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Getting Started In Digital Art (or digital painting) for beginners, and what you need to know from the start


Getting Started In Digital Art (Or Digital Painting) For Beginners

Digital art is a fascinating subject, not only you get to draw much easier & faster than traditional art. It has a bit of a technical side to it, yet you still need to be able to draw & understand colors & the like. This post is about helping you to get on the technical side of digital art, while still encourage you to learn the artistic side, since that part is also important, as you can’t expect your computer to draw for you.

I try to be a bit more detailed than other posts about digital art here, so you could get started right away, I will link you to additional resourcess, so you could get to continue to learn more about the other aspects of it.

First Of All, You Need A Graphics Tablet

Ugee M708 Graphics Drawing Tablet-2

When you start with digital art, a graphics tablet is the most important piece you need to get. If you only have money to get that, do it, as the other thing you need, like some art software, could be obtained by free.

While you surely could draw with a mouse, I totally don’t recommend that, not that it’s just harder, but you could get all sorts of injuries, like mouse elbow & the like, dealing with those problems is more troublesome than the $50-$100 you are going to save from not getting a graphics tablet.

Fortunately, graphics tablets are becoming more & more affordable, you could get a wide selection at around $100, and there are many you could get for lower than that too.

Some graphics tablets come with a free art software, one you could try along with the ones I will suggest to you shortly in this post.

Graphics tablets is one of the areas I covered a lot in Sweet Drawing Blog, and so I recommend you look through my reviews & articles about it here. 

Or find a graphics tablet by clicking on the following links:-

Art Software

Is learningShould I learn Photoshop? Photoshop worth it?

There are many art software you could use in your journey to become a great artists. I picked up some of the most common ones for you to choose from,

I didn’t use all of these to be quite honest with you, but I wanted to give you more choices to choose from, there are other drawing software out there other than those in this list, so use this list as a starting point. :)

Most of the common at software are free or very affordable. You can try all of them for free to see how they work for you.

    • Adobe Photoshop:- This is the art software I personally use. It contains everything you need for digital painting and much more. It also contains tools you could use for graphics design, photography, Photo-editing, and more. For that reason, Photoshop can be an overkill for digital art only, the reason why some artists don’t recommend it unless you’re going to use it for other things. For me, this is an advantage to it, as I like how vast & versatile it is, just take a look at how many brushes are available for it online.

There are two things that wouldn’t make me recommend Photoshop, first, you need a relatively powerful computer to use it compared to most art software (you could use it on a normal computer if you won’t be using many layers or work on very large images). Second, it has a higher learning curve, both to use the application & to use it for digital art effectively. If you are interested in learning the most important basics of Photoshop, I recommend you my book, Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures, which teaches you Photoshop basics, along with other useful things.

  • Paint Tool Sai:- A very lightweight & popular art program, it contains many tools that makes drawing & painting easy, and it is relatively easy to learn. Many Anime artists use this one.
  • Corel Painter:- This program is very good at imitating traditional brushes, you could use it to paint as if you are using traditional brushes & canvas. It is one of the most expensive ones in the list, but it is surely worth trying.
  • Manga Studio / Clip Studio Paint / Comic Studio:- This program, which comes in multiple names, depending on where you live, is very good for lineart, as well as creating Manga & comics (it contains the tools for creating comic balloons, frames & the like). It is not the best software to colored in my opinion, but if you’re into creating colorful drawings, you could use it to create line art, then export that to Photoshop & other art software & color them there.
  • GIMP:- This free Photoshop alternative is great if you can’t afford Photoshop but wanted something with similarly vast tools. GIMP also has a Linux version if you are not into Windows & Mac. GIMP has the advantage of taking less resources than Photoshop, so it’s also a good choice if you have an old computer.
  • Sketchbook:- As the name suggests, Sketchbook gives you an interface similar to a sketchbook, with tools panel to pick brushes & rulers from to help you draw. Sketchbook comes in two versions, Sketchbook Express, which is free, and Sketchbook Pro, which is still affordable if you liked the Express version but wanted the additional features. I used Sketchbook before for some time, and I have always admired the clean interface it had. Since it’s free, I don’t see a reason not to try it.
  • ArtRage:- ArtRage is an easy to use art software for digital painting, and could be used to imitate traditional brushes with its lovely coloring abilities.

Getting Started In Digital Art, Starting To Draw

Now you got what you need to start (graphics tablet + art software), here are some things you need to learn in order to start your journey as a digital artist. Knowing these things in advance can save you a lot of time, and can help you become very good at drawing.

Draw With A High Resolution Canvas

Canvas is the area you draw in any art software, the larger the canvas is, the bigger your drawing will be. Drawing on a small canvas is one of the most common mistakes newcomers to digital art make, it makes your lines look rugged, and you lose the advantage of sizing down the final drawing before posting it, which hides many small mistakes you may have made, which could take a lot of time to fix. Drawing on a large canvas can alone make it much easier to create clean artworks without much of a hassle.

While drawing with a bigger canvas is always good, make sure you don’t overdo it, since having a very large canvas can be taxing on your computer. So try to balance between the two.

Now You Got A Large Canvas Down, Make Sure The Brush Size Is Large Enough Too

For novice digital artists, it can be tempting to draw with a 1 pixel brush, since you may want to have the thinnest lines possible, however, drawing that way won’t just create thin lines that’s hard to see when you color them (unless that’s what you want to create). Drawing that way also won’t allow you to benefit from pressure sensitivity that much. I recommend you draw with at least 3 pixels brush, but to also try to draw with even larger brushes if your canvas is bigger. Generally speaking. the best brush size depends on your canvas size & your art style, as some artists like to draw with thick lines while others like thinner ones.

