I was sitting in one of my college classes (Statistics, which I was failing), and was zoning out as my professor’s dull tones droned on and on. Naturally, I wasn’t paying attention, (because I was failing), and my eyes wandered here and there, just wishing that there was something to look at and tear me away from Statistics, (since I was, you guessed it, failing).
Since I was situated in the top left of the lecture hall, I had a pretty good view of everyone. Naturally, my eyes drifted down to the right. I saw a guy I knew from another class tooling around on his tablet. At that moment, I wished I had a tablet to goof around on. I could really use the diversion.
Crosswords, Sudoku, Mahjong, ANYTHING. I was surprised to see he was painting. Not just doodling around idly either. This guy was PAINTING painting. Not Microsoft Paint, I mean, this guy was creating a verifiable masterpiece. On a tablet. I couldn’t believe it.
With my curiosity piqued, I naturally went up to him after class thankfully ended, and asked him about his painting. Although he seemed a bit bashful about me catching him ignoring his work, he showed me his insanely good artwork.
All of this on a tablet? It couldn’t be true. But it was. In fact, his artwork on a tablet seemed to blow every other piece of physical art I had seen in a decade out of the water. He was digitally painting.
What Is A Digital Painting?
How do you paint a digital painting? You use the software, a tablet, and a stylus to create a work of art.
Digital painting is when someone creates artwork, a drawing or painting, on a tablet, computer, or another similar medium.
Is digital painting real art? Absolutely. Digital painting is quickly becoming the norm in the art world. There are a plethora of different digital art tools at everyone’s disposal, (that we’ll examine later), so making the jump from a real canvas to a digital one is easier than ever.
Is digital painting easier than traditional? It depends on who you ask and what their preference is. Right off the bat, digital is more accessible in terms of suitability and ease of use.
With traditional art, mistakes are infinitely harder to erase and change compared to digital art. Usually, digital art can be modified and mistakes unmade in a matter of seconds. This fundamental difference could be enough to sway someone to the digital side of the painting.
The Tools You Need To Get Started
Getting started in the field of digital painting is, thankfully, not too hard. It’s leaps and bounds more comfortable than regular painting. No canvas or sketchbooks with pencils and paint to lug around, no dirty hands stained by charcoal.
You actually only really need a solid tablet, the perfect stylus, and your personal choice of drawing software. However, don’t think this is a cakewalk by any measure. You need to be analytical here. Choosing hardware is vital.
Choosing Your Hardware
Your hardware is possibly one of the most crucial steps in the art process. Your device, especially when starting out, can form much of how well you work.
If you choose something that doesn’t mesh well with your work ethic, style of art, or personal preference, you could actually hamper your burgeoning skills, and we don’t want that. I know you’re curious, excited, and maybe a little scared, but don’t jump right in and order any old tablet you come across online.
The experienced artist, (or soon to be experienced artist), knows when to exercise restraint! Do some research. It could prove to be a little tedious, but it ultimately pays off well for you in the end.
Let’s take a look at some basic tablets, their fundamental differences, and see which fits your style the most.
Believe it or not, but the very first graphic tablet wasn’t created 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. The first graphic tablet resembling what we know today as a graphic tablet with direct response was called The RAND Tablet, first used way back in 1964!
There were others that were basically prototypes for the RAND tablet the decade before, but The RAND Tablet made serious waves upon its release.
Ever since then, graphic tablets have become more widespread than ever before.
Graphic tablets are some of the most common tools to digitally paint with. They allow the user, with the assistance of a stylus, or pen-like instrument, to draw right on the surface.
There is currently a surge in graphic tablets using LCD screens to draw immediately. Think of something like an iPad or Nook, add a stylus pen, and that’s what that particular graphic tablet is like.
Some of the key features of graphic tablets are, first and foremost, the stylus. The stylus is basically your drawing tool. It is shaped like a pen or pencil, and you’ll be doing most, if not all of, the artistic work with it.
