Expectations

Before we begin talking about the actual process involved in creating art digitally, and the methods involved, there are a few important points that should be made known.

1. Good art does not suddenly appear.

As a teacher I would sometimes tell people that when in the early stages of an image that they should not expect to make great art. Phrasing this was always problematic, