Illusions of Depth: Layer-art in Illustrator | Rich Armstrong | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Illusions of Depth: Layer-art in Illustrator

teacher avatar Rich Armstrong, Artist & Designer

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      The First Layer


    • 3.

      Shadows Now or Later?


    • 4.

      Repetition With a Twist


    • 5.

      To Work Up or Down?


    • 6.

      Shadows and Light


    • 7.

      Coloring Your Layers


    • 8.

      Finishing Touches


    • 9.

      The Last Video


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class


In this class we’re going to learn how to get going with layer-art in Adobe Illustrator. You’ll learn how to add depth to your artwork – and you’ll be able to use it for organic forms, layered illustrations, geometric artwork and for prototyping real-world layer-art.

Adobe Illustrator is an amazing layer-art tool since you don’t need real paper or cutting tools, yet you can create illusions of depth really easily. It can be a precursor for getting into 3D and real world layer-art, but it can also be in it’s coolest and most powerful form right in Illustrator – you can easily manipulate shapes and take them into interactive and moving forms!

The class is short, fun and accessible.

Checkout some more classes that include layer-art:

If you want to create some more awesome design and art pieces, check out these classes:

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Rich Armstrong

Artist & Designer

Top Teacher

Hey! I'm Rich Armstrong, a vivid and imaginative artist with ADHD. My bold and colourful creations draw inspiration from childhood fantasies, igniting joy & passion in a uniquely authentic style.

I design, illustrate, animate, doodle, and code. I love it all. I studied multimedia design, then graphic design, and taught myself how to code. I've freelanced, worked for agencies and startups, run my own product design studio, written a published book, and became a full-time artist in 2021. Also, I can touch my nose with my tongue!

I’ve been creating all kinds of things for a long time. And I want to help you create, experiment, explore and succeed—in the most fun and a... See full profile

