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  1. Design & Illustration
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Design

How to Create a Canyon Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:LongLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In today's tutorial we're going to explore the process of creating a flat illustration based on an in-the-moment composition. Using a step-by-step approach, we're going to gradually create the entire scene using some of Illustrator's most basic shapes and tools.

You can expand the entire illustration by heading over to GraphicRiver where you'll find a great selection of nature-inspired landscapes, all in vector format.

That being said, make sure you fill up that empty coffee mug, and let's get started!

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

Assuming you already have Illustrator up and running in the background, bring it up and let’s set up a New Document (File > New or Control-N) for our project using the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 800 px
  • Height: 528 px
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72ppi)
  • Preview Mode: Default
setting up a new document

2. How to Set Up a Custom Grid 

Even though today’s project is not an icon-based one, we’ll still want to create the illustration using a pixel-perfect workflow, so let’s set up a nice little grid so that we can have full control over our shapes.

Step 1

Go to the Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid submenu, and adjust the following settings:

  • Gridline every: 1 px
  • Subdivisions: 1
setting up a custom grid

Quick tip: you can learn more about grids by reading this in-depth piece on How Illustrator’s Grid System Works.

Step 2

Once we’ve set up our custom grid, all we need to do in order to make sure our shapes look crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option found under the View menu (that’s if you're using an older version of Illustrator).

Now, if you’re new to the whole “pixel-perfect workflow”, I strongly recommend you go through my How to Create Pixel-Perfect Artwork tutorial, which will help you widen your technical skills in no time.

3. How to Set Up the Layers

Once we’ve finished setting up our project file, it would be a good idea to structure our document using a few layers, since this way we can maintain a steady workflow by focusing on one section of the illustration at a time.

That being said, bring up the Layers panel, and create a total of five layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: background
  • layer 2: clouds
  • layer 3: texture
  • layer 4: camera body
  • layer 5: screen
setting up the layers

Quick tip: I’ve colored all of my layers using the same green value, since it’s the easiest one to view when used to highlight your selected shapes (whether they’re closed or open paths).

4. How to Create the Background

Now that we’ve layered our document, we can start working on the project by creating the background, so make sure you position yourself on the first layer and let’s jump straight into it.

Step 1

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and use it to create an 800 x 528 px shape, which we will color using #DBC8A9 and then position in the center of the Artboard using the Align panel’s Horizontal and Vertical Align Center options.

creating and positioning the background

Step 2

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and, using #A5877F as your Fill color, draw the back section of the canyon by using the shape from the reference image as your main guide.

drawing the back section of the canyon

Step 3

Take a couple of moments and gradually draw the rough detail lines using a 2 px thick Stroke with the color set to #896B60, making sure to select (Select > Same > Stroke Color) and group them all together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the detail lines to the back of the canyon

Step 4

Mask the lines that we’ve just created by making a copy (Control-C) of the underlying canyon, which we will paste in front (Control-F). Then, with both the canyon copy and the lines selected, simply right click > Make Clipping Mask. Once you’re done, select the lines and the canyon and group (Control-G) them together before moving on to the next step.

masking the detail lines of the canyon

Step 5

With the Fill color set to #896B60, draw the front section of the canyon, using the reference image as your main guide.

drawing the front section of the canyon

Step 6

As we did with the back section, take a couple of moments and draw the detail lines using a couple of 2 px thick Strokes with the color set to #A5877F. Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and then mask (right click > Make Clipping Mask) them before moving on to the next step.

adding the detail lines to the front section of the canyon

Step 7

Draw a few rocks using #A5877F as your Fill color, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all of the front section’s composing shapes together, before doing the same for the entire background afterwards.

drawing the rocks

Step 8

Once you’re done creating the background, lock its layer from within the Layers panel, and then move on up to the fourth one.

locking the background layer

5. How to Create the Camera’s Body

Since we’re pretty much done working on the background, we can now move on to the fourth layer and shift our focus over to the camera, which we will gradually build one shape at a time.

