Whimsical Wonders

Photoshop Design Tutorial: Whimsical Wonders

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Wondrous Fairy Tale Setting in Photoshop

Russian artist Larissa, known by her name Annnmei on Dreamstime, has a small but powerful portfolio of illustrations that utilize her Wacom tablet. We caught up with her and asked her how she creates her unique whimsical style and asked her to give us a step-by-step rundown on one of her latest pieces, Multicolored Tree City.

"I always want to draw, it's my favorite past-time and my main occupation. I'm obsessed with different ideas; I don't know how they come, but I do have lots of them. I will probably not be alive long enough to realize all my ideas.

Usually in the morning I get up and immediately sit down at the computer, I open Photoshop, take the stylus and draw different sketches, just what comes into my head. After lunch, I take a second look over the morning sketches and decide what I'm going to draw that day. The tablet gives me the opportunity to draw pretty quickly, so I can finish the image by nightfall. Wacom makes it that easy and fast.

There is a huge difference between creating an image with a tablet and not using any such device.

I think it would be close to impossible for me to draw without a tablet at this point. I, for one, hardly know anyone in the industry who can work efficiently and produce great works with just an ordinary computer mouse. The tablet with the pen gives me the opportunity to use various drawing techniques and create a collage or a montage from my photos if I wanted."

My style is primarily a montage of photos and drawings. I work in Photoshop, and rely on the smudge, light and shadow and pen tools to achieve the look I want. The Wacom stylus is neat - it's very pressure-sensitive and allows me to achieve the effects and details I want. In fact, when I got the idea for one of my early pieces, Doll on a Toy Train, I couldn't even create it because I didn't have a tablet yet and the idea was difficult to execute with a simple mouse. When I finally got my first tablet, I was able to finish the piece and it was a learning experience. I learned to work on a tablet and the result was so great that some of the pieces I did back then were published in an art journal.

Here's Larissa's detailed step-by-step tutorial on Multicolored Tree City.

Not many resources were needed from a personal file archives to create this illustration. It's not necessary to have any special textures, just an ordinary wall, sky, bark and old roof textures. You will also need a Wacom tablet to create this illustration. You can find many such textures to choose from here:






1. Create a new Photoshop File

Create a new Photoshop file (45 x 35 cm, 300 dpi resolution) and draw a very simple sketch on your tablet with feather settings a little bit harder than used as default.

2. Choose Your Textures

Select different textures to create the objects: a tree, house facades and roofs.

3. Create the Background

We will make the background by filling in the layers with different colors and using the Eraser Tool. As a result, the layers will blend nicely.

Pick a tan (#cd923f) and bright blue color (#50c3d1). Fill in one layer with tan and the second one with blue. Select a big, soft eraser tool, adjust the size of the brush, reduce the hardness and opacity to 50% and lightly erase the bottom third of the tan section. To make the color gradation softer and smoother reduce the final opacity of the Eraser Tool to 25%.

Next choose a picture of clouds from your archive or a stock photo. In my image below, it's necessary to get rid of the blue sky, so I'll select the blue colors with the Magic Wand tool, blur the picture a little bit and then to turn the layer mode to Soft Light. Select Hue/Saturation and set the middle slider at 0 and reduce the opacity.

Select the Eraser Tool again, a big-sized brush with the opacity at 100% and carefully erase the unnecessary parts of the clouds.

The top part of the sky must be a darker blue. To do this, duplicate the blue layer and adjust it with Curves to make it darker. Select the Eraser Tool and erase the dark parts at the center without touching the top section. Merge all these levels down to get one background layer which will be further edited.

4. Create the Grass

To create a green strip of grass, make a new layer above the background and select the section for the grass with the pen and the Lasso Tool. Fill it in with the green #296119. Deselect the area and smooth out the borders of the grass with the Eraser Tool. It should not be perfectly even, just do it the way you like it. Choose the Burn Tool (from the left tool tab) and set its hardness at 40%, the brush size at 1000 and darken the bottom of the grass to create volume visibility.

