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How to Draw a Peaceful Scene in Photoshop

By Terri Stone

Illustrator Charlie Davis lives in London, one of the most dynamic cities in the world. When we asked him to illustrate a scene that evokes silence and solitude, he took a mental trip to the country. “It’s about getting away from the digital noise of modern-day life,” Davis explains.

In this series of video screen-captures (no sound), you can watch Davis draw in Adobe Photoshop CC, incorporating textures from Adobe Stock for depth and warmth. If you're inspired to try it yourself, download 10 images from Adobe Stock for free and get started!

After importing his initial sketch into a new Adobe Photoshop CC file, Davis begins his composition, using the Brush tool to draw in major elements. Davis works on a Wacom Cintiq; the majority of his brushes were created by Kyle Webster. (If you haven’t updated your copy of Photoshop CC, you’re in for a happy surprise—many of Webster’s brush are now built into the app.)

Davis switches to Photoshop’s Pen tool, drawing simple, solid shapes that are the most-distant elements of the illustration.

In this clip, Davis uses a combination of freehand drawing and the Pen tool to introduce the mid-ground elements of his illustration.

Now Davis turns his attention to the foreground elements, which he colors in dark shades to enhance the composition’s sense of depth. To create the leaves of a plant, he draws one leaf with the Pen tool and then duplicates it, rotating angles and changing sizes to introduce more natural-looking variations.

He returns to the Brush tool to freehand another plant.

Davis drew the general shape of the foreground bird with the Pen tool and made it one solid color. In this clip, you see him adding highlights with a lighter color.

Davis adds details to break up the flat expanse of snow in the center of the illustration. Toward the end of this clip, his creation of a layer named “tone ledge” exemplifies a technique he uses again and again: He masks into a shape and then draws up against the mask to give one side a textured edge. This combination of freehand drawing with the more precise vector shapes and masks is a hallmark of his process.

With the forms in place, Davis adds long shadows that indicate the light direction and time of day and enhance the illustration’s mood.

Davis returns to the background, using the Brush tool to apply shades on the mountainsides that give them definition.

To give the appearance of a sun that’s low in the sky, Davis brushes highlights onto the edges of forms. An added benefit is that the pixel-based brush roughens the too-perfect vector shapes, making everything feel more organic. 

In this clip, Davis adds snow and shadows to a rock.

To give the foreground more dimension, Davis works in a bright ray of sun hitting the rocks. This not only enhance the drama of the lighting, but it also calls attention to the bird, an important element of the composition.

To enhance the organic feel of the illustration, Davis adds textures from Adobe Stock using the Creative Cloud Libraries feature inside Photoshop. This clip is a fascinating look into how small details can elevate an artwork.

Davis’s finishing touches include more textures and refining color via Adjustment layers. 

Although he's drawn an idyllic scene, Davis doesn’t wait for hiking trips to relax. “I find the gym a great way to shut off from screens. Also, escaping to a nice pub and having a good chat with people is always refreshing!"

To learn more about Charlie Davis, check out this profile.