Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Add depth to your art with expert shading techniques

With all the tools and effects that Adobe Illustrator has to offer, it can sometimes be hard to achieve a sense of depth and atmosphere within your images. Often they can come out looking flat and very two-dimensional. In this tutorial, Bristol-based artist Ben Steers will show you how he uses gradient effects and opacity masks to overcome this, as he takes you through how he created his piece, Gone Karting.

Ben has used these techniques to great effect in this artwork, which is based around a lonely bear character who enjoys playing amongst the woods in his time off from fishing and felling trees. When compared to the original flat artwork the gradients not only add a zing to the visuals, they also help draw the eye to the central character.

Step 1 I wanted to take my rather flat 2D illustration and give it some real depth. First, I hid all the layers, except the ‘Sky’, and hit the Gradient tool (G). Using a carefully selected palette of four colours, I used the slider in the Gradient panel (F9) to blend the colours seamlessly. The Gradient tool creates gradients between two colours, so to create the other points, duplicate one of the colour swatches by holding Alt and dragging left or right.

Step 2 Next, the mountains need a layered effect. Using the Gradient tool, I selected and repositioned the gradient slider at an angle of 15°, then selected a gradient from white to a blue/grey for the snowcaps. 

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