At the final step we will cover it with a texture but at this point it should look like this.

5. Create the Facades

Open the texture files and move them to the main file. Then open the file with the sketch, chose the Lasso Tool and select all the houses. There should be a separate layer for each house.

The layers palette should look like this:

but we must create a separate group for each house to make the subsequent work easier. Now the layers should look like this:

I numbered them but you can name them however you want to.

To create interest in the illustration, add a few houses with a side view. For this you need to select a wall of the already selected house with the Lasso Tool. Paste it on the new layer and make it darker with the Curves tool. Repeat the steps with another house. And finally merge these layers down.

As a result, we have 6 facades which need further retouching. Chose the Smudge Tool and set the strength at approximately 77%, size 30. Then begin "stirring up" the texture. With small strokes and a circular motion we are destroying the original texture and creating the new one. There is no need to smooth out the base completely, some strokes may be left. The size and the strength of the Smudge Tool may be increased or decreased during the process with the touch ring on the Wacom tablet - it makes the work faster and easier. At the same time, you need to level the walls of the facades gradually, making them look the way you like them. During the process, watch the quality of the image carefully; erasing unnecessary sections of walls with the Eraser Tool. You also need to use a big-sized Burn Tool to darken those parts of the houses which cover the houses above. At this point we have something like this:

6. Creating the Roofs

Open the texture, cut a rectangle with the Lasso Tool and move it to our main file.

Place the roof above the layers with a group of houses. Then decrease it with the Transform Tool and clear the edges with the Lasso.

We will use this piece of texture to create all 6 roofs, working with the Transform Tool and Lasso for smaller houses. With a small-sized soft Eraser Tool remove all the edges, increasing and decreasing the brush sizes and rotating the image by using the touch ring on the Wacom tablet.

Then to make the roof look more natural you need to duplicate the roof layer and slightly move the bottom layer downward. Using the Curves make this roof layer almost black. Check all the side parts- if the bottom layer is seen somewhere, erase it leaving only the lower black stripe.

Then we will make other roofs from the first one. For this we will be duplicating the layers and using the Transform, Lasso and the Eraser tools. When you feel content with the result place every roof to the group with the corresponding house. At this stage you should have something like this:

As you can see the house at the top should have one more piece of roof on the reverse side. Using the Lasso Tool, cut the edge from the already finished roof of this house. Place the layer at the bottom of the group and, using the Transform tool, change this piece into the necessary form. Then duplicate the layer, move it slightly to the left and, using the Curves, make it almost black. Retouch the layers slightly till it looks naturally and merge them down.

7. Painting the Houses

We will also need to lay a shadow underneath the roofs. It could be done a few different ways. One of them, which seems to me the simplest, is using the Burn Tool to create a shadow on every facade under a roof. Set the strength at 40% and the size at 400. Remember that for small houses you will need a smaller brush size, so use the touch ring on the Wacom tablet to increase or decrease the brush size when necessary.

The shadows are already done, so we are move on to painting. For this, you need to select every facade and create a new empty layer above this one. Then fill in those layers with the following colors: d2aa53 for the lowest one, f89181 for the smallest one, f15944 for the red one on the right hand side, f15944 for the blue on the right, d2aa53 for the house above the blue one, 9ea958 for the house at the very top, switch the layers to Color mode except for the red house on the left: turn this layer mode to Linear Dodge with the opacity at 85%. After all the steps we need to check if we are satisfied with the result. Some facades may need the Smudge Tool editing. And the original facade may need darkening. This is what I got:

Now merge the color layer with the lower texture layer. After this, carefully clear the edges of the houses with a small-sized soft Eraser Tool. Don't forget to use the touch ring on the Wacom tablet. It's better to get accustomed to it if you want to save time and increase the quality of the work.

