Your First Steps on the Digital Drawing Journey
I last drew something back in July 1997, I think. The occasion was a dreary yet horrendously complex class called ‘Strength of Materials’, and it was just after lunch on a hot Thursday afternoon. My mind wandered and hands doodled. The theme of the doodle was a tank with some delicate cross-hatching.
Cut to February 2018. I was bored again (anybody else notice the recurring theme?) plus I wanted to something to surprise my wife on our wedding anniversary. At a creative impasse, I was aimlessly browsing through the various apps on my iPad when I came across ‘Autodesk Sketchbook’. I had installed it a while back and never opened even once. I opened it, took my Apple Pencil out and randomly drew some lines and added some colours. Something stirred inside me. In the end, I drew a kitty and a bunny hugging while professing love for each other. From a technical perspective, I guess it wasn’t great, but from an emotional one, it was a winner. Also, it rekindled the joy of creating something with my own hands.
This post is about some of the shortcuts I have learnt and how you can use my learnings to jumpstart your drawing journey too. It is focused primarily on digital Drawing.
Before We Start
There is a vast array of masterworks, courses and reference material out there (books, podcasts, youtube videos, Udemy courses) that explains all the following much better than I can. If you are already following one of those, please continue to do so. Look at this post as one person’s view of Drawing. (References below)
The second thing — and I cannot stress this enough — you draw for yourself and no one else. So anything goes as long as you get what you want out of the creative process. Of course, if you’re going to build an audience, then you will have to cater to them but please don’t forget, art comes from within and needs to give you joy.
The third thing — and this is closely related to the second — draw any way you like. If you prefer colouring, feel free to trace. If you like drawing inorganic subjects, feel free to use your rule/protractor etc. If you wish to work with photographs, feel free to photo bash. It is your process, after all. Many people think that the art process needs to be “pure” which is patently not true.
Everybody (including professionals) uses reference images, short cuts, advantages of their medium to get to what they want to create.
I know many people who draw on paper, scan it and then colour it in their digital apps. There are so many variations and tweaks out there to the process of creativity out there.
The last thing is that Drawing is like any other human activity. You might be a hidden genius, but you still got to put in your 10000 hours. If you’re going to get better, then you will need to put in the effort to learn the art, the means and the concepts. On the other hand, you can always stop at any point in the journey if you are happy with what you create. It is up to you.
The first decision that you will need to make is to whether to go digital or physical. Digital means using tablets, PCs, Macs etc. to create while Physical means using paper, pencil, paints, canvases etc.
Start with what you already have.
If you have an iPad (or equivalent), download free software and start doodling. The same is true if you have a computer. On the other hand, if you have a pen and paper handy, start with that. Use what you have readily available so that kick-starting the process is as seamless as possible. That said, I have seen the majority of the experts say that physical Drawing is better from a long term perspective.
Both mediums have their pros and cons. Many people use both in conjunction. My wife, for example, draws on paper. She then scans it and uses Clip Studio Paint with her Wacom Intuous to colourize (render) the pictures.
Digital Drawing Vs Physical Drawing
The upfront cost of Digital Drawing can be zero (if you already have a device and a free drawing software) to very expensive. But, the running costs are typically close to zero. After all, you can keep creating artwork digitally since there are little to no consumables like pen or paper.
Digital Drawing allows you to correct your mistakes quickly. Correction is possible in physical mediums too, but it is far more complicated. It is for this single reason; I recommend digital Drawing to absolute beginners. I remember all the times I would get frustrated when a single mistake in a drawing on a paper, completely ruined hours of effort. This is not the case in the digital medium and helps beginners overcome the initial learning curves. Of course, the trade-off is the danger that you become lazy, and you don’t practice your linework or learn to colour within the boundaries.
Digital Drawing allows you to experiment much more. Where else would I get the opportunity to work with pastels one day, oil paints the next, watercolours some other time and so on? In a physical medium, I would need to have all the materials available. On the flip side, no matter how great the digital brushes are, they still do not compare with the natural look and feel of paints on canvas, though they are getting closer though.
Digital Drawing allows beginners to focus on each component of drawing individually (shapes -> edges -> values -> colours). Otherwise, it is going to be overwhelming. In one way, this helps people like me (who haven’t been to art school) to understand how to make my artwork better. But, in the physical medium, you get to see all the core concepts as a whole. At this point, I can appreciate both perspectives, but in my mind, the first way is better for an algorithmic mindset.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which medium you choose as far as your art is concerned.