Level: Beginner

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Intro: Hey guys. I'm Rich Armstrong. In this class, we're going to learn how to get going with layer art, an illusion of depth and Adobe Illustrator. You'll learn how to add depth to your artwork and you'll be able to use it for organic, geometric and layered illustrations or for prototyping real-world layer art. What's great about doing layer art in Illustrator is that you don't need real paper or cutting tools, yet it's a great bridge between the digital and real world. It can be a precursor for getting into 3D and real-world layer art, but it can also be in its coolest and most powerful form right in illustrator. This class is short, fun and super accessible. So enroll now and let's get started. 2. The First Layer: In this class, I'm going to show you how to create a layer art cave because it's fun and shows the effect really nicely. The same principles apply where they're working on organic art, geometric art, layered illustrations or layered type. The first thing that we need to do is to create a new document. So File, New, once you're inside Illustrator, change a few settings here like your width and heights. I always go for RGB color mode, and I always go for 72 PPI Raster Effects. I would uncheck this Align New Objects to Pixel Grid, but I'll keep it checked for now so I can show you how to uncheck it once you have a new document set up. You go okay, it creates new document for you. Now, let's create a shape. I'm just going to go for a circle because I'm making a cave and then going to change my color to green. I'm going to change my stroke color to transparent, so I don't have a stroke. Then I'm going to create my circle. From here on, you can use a Pen Tool, a Broad Brush Tool whenever you want to manipulate the shape. My favorite tool is the Warp Tool. So I'm going to use this Warp Tool here. I have a whole class in this. It's really fun. Check it out if you don't really know how to use the Warp Tool. But with it, you can make this really organic, lovely cave or [inaudible] shaped hole. Yeah, that looks really good. Now, when you've got the shape selected or probably before, you should go to Window, you should go to Transform, and you want to uncheck Align to Pixel Grid and you want to say, "Align your objects to pixel grid? No, I don't want to do that." another thing you may want to do is just to check if you have anything snapping. You want to uncheck Snap to Grid and uncheck Snap to Points. There you have your first shape. You can either use the shape as is or you can use it as a cutting tool. Let's use it as a cutting tool. Now, let's create a paper layer. I just use a Rectangle Tool for this and make it the same size as your art board or a little bit bigger. Change the color to a gray. I'll explain why I did that later. Then you go to Object, Arrange and Send to Back. Now with your selection tools, select your cutting out object and your background piece of paper. You go to Window, Pathfinder and you use this little option here, this Minus Front option. We're going to Option-click it or outclick it if you're on Windows. Outclick and [inaudible] it makes a hole. But because we outclicked it, it means that we can double-click and go into here and move this hole around, which is super amazing. If you double-click out of here, you can also use your direct selection tool to manipulate it. From here, you can change your hole if you really want to. It's really cool. You can also Command-click or Control-click when you have your selection tool selected. There we go. It's exactly the same as using direct selection tool. Then we have it, your first layer. [inaudible] 3. Shadows Now or Later?: So do I add a drop shadow to our piece of paper now? Well, you can but I prefer to wait until I've added all my pieces of paper and I've got all my shapes out of them. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that drop shadows make an Illustrator and a little bit slower to work with, especially when you've got lots of complex layers. The second is that drop shadows make it harder to select objects that you intend to. It's more productive to add a drop shadow to a bunch of objects, all at once, so that you know they're all had the same shadow settings, which means you can edit them all at the same time if you want, rather than one by one. The most importance I guess, is that I make better design decisions and tweaks to the artwork when there is more context. I know I always make changes when all the layers in the shadows have been added. So I may as well wait until then to do most of the tweaking. We're going to do all of our major cutting and shape work before adding drop shadows and choosing colors. 4. Repetition With a Twist: So we have our first layer. Now let's create our second layer. How you do this depends on what you're making. Is each layer going to be similar to the one before, or is each layer going to be quite different? For each layer, you could start with a new piece of paper, and a cutting tool layer. Or you can duplicate the previous paper layer, and use it as a starting point to the new layer. I'll show you how to do both. Let's copy the contents of layer 1 and create a new layer. I'm go go to Window, and then to Layers. I'm then going to select my layer and I'm going to say Command C or edit copy. I'm going to create a new layer. I'm then going to go, lock the old layer, and then select a new layer and say Edit, Paste. A Word looked that much difference because they are identical. I'm then going to move layer 2 beneath layer 1, and then I'm going to change the color to a darker gray, and if it's above, I'll change it to a lighter gray. I'm doing this to imitate the shadow effects without having to add drop shadows or worry about color. It gives me an idea of what my art work is going to look like, with all the different layers, and now I can double-click in here, and I can start manipulating the shape. If I double-click out of here, you can start to see what's happening, and now if I command click, and use my walk tool, I can start to create the next layer of my k with my hole, and this is really cool, really fun. I can start to really get some mass artifacts going here, and this is just my second layer. Once you're happy with your second layer, let's either duplicate it and do that process again. Or what we can do is create a new layer. I'm going to create a new layer, I'm going to lock that layer and layer 1, and now, I'm going to start with a new shape. I'm going to start with a circle again. Let's just put a