As you can see I've added a little bit of polka dot and brick textures on the facades. To do it pick any polka dot texture, if it's colorful desaturate it (Ctrl+U) and drag the slider to the left). Turn the layer mode to Soft Light and if necessary reduce the opacity.

8. Painting the Roofs

This could be done the way we did it before but I prefer another method. Open Color Balance and paint the roofs the way you like. I used different cheerful colors to make the picture brighter. If you want to make them darker use Curves.

Place all the groups with the houses in one group and name it Houses.

9. Creating Windows & Doors

Work with a separate group for each house. I begin with the one at the bottom. For this create a new layer above all the layers of the group. Then, using the Pen Tool, create the shape of a window.

Select the form and fill it in with #e6cfa5. Duplicate the layer and inverse it (press Ctrl+Alt+I). As you can see, the area became blue.

Using the Transform tool, decrease the blue area. Select it once again (click on the layer icon). Move on to the lower layer with the window and delete the selected area. You could delete the blue layer because we no longer need it.

Thus we have a window-frame. To create cross bars, select a piece of the window with the Lasso tool and copy it to a new layer. Using the Transform tool and duplicating this piece, create a window the way you want it.

Merge all the layers with window elements. Double click on the layer and open the Layer Style window. Chose Bevel and Emboss- Inner Bevel and set it the way it's shown on the screenshot. Or you can set it differently taking into account from which side the sunlight will be falling on in your illustration.

To make the window dark inside create a selection under the layer with the window and fill it in with #050101.

As you can see, instead of a dark layer I added a board texture in doors. Cut out a necessary door form with the Lasso. Place this piece under the door frame and paint it with Color Balance in necessary color. You may also paint it with Color Saturation by the top slider. Don't merge the layers with the frames with the lower layers in order to be able to adjust the settings of the layer style however we want to.

Now everything looks like this:

10. Window Decoration and Shutter Creation

To create the shutters, you need to create a new layer above the layer with a window. Create a long rectangular selection. Fill it in with #729081. Then Duplicate this element to a new layer, place it under the first layer and move it to the left and slightly upwards. Using the Curves, darken the lower part, merge the layers and apply the Gaussian Blur 0.5%. Now there is a board for the shutters:

Duplicate it three times on new layers and place each of them at short distance from each other. Make one of the duplicates invisible and merge the remaining three together.

Again make the fourth board visible and decrease it. Place it under the layer with the shutters. Duplicate it once again and place these two boards across the shutters boards. Merge these two small boards together. Darken them with the Curves.

Merge the three top boards with two lower perpendicular ones. Now you have the shutters.

As we need 6 shutters, we are duplicating them on new layers and placing them near the windows. Then, using the Transform tool, shape them into a form most suitable for these windows. Then merge all the shutters into one layer, select them and create a new empty layer lower. Fill this layer in with black color- this will be shutters shadows. Apply the Gaussian Blur 2.1%. Move it to the left and downwards. Reduce the layer opacity to 20%. So the shutters are done:

11. Creating Fences & Ladders

To make a fence you need to create a new layer. Using the Freeform Pen Tool, create a rough form of the fence detail. Retouch it with the Pen (add an anchor point) and fill it in with black color.

As you can see, the form shouldn't be exactly even. From this form, using the Lasso tool, cut out the stick without a hook and duplicate it onto a new layer. Now there are two elements, one just straight, and the other one with a hook. From them, using the Transform tool, we are creating a fence: rotating, decreasing, increasing, slightly bending these forms.

Then we also create a second fence on the other side of the door, simply duplicating the elements onto new layers.

So we are creating a white fence on a pink house, having previously saved two fence elements (with and without a hook). Since we have a white fence, we are simply doing an inversion (Ctrl + I). Then, like with the black fence, we will duplicate the details on the new layers, transform them, merge the layers of the white fence and apply the same layer style as for the windows, but with smaller Emboss settings. We also need to make a shadow under this fence. For this, select it (click on the layer icon), create an empty layer below and fill it with black. Apply the Gaussian Blur of 3.6%. Reduce the layer opacity to 40%.

