Create a Whimsical Halloween Landscape

Introduction: Create a Whimsical Halloween Landscape

Black cats, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, foggy nights and full moons. Spooks and fright and terror! Although most of us associate Halloween with these things, it's really just a fun and whimsical holiday. What would it look like if Halloween embraced all the whimsy and lightheartedness without the typical terror and Hollywood gore?

In this Instructable, I'll show you how to create a whimsical Halloween landscape using a combination of Sketchbook Pro and Photoshop CS5. Let's start!

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Step 1: Inspiration!

Before I begin drawing or painting, I usually search for inspiration. I knew I wanted trees, so I googled 'interesting trees' and found this amazing photo. Much of my drawing is based around making these trees an integral part of the picture.

For me, I find it's really helpful to think about what feeling you want to convey in your picture. Whimsy? Fright? Dream-like? Once you decide what feeling you want to convey, find some inspiration to match!

I also wanted to create a Halloween-themed picture that isn't strictly dark, spooky, or cliché. For this reason I chose to create an alternative painting that feels whimsical and fun, much like the feeling of Halloween when you're a kid.

Step 2: Sketching

I used Sketchbook Pro to sketch out the lines for the landscape. My Baobab trees seem to fit easily into a landscape with calm water and a flat earth. A few low-lying mountains in the distance and small trees nearing the horizon help create a sense of depth and space. A smooth, curving riverbank also makes the sketch believable. Sketch whatever comes to your imagination! If something doesn't look 'right,' I usually search for an image that is similar to what I am sketching and reference that.

But this is Halloween, so now we add the festive elements! Besides being pleasing to behold, I think art should tell a story. I decided to add a giant pumpkin that is also a house for a DIY witch, who is fixing her bicycle which is made from broomsticks, pumpkins, cats and bats. I also added a wizard owl companion. The hot air balloon is just for fun!

Step 3: Gradient Background

After sketching the landscape, I switched to photoshop to add the colors and textures. My landscape will have a blue sky and water, so I added a simple blue gradient over the whole image.

Create a new layer for the gradient. The gradient tool is located in the lefthand toolbar; it shares an icon space with the fill tool. After you select the gradient tool, a two-tone gradient will appear in the upper lefthand toolbar. Click on it to change the colors and gradient pattern.

Go ahead and fill up the whole landscape. The gradient is like a base coat for a painting.

Step 4: Paint Swaths of Color

Create a new layer and continue filling in the broadest areas of color. Set brush opacity = 100% to completely cover the green land masses. 

To add a little texture to these swaths of green, I selected yellow as an accent color
Opacity: 30%
Brush size: 10-25 pts depending on the area
Brush hardness: 0 or very low, so colors can blend easily when using the big brush sizes

Try  dabbling with different color tones over your landscape. There's no need to over-texturize in this step - we'll fill in the details later.

Step 5: Fill Out Major Elements

Create a new layer and begin filling out the other elements in your painting with color.

Try contrasting light colors with dark colors to add depth and texture. The creases of the pumpkin have increasingly dark shades of organge; the edge of the Baobab trees are a dark brown. The distant mountains have 3 shade of purple that are sharply contrasted to give the impression of a rocky surface. Painting with a single color makes paintings look flat.

To create the reflection of the pumpkin in the water, I used a brush with lower opacity (~70%) and the contrast of colors is not as sharp. This technique could be used to draw things that are obscured by fog, dust, etc.

Step 6: Make It Believable

For the next step in the Halloween landscape, we need to add some realism. Having a nice rich background will help immensely! But I am not very good at drawing clouds.

To solve this, I searched for a photoshop brush that paints clouds. There are many similar brushes that are free to download and easy to install.

Here are some more cloud brushes: Here, and here, and here.

To install these brushes, unzip them and move the .abr files into the C:\Programs\/Photoshop/preset/brushes folder. At this point, save your painting and restart photoshop. Open the Brush Presets from Photoshop's Window menu, then click on the small icon at the top right corner (right beneath the X button) and you'll see the list of all the brush presets installed in the Brushes folder.

The water needs to reflect the clouds and other elements to make this painting believable. I created 3 layers and painted clouds on each one - this will add depth to the sky.

Color: I choose a white that's has a little blue tinge to it, then alternate with some darker blue
Brush opacity: around 40-60%  and lower the brush's opacity slightly for clouds in the water

The layers are arranged behind everything except the blue gradient. 

Step 7: Brush for the Grass and Foliage

For the grass and foliage of the baobab tree, I used the built-in grass brush from Photoshop CS5  in addition to these very useful brush pack from This is a an easy way to create texture without painting every blade of grass. Experiment and see what fits your Halloween landscape.

Step 8: Final Touches

For the last step I finished the details for the DIY witch, her bike and her owl companion. In case you are wondering about the bike, it has 2 pumpkins for wheels, held together by spider webs. The broom stick forms the frame and the cauldron with flowing magical mist provides the thrust. Due to their sonar capability, the bats are the GPS sysem :)

Like before, I searched online for a reference on how to draw pumpkins from a top-down perspective for the bike wheels, and also for the bats.

When filling out the characters, follow the previous steps on a smaller scale: fill in base colors at 100% opacity, then add shadows colors with a thinner brush and lowered brush opacity at 70-80%.  Like earlier, to blend colors, I pick a color a shade lighter than the shadow color and use a brush with big size (20pts) and a very low opacity  20-35% and brush hardness at 0%. I usually blend from dark to light, but either way works. Then I add highlight with a small size brush (3-5pts), opacity at 80-90%, and hardness at 90% and up. This will give a nice streak. 

For the reflection, you can hand painted it in like I did in Step 6, but here is an even faster trick:
Make a copy of your Pumpkin layer (and also the Tree layer)
Go to Edit > Transform > Flip horizontal  to flip the pumpkin upside down.
Go to Edit > Transform > Distort resize the pumpkin to fit the perspective better
Lower the layer opacity to 70-80% to have a water reflection look.
Add a few light blue lines to indicate shoreline

For the last picture I move the characters and the motorcycle up a little bit so it fits in the frame better. I hope you've found some useful ideas in this Instructable. Please feel free to let me know what you think, and thanks for taking a look!

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    2 Discussions


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! It was really fun drawing the clouds with the cloud brushes.