circle right here, and then I'm going to change this to a darker shade, and then with my walk tool, I'm going to just move things around slightly, and because this is above, I'm going to try and make it a little bit bigger. I really like working with layers beneath it just because I can see what's above. Because working with a layer above means that you just block out everything below. Once you've got that ready, I'm not going to create my paper, just like so. I'm going to say, object, arrange, send to back. I'm going to change this color to a lighter gray. I'm then going to select this layer and my cutting tool there. I'm then going to option click the minus front option on my Pathfinder window. We have another hole and another layer. This is what we do for 5-10 layers, even more if you want, and it ends up looking pretty cool. You can add as many or as few layers as you'd like. Adding each paper layer to its own illustrates layer is really helpful, especially later on when there is drop shadows and shapes beneath shapes, you can select a lock, hide, and name layers really easily. I really recommend doing that. It also helps to solidify the paper metaphor. Now finally, what I'm really like to do is just create a background layer. It is just another paper layer, like so, and I just set it to a darker color, and local malaise, and there we have something that resembles what the final artwork is going to look like. It's already looking really cool and interesting. 5. To Work Up or Down?: Now, which paper layer is the best to start with, the bottom layer, top layer or a middle layer? Well, you can add new layers above or below any layer at any point. So it's not so much a matter of what's right and wrong, but it's more a matter of preference, and perhaps what you're making. I prefer to start with the top layer and work my way down, but you may feel it's more natural to start at the bottom, like you would in real life. Try both ways and see which one you prefer. It also depends on whether you've planned a lot beforehand or whether you're winging the creation process. If I start at the top, I start with the white layer, and if I start at the bottom, I start with the dark gray or black layer. You can start with the mid-tone gray if you like and change it as you go if you need. It can be confusing at times knowing what is going to be cut out and how my next layer is going to change. I find the best thing to do is just start and do the next layer, this way I know if I need to do anything before carrying on. 6. Shadows and Light: And now let's add a shadow. So, I got taught that drop shadows were bad and evil when I was studying. It's funny that I like them so much now. So, the first thing that we need to do when adding a drop shadow to our layers is, unlock all of your layers and then select them all, go to Effects, Stylize, Drop Shadow. I always like to just preview what I'm doing. These are my going to settings. I always have a plain Mode of Multiply. Nothing really works as well as Multiply. My Opacity is always at 30 percent or 10-30 percent. X Offset, zero. Y Offset, 10. My Blur is normally at 10. I sometimes change my Y Offset between one and 10, and my Blur between one and 10, depending on where the light is coming from, or how harsh it is, or what kind of effects I'm going for. So, play around with these settings. You'll see that if you change your Y Offset to something like one, the shadows aren't as intense. So, I keep mine to 10 and my Blur to 10. You can see if you set your Blur to one, for example, the shadows are a lot harsher. It's almost like there's a really intense light. So, play around here, see what you fancy. I'm just going to keep mine at 10 and 10, and you go, Okay. You click off everything and there we have this beautiful layered effect with lots of depth. What I really like to do now is to select all my layers again and make them all white. I do this just because I get to see the shadows as they really are without all the depth that I've added with those different color layers. Now, if you want to change your shadow settings, you've applied the same settings to every layer, so you just select all your layers again, you go to Window, go to Appearance, and then you click on this Drop Shadow link, Preview and then you can change this to whatever you want. It will update right then and there so you can say, Okay. If you want to change it back, you just select it all again, click Drop Shadow and change back. There we go. If you want to change one layer at a time, you can lock all of your layers, unlock the layer that you want to change, select it, go to the Appearance panel and then click Drop Shadow and change just this one. So, if we change the Blur amount to one, you see which one it is. Is it that one over there. But now I don't really like doing this just yet because if you now had to change all of your shadow settings, you can't. There's a Mixed Appearance that'll pixel texture. It means that, they're different so we can't change them all at the same time, which is really frustrating. I tend not to do this. I'm just going to undo. There we go. Now let's get into coloring our layers. 7. Coloring Your Layers: Let's add some color into our layers. So when your layers are white, you can see what effects the shadows have, but now you get to choose each layer's color. This can be really fun, and you should play around with your colors. As a rule of thumb, I start with lighter and brighter colors closest to the top and then as I go down, I slowly make the layers darker. I find it exaggerates the layering and depth effect. I like to use to get started and then I deviate and play around. Sometimes I even use gradients. This is what we have right now. Let's go to, like this. You just go, bam, get started. It's free. It loads a bit and you just press space-bar to generate some new colors. Let's just see what we find. Sometimes you go for a monochromatic or ones that just are all the same sort of color like a bunch of red. Sometimes, you go for weird and wonderful colors. I tend to look for something that has dark and light and some interesting colors. This can work really well. It has a dark and some really bright colors, whites and grays, maybe not. So what you can do here is just lock this layer, lock this layer, lock this layer, put a space. Yeah, that could work really well. So let's try this. What I'm going to do is I'm just going to copy this and then I am going to go back to illustrator, and then I'm going to select my very bottom layer over here. I'm just going to paste this color in just