We create stairs nearly the same way, the difference is that black sticks can be created using the usual selection M, making a long thin rectangle and filling it with black, blur with a value of 0.5%, and slightly bending with the Transform.

Create three ladders and place them into a separate group above the group with the houses:

12. Creating the Chimneys

To create a chimney on the roof of the house on the top you need to open our first texture, open a layer with the sketch and cut out a pipe from the texture.

We are moving the cutout piece to the group with the top house. Using the Lasso tool, cut out from this piece of texture the parts that need lightening or darkening. Use the Curves to do this.

Then we merge the formed layers together. Using the Finger Tool, begin creating the texture just the way we were doing it on the facades of the houses. Use the scroll wheel on the Wacom tablet to decrease or increase the size of the brush. To create a shadow at the base of the roof, use the Burn Tool from the left tool column. Then move on to the layer with the roof and darken the area near the base of the pipe with the Burn Tool.

For the chimney on the red left house, you need to take any brick texture, place it above the house, but under the sketch and cut it out by the Lasso tool. Shape it using the Transform deformation Tool. Carefully clean the edges with a soft Eraser.

We will create a pipe on the green house on the right in a similar way. For the base, take the already created brick pipe. Duplicate it on a new layer and place above the roof of the green house. Also take a small piece of texture and edit it with the Finger tool. Do not forget to darken in the right places. Then merge both layers.

The chimneys are done:

13. Creating the Signs and Lantern

To create signboards, you need to make elements like in the fence. Using the Freeform Pen Tool, create a shape on a new layer, place it in a group with a house above all layers. In this case - the red on the left. Edit this form with the Pen tool- add an anchor point. Select it, fill it with black color. Now we have a curl like this:

Using this element as a base, we can create any design. In this case this is a beautiful form for hanging an oval sign. Using the Lasso Tool cut out a piece of black strip. With the Transform Tool lengthen and bend this strip. Then duplicate the curl and also transform it giving it the shape we need.

Make an oval, fill it with black, select it. Create a layer above the oval, click on the Edit tab - Stroke. Set the adjustment at 10, location at center. Apply the same layer style as to the facades. Merge these layers, duplicate the layer with the signboard. Shift the bottom layer downwards and to the right. Apply the Gaussian Blur of 3.3%, reduce the layer opacity to 40%. This is the shadow of the sign.

Using the same method we will create the second sign located on the pink house using the Custom Shape Tool to make a heart shape. The lantern is made in the same way - by using the Freeform Pen Tool and the Pen Tool and adding an anchor point.

For a signboard at the top of the house you can use the curve elements from previous signs. Create a half rectangular shape on the new layer at the top of the group using the Freeform Pen Tool.

Select it, fill with black.

Deselect, duplicate. Using the Transform Tool flip it horizontal. Connect both pieces. Now there is the base of the sign. Apply Bevel and Emboss style to it.

And decorate it on sides with the curves from the previous sign. Also apply Bevel and Emboss to them. Merge the layers and place them on the house, using the Transform tool to shape them if necessary.

14. Flowers and the Balcony Curtain

You can create a flower in many ways, but I do it this way. I use the Freeform Pen Tool to draw on a new layer above the groups with the houses a custom oval shape similar to a petal, make a selection, fill it with color dc4d48. Duplicate these petals five times and arrange them using the Transform Tool in a circle in the shape of a flower. Merge these layers.

We make a new empty layer above them and a small circle with the M tool. Fill the circle with color f8fe86 and apply the layer style. Merge the layers.

In this way you can create several different flowers and place them under the windows in a chaotic order. Change their size and rotate by the Transform Tool. Duplicate it so that there are many flowers. When we achieve the desired result, we will merge all the flowers into one layer and create a shadow under them using the method described above.