Graphic tablets often hook right up to a computer monitor, so you can see your work nearly instantaneously. The guy in my statistics class was using an LCD screen graphic tablet, but most tablets resemble drawing tables or surfaces. They’re blank, with the artist consulting the screen in real-time to determine how their art looks.
As great as graphic tablets are, there are some pros and cons, and some may sway you one way or the other towards or away from them. Let’s look at the pros first.
Drawing with a graphic tablet can genuinely offer some of the most accurate drawings you can find on the market. Drawing on the tablet and computer is as close to naturally drawing on paper as you can get, and the software is only getting better.
This is one of my favorites. The pressure you place down on many tablets can actually affect the density and intensity of the pencil or brush strokes. Press down hard, and a pencil stroke is dark and pronounced.
Likewise, if the pressure is low, the pencil stroke looks light and airy. This is called pressure detection. This adds much-needed nuance to your artwork that can make graphics tablets the way to go.
Now for the Cons
The cost of many graphic tablets can be a massive chunk of change out of your wallet. Even some of the more inexpensive options easily run over $100.
If you’re just starting out, this could cause a bit of hesitation, and rightly so. If you buy an expensive tablet that is extremely difficult to decipher, you feel cheated. This is why doing your research is crucial.
Only Suitable for Artistic Use
SO this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but I’ve seen it enough where it could be a bit annoying. Since menus and programs on computers and other hardware, selecting different aspects of the menus using a stylus can be clunky, awkward, and, frankly, infuriating when working hard on a piece of art.
Manufacturers and designers are trying to make this more comfortable, but for now, it can be a real chore if you’re going through different menus with a stylus.
Most Popular Models
For some starters, let’s take a quick look at some of the more popular models of graphic tablets to give you a better idea of where to start, what brands to recognize as reliable, and more.
Wacom Intuos Pro Digital Graphic Drawing Tablet
- Amazon’s Top Choice
- For Mac and Windows
Wacom is one of the top brands to look for when perusing a tablet. The flip side to this is that Wacom’s models are usually very expensive. However, they are costly for a good reason. These are some of the very best tablets to invest in.
Huion INSPIROY Q11K Wireless Graphics Drawing Tablet
- Amazon’s Top Choice
- Windows 7/8/8.1/10, Mac OS 10.11 or later
Like Wacom, Huion is one of the big brands of graphic tablets. Where Wacom is probably the best bet for the seasoned professional artist, Huion provides relatively inexpensive tablets, paving the way for beginners to get their art career started for a fraction of the cost.
Most of the time, many Huion models are right on par with Wacom’s, so new users experience great features for less.
Let’s see some other models worth checking out…
- Huion H610 Pro Graphic Drawing Tablet 8192
- Huion H420 USB Graphics Drawing Tablet Board Kit
- XP-PEN Star06C Graphics Tablet
Be extremely careful and calculating when shopping for a stylus. Arguably, the stylus may be a more crucial aspect of the tablet’s use than the software. You don’t want to get a stylus that chafes your hand or just doesn’t vibe well with your hand.
You need the stylus to be an extension of your arm. You need it to help your artwork flow. The last thing you need is to work hours on a creative project, all while your hand is cramping up from a shoddy stylus. This is the pro tip to end all pro tips!
All-in-one tablets are those that can do many things with one product. This is usually used in terms of a tablet that can have something like a keyboard attached to it.
2-in-1 tablets are extremely popular and are preferred by many over standard laptops for those on the go. The same can easily be said of tablet artists.
For people like the artist in my class, using an all-in-one is a great alternative from using a weighty and sometimes bulky tablet.
Ease of Use
All-in-one tablets are fantastic for nearly everything. They work as illustrators, computers, streaming devices, everything.