Step 1

Create the body’s main shape using a 480 x 248 px rectangle, which we will color using #665953 and then center align to the underlying Artboard, positioning it 128 px from its bottom edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the body of the camera

Step 2

Add the bottom section using a 480 x 24 px rectangle (#51453F), which we will position below the shape that we created in the previous step.

adding the bottom section of the camera

Step 3

Add the horizontal insertion segment using a 480 x 4 px rectangle which we will color using #51453F and then position at a distance of 8 px from the previously created shape’s top edge.

adding the bottom horizontal insertion segment

Step 4

Create the smaller vertical insertion segments using two 4 x 8 px rectangles (#51453F), which we will position below the horizontal one, at a distance of 64 px from its outer edges.

adding the bottom vertical insertion segments

Step 5

Add the top horizontal detail lines using three 480 x 4 px rectangles (#51453F) vertically stacked 2 px from one another, which we will group (Control-G) and then center align to the larger body’s top edge. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes together before moving on to the next step.

adding the horizontal detail lines to the upper section of the camera

Step 6

Create the side strap rings using two 24 x 28 px rectangles (#51453F) which we will individually adjust by setting the Radius of their outer corners to 14 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Once you’re done, position the resulting shape as seen in the reference image.

adding the strap rings to the sides of the camera

Step 7

Add the little holes by creating and positioning a 12 x 12 px circle (highlighted with red) at a distance of 4 px from the shapes’ inner edges, which we will then cut out using Pathfinder’s Minus Front Shape Mode.

adding the cutouts to the strap rings

Step 8

Start adding details to the camera by creating the left grip section using a 56 x 136 px rectangle (#826F67), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its right corners to 24 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Once you’re done, position the resulting shape on the left side of the larger body, at a distance of 12 px from the left strap ring.

creating the main shape for the left grip section

Step 9

Add the textured grip using three columns of 8 x 8 px circles (#51453F) horizontally and vertically spaced 4 px from one another, which we will position as seen in the reference image, making sure to select and group (Control-G) them all together afterwards. Once you’re done, select and group both the dimples and the shape from underneath together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the textured dimples to the left grip

Step 10

Add the right-sided grip using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the dimples which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical) and then position on the opposite side of the camera’s body, making sure to maintain the same 8 px distance from its right edge.

adding the right grip section

Step 11

Start gradually adding the different control buttons by creating a 20 x 20 px circle, which we will color using #51453F and then position as seen in the reference image.

adding the bottom-right button to the camera

Step 12

Create the power indicator light using an 8 x 8 px circle, which we will color using #91C153 and then bottom align to the previously created shape, positioning it at a distance of 60 px from its left side.

adding the power indicator light

Step 13

Add the main shapes for the d-pad button using a 64 x 64 px circle (#51453F), on top of which we'll add another 28 x 28 px (#665953) one, followed by an even smaller 12 x 12 px one (#51453F), which we will position at a distance of 56 px from the larger body’s right edge and 36 px from its bottom insertion segment.

creating the main shapes for the d-pad button

Step 14

Add the little arrows using four 8 x 8 px squares (#665953), which we will adjust by adding a new anchor point to the center of their outer edges using the Add Anchor Point Tool (+), removing the side ones using the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-)

Once you’re done, position the resulting shapes around the middle circle, at a distance of just 4 px, making sure to select and group (Control-G) all of the button’s composing shapes together before moving on to the next step.

adding the arrows to the d-pad button

Step 15

Create the record button using a 20 x 20 px circle (#C47053), in the center of which we will add a smaller 12 x 12 px one (#51453F), grouping (Control-G) and then positioning the two at a distance of 104 px from the larger body’s right edge and 16 px from the d-pad’s top edge.

adding the record button

Step 16

Add the remaining circular buttons using two 20 x 20 px circles, which we will color using #51453F and then position as seen in the reference image.

adding the remaining circular buttons

Step 17

Create the horizontal scroll wheel using a 72 x 24 px rectangle (#51453F), on top of which we will add a narrower 56 x 8 px one (#826F67), followed by seven 4 x 8 px vertical rectangles (#51453F) positioned 4 px from one another. 

