In this tutorial, illustrator Alex Mathers introduces the work process behind many of his vector landscapes, and details how, by using Illustrator CS6’s updated Pattern tool, he adds further depth and ease to the illustration.
You’ll learn how to use this tool to build repeating objects within vector scenes. These include vector-only textures created from crescent shapes that add a hand-made look. Alex also explains how to tweak those patterns, and how to best make them a part of the scene you intend to create.
The techniques shown here can be applied to making landscapes, as well as any pattern creation within Illustrator, including simplifying any work that contains repeated objects.
In the project files, you’ll find Alex’s completed illustration. This is for reference only and should not be used for any other purpose.
Time to complete
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
First, sketch your scene. For my landscapes, I always start with the layout and rough positioning of all different the elements. I use Sketchbook Pro on my Wacom tablet to draw into the computer.
Once you’ve finished your sketch, open it in Illustrator and turn the opacity of the layer down to about 70%. Lock the layer and add a new layer above it.
I’ll be using Illustrator CS6’s Pattern tool to generate some new sets of elements for this illustration.
Before creating the patterns of objects, draw out the sea with the Pen tool (
P) to create a coloured background area to place the repeating pattern on.
We want to create a buffer around the sea, so it doesn’t overlap into other sections of the illustration. First, turn that shape into an outline, then copy and paste it in front (
Cmd/Ctrl + F). Add a 20pt stroke and align the stroke to the inside, then expand the appearance ( Object > Expand Appearance). Delete the outer path so you’re left with a shape indented from the original. We’ll use this as the outline for the sea pattern.
Next, using the Pen tool (
P), create a group of wave-like shapes with some crescents around them to add texture. Make them black for now, as we want them to be visible – we will tweak the colours later.
Select the shapes and go to
Object > Pattern > Make – a new ‘Pattern Options’ box and expanded pattern will appear. Use the options here to fine-tune your pattern.
Change the Tile Type from Grid if needed. What looks good depends on your objects and how they tessellate with each other. As my objects are just one colour on a transparent background, Grid worked for me.
To fine-tune the position, click the Pattern Tile Tool at the top left of the panel. This gives you control over the position of the blue bounding box around your original elements, so you can move it. You can also directly select the shapes within the box to move objects around as you need.
When you are happy with your pattern, go to Done in the grey bar at the top of the page. This will create a swatch containing that pattern. If you want to edit it later, simply double-click it in the Swatches panel.
You can now put the shapes you created for the pattern to one side, outside the Artboard. Now, select the outline shape for your pattern, in this case the sea, and apply your new pattern swatch as its Fill.
It’s a good idea to move the shape around until the pattern has minimal cut-offs. To keep the pattern locked to its container shape, make sure the pattern shape is selected and go to
Object > Transform > Transform Each, and click the Transform Patterns box.
Next, deselect the bounding box – you’ll now be able to select elements with the Direct Selection tool and move them around or delete them. You’ll want to create a regulated pattern here, so move some around to add variety and delete the shapes that are cut off at the edges.
It’s advisable to drag over any areas you want to delete instead of individually selecting pieces of objects. Copy and paste some of the objects you made for the pattern into areas that are more sparse than the rest, such as around the edges.
Use the Pen tool to draw out the outline for the beach section, above the sea in the illustration.
Now, we can draw out the outline shape for the Thick Forest pattern above the sea. Draw the outline as before, flush to the edges of the A4 artboard you are working within. Leave out the background colour path for now because it extends further than the pattern area in this case.
Apply the same technique we looked at in Step 3 to create the buffer around the edges.
It’s now time to create the tree illustrations – along with some dashes for extra detail – that you’re going to use as objects within the pattern. Unlike the waves, I’m creating them in colour because the trees are more complex than two-colour shapes. A group of five will do here. Select them and create a pattern (
Object > Pattern > Make), then click OK to add this as a new swatch. Tweak the pattern as needed so that it looks good.
For my illustration, I selected the ‘Hex by Column’ tile type to give a more organic look, then clicked on Done. If you want to create more than one variation of a pattern, click ‘Save a Copy’ once you have edited the pattern with the Pattern Options tool.
As before, move the tree objects off the Artboard and apply the swatch to the outline area for thick forest. Expand the pattern so that it’s editable, and delete those objects that have been chopped off the edges, as in Step 6. Then paste some extra objects into sparser areas.
Create the outline – with buffer area – and objects for the next pattern above this one, which is the houses and trees. As in Step 9, select
Object > Pattern > Make to create the pattern.
Here, I set the Tile Type as Hex by Row and adjusted the bounding box (after clicking the Pattern Tile Tool button), so that no objects overlapped.
Apply the new swatch to the shape, and – as before – fill out the area with objects, deleting some as necessary, so that everything sits together nicely.
Repeat the process with the mountainous region and the cloud and sky. Make the objects a little smaller in these patterns to create the illusion of distance.
Now that we have all the elements together, we can add more colour. Start by adding the blue colour to the sea area behind the waves and other lines. I often use colour gradients, especially for larger blocks of colour to add a little extra depth to the artwork and colouring.
To give the sea a gradient, add subtly lighter and darker shades of blue to the Swatches panel. Drag those colours to each end of the gradient bar inside the Gradient panel. Use the Gradient tool (
G) to adjust how the colour appears.
To adjust the colour of the wave pattern (and additional waves), double-click on the swatch in the Swatches panel. We don’t need to select the pattern in the artboard, as the swatch is already linked.
Objects can be selected here and colours tweaked. I’ve made the waves white with a decreased opacity. Use the Direct Selection tool to adjust the colouring of other objects in the pattern to add variation.
Apply same colour tweaking to the rest of your illustration. I added some extra dashes of lighter colour – white crescent shapes with low opacity applied via the Transparency panel. I also threw in some bumps in the ground using dashes of colour fading to 0% opacity. To tidy up the edges, create a layer above your creation, and draw out the shape you’d like to apply as the cropping mask.