Photoshop Tutorial: Create a Realistic Landscape from Scratch with a Graphic Tablet

In this tutorial we're going to learn how to make a landscape from scratch in photoshop CS3...

The use of a graphic tablet is required. Skill level is medium.

The main tools used in this tutorial are the gradient tool and the smudge tool. Using the smudge tool you can achieve amazing realistic results. Let's get started!

End result:
Create a Realistic Landscape from Scratch with a Graphic Tablet Final Image

avatar Sander

Views: 111995
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Practice tutorial


Step 1

First things first, the use of a graphic tablet is a must for this tutorial. This tutorial is made in CS3 but for most older versions of photoshop there shouldn't be a problem because the tecnniques used are scarce.
The main tools used are gradient tool and smudge tool.
Good luck and have fun!

Make a new file with the dimensions width 1280px and height 800px.
Use the colorpicker tool to collect colors from a photo or painting, this helps to get a more realistic feel to the end result. Blurring a photo or using the filter paint daubs with a large brush size and sharpness 0 helps to get the colors. I marked the places where I took the colors. Don't just click anywhere, use the darkest blue from the sky, the colors which give depth to the picture and some foreground colors.

Step 2

Use the gradient tool to set the colors for the background. Use three of the colors you have just picked.
The darkest blue from the sky, the lighter white/gray also from the sky and a color from the foreground.

Step 3

Make a new layer for every new object, very useful when you need to change or add things to the illustration in a later stage.
Add a new layer.
Select the polygonnal lasso tool and use it to make the outlines for the mountains in the background as shown below.
Now select the gradient tool and fill the new shape with the two colors shown on the right. The mountaintops should be a bit darker.

Step 4

Make the remaining three layers of mountains the same way as desribed in the previous step.
Use the polyganol lasso tool and fill the layer using the gradient tool.
Use the colors you picked from your reference image.
Don't forget that the mountaintops should be a bit darker, this is done to create a fog effect at the foot of these mountains.

Step 5

Make the lake, the rocks and the foreground the same way as you made the mountains. Be creative about the shapes, there are endless posibilities.
After you are done making the shapes, flatten the four layers with the background mountains into one layer. Also flatten the lake, the rocks and the shapes that make up the foreground into another layer.
Name the layers, "background", "mountains" and "foreground". Always name your layers, so when you have a complicated file with lots of layers it's much easier for yourself but also for someone else to see how the image is build.

Step 6

Make a lightsource coming from the right.(By choice you could make it come from the left.)
Set the foreground color to white.
Use the gradient tool, set to "foreground to transparent", the mode should be "color dodge", the opacity setting on a low value, I chose 12%.
Select the layer "background".
Click on the rightside in the middle of the image and drag the pointer to the center of the image, release at that center.
Now select the layer "mountains" and again drag the pointer to the center of the image and release.

Step 7

Use the smudge tool to create details in the most distant mountainline, set the diameter to a low value. I used a setting of 4 pixels. If you use a smaller diameter you can give the image more detail.
You can activate the option "Finger Painting" for different kind of effects.
Start smudging with a lot of pressure from just above the mountaintops in a bend or corner down and to the right untill just above the next line of mountains. Smudge these strong lines into the mountain ridges. What you are actually doing is smudge away parts of the mountains so the background color can shine through. You can hide the background layer to see the effect.
Do the same for the three remaining groups of mountains.
Keep in mind that the light is coming from the right, and that the darker mountains are much closer that the faint colored mountains.
And don't worry if the effects that you achieve are not what you expected, it takes some practise. I always tip people to look at real pictures of the subject you want to draw as a reference.
In the next step there is a more detailed explanation of how to smudge the mountains into shape.

Step 8

Smudging the mountaintops: Smudge in the direction of the red arrows.
Darker red means more strength.

Smudge diameter is set to 4 pixels, option Finger Painting is selected.

Step 9

Use the same technique when smudging the foreground into shape, but set the brush diameter a bit larger to 6 or 8px.
Also select the option "sample all layers". This means that you can smudge the color from the background into the foreground layer without distorting the background layer. This option could also have been set when smudging the background mountains to get a different effect.
Don't forget about the lightsource, and start smudging down from the corners with a lot of pressure.

Step 10

Use the same technique for the water and the rest of the foreground, but this time when smudging make a lot of "uncontrolled" movements like circles and twisted lines.
Use a diameter between 2 and 8px. Use the smaller brush to create more details.

Step 11

Now let's make some clouds.
First make a new layer, call it "clouds" and put it behind the mountains layer and over the background layer.
Select the brush tool and change the brush tip to "dry brush".
This brush should be a standard brush in CS3, no need to change the brush palet. If you are using a different version of photoshop and can't find it, you could just select a similar type of brush.
Bring up the brushes window using F5, the standard menu button or using the menu=>window=>brushes option.
Make sure that the settings are as below, don't forget to adjust control settings to "pen pressure".

Step 12

Start with a brush size of 30 px, but you can vary the size if you want.
Select the colors from your reference image or use your imagination. I used my starting reference image and picked the darkest blue from the sky for the shadow parts, the lightest blue for the highlights and a light pastel color.
I could also have chosen a light purple color or a green tinted color, the sky is full of colors.

Step 13

After you have brushed the colors use the smudge tool to blur the clouds.
Set the brush diameter to 30px.
Use very little pressure smudging the clouds, almost none.
And don't miss a spot, you don't want any of the hard pixels that the dry brush left behind.