Before You Draw, Make Sure Pressure Sensitivity Is Enabled

Pressure sensitivity is one key feature in graphics tablet, it allows you to draw thicker lines by pressing harder on the tablet, just like you could with regular pencils. Pressure sensitivity can be used to create a more or less transparent strokes as well.


Checking if pressure is enabled is easy, just draw several lines, with each line, press harder on the graphics tablet surface, if the lines keep getting thicker, then pressure is enabled.

Depending on the art program you use, you may need to make sure pressure sensitivity is enabled, or else you will get the same thickness of lines no matter you draw.

In case of Photoshop, you could simply use brushes that support pressure like the Hard Round Pressure Size one.

Fortunately, most art programs allows you to benefit from pressure out of the box without any configuration from your part, but knowing you may need to do something on your own to enable it can save you a lot of time.

Getting Used To Graphics Tablet Takes Time, It Can Be Quite Frustrating At First

When you draw your first few lines with a graphics tablet, you will make some very bad lines at first. While that can be extremely frustrating, it’s fine really. You will need to use your graphics tablet for a while before getting used to it. After playing around with it for some time, go ahead & create some actual sketches, this will help you get better at it.

Even if you are used to drawing with pencil, you still need to get through that learning curves, some artists say they’re better at drawing with pencil than graphics tablet, despite using those for years. But hey, at least you can undo in case of graphics tablets. :)

Learning How To Draw, Either On Pencil, Or Directly On Your Art Program, Is An Excellent First Step

While I am almost sure you are reading this post because you want to create dazzling digital paintings. You can actually start your journey with digital art by learning to draw with the good old pencil, as it is easier to draw lines that way. While drawing digitally make many things easier, learning to draw is still an important step for you.

Sure, you can do that step digitally if you like, where you can erase lines and fix your mistakes more easily. The point is, your computer or pencil are a tool to help you create lovely things, you still need to work on yourself to create those lovely lines (and shades, which is something you need to learn about after line art).

Here’s a confusing but important tip, while practicing a lot can help you a lot to a degree, conscious understanding of what you’re doing can could do wonders for you. It will help you plan where you want to improve. I know I may not make sense here, but the things I am saying in the last paragraph alone could help you become a very great artist if you understood what it means, trust me. ;)

You Won’t Create Good Results Right Away, It Takes Time To Get There

Just like as I said above, you will create very bad artworks when you first start, it is super frustrating really (I got my share of that when I first started). But be patient, it takes a lot of time to become a good artist, and there are many things you need to learn for that, which are not really hard, but they take some time to learn & getting used to, some of these things can be confusing at first (like shading), and so you just need to delve into them, and they will naturally become normal things to you.

Again, remember my point about conscious learning, just blindly practicing won’t always get you better, you need to try drawing new things, create a lot of drawings & artworks, and focus on the areas you need to improve on. Getting feedbacks from others is one good way to do so.

Digital Art Provides You With Some Good Tools, Use Them To Create What You Want. But Don’t Overdo It.

For example, while learning how to draw a circle by hand is good for your drawing skills, this shouldn’t stop you from using the circle tool in your art program to do the same. It will help you create a better art faster. But that doesn’t’ mean that you fully depend on your art program to do everything for you, sometimes it is better to draw the little details in your scene yourself, as the results there can be more natural.

The key in all that is to control the process with your skills, and to know what you are doing. This is where to draw the line between doing things yourself or just rely on your computer

Don’t Draw Things From Your Head, Use A Reference For That

It’s very common to try to draw things based how you remember them, which can lead to drawings & artworks with many mistakes in them. Using a reference is an easy way to avoid many of these problems.

 A Plain Table

Let me give you an example, you may know how a plain table looks like (a surface with 4 legs), and so you won’t have any problem drawing a table. Things won’t be that easy for the more complex shapes, you may remember that a car is a vehicle with 4 wheels, but there are tons of other details in it you won’t remember on your own, and so using a reference is a must.

A Car

You may be tempted to try to draw things from mind to challenge yourself, this is fine for the things you actually know how they look like, but please don’t, we are here to create great artworks eventually, and using a reference will help you do that with the least effort. The cute thing is, the more you use references, the more you will be able to draw them without one.

One benefit of using a reference is that it can help you add variance to the things you draw (draw a stylish table rather than the plain one you remember, for one).

A good way to use a reference is to change the object you draw a little bit, rather than blatantly copying it. This can help you think & understand the object you’re drawing more.

And Finally

In this long post, I gave you tons of information, translating all these things into action will take time, this is what learning process is, to experiment, to add to it from other resources, and to try things on your own.

This post may contain some abstract things that may not make sense to you right away, don’t dismiss them for that please. Just keep them in mind, they will sink in when the time comes, and they will benefit you a lot in the future as I hope.

The most important thing for you to do now is to stick to it, most people quit within few weeks, if you really dreaming about doing great artworks someday, keep at it, because it is really worth it to gradually become better at it.

I hope I was able to help you to get started in digital art, even by a little, and see you in another post. :)

Also, if you plan to use a Wacom tablet along with Photoshop, you can check out my book, Getting started with Wacom graphics tablet and Digital Painting With Photoshop: Learn Digital Art & Paintings On Good Fundamentals, which can teach you all sorts of the basic information you would need at the beginning of your journey.

Digital Art Resources & Useful Links

I am an anime artist, and huge fan of digital art. I love drawing with pencils too. But I rarely do that anymore nowadays. Since some aspects of digital art can be tricky, I try my best to explain the concepts as easily as possible.

1 Comment

  1. My wife loves to draw as a hobby. She wants to get into digital painting, but she’s unsure where to start. I didn’t realize how important it is to choose a good software program that allows you to do graphics design, photography, and photo-editing. I’ll be sure to share this info with my wife.

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