Illustrate a characterful snowy scene


Hello! I cannot avoid thinking about Laika from time to time. Poor dog! She had no idea she would be rocketed into space. The good thing about illustrating is we can create alternative universes. In this reality, Laika has landed somewhere in space and made some friends.

snowy landscape 2d illustration

Getting ideas

I had some spare time and decided to do a digital painting, so I started looking for images and get inspired. Among a bunch of images and paintings, I got hooked by one from Sergey Kolesov. This painting was about a giant cat/statue looking towards the sun.  So I sketched something with that idea in my mind.

initial sketch planning illustration

Doodling around

Base colors

Once I got some very rough sketches, I started to think about colors, so I looked for bright sunset reference photos. I placed one of them on top of the painting to speed up the process. I had not located those colors in the chromatic circle while working on this image, but I did it here to show a very simple color formula: 3/4 of base color, 1/4 analog to the commentary color.

background scenery sketch digital

Adding some colors


I am a dog person, that's why I decided to remove the cat. At this point I was not sure if it was a statue or a living creature, so I began to work on the story of the image. I sketched these two kids wearing masks playing and some less important shapes around them.

color scheme digital design

¾ base, ¼ near complementary


I used only one brush, which is from Shaddy Safadi’s brush pack. But I made a small modification adding color dynamics. I like to paint with many micro color variations, and this option allows me to have a lot of different colors and tones with a single brush stroke.

brush strokes photoshop 2d design

Have fun with the brush editor


At this point the direction of the painting was very clear. Even if it would continue changing, most of the features will remain. The lighting was quite flat at this point, but that was okay, the lighting mood becomes developed in later steps. I generally work on the lighting using curves or selective color filters masked with gradients or soft brush strokes.

lighting mood direction digital painting

Sketch done

Light in shapes

I added a bright area to emphasize the depths of the whole scene. I worked these areas as if they were 2D shapes like cardboard silhouettes. So Instead of visualizing the landscape as a 3D area, I found interesting shapes that popped up as a difference of depth, and interpreted them as 2D objects.

shapes lighting 2d illustration


After having the lighting defined, a nice depth in the scene, and an interesting mood, I began to define the characters. To do this I chose a sharp and dark brush to make concise shapes. I put some kind of space coat on the dog and defined the direction of the fur. To achieve this I searched references of huskies, and figured out how to make an okay synthesis of the hair with a reasonable amount of brush strokes.

defining detail painting 2d illustration snow

Drawing again


When adding detail to a painting, it is a good idea to set limits on the colors to use in each area. For example, if I paint something in the sky, the darker tone and color that I am going to use to define that new object cannot have a darker color than the color set previously. A good way to manage all these limits all over the painting is to zoom out (digital) or step back a few meters (traditional) and see what is going on.

tones lighting illustration 2d

Tones and contrast

Clean version

I kept rendering for a while. I had not been very organized with the process of adding light and shadow. Sometimes I start with a medium tone and add light and shadow. Other times I start with very low tones and add medium tones. And very rarely I start with bright tones and go darker.

clean version detailed illustration snow landscape

Finished rendering


Once the painting was done and I was happy with the result, I applied a kind of post processing to the clean version. I created a copy of the painting, masked it with a canvas texture, and offset the position. Then added a version of the same texture but more subtle and erased with a texture brush. That was it!

filters textures 2d illustration

Top tip 1 - Analyze

I think observation is the most important thing in a painting, so I would suggest analyzing everything. And a good exercise is to see a color and try to nail the tone.

analyze painting 2d color

Tone and hue

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