Most Popular Models
- iPad Pro (256GB): $899 +
- Surface Pro: $798 +
- Samsung Galaxy Book: $749.99 +
- Surface Book: $729.99 +
- Wacom Mobile Studio Pro: $3,499.99
Digital painting software
- Price: $239.88 for a 1-year subscription
What is the best program for digital painting? Adobe Photoshop. The cream of the crop, Adobe Photoshop, is not only the industry standard for photo retouching and editing, but it’s the personal preference for a vast majority of artists and creative types.
Photoshop is used in countless ad campaigns, graphic design projects, and nearly any professional work you see online and off.
Staying power is the name of the game here, and its long and storied track record can help you in your artistic journey from a little doodler into an artist of a high caliber. It can be a hit on your wallet, but if you’re a dedicated artist, Adobe Photoshop is one of the best programs in use today.
- Price: Free
Krita is a popular program that’s completely free to use, which could be an attractive option for those who aren’t yet familiar with Photoshop. Since it’s free, users can experiment and see what aspects they like and dislike.
Krita was made for artists BY artists. This means a lot of love and care went into its creation and its subsequent updates. If you feel a little generous, feel free to donate to the generous creators!
- Price: $10
Procreate is a great little app on the Apple AppStore, which allows users to create sketches and make art easily. Like with Krita, this may be a great jumping-off point for rookies who aren’t quite ready for Photoshop.
How to Know Which One is Best For You
I wish I could give you definitive answers, but like many aspects of both hardware and software, much of it depends on the user.
I can say that if you are a newer artist who is exploring art and drawing digitally, I would recommend the Huion models of tablets, whichever they may be. They are the most cost-efficient for the hardware you are getting. Wacom’s top models should sate your appetite well if you are a more experienced artist looking for more top-of-the-line equipment.
Another way to determine if a piece of hardware or software fits your style is to experiment with free trials and ask around on artistic forums. These key insights could make the process of choosing your preferred method of painting could make the process a breeze.
Understanding Your Tools and Software
Learn the User Interface
The user interface of your tools and software refers to what you see when you boot up a program. What we would refer to as an excellent user interface is one in which the user can easily and quickly access multiple portions of menus and tools with ease and little to no confusion.
If you have used a lousy user interface with different programs, you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about.
A bad user interface can muddy up the works, make creating art a chore, and frustrate the user when all you’re trying to do is create a work of art.
Learning the user interface can be done by accessing tutorials for a specified program or model, or only by good old trial and error. I’m in the trial and error camp, but I don’t recommend it if you’re not experimental with your art.
Keyboard shortcuts for artists are aspects of drawing and painting that can make things super easy. By applying shortcuts to whichever program or device you’re using, you can quickly transition from paintbrush to more natural with a click.
Although not necessary, artists harness shortcuts to make their work more seamless, and with digital painting, it’s all about making everything less complicated than with real painting.
Layers are what’s used in digital painting to add depth and scope to your works of art. Knowledge of layers is an absolute, non-negotiable must for digital artists.
If you’re familiar with animation from Disney, you’ll probably be familiar with their beautiful backgrounds from movies like Bambi and Sleeping Beauty. The entire environment is made separate from the characters. Then, character artists and others place a character and their subsequent animation onto the environmental background. These are different layers. See, they’re not just for tablets!
Effective use and knowledge of layers in digital painting make your art that much better and more convincing.
To use layers effectively, you need to familiarize yourself with the user interface of whichever program you are using. You’ll usually be able to see the different layers in your work minimized to a thumbnail on the side of your painting. This makes it easier to switch between them. Don’t be afraid to experiment, or work outside of your comfort zone.
The only way to master layers is to put them into motion with hard work and bold ideas.
Brushes and Erasers
The bread and butter of digital painting, brushes, and erasers are your tools of the trade. You’ll create (or erase), your works of art with these various tools. And unlike physical art, you can switch between different brushes in seconds.
This is perfect for experimenting and trying new things.