Step 14

Make a copy of your file and rename that file "yourfile"2.psd so you have a backup. Now you can safely flatten all the layers.
To make the image more realistic you can zoom in on the different parts and use the smudge and brush tools for details.
You can paint flowers, stones and trees into the scenery.
But for now we are going to finish the image using the "color dodge" and "multiply" modes with a standard brush setting.
Vary the brush diameter from very small to very large. Colors used are black for multiply and white for color dodge.
A tip is to duplicate the one layer you have so you can play around with the different tools and easily make changes undone.

Step 15

Finished result:

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avatar Alan2641
Alan2641 says:

well explained and a nice result

(5 years and 2233 days ago)
avatar wazowski
wazowski says:

Nice work. I'm always a bit scared for just flatten layers, I guess I'd have a lot of backups .
And yes, in case you dont know well what to draw, take photos as references. Or just look outside. Be aware of perspective, light and color use. Mostly in the foreground more saturated colors than in the background.

Thanks for the tut

(5 years and 2232 days ago)
avatar Akassa
Akassa says:

Wow really great, it looks easier than it is :P well done.

(5 years and 2232 days ago)
avatar George55
George55 says:

Awsome drawing, and good tut. I wish I had a tablet to do something like that. Good luck!

(5 years and 2232 days ago)
avatar k5683
k5683 says:


(5 years and 2230 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

if you create a new layer and press shift-Ctrl-Alt-E (pc) or Command-Option-Shift-E (mac) at the same time. Ps will create a flattened version of your image within that layer, all your other layers remain intact. This is called 'stamp visible'

Very very nice work on using the smudge tool

(5 years and 2229 days ago)
avatar dka120
dka120 says:

Great tutorial! You got me inspired, I'll try some of it later.

(5 years and 2228 days ago)
avatar madamemonty

A really nice tutorial, well explained

(5 years and 2225 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:


(5 years and 2218 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

I am a fresh learner of photoshop. till now i con't imagination
this kind of work in photoshop.

(5 years and 2218 days ago)
avatar devangel
devangel says:


(5 years and 2211 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:


(5 years and 2209 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

well nice tutorial to teach with photoshop painting.....

(5 years and 2209 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

A very useful tutorial to learn more about photoshop.Its easy to understand too.

(5 years and 2207 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

cool result xD

(5 years and 2182 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Great tutorial, I'm glad that I found this. I just recently purchased a tablet after reaching the limits of my mouse and was looking for something to show the techniques that you used here. Thank you for taking the time to make this

(5 years and 2170 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Thanks for making this. I am learning the basics and this is just a step further.

(5 years and 2162 days ago)
avatar CSevrip
CSevrip says:

Thank you very much.I try this now.

(5 years and 2160 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

wow i didn't know photoshop could do that

(5 years and 2145 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

porno amaizing !!!

(5 years and 2132 days ago)
avatar nasirkhan
nasirkhan says:

Very nice and well explained. I have no tablet but will still try this technique with mouse

(5 years and 2131 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

super oh super.....really its awesome..............

(5 years and 2131 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

thanks. Great tutorial.


(5 years and 2114 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Thanks for showing, can I save this tutorial in someway to a CD and then play back on my laptop so I can use my main PC to practice this tutorial?

(5 years and 2105 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

erm ... i have a problem . i don't know how to set the gradient tool on " foreground to transparent "

(5 years and 2102 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

very nive job.. well.. I found it and now I already started warking on it. Thank you.. I just learn to use my tablet.. until now.. only simple drawings. Thank you. it is lovely

(5 years and 2101 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Great tutorial, I didn't think it would be this simple (technique wise) to create such detailed images. Though, I have to say my success with the smudge tool is crap so I have yet to have success, but great tutorial nonetheless.

(5 years and 2092 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Wow awesome tutorial !!!

It's exaclty what i was looking for !!!!


P.S. Giv more credit to this tutorial it is awesome !

(5 years and 2085 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Hell, i've gave it a try, it was really harder then what i was thinking !!!!

I need some practice with smudging !

If you want to try it before begining the smudging part COPY YOUR ORIGINAL LAYER !! Cause smudging is destructive !

So finally i gave up ....

Maybe i'll retry later but for now i'll practice my smuding on smaller part, the whole project is too big for me now ...

Interested to see what i've done ???

Here it is :

(5 years and 2083 days ago)
avatar oana
oana says:

great tutorial! thanks a lot!

this is what i've made. far from the original but it made me love smudging!

(5 years and 2059 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:


(5 years and 2007 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Awsome: thanks a lot!

(5 years and 2006 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

nice tutes

(5 years and 2003 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

excelent art
i am subbu

(5 years and 1950 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

thanks so much for this! i work for and these tutorials are of immense help

(5 years and 1948 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says: is a graphic designing website. photoshop tutorials.

(5 years and 1928 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

its very nice experiment

(5 years and 1910 days ago)
avatar Clinge
Clinge says:

Very helpfull tutorial. Grreat explanation THX

(5 years and 1866 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:


(5 years and 1789 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

that was amazing.
thank you

(5 years and 1757 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

Really cool i'm getting a tablet sometime after christmas and i know i'll be coming back here thx for the tut!

(5 years and 1741 days ago)
no avatar
Guest says:

I'm using your wonderful ideas for my 3D landcape post-production scene. Thank you for writing this tut.

(5 years and 1498 days ago)
avatar theartking

WOW ! ita Amazing

(5 years and 1337 days ago)
no avatar
hello says:


(5 years and 1032 days ago)

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