To create the curtains use the Freeform Tool to draw a custom shape on a new layer. Place it in a group with the pink house at the very top. Make the selection and fill it with f0dfcb, remove the selection. With a soft Eraser tool rub out the part of the curtain at the bottom. Using the Burn Tool and Dodge Tool make creases on the curtain. Reduce the layer opacity to 80-90%.

15. Tree Trunks and Branches

For this we need a picture with any tree base and different branches. For example, a trunk like this:

Place it below the groups with the houses and using the Transform deformation Tool try to create the form of the base.

You can place it anyway you like but I decided that branches should start above the first house. Therefore, for the time being, this trunk needs to be smoothed with the Finger Tool the way we did with the facades of the houses. Do not worry that the tree texture appears vanished, in the future we will cover the tree and the houses with the appropriate textures.

Using the Finger Tool create a right branch which goes into the pink house. When we finish the work we will give a little color to the trunk of the tree using Color Balance.

I chose different branches from my archive to decorate our houses.

Now we need to place them correctly above the houses and then try to make it so that the branches appeared growing from the walls of the facades. The very bottom left branch needs smoothing with the Finger Tool directly on the tree trunk which we created earlier. Place it above the layer with the layer of the tree trunk. Smooth the place of the connection with the Finger Tool as carefully as possible. Then merge this branch with the tree. Once again, edit the connecting with the Finger Tool to make everything look neat and make it seem as if the branch grows from the trunk.

Place the rest of the brunches above the roofs,

and the very right upper branch located on the green house must be connected to the wall to make an illusion that it is growing from the wall. To do this, select the layer with the facade of this house and with the Burn Tool with the value of 40% and darken around the bottom of the branch by the size 100, the closer to the branch - the darker. So you need to change the size of the tool using the scroll wheel on the Wacom tablet: the closer Branch-the smaller the size, the farther away - the bigger the size. Next, chose the Finger Toll and adjust the texture of the transition of the shadow to the light. So use the Burn Tool and Finger Tool in turns until you get the result you need - as if the branch is growing from the wall.

Carry through exactly the same manipulations with the branch located on the yellow brick house.

Use the Finger Tool, editing the other branches to create your own texture of their bark. For the branch located above the pink house, you will need to create a shadow. To do it, using the Lasso tool, make a selection of the branch and copy it onto a new layer. Move this layer below the branch layer. Select it (click on the layer icon) and fill it with black. Shift it to the left and apply the Gaussian Blur of 8.8%. Reduce the layer opacity to around 50%. Erase the excess with a soft Eraser. The shadow from the branch is done.

And, finally, the top left branch located above the red house. There is nothing much to be done with it. Just edit it with the Finger tool so that would be the same as the rest of the brunches.

Now let's move on to the leaves on the branches. To do this, you can take any two-three leaves from any picture and apply to them the same style as to the whole work using the Finger Tool. With the Lasso tool cut out any leaves. Don't try to do it perfectly even.

Transfer them to our main file and place them above the layers with the branches. Choose the Finger Tool and smooth our leaves out just the way we did it with as the branches and the facades of the houses. Using the Finger Tool, select a yellow streak in the center of the leaf to make the leaf look like a leaf.

Transform Tool to rotate, or change the shape with the Transform deformation tool.

Place branches, leaves and flowers in a new separate group above the groups with the houses.

16. Texturing

Our facades need to be covered with a texture, as well as the tree. To do this, open again the texture from which we created the facades and place it above the groups with the houses.

Switch the Layer Mode to Soft Light, reduce the saturation (Ctrl+U) with the middle slider to the left.

Select the facade of the lower house (click on the layer icon) with the active layer which is our texture. Copy the selection to a new layer and move this layer to the house group above the facade. In the same way do it with each house. After this, the texture layer can be deleted. As we see, after these manipulations some houses have become too light and we need to make them darker. Select the texture layer and, using the Curves, darken it.

