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Draw a Northern Lights Scene in Procreate

Draw a Northern Lights Scene in Procreate main article image
Posted on September 12, 2021 by Becky Liddle

In this article, we’re going to create an Arctic-like mountain and lake scene incorporating the beautiful Aurora Borealis. This project is so fun as there are a lot of ways in which we can put our own unique spin on it, we can be as dramatic and colourful as we like with our Northern Lights, or we can add elements such as trees, buildings and boats.

We’ll start by creating mountains and a starry sky, followed by illustrating our own Aurora and then creating reflections in the lake. All of the tools we’ll use in this tutorial are presets already included with Procreate, however, please feel free to use your own elements, colours and brushes. Click here to check out Creative Fabrica’s range of downloadable brushes for Procreate.

Our first step is to create a canvas in Procreate. To do this, press on the + in the top right hand corner of the gallery screen, and then tap the first option, Screen Size.

Now, we’re going to draw the outline to our mountain scene. In the Brush Library, go to the Inking section and then select the Technical Pen. Adjust the size to around 20% and the opacity to 100%.

Draw a straight line from one side of the canvas (in landscape view) to the other, ensuring the line goes over each side of the canvas. To ensure a straight line, keep your stylus held on the screen and it’ll snap into shape! Your line should be just below half way, I’d say around 35-40% of the way up the canvas.

If your line needs extending, or is a little wonky, tap on the transform tool. This is the last icon on the top left hand menu which looks like a cursor. You’ll then see a box appear around your line, and you can extend this or rotate using the green circle above the element.

Staying on the same layer, we’ll now draw an outline of our mountains. Choose a dark grey colour and draw a rough mountain skyline across the canvas, from one side to the other. The mountains can be as dramatic as you want, and the beauty of this project is that nothing has to be exact!

Once you’re happy with your mountain outline, fill the shape with a dark grey. It’s important that this tone isn’t black, as we’re going to add another mountain layer in front of this, we want to be able to distinguish the two so that we get a perspective effect.

To fill your mountain shape, either drag the colour icon into the shape, or colour it in manually.

Now, create a new layer by opening the layers panel and pressing the +.

On the new layer, outline another rough mountain landscape. This time, ensure a darker grey, or black colour is selected. I’m making these mountains a little lower than the first.

Again, fill in these mountains, but this time with a darker colour. The darker colour being at the front will make them appear closer, so it gives us a deeper landscape effect.

Next, open up the layers panel and click on the lowest layer, which will be called Background. Choose a dark colour which will be the basis for your sky and lake, I’m going for a dark blue. We can always amend this later when we have more of our drawing complete, so don’t worry too much about choosing an exact shade.

We’re now going to add some snow to our mountains. This step is optional, if you’d prefer a less wintery scene.

Tap on the layer containing your first mountain landscape. You’ll see the layer menu appear, tap on Alpha Lock. Alpha Lock is a great tool which allows us to paint only on the objects already in the layer. So, using Alpha Lock will allow us to add snow to our mountains, without any of it going onto the background, or other elements.

In the Brush Library, tap on Airbrushing, and then choose the Soft Brush. My brush size is around 30% and the opacity is quite low, around 10%, as we don’t want the snow to appear too bright – it is night time after all!

Paint on the tops of your mountains to make it look like snowy peaks. You can re-paint over areas to give a lighter effect, I’ve made the mountain peaks brighter, so that it looks like more snow at the top.

Repeat this step on your foreground mountain layer.

I love this effect as it really adds dimension to our landscape! We’re now also going to add just a little bit of texture to our mountains, go into the Brush Library, and under Textures, select Cygnet. Choose a grey tone which is lighter than either of your mountain layers and use the brush as a stamp to add some textured areas to both sections.

Now, let’s focus on our sky. Create a new layer by tapping the + in the layers panel and in your Brush Library, under Calligraphy, select the Monoline brush. For your colour, select a very light yellow/gold tone. We’re going to create some stars but we don’t want them to be bright white.

Use the Monoline brush as a stamp to draw dots above your mountains. Depth can be created by using different opacities, for example, draw a lot which look very faint, increase the opacity, and repeat.

Once you’ve created as many stars as you want, go back to the Brush Library and under Luminance, select Glimmer.

Use Glimmer in the same way as you did Monoline, but don’t add as many. This will give the effect of some bigger or closer stars.

As our digital art is going to resemble a remote, wild location, let’s add some of the Nebula brush (again, under Luminance in the Brush Library) to give the effect of star clusters, or even the Milky Way.

I’m using a 25% brush size and opacity of around 20% to give a few light patches. Don’t overdo it as we don’t want to lighten the sky too much, this effect should be subtle, just to add a bit of depth.

Next, we’ll create our mountain reflection in the lake below. Open your layers panel, and swipe right on your two mountain layers. They should now highlight blue. Once they’re blue, tap Group in the top right hand corner of the layers panel.

With your two mountain layers now grouped together, swipe left on the group and select Duplicate.