Select and group (Control-G) all of the wheel’s composing shapes together, positioning them at a distance of 12 px from the body’s top edge and 32 px from its right one. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes before moving on to the next one.

adding the horizontal scroll wheel

Step 18

Start working on the upper section of the camera by creating a 480 x 24 px rectangle (#826F67) followed by a narrower 264 x 24 px one (#826F67) aligned to its left edge, which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the camera’s larger body.

adding the upper section of the camera

Step 19

Start working on the viewfinder by creating a 64 x 32 px rectangle (#51453F), on top of which we will add a smaller 48 x 16 px one (#665953), followed by two 4 x 16 px rectangles (#51453F) on the sides, which we will group (Control-G) and then position as seen in the reference image.

creating the viewfinder

Step 20

Add the reflections using an 8 x 8 px square (#FFFFFF) positioned 8 px from a 16 x 8 px rectangle (#FFFFFF), which we will adjust by selecting and pushing their bottom anchor points to the left side by 8 px (right click > Transform > Move > Horizontal > -8 px). 

Lower the resulting shapes’ Opacity to 20%, grouping (Control-G) and then center aligning them to the underlying viewfinder, making sure to select and group (Control-G) all of its composing shapes together as well.

adding the reflections to the viewfinder

Step 21

Create the mode dial using an 80 x 24 px rectangle (#665953), on top of which we will add a group of ten 4 x 24 px rectangles (#51453F) horizontally spaced 4 px from one another. Select and group (Control-G) all of the dial’s composing shapes, positioning them as seen in the reference image.

adding the mode dial to the upper section of the camera

Step 22

Add the shutter button using a 64 x 16 px rectangle (#665953), on top of which we will add a 64 x 4 px horizontal divider line (#51453F), followed by a 48 x 8 px rectangle (#51453F). Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and position the shapes on the right side of the dial, at a distance of just 16 px.

adding the shutter button

Step 23

Finish off the current section of the camera’s body by adding the dummy brand text lines and the dial indicator state using three 8 px tall rectangles (#51453F), which we will adjust and position as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the camera’s composing shapes before moving on to the next section.

adding the decals to the upper section of the camera

6. How to Create the Tripod Head

As soon as we’ve finished working on the camera’s body, we can move a few pixels towards the bottom, where we will quickly create the visible section of the tripod.

Step 1

Start by creating the mounting plate using a 240 x 28 px rectangle (#665953) stacked on top of a narrower 160 x 28 px one (#51453F), which we will group (Control-G) and position in the center of the camera’s bottom edge.

creating the main shapes for the upper section of the tripod

Step 2

Add the locking segment using a 36 x 16 px rectangle, which we will color using #51453F and then position on the right side of the wider shape that we’ve just created.

adding the locking latch to the upper section of the tripod

Step 3

Create the vertical section of the tripod using a 48 x 48 px square, which we will color using #665953 and then center align to the underlying Artboard’s bottom edge.

adding the vertical section of the tripod

Step 4

Add the ball head segment using a 72 x 40 px rectangle (#51453F), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its top corners to 36 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties, positioning the resulting shape in the center of the Artboard’s bottom edge.

adding the ball head to the bottom section of the tripod

Step 5

Finish off the tripod by adding the little dummy text lines using two 8 px tall rectangles (#51453F), which we will adjust and position as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group all of the current section’s composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, doing the same for it and the entire camera afterwards.

adding the dummy text line to the mounting plate

7. How to Create the Clouds

Once we’ve added the tripod section, we can lock the current layer and move on to the second one, where we will add the clouds.

