Let the ideas flow: Terry Elkins creates ‘Desert River’

Terry shows off his distinctive style and explains how the Affinity Designer Workbook set him on a new creative path.

Illustrator Terry Elkins creates work which strongly evokes the wide open spaces of North America. We asked him to describe the process of creating an amazing piece of work: in this case, the striking ‘Desert River’.

Step 1

Typically I start out with a rough drawing of the entire illustration, scan it in and build on top of it.

For this project though, I skipped the sketch.

As a way of streamlining my process (and as a practice exercise), I developed a series of nature-themed assets, such as rock formations, trees and bushes, which are common elements I use in many of my outdoor illustrations.

Each element was completed in black and white and later coloured using the Recolour feature (discussed in Step 5).

With all of the elements finalised, I created an asset library using Affinity Designer’s simple to use Assets Panel (View > Studio > Assets). It’s a gem of a tool that allows for efficient management of (and quick access to), created assets.

Step 2: Beginning the layout

Step 2

Now that I have the parts completed, I begin the composition by creating a new file and working within the Draw Persona (Affinity Designer has three different ‘personas’ you can seamlessly switch between; one for vector, one for raster and another for export functions).

I establish the sky, ground and horizon line and place a few of the key assets within the composition, establishing the fore, mid and background elements.

You’ll notice a grain texture applied to the various items.

This is easily applied when the elements are initially coloured (via a noise slider at the base of the Colour Panel, located on the Fill menu within the Context Toolbar).

Once I’m happy with the overall layout, I adjust the tonal values, making all foreground elements the deepest, mid-ground a little less so and the background the most faded (creating a sense of depth and atmosphere).

Step 3: Fleshing out the illustration

Step 3

All of the basics in place, I draw in additional elements to flesh out the illustration. When initially developing the asset library, I quite enjoyed creating the ‘eye’ rock and knew I wanted it to be a feature element for this project. Here I’ve used it to frame the central focus of the illustration—a solo canoeist, enjoying a day of solitude and relaxation on the river.

Two key tools came into play at this stage; the first being the Snapping function. With Affinity Designer, you can not only snap to items (and their various components), but you can customize how the snapping tool works (View > Snapping Manager).

The second tool, which has been a massive timesaver, is Insert inside the selection.

This is a quick and efficient way of defining the shape.

Step 4: Adding depth and dimension

Step 4

Wanting additional depth and dimension, here I apply shadows and gradations to the landscape.

Using Affinity Designer’s Fill Tool I can effortlessly create and manipulate colours and gradations.

Step 5: Adding some colour

Step 5

Time to jump into colour! I had been chatting online with Kevin House (featured in the Affinity Designer Workbook, below), and he suggested that I check out the Recolour feature (Layer > New Adjustment > Recolour).

Wow, was I ever grateful for the tip!

The tool worked great! Not only is it easy to define and apply colours but there are multiple recolour options and adjustments available to get the look just right.

Note: In order to get the most out of the Recolour feature, it’s best to plan the layer and grouping structure of your file in advance.

For this illustration, each element (or series of elements), are grouped and then the recolour feature is applied to the group (as opposed to individual elements).

Step 6

To complete the illustration, I adjust some of the gradations within the sky, add a graduated vignette layer and apply a tint of yellow over the entire illustration (an easy way to unify colour across the entire piece).

Step 6: the final version


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John heads up our public relations and is co-editor of Affinity Spotlight, as well as being responsible for a lot of what we post on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. When he’s not trying to charm journalists into giving us more great media coverage, or serving as butler to an elderly cat, his interests include music, Cuban cigars and American whiskey. Get in touch with John if you would like to contribute to Affinity Spotlight or have any press enquiries.
Credits & Footnotes

Terry is Creative Director at g]squared and a Sessional Instructor at MacEwan University.