You should now see an exact copy of your grouped mountain layers. On the group, swipe right and in the menu, select Flatten. This will merge all of our layers into one.

To save any confusion, you may also want to rename this layer. To do this, swipe right and select Rename. Type in your desired name.

Whilst on your duplicated mountains layer, tap on the selection tool, which is the button that looks like a cursor on the top left menu. You’ll see a box appear around your mountains. Use your stylus to drag this box downwards, ensuring that Uniform is highlighted in the selection menu.

As we’re going to create a reflection, we’ll need to flip the copy of our mountains upside down! In the selection menu along the bottom of your screen, tap on Flip Vertical.

Arrange your mountains how you wish, ensuring that they’re in line with your original ones, to give a reflection effect.

I’m going to make the water a little darker than the sky, so for this, I’m going to create a new layer and drag it right to the bottom of the Layers panel, so that the only thing below it is Background Colour. This part is optional!

I’ve chosen a darker blue and just coloured in the water.

Tap on your duplicated mountains layer, and then tap on the N next to the tick box. You’ll see the layer options and opacity slider appear. Change your opacity down to around 46%, as this is supposed to be a reflection, they need to be a little dimmer than the original element. Also, ensure that you keep the layer mode on Normal (it should be automatically set to this anyway).

Next, let’s make the mountains look even more like a reflection. Staying on the duplicated mountains layer, click the magic wand tool on the top left-hand menu, and then select Gaussian Blur, and then Layer.

Move your stylus across the screen to adjust the amount of blur. We still want to be able to see the mountains, but a little distorted to give the effect of water. I’ve blurred mine to 8.3%.

Let’s add a little light to the sky, from behind the mountains. Again, this step is optional – it’s also very subtle. Create a new layer, above your duplicated mountain one.

Draw a semi-circle behind the mountains, in a shade a little lighter than the sky.

Use Gaussian Blur again to blend this into the sky, I’ve blurred it to 13.2%.

Now, let’s add some Aurora into our artwork! We’re going to use the Lightleak brush which is under Luminance in the Brush Library. This is a really beautiful brush and is so versatile, we’d advise trying this one out on different projects too.

Select a light green shade, and create a new layer. The layer should be placed above the mountain duplicate and sky-lightening one, like below.

I’m using my brush on size 40%, and opacity around 50%. It’s important that you lower the opacity as we don’t want our Northern Lights to be too bright. Use the Luminance brush to add some random sections of Aurora across the lower half of your sky, then change your colour to pink and repeat.

Next, create a new layer above the one you’ve just been working on. Click on the N which is next to the tick box, and in the layer options, select Add. Using Add will make anything we do appear lighter and more vibrant.

In your Brush Library, select the Soft Airbrush which is located under Airbrushing.

With your brush size on around 75%, and opacity turned down to 40%, draw some dashes and “S” shapes in the sky, but not too many. This part is quite tricky so you may want to try it a few times. You can always delete the layer and start again if you need to.

Tip: tap 2 fingers on the screen to undo, and 3 fingers to redo.

We’re going to blur these lines a little now, to make them look more realistic. Tap the magic wand tool and then select Motion Blur, then Layer.

Use your stylus to adjust the blur percentage until you’re happy with the result.

Tip: whilst Gaussian Blur blends elements together, motion blur shifts images slightly so it creates faint duplicates of the original.

Create a new layer, lower your brush size and choose a bright fuchsia shade, and draw lines in the sky. They should all be heading in the same direction.

Adjust your opacity as you wish, and apply Motion Blur. I’ve set mine to 23.6%.

You may want to play around with the sky a little until you’re happy, you could adjust the opacities or colours as you like.

Once you’re happy with the Aurora in your sky, group all of the layers which contain Aurora together. Once grouped, swipe left and duplicate them, the same as we did for the mountains previously.

We’re going to create reflections of our Aurora now. Tap on the select tool, which is the button that looks like a cursor. Ensure Uniform is highlighted on the bottom menu, and then tap Flip Vertical.

You should now see your Northern Lights reflected in the water. We need to also add the reflections of the stars. Find the layer containing your stars, duplicate it and then again, flip it vertically. You’ll also need to adjust the opacity, so to do this, tap on the layer and reduce the opacity slider.

In the layers menu, move your flipped stars layer so that it’s below the flipped Aurora layer.

If you want to blur your reflected elements further, you can use the Gaussian Blur – experiment to find your perfect fit!

Now that we’re finished you may notice things you want to tweak, so take your time to go back and perfect elements. For example, I’ve changed my sky to a darker shade, although I’m not sure which one I prefer!

We hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and picked up some new skills, let us know how you get on in the comments.

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January 5, 2022

I just got an iPad with Procreate for New Years and I love your tutorials. It gives me inspiration to try different techniques in one canvas so I can learn this craft.

Becky Liddle's profile picture
Becky Liddle

January 7, 2022


Thanks very much for your comments! Very exciting that you just got an iPad! You’ll love it, it’s so much fun :) keep us posted and let us know what you create!

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