Step 1

Select the Pen Tool (P) and draw a couple of 2 px thick horizontal Stroke lines with the color set to #FFF2E9, using the reference image as your main guide.

drawing the background clouds

Step 2

Focus on the left section of the composition, and add a fluffy cloud using a 64 x 24 px ellipse (#FFF2E9), on the right side of which we will add a 64 x 64 px circle (#FFF2E9), which we will adjust by individually selecting and removing their bottom halves. Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and position the resulting shapes above one of the stroke lines, at a distance of 4 px.

adding the round cloud section to the left side of the composition

Step 3

Follow a similar process and add another round cloud group to the upper section of the composition, using a smaller 48 x 48 px circle (#FFF2E9), followed by a 48 x 24 px ellipse (#FFF2E9). Take your time, and once you’re done, lock the current layer before moving on to the next section.

adding the second round cloud

8. How to Create the Camera’s Screen

As soon as we have the clouds in place, we can move over to the fifth layer, where we will create the live preview of what the camera is capturing.

Step 1

Create the actual screen using a 280 x 196 px rectangle (#51453F), on top of which we will add a slightly smaller 264 x 180 px one (#FCCE72), grouping (Control-G) and then positioning the two at a distance of 64 px from the camera body’s left edge and 12 px from its bottom insertion.

adding the screen to the body of the camera

Step 2

We can now start adding some of the details that are blocked by the camera itself, starting with the little sun, which we will create using a 64 x 64 px circle. Color it using #EF995E, and then position it 28 px from the center of the yellow rectangle’s bottom edge.

adding the sun to the screen

Step 3

Next, select the Pen Tool (P) and draw the visible section of the canyon using #D87350 as your Fill color. Take your time, and once you’re done, move on to the next step.

drawing the smaller canyon section

Quick tip: for this step we could have used an adjusted copy of the canyon that we created for the background section, but by drawing it from the ground up, we can adjust the camera’s perspective, giving it more personality.

Step 4

Take a couple of moments and draw the little detail lines using a 2 px thick Stroke with the color set to #B25B44, making sure to group (Control-G) and mask (right click > Make Clipping Mask) them afterwards using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the underlying rectangle. Once you’re done, select both the canyon and the resulting lines and group (Control-G) those together as well.

adding the detail lines to the smaller canyon

Step 5

Draw the vertical rock column using #D87350 as your Fill color, adding a couple of 2 px thick Stroke lines (#D87350) as we did with the previous section. Once you’re done, make sure you group (Control-G) and then position the two underneath (right click > Arrange > Send Backward) the canyon, as seen in the reference image.

adding the vertical rock column to the smaller canyon

Step 6

Finish off the preview image by adding the little clouds following the same process used a few moments ago, using smaller shapes for the round sections. Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group all its composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the clouds to the smaller canyon

9. How to Add the Texture

We are now down to the last part of our illustration, where we will add a subtle texture over the background in order to make the live preview pop. So make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the third one) and let’s wrap things up.

Step 1

Create the main shape for the texture using an 800 x 528 px rectangle, which we will color using #51453F and then center align to the underlying Artboard.

creating the main shape for the texture

Step 2

With the shape selected, go to Effect > Photoshop Effects > Texture > Grain and adjust its Intensity to 40 and the Contrast to 50, making sure to set the Grain Type to Stippled.

adjusting the textures settings

Step 3

Finish off the illustration, and with it the project itself, by setting the resulting texture’s Blending Mode to Overlay, making sure to lower its Opacity to just 8%.

adjusting the blending mode of the texture

Great Job!

There you have it, fellow nature lovers: a nice and easy tutorial on how to create your very own canyon illustration using nothing more than some simple shapes and strokes. 

As always, I hope you’ve managed to follow each and every step, and if you’ve encountered any problems, feel free to post your questions within the comments area and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

finished project preview
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