like so, but this is going to be my very background layer. So I might even want to just turn down the darkness of bits, just like so, and maybe even more, I mean it could be really dark inside there, but not quite black, you know. Yeah, that looks really good. And now my second to bottom layer. I'm just going to paste that in again. That looks really good. So go back here and know which layer would I like to copy or which color would I like to copy? It could be this color. Select the next layer. Just paste that in there. That doesn't really work but that is okay for now. We can change the colors just now. It should copy this color. Select this layer here, paste. Yeah, that looks pretty good. Next one could be green or it could be blue, but I am going to go for green first. Yeah, that looks really cool. Then the final one, just like so. Then I often just choose to keep the top layer, although the biggest visible layer, white, it just feels like paper and it really centers your eye to the art work in the middle. Now the only color that I don't like is that one over there. So you can see what happens if I don't have all my layers locked and I want to get to a layer. It just selects the very top layer. So that's why I have all of my paper layers on different illustrator layers so I can just lock them all. Then I go in and I say, "I don't like that color." So let's change this to something else, okay. Also doesn't really work, so I'm going to just change this again. Maybe, let's go for the blue color, like so. I can also use my color window here. I like using HSB. Bump this up a bit, make it a little bit darker. Yeah, that looks quite nice except now it's darker than the layer below it. So let's just change the layer below it. [inaudible]. We can just change this. Something like that. Yeah, so that looks really cool. Now you can change all of your colors at the same time, if you wanted to, by just selecting all of your layers and going on Edit and edit colors and re-color artwork. You just go to Edit, and here you can just drag your colors around, which I find is really fun. So you can see that the colors of science have changed. That looks really good now, taking that really sharp blue out. It's more like a gray. Yeah, that looks pretty cool. Sometimes you can even start with this. That color of that layer is too problematic. You could go for something like that. That looks pretty good. Yeah, like that. Maybe this green is just way too green. That looks really cool. So go Okay. That's the starts of our art work. That's really just the setup. Now we get to tweak things, we get to finish things off, which is really fun. 8. Finishing Touches: Then I normally spend a lot of time tweaking colors, changing curves, adding cutouts, and changing shadows, so let me take you through a couple of things that I'd like to do with this artwork. What I'm going to do here is I'm going to lock all of my layers except for the top one, and then I'm going to add another hole because I want to fill more holes not just one big one. I'm going to add one here, I'm just going to work with my work tool. That looks pretty good, maybe like that. Then I'm going to select, I'm going to Option and Minus Front, like so, and just like that we have another hole which is really cool, but there's no drop shadow. So I'm going to say Effect, Apply Drop Shadow, and we'll apply the same drop shadow settings that I last used. Now sit back and watch me add some more holes and do a bunch of tweaking while I gave you some theory. You know that Illustrator isn't the real world, but we are creating an illusion of depth in real life. You got to decide how much like the real world you want your artwork to look like. Shadows aren't going to behave in the same way in Illustrator as they do in real life. A few things to think about: where are you looking at this piece of work from? What kind of perspective will this offer? Where is your light coming from? How many lights do you have and what kind of lights are they? What kind of shadows do they cause and how does this change how your paper looks? What colors are your shadows? Are your drop shadows harsh, dark, light, blurry, and in which direction do they fall? Knowing the answers to these questions could result in changing each layer's shadows, adding gradients to your layers, and maybe doing some really advanced Illustrator work. Now, what I want to do is just add something else, so I just create one more layer to do this and I just add some more pieces of paper on top. I just create a new layer over here, I make it white and I say Effect, Apply Drop Shadow. That's a good starting points, and I just like to walk this a little bit. It's almost like a pebble or a stone or something like that. Let me put it somewhere over here, scale it up a bit, just work with it a little bit more. There we go. Then I just copy and paste and replace and then work it. You'll see I didn't really create a new layer for this and that's just because it's a quick edition, but the best practice is actually to create a new layer for it. Just like that, you have a little pebble and maybe just one more paste and replace, and then we'll be done. There we go. Now, my composition is out of balance which is a bit frustrating so what I'd like to do is just unlock everything, zoom out and with my Direct Selection Tool, select everything, and then unselect the tops of the pieces of paper and the bottom of the pieces of paper. Just the inwards of the artwork I selected, and then I'd just like to use my arrows on my keyboard just to move things down a bit and you can move left or right, however, you see fit. When you are done with that, just select out and lock all your layers again and there we go. Something that looks pretty cool. When you export it, obviously, you won't see any of those layer overlapping here or this big drop shadow at the bottom and on the sides. 9. The Last Video: I've shown you how to create layer art with a really organic looking cave, but you can use the same principles for detailed art, abstract art, geometric art, and any type of design and illustration work you can think of. When you're happy with your layer art, save and export it, upload your creations to your project gallery. And if you share on social media, mention me @TAPTAPKABOOM and tag your work with hashtag layerart. It's a good practice to share your work and it's always nice to have a look and comments on other student's work. I'm looking forward to seeing your pieces. So, yeah. Thanks for taking the class. Give a thumbs up and see you in the next one. Bye.