

Step 24

Give your illustration some details, like an iceberg.

Step 25

Again, use a simple grey to white gradient to indicate where the top and sides of the iceberg are.

Step 26

We've added little details like penguins to add some extra interest to the design. As you can see, there are few details that are used to compose the penguin.

Step 27

Make more copies of the iceberg and penguin and place them in other locations.

Step 28

This is what your illustration should look like right now.

Step 29

To make stars in the sky we will start by drawing a condensed ellipse.

Step 30

Instantly angle the top and bottom of the ellipse by clicking on the points with the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift+C.)

Step 31

Intersect the shapes to create a plus symbol and duplicate them to achieve a full sky of stars.

Step 32

Circles are used as the basis of the clouds. Draw a few circles with varied sizes.

Step 33

Use the Pathfinder Palette to merge the shapes together. First click Add to Shape Area then click Expand. Once you expand the shape draw a rectangle to cover the bottom half of the circles and repeat this process.

Step 34

Add a simple grey to white gradient to complete the clouds.

Step 35

The last detail to complete the illustration is the Moon. Draw a circle to start.

Step 36

Arbitrarily make shapes that will resemble craters on the Moon. It's OK to go outside the edge of the Moon, as we did in Step 9. Use the Pathfinder Palette to eliminate the overlap.


You should now have a better insight into what it takes to use simple shapes, color, and gradients to create an arctic landscape environment. A pleasing illustration is not always about intricacy. One of the most rudimentary factors is composition (which includes a good use of negative space.) Keep practicing, learning, and continue to have fun. Keep exploring all of Illustrators features!

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