Then open any bark texture and begin to texturize our branches and trunk.

First of all, place the selected texture above the trunk. Switch the layer mode to Soft Light. Move it using the Transform deformation Tool. Try to arrange the texture nicely.

For small sections of the trunk and thin branches, use the Lasso Tool to cut out the necessary amount of texture. Turn it to the Soft Light mode. Place it above the right area and shape it with the Transform deformation Tool.

Next, select the tree, inverse it (Ctrl + Alt + I). On the active texture layer, delete the excess that is beyond the boundaries of a branch or a tree. Thus, step by step, we cover all our branches. Sometimes it will be necessary to reduce the texture opacity, sometimes we leave it as is. There is no universal recipe here, it is necessary to check whether the result satisfies you or not.

Then you need to cover the green grass at the bottom of the image. To do this, you can choose a picture of a grass field.

Use the Soft Light mode. Place this texture on the grass and set the desired layer mode. Select the bottom grass layer and make the inversion selection (Ctrl + Alt + I)on the active layer with the texture and remove the excess texture from the edges of our grass.

17. The Finer Details & Elements

As we can see, our work is nearly done and now we need to carefully check whether we have forgotten something or not. Especially a lot of attention should be paid to the edges of objects that were edited with the Finger Tool because low-quality edges may appear. They always need to be retouched with the Eraser Tool.

Also, some things on the parts of the facades under the windows and around the doors will need some shadow. To do this, choose the Dodge Tool, strength 40%, size about 100 (but with the scroll wheel on the Wacom tablet you can increase and decrease the size of the brush as needed). Darken the areas under the windows, using a small brush around them. This is necessary to be done to make our image look more natural.

You also need to draw door handles. For this, select the Burn Tool to draw a dark circle on a door and, with the Finger Tool, correct its shape to achieve the shape of the handle. On the door of the top house draw a keyhole in the same way as the handle.

18. Texturing the Entire Image

To do this, open the monochrome texture of fine grass (grass from the golf course would be ideal) and place it above all the layers, switching to the Soft Light mode. Frame the picture a little bit and select the very first layer - the background. Its top part could be darkened. For this use the Burn Tool with the value of 50% and the size of approximately 2300.

You also need to brighten the orange sky on the horizon. To do this, use the Lasso tool to select a large area and copy it to a new layer. Switch to the Overlay mode. Using a soft big-sized Eraser erase the top boarders of this layer. In the end, we get a bright sunrise or sunset, depends on your preferences. Merge these two layers into one.

Thus our work is finished!

Check out more of Larissa's work here.

To learn more about the Wacom Intuos Pro that Larissa used in this tutorial, visit Wacom.

For more creative inspiration and tutorials check out the Wacom Community

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Tree houses

Photo credits: Annnmei.
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November 09, 2017

Great work with nice and simple tutorial. Thanks for sharing!


October 24, 2017

Very artistic and creative i like it! :) Well done!


October 24, 2017

That´s interesting and very inspiring! Thank you for sharing such a great tutorial!


October 14, 2017

Beautiful, love it! Thanks for tutorial :)


September 20, 2017

thanks for sharing :)


September 20, 2017

Wow! So impressive!


September 19, 2017

nice work :)


September 19, 2017

Thanks for sharing this tips, that's quite useful article.


September 19, 2017

It's legal to use texture images from other contributors to create your own design to sell??????????


September 19, 2017

Thanks for sharing, super complete tutorial !!!


September 19, 2017

useful blog. thanks for sharing.


September 18, 2017

Wow amazing, thanks for posting 😀🙆, well done


September 18, 2017

A tremendous amount of work in that tutorial!! Thanks. I've never been very good with my Wacom, but I feel I could do so much more now.


September 18, 2017

Wow! What a great and cute picture. And a lof of work...