Find a Community and/or Mentor
Finding a positive and helpful community of fellow artists is a crucial aspect of painting and drawing. While you can surely fly solo if you wanted to, for many, having the support and criticism from others is an invaluable tool.
Many pieces of software have dedicated forums or discussion boards if you want to engage in the communities for artists. I also highly recommend specific subreddits for any particular questions or needs, as answers to seemingly tough and perplexing questions can easily be found on these boards.
Plus, there are a ton of them, both specific and general. Some good examples are:
This is the general subreddit for digital painting. This is an excellent primer if you are just breaking into digital drawing and painting. Feel free to jump right in and ask questions about the art of digital painting and engage with a vibrant and helpful community.
A subreddit dedicated to Adobe’s signature program, Photoshop. You can find tutorials, tips, useful questions, and some excellent shared artwork from others.
- This is a perfect subreddit for those who want to learn art tips and tricks.
- r/Artadvice – along with r/learnart, this subreddit is more specific to those who want answers and advice for their art techniques and styles.
Okay, so now that you have some online forums and people to ease you along, what if you want something a little more personal, like an art mentor? This is a bit more complicated than finding forums, as finding an art mentor is a much more abstract mission.
Take a look at this informative video, How to find an art mentor by YouTube user Gwenn Seemel. In the video, Gwenn quickly summarizes some key things to know before seeking a mentor in under 3 minutes.
She emphasizes that a critical way to find an ideal mentor is tapping into a creative network of people. If you have taken online art courses or attended art school, this will be worlds easier than merely starting out. Seeking mentorship from a past instructor or professor, or even a former or current student you admire is a fantastic way to broaden your artistic horizons.
If you are just starting out, this may be a bit trickier, but by no means impossible, so don’t worry. There are specific resources, particularly websites like Mentorly, that pair you up with potential mentors in your particular field. In this case, digital painting mentors are what you are looking for.
Focus on Foundational Art Skills
Although digital painting takes a lot of the hassle out of physical, traditional painting, the foundations of your art skills and art in general still apply. You are merely taking everything you’ve learned from mentors, online users, and art courses and applying it to a different medium.
Find Good Resources
The internet is a great place. Not just because you can order an obscure, weird knick knack used off of Amazon at 3 in the morning. The internet is chock full of great tutorials and FAQs for nearly everything you could ever want to use. No matter how unknown a product or program might seem, there is definitely an audience or discussion forum post about it.
Laura Price introduces the artist to the user interface of a program, as well as the fundamentals like experimenting with brushes and strokes. She tops it off with a fantastic painting of her won to encourage you to experiment further.
Udemy is famous for compiling some of the best online courses in nearly everything you can think of. This extends, of course, to digital art and painting.
You have your pick of the litter with these courses, which range from extremely affordable beginner courses like Complete beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting to Photorealistic Digital Painting From Beginner To Advanced.
Most of these courses are incredibly affordable and can be an excellent investment in your artistic future.
There are a ton of art theory and technique books for sale everywhere. These can range from small eBooks to full-on tomes of artistic goodness. Here are some great options for you to choose from when looking at art books.
Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop
Although a bit heavy on the text and light on visuals, this is the best structured book on Photoshop you can snag for under $30.
Sketching from the Imagination: An Insight into Creative Drawing
This is a fantastic mashup of digital artists sharing their sketching work and how they completed it. Insight into digital art is vital to becoming successful down the road.
Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Characters
You can’t go wrong with this book if you are more inclined to draw people and characters.
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter
This book by Dinotopia artist James Gurney is a solid, comprehensive study of light and color in artworks for our realist painting friends. This is an excellent introduction to adding realism to painting.
This is where you take this information and start cracking down on your art skills! Remember to do your research into what tablet, art program, and foundational art skills, you need to begin your journey.
If you’re a more experienced artist, why not take these tips to heart and perhaps reach out to a rookie artist who needs a mentor? Building an artistic network, like any other network, is key to future success on the job market and in life. You have what you need, now get painting!