You still got to put in the effort and have the skills to create art that you can be proud of.
Digital drawing devices fall into three categories.
The first category is the one where we provide input (stylus, finger) on a surface (screen) and see the output on the same surface itself. We see these kinds of devices everywhere — mobile phones, tablets, touch devices. Primarily, we draw on the display itself. This experience is the closest we have to drawing on paper. And usually, this might be the least inexpensive purchase or the most expensive depending on whether you own the device already or not. Wacom calls this category of devices as ‘Pen Computers’.
The second category is almost the same as the first, except that the software runs on a different device altogether. An example of this is the Wacom Cintiq displays which need to be connected to a PC or Mac. These devices function like an extra monitor on which you can draw. Wacom calls this category ‘Pen Displays’.
The third category is one where the input surface is different from the output surface. The input can be a stylus on a drawing tablet or a mouse connected to a computer. The artist has to look at the monitor while drawing on a surface which is on the table. Wacom calls this category ‘Pen Tablets’.
I have no affiliation with Wacom — it is just that they are the gold standard in the industry. Other brands which make similar products are Huion and XPPen.
In terms of ease of use, Pen Computers >> Pen Displays >> Pen Tablets. Unfortunately, the cost is also in the same ratio. Pen Tablets require some getting used to and have a learning curve of their own — like learning to use a mouse. But many artists use this mode of input since it is cheaper and ergonomically better. I took about a couple of hours to get used to drawing this way, but my line art is still pretty bad.
My recommendation is to go for the Pen Computer type if you can afford it.
There are tons of free and paid software regardless of which device you choose. I would recommend starting with a free software if you are testing the waters before you purchase something. Many paid software has some kind of trial versions available too.
Some of the free software available is
Krita — Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Medibang — Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Autodesk Sketchbook — Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Vectorinator — Mac, iOS
The free software is generally good but might be a steeper learning curve for their UI. There are tons of paid software like Clip Studio Paint, Adobe Suite etc. I use Procreate on the iPad, and it is well worth the 800 rupees I spent on it. My wife uses Clip Studio Paint on a Windows PC, and I think the license was around $40.
In the end, pick one — they are all good, and it doesn’t matter until you move to the next level and know what you want.
I would highly recommend taking a course or two to understand how to improve one’s art. I have watched tons of videos, and I am still learning. Each artist has their perspective and drawing process.
The quickest way to learn is to watch them draw. One caveat though — the videos on youtube or anywhere else are heavily edited. So it might appear as though the artist is effortlessly drawing lines and colouring quickly without making any mistake. This is not true.
Everyone makes mistakes.
All of them use CMD Z or CTRL Z. They have all practised at least three to four times before they record it for the cameras. Even Bob Ross did so. So do not be disheartened.
Some of the useful resources I have found are below.
- Marco Bucci’s 10 minutes to Better Painting series on YouTube (His channel is excellent too) is an overall glance at all the main topics in Painting. He explains a concept with a painting and then draws one along those lines too. He is an exceptional painter in both the digital and physical medium.
- Kirsty Partridge on YouTube. She focuses on art in the physical medium — watercolours, pencils and charcoal. She draws brilliantly and explains well too.
-Brad Colbow’s Udemy Courses on Procreate and drawing Cartoon Characters.
- Brad Colbow’s YouTube channel is a lot of fun too. He reviews digital devices used for Drawing.
- SVS Learn Foundation Series — this is a comprehensive site with a lot of courses. I recommend the foundations series and a course on Digital Painting by Will Terry.
- CtrlPaint.com — This site starts with the fundamentals, i.e. physical medium and then applying these concepts in Photoshop.
- Drawabox.com — Another site that starts from fundamentals. It has a strong Reddit community.
- Proko — yet another comprehensive site focused on the b medium. Proko is the site to go to if you want to learn to draw human shapes and figures. He also has a youtube channel.
- Reddit — /r/learnart /r/learntodraw /digitalpainting /art and many many more
- CircleLineArt — this is a great YouTube channel to learn about Perspectives.
There are many many more.
Stop reading. Pick up a pen and paper or a tablet. And start creating.
PS: My ongoing journey is captured at my site Varna Turika.