Landscapes aren’t always about prettiness and awe-inspiring views. It really depends on the mood you’re going for, and sometimes you want to go for dark and ominous over light and angelic. Such is the case around this time of year. As Halloween approaches, you might find yourself drawing something specifically designed to be spooky, creepy, or a wee bit haunted. To give you some ideas of how to add some creep factor to a Halloween drawing, we asked the artist Jonathan Aucomte to show us how he does it. Just as he did in his recent post, Creating Balanced Landscapes, he tackles his landscape in layers and stages, carefully constructing a well-composed picture with details and highlights added at the end. His is a great process to learn from if you want to practice making balanced compositions.
Starting from sketch
I like to start a sketch with paper and pencil. I enjoy digital drawing, but I prefer traditional tools to begin my drawings. It helps me to focus on composition and making the scene dynamic instead of focusing on details and effects.
This is a scene I started drawing some time ago but never pursued. I was told by someone that the milepost in the foreground looked like a gravestone. I thought that’s a cool idea for some Halloween art. With that idea in mind, I quickly sketched a rough colored version of this picture, just to focus on tints. I created a simple set of colors to work with. I try to stick to my palette as much as possible. A few colors in a palette always works fine for a picture. For this drawing, I use a kind of orange which remind me of Autumn, to give this scene a warm ambiance in the back — the safe part of the landscape. In the foreground, there will be danger. I choose shades of black and violet to create a creepy, night-time atmosphere.
There are a lot of cool brushes available for SketchBook Pro, and you may find everything you need by digging into their free brush sets. But this time I need custom brushes, so I’ll show you how to create a set by yourself. Click on the ring of any brush set and select New Brush Set. Select a tool you like as a reference. For me, it’s the Pen tool. In your newly created set, click on the ring and select New Brush.
Select Current Brush option. Go into the Texture section and select Capture. Draw a shape you like. Double click on your new custom tool to show options. Set the spacing at 0,1 for smooth lines. In the Brush Radius, Opacity and Flow options, move the cursors to create various effects. Test it out to find the right brush for you.
Here’s a selection of tools I created to paint this picture. Smooth extremities is my favourite, but I also need hard brushes, 45 degrees, 180 degrees, etc. Create yours as you wish; what is good for me may not be good for you!
Painting with layers
Now I will paint over the sketchy picture and define the elements and add details. In the last tutorial, I didn’t use many layers. This time I will create a lot of them in order to make many adjustments. I start with the background. It’s supposed to be far away, so I need to keep it simple and sketchy. Don’t zoom in too much or you might add useless details.
I try to keep a kind of monochromatic atmosphere. That’s part of my concept, and it is an interesting constraint. It forces you to make creative choices you would have never done otherwise. I surprised myself with this and really enjoyed the unexpected result. Hope you enjoy it too!
Now to color the road with colder colors. I add some texture lines on it to increase the winding effect. It helps you to see how crooked the road actually is.
I want to give a sharp contrast between the background and the foreground and create a dark atmosphere, so I use black.
Note: I draw the trees without leaves first. Why? Just to get the logic of how the leaves will stick to the branches for a more realistic result.
I fill the trees with gray to make a difference with the black ones. The more you go, the clearer it becomes.
I draw the gravestones with a standard pencil on a new layer. Then fill it with black.
When I add the purple shade I want to prevent overflowing. Instead of selecting the shapes with the Magic Wand, I use the lock on the right side of the layer. It locks transparency so you can’t overfill. This works great for coloring line art too. Try if you haven’t before.
I add a linear gradient on top of the composition. I choose the same color for both ends of my spectrum, but one is set with 0% opacity. To mix the shade with the picture, I set the layer on Hard Light mode.
To create a carving effect on the tombstones, I use a simple but effective trick: Define the light source (for me, it’s on the left) and then use two colors, one dark and the other bright. Begin to draw the hollows with the dark color. Then add a bright line on the opposite side of the light source, just next to the dark one. It works similar to the kind of bevel/emboss effect you might get from a graphic design app like Photoshop.
I draw a kind of creepy smoke and set the layer in Soft Glow mode to make it more luminous. I smoothed the edges of the smoke with this tool from Mohammad’s Express Brush Set.
I draw the silhouette of a magician on single layer, set on Multiply mode. I use the Transform tool and distort the shadow to match the perspective of my picture. Move the dots around to find the right shape.
Feedback from friends
Once I felt comfortable with my work, I asked two friends to give me an opinion on the picture:
- One said it lacked a third color.
- The other said the houses in the back were too sketchy, too big and the trees too flat.
- Both of them thought that the RIP gravestone was at the wrong place and that you cannot see the car at first sight because it’s too dark.
So, are they right? I find it very interesting to get an objective point of view after finishing a drawing. I know it can be painful to hear criticism, but as we all want to improve, criticism is necessary. Choose a few honest friends, skilled or not, to give you feedback. Even people who claim to have no art skills will notice things that can surprise you. Can you spot the changes I made based on their feedback?
Enjoy the tutorial? You can download a copy of this Drawing Creepy Environments PDF tutorial if you’d like to save a copy for later.