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How to Become a Better digital Artist?

Learn how to become a professional digital artist.

“So I’ve had a tablet for a while just collecting dust next to my pc because everytime I try to start painting with photoshop I get discouraged and give up. I decided I really want to buckle down and try and get good at it but I was just wondering if /r/Art had any tips for drawing and painting using Photoshop. I’d appreciate anything really, I’m pretty overwhelmed with all the brushes and everything.”

We receive many messages asking how the artists we share can be so amazing and how beginners can become as great as those masters.

Developing into a professional artist takes talent, discipline, effort, and willingness to sacrifice. You will need to develop skills and discipline in drawing, conceptualizing, and direct observation.

So, if our previous posts on the topic weren’t enough, here we are with a new list of links, steps and advice.

Today, one of our admin-artists, dear Gabrielle, helps us creating this list.


(Sketch study by Alifann)

Patience is a virtue and you have to cultivate it.

Van Gogh and Feng Zhu use different tools: one worked on canvas and the other works on a graphic tablet, but the amount of study and exercises behind their paintings is a daily product. What I mean is that artists study every day, 24/7. They dedicate so much time to art. So, just watching a few videos on YouTube and reading a book on anatomy won’t make you become the next Caravaggio.

Be patient, observe everything around you, copy it on your sketchbook, be it with a pencil or a digital pen, but copy copy copy. Look at the lights of your room, at the shadows and the colours. Observe people and if you have the possibility, copy them in sessions of one or two hours. If not, then take a photo reference and study with that.

There are many websites that offer references poses. One of those that I particulary like isQuickPoses. You can access to a large library of references and you can even upload your studies and participate in something that can be considered as a contest. Why? Well, because a bit of competition always helps.


Ready to paint with digital tools?

There are many software for digital art such as Paint tool SAI, Corel Painter, Anime Studio etc, but the most famous and used in the industry is Photoshop.

If you want to use it, first you have to understand how the program works because it’s full of functions and at first it can be a bit confusing.

Ctrl+Paint offers free video tutorials about digital art in Photoshop for beginners and it can be very helpful.

There are a bunch of videos and written tutorials for beginner artists around the web and it would be impossible to link them all; so here’s a link to Pinterest – the biggest place where you can find painting processes, tutorials, photo references etc, really – and a link to LevelUp, a YouTube channel that offers sessions with the best artists. In these sessions you can see demos, so entire video processes, from zero to the complete painting. It’s very inspirational and helpful. And there’s a “little” articleabout all the steps of digital painting for articles’ lovers.


(China Mountains by Marta Nael)

Becoming a master

So, now you are good but you want to become a master. Okay, but don’t think you can quit doing the studies and the exercises. You may have a visual library now but your brain should always be stimulated, so even if you can’t spend two hours drawing your pretty neighbor, you can always do a quick warm up of 10/20 minutes studying anything you have before your eyes.

The most common question is: how do they add all those textures?

Artists love to experiment with brushes and textures! They use anything, from the brushes you can download from deviantART and many other websites to photos they take themselves. But many other artists create their own custom brushes because they want to set the texture amount, the opacity, the dynamics etc

Here’s a nice tutorial if you want to create your own brushes:

And here’s an amazing tutorial about textures:

Again, how many times have you thought “Woah, those trees look so realistic!”

Now I’ll talk about something that many consider “cheating”, but it’s actually a technique well used by professional artists – not all, but many. This technique helps to complete the painting faster without the need of painting all the details and spend ages on them.

I’m talking about the photobashing.

Photobashing consists in taking parts of photos and merging them in your illustration. It’s a sort of photo-manipulation but commonly used for concept designs and landscape paintings. So, yes, those trees may be photos and not painted. This technique is the base of matte paintings.


Now let’s talk about products, graphic tablets and all those nerdy things.

First, as many artists say, you don’t need a super-computer to be a digital artist. The most common computers can do (if they have at least 2GB of RAM, because Photoshop is a memory-eater!).

And of course you don’t need the last Wacom product to paint. Wacom graphic tablets like Intuos and Cintiqs are used by most of artists, but others prefer to use cheaper graphic tablets.

Actually, a nice graphic tablet that costs less than a Wacom but is highly underestimated is the Huion. I use a Huion and I’m very comfortable with it, I can’t even find the difference with its pressure levels and those of the Wacom.

So, if you want you can check out both – I’ve linked the most popular products:

Huion H610PRO

Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Tablet

I suggest to read a couple of reviews about these graphic tablets before purchasing them so you can have an idea of your own (:

Another great tool to paint digitally is the Microsoft Surface Pro: it’s more than a laptop and more than a simple graphic tablet, but I know this only by reviews since I’ve never personally tried it.


Health and hand exercises

You have been painting for hours and your wrist hurts. Stop painting. No, seriously, stop. Overdoing it will take you nowhere but to problems we don’t want, such as tendinitis… and it’s horrible.

Here’s a video about exercises to prevent or cure the inflammation.

What about your health? You have been sitting on that chair for hours and you have been staring at the empty mug on your desk. There’s no more coffee in the house. Okay, so, stand up and go for a walk, go buy coffee (for me it’s always tea), stay out more than 15 minutes, please, because you need it. If you keep your butt on the chair, your spine will hate you… and it will hurt.

If it’s raining outside you can always pace like a mental – like I do – but do something that’s not sitting at the desk and staring at the monitor. And since I’m talking about monitors, be sure to not stare at the monitor the whole day. Your eyes will hurt and your eyesight will decrease faster than normal. And here I say normal because for digital artists it’s sadly normal to have these problems.

Take breaks, when you are sitting keep your spine straight, when you are doing nothing remember to keep your wrist in a neutral position. Don’t spend the night awake, painting: have your beauty sleep because I assure you it’s needed.

The more preliminary pieces and roughs, the better the final piece.

If it is a good piece, make sure people know who did it. If it turns out bad, don’t throw it away. The actual amount of good art that a professional produces is quite small next to the sheer bulk of bad stuff they have to go through in the process. Never throw old or bad art away, it’s good motivation for the future. Keep everything neatly stored, so you can come back later and see how much you’ve improved. This really helps if you’re feeling down in the dumps, and if you can’t pull yourself out of a depressed mood (which inevitably, all artists go through- it’s a complex we all have) then you’ll never become a professional.

Experiment and express yourself. An artist who sells a piece of art is ultimately selling a piece of him/her self. Let the paints blend, mix, and flow, if it feels good, and trust your talents and instincts.

And, finally, stay positive and be happy, because being an artist is wonderful!


More information about Huion Graphic Tablet:

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