Create a Wintry Scene in Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator and designer Matt Carlson, also known as Plaid Mtn., works with a global client list from his home in Omaha, Nebraska. He draws inspiration from many sources, including nature. In this article, he walks us through his Adobe Illustrator CC process, via the creation of a cool wintry scene.

Carlson’s final illustration is an inviting wintry landscape. Read the article below to learn how he created it. 


An essential part of my illustration process is to make a series of quick sketches to help define the direction I want to go. I like to make these sketches loose and quick to get the overall composition down.


After working on some quick sketches to define the composition, I selected a direction and worked on a more refined sketch, so I could hammer out a few more details. I selected this sketch because I liked how the it leads the eye easily from front to back without feeling too busy. I also really liked how the organic bubble shape creates an interesting dynamic between the foreground, middle ground, and background elements. 

Although this sketch is a bit more refined, I know that things will change or elements will be added. To me, this sketch is just a starting point to get things going. It’s also during this time that I like to gather some photographic references to help me get a better sense of some of the details such as lighting, depth, and how I might render certain elements.


Since this is a winter scene, I decided to focus on a wintry blue color range to get things started. As I get further along in the render, I’ll start to incorporate a few accent colors to help give the image some more contrast and help play into the mood a bit more. When making an illustration in Illustrator CC, I always select global color swatches. (When you modify one instance of a global color, all objects using that color in your file will be updated. It’s an extremely efficient way of making quick changes to the colors in your illustration.)


After scanning the drawing and placing it onto an artboard in Illustrator, I begin to block in the shapes from the sketch. This will give me a better feel of the overall composition before I begin to add details and more visual elements. My go-to tools when I am working on this phase are the Pen, Pencil, and Smooth tool.


A favorite feature that I like to use when creating landscape illustrations like this is Illustrator’s Roughen effect (Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen). It’s a great way to get some quick texture on a shape or stroke. As you can see in this before-and-after example, the Roughen effect adds some nice variety and texture to an otherwise smooth shape or stroke.


My favorite part of the process is going back into each area and fleshing things out more. After the color-blocking phase, I layered everything out into sections or parts to keep things easier to edit or isolate. As you can see, I went back into each section and started building up more details, adding visual elements and altering the color in some parts. I also added some subtle gradients in the background hills and mountains to add a bit more depth. 

Admittedly, I like to bounce around a lot and experiment until I am satisfied, so it typically looks a bit more chaotic than this, but overall the goal is to make sure everything feels balanced and fun.


To add a little more texture to the piece, I used some scatter brushes. Using scatter brushes in Illustrator is a great way to add warmth and variety to an illustration. (For more on scatter brushes, I suggest this tutorial by Von Glitschka.) After creating a stroke, I opened the Brushes panel and applied the scatter brush that I had created. I increased the stroke size, adjusted the opacity, and changed the Blend mode to Multiply.

And below is the final illustration! I hope you enjoyed following along as I created this winter landscape illustration.


Want to get started on your own landscape scene? Download Adobe Illustrator CC to get started.

December 10, 2018