I feel like I'm about to answer my own question, but I'll ask anyway.

I find that when I draw mountains, I'm not really sure how to proceed.
Because of how textured mountains look from a distance, it almost seems chaotic, as if they don't have a pattern for the rocks they are made up of.
I'm also not sure whether or not the reference that I'm looking at has trees, grass, or dirt going/growing up the mountain.
Then there is the problem of atmospheric perspective, which can be a little strange as I am not exactly sure what color it is the more distant a mountain is (not knowing how dark or light it is).
Also, the colors of the mountain, and the different types of colors that are used at different times of the day and during different kinds of weather, are hard to discern. I have trouble picking out the colors for the sunny side of the rock of the mountain and shadow side of the mountain witch is lit up by the reflection of the sky.

I have heard that when working from reference you shouldn't completely copy colors and maybe add your own things in, but I'm not very confident and not experienced enough to do that yet.

I work in Photoshop, if mentioning that is of any help.

Here are a few reference images

  • Hi Sombra, I edited your post as best as I could, but if some edits don't make sense, you are welcome to change them, of course. Welcome to Arts & Crafts!
    – Joachim
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 12:56
  • 1
    It just feels like theres no pattern, so i dont really understand how to shade it, besides just using a textured brush or something.
    – Sombra
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 13:30
  • 1
    I added a few images i find myself stumped after getting down the general shape of the mountain, from there im not really sure if i should just put patches of rock and snow wherever i find it needs more detail or where to put some kind of texture of rock or trees/grass, i also look at how other artists approach this, and find they do simplify them i their own way, but doing it myself i just cant seem to find a solution
    – Sombra
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 4:51
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    I also added some illustrations that might help answer my question.
    – Sombra
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 5:09
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    Mountain appearance depends very much on its height and latitude. There is a treeline, above which trees won't grow, and most other vegetation doesn't grow much higher. The elevation of that depends on latitude. If the mountain is higher than that, there may not be much soil above that level, so that will be more of a rock surface. Rock surfaces can be much more angular and irregular. The amount of detail will be determined by distance and scale. Up close, there's endless detail. From a great distance, it's more like texture and patches of color. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 6:42

2 Answers 2


I don't have any experience with Photoshop textures, so I'll limit my answer to general information.


First pick the "pure" color of the rock in bright daylight, which will be the base color of your mountain. In the first reference image of your question, that's a dark grey with a tint of brown. For other types of rock (like sandstone or marble) the base color can be a very different one.

Then adapt the color according to where the sun is situated in your picture:

  • The mountainside facing the sun reflects the yellow sunlight. Add more yellow or light brown to the color on this side
  • The mountainside opposite of the sun reflects the blue sky. Add more light or dark blue to the color on this side.
  • The sides perpendicular to the sun (neither facing the sun directly, nor facing away from it) should be painted in the base color.
  • If you want to paint a mountain at sunset, the sky is darker and the sun is red instead of yellow, so add red to the base color for the sunny side and dark blue to the shaded side.
  • When painting snow, the base color of snow is pale blue or grey. only the snow facing the sun is bright white.


The common way to add perspective to a mountain range is to put a thin veil of sky color behind each mountain. That means:

  • The rock base color for the mountain closest to you is unchanged
  • For the mountain behind that, add a little light blue to the base color, then further mix this adapted base color as described above.
  • For the next mountain behind that, add even more blue to the base color
  • If the sky has a different color (like sunset), add this color to the base color instead of blue
  • If you want to paint a foggy / misty scene, add light grey or white to the base color (your 8th reference image with the horned spires shows this well)

Traditionally, you would start painting from the background to the foreground. When working with Photoshop, you can add a new layer, stick with the same base color and add a semi-transparent veil on top of the layer.

Bare Rock Texture

This becomes relevant at a closer perspective than the general chunky outline of a mountain. It determines how you fill in the outline with a pattern that looks natural.

Here you need to imagine how the mountain was formed during millions of years. Reference images from different places in the world may give you a feeling for how rock corrodes in different ways.

  • Is it a fold mountain? Then there should be regular, reoccuring lines running in parallel (as shown in the snow deposits in your first reference). These lines can be at any angle you choose and even curved (as in this reference).
  • Is it a fault block mountain? Then there should be high cliffs with vertical fracture lines. There can also be horizontal deposit lines in different base colors, depending on the different kinds of soil that formed the mountain.
  • Is it a volcanic mountain? Then the lines should all originate from a central point slightly above the top and spread out towards the base, reflecting how the volcano expelled lava and how corroding rocks and ash deposits slowly slide from the top down to the base.

Other "Stuff"

A mountain is never just a structure of bare, clean swept rocks. There are deposits of soil, snow, ash or other things accumulating on the rock surface. There are plants growing on this soil. All this adds a rounded slope to the area and another color.

You can purposefully leave this stuff out to create a more jagged, dramatic landscape or you can add more of it to give the landscape a wheathered and rounded off look.

These kinds of deposits tend to be few on the top of a mountain, filling occasional gaps at a steep angle. Towards the base they become more and filled with more material, resulting in flat angles and round outlines.

  • Thank you so much for taking your time to answer! This will help me a lot!
    – Sombra
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 13:29

A method that I find helpful is to mimic Bob Ross's style of painting mountains. Even in other mediums, you can still create a similar effect. I'd recommend watching one of his videos (they're on YouTube) and finding a brush in Photoshop with similar effects to a palette knife.
His technique, if you're not familiar with it, is painting the shape/silhouette of the mountain in a dark brown or black, and then getting some white paint on a palette knife, and scraping it along the slopes one direction, simulating the sun hitting the snow. It shouldn't be too much paint on the palette knife so there's holes in the stroke and it fades out by the bottom of the mountain. Then, some light blue paint, going the opposite way, down the slopes, act as shadows for the mountain. For a visual, go to Youtube and look up Bob Ross.

  • Hi Owen, good answers usually include all information, while yours is merely a referral. Can you expand on your answer, by describing Bob Ross' technique, and explaining how it is helpful?
    – Joachim
    Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 21:03
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    Thanks, Joachim!
    – OhWin
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 6:17

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