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10 Tips to Improve your Digital Art

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 7:32 AM

A while ago I posted some tips on how to improve your art. While that article was rather general, this one is an addition to it, focusing on digital drawing and painting – so make sure to read both.
It's made for beginners, so it's just really basic stuff. I hope it's helpful!


1. Get a tablet

Of course there are artists who create beautiful pictures with a mouse, but trust me, drawing with a graphics tablet is more natural and a lot easier once you're used to it.

Tablets have one big advantage over mouses: Pen pressure. Depending on how hard you press the line gets thicker and darker or thinner and lighter, similar to a real pen on real paper. I'd recommend getting a small, cheap Wacom tablet to start out. 

Also make sure your tablet always has the newest drivers installed! You can download them on the Wacom website.

More information about tablets: Article

2. Free software

Don't waste your money by buying expensive programs like Photoshop or SAI if you're not sure yet that digital art is the right thing for you. Try out a nice free software like Krita, GIMP or FireAlpaca. Or even dAmuro! Those are totally sufficient for a hobby digital artist.

3. Draw big

Make sure your canvas size is at least 2'000x2'000 pixels (or you could simply use A4 format [ca. 2'500x3'500 pixels]) and has a resolution of 300 dpi. This is especially important if you want to print your picture afterwards. But don't overdo it or you could crash your computer. Also the bigger your picture is, the more disk space it will need – keep this in mind!

I'd recommend to draw a basic sketch zoomed out to get the proportions right. Then zoomed in to add details and draw clean lines. The bigger the canvas and the smaller the brush size, the cleaner everything will look in the end.

4. Lineart

Of course, in a drawing the lines are quite important too. I'd recommend a general thickness of 3-5 pixels.

Drawing nice and confident lines is quite hard, but it makes your picture look a lot better. Also draw dynamic lines which means they should taper out at the ends. This might help you: Fluid Linework

For creating depth it's useful to draw the lines closer to the viewer thicker and the lines further away thinner. There are more tricks to create nice lineart, where line weight plays and important role.

These are nice tutorials on line weight: Tutorial, Video Tutorial

5. Colors

A mistake I often see in pictures by new digital artists are the colors. They are often way too saturated and at full opacity. This isn't digital art exclusively, so learn to use a nice color scheme.

Some helpful tutorials on color theory: Tutorial, Video Tutorial

Also Sycra explains the use of color really good in this video, but it might be a bit advanced for beginners.

Another digital problem is blending – making a nice transition between different colors. This certainly is something that needs quite a bit of practice. Blending Video Tutorial

6. Shading/Values

Learn to use the full range of values. So make sure your picture isn't only consisting of mid-tones, but also some really dark shadows and bright highlights. Use them sparingly to pull the attention of the viewer to these points. It's called a focal point.

Also try to find a good balance between soft and hard edges. Too much of one thing can make your picture look very blurry or very static. (Although Cel-Shading barely has soft edges, but that's another topic.)

Some more useful tutorials: Form, Value and Light Tutorial, Brush Technique Tutorial

7. Experiment with brushes

All art programs have a wide range of brushes. Normally I only use the standard hard and soft ones for my pictures, but there are many interesting custom brushes to create different effects.

There are brushes who create clouds or leaves for you and other ones, which make it easy to add a nice texture to a tree bark or stones. While it's certainly better to draw everything yourself, these brushes can save some time. So I'd definitely experiment with them, but don't overdo it!

8. Use layers

Digital art has some advantages over traditional – use them! Layers are a great way to organize your drawing or experiment without the danger of ruining your picture.

I normally use a layer for the sketch and then add another one for the lineart on top of it. Then I remove the sketch and make a flatcolor layer under the lineart and a shading layer which is connected to the flatcolors. I do that for every character, object and even backgrounds.

You'll end up with many layers, but everything is nice and clean. In the end you can merge them into one finished drawing or just leave them this way. Just note that the more layers you have, the more disk space your drawing will need.

Of course you can also draw everything on one layer as if it was traditional. That's just a matter of taste.

9. Learn some shortcuts

Another advantage of digital art: You can speed up your drawing process by using shortcuts.

They are a bit different in every program and you can even customize them. It takes some time to get used to it, but it's definitely worth it.

I for example, draw a lot faster with B for brush, E for eraser, CTRL+Z for undo and CTRL+S for save (in Photoshop). Having to search them in the sidebar or menu and click them manually, would take a lot more time!

Here's a nice Shortcut Glossary for SAI and Photoshop: Glossary

On customizing shortcuts: Video Tutorial

10. Tutorials are your friends

Since you're new to digital art, there is a lot to learn.

You have to get used to a tablet, where you don't look at your hand while drawing. (Unless it's a Cintiq, but I think that's too expensive for a beginner.) Then you have to learn how your art program works. There are so many things to discover and it's easy to get lost. So tutorials which explain those things to you are certainly a big help. There are many on dA on various themes, from lineart to coloring to special effects. dA Tutorials

Also I really like the short video tutorials from CTRL+Paint, which help you step by step to get into digital art. You might have noticed, that some of his video tutorials are spread over this article.


10 Tips to Improve your ArtThis is a short summary of the – in my opinion – most important points I found all over the internet, while studying what it needs to improve your drawing and painting skills. I hope it will be helpful to many aspiring artists!
1. Learn the basics
Perspective, composition, color theory, anatomy, lighting & shading – this may be boring, but it's very important. You have to understand the basics to have a foundation to build on.
Also start with realism. You can simplify it to comics or Manga once you have mastered the fundamentals.
2. Have the right attitude
Don't rely on talent alone. Expensive equipment or an art school won't automatically make your artworks brilliant. Don't expect anyone to teach you, but study on your own. You have to work hard to become a good artist. Don't give up, if you really want it.
3. Start early and have a plan
Start working on your art

Some more good tips: How to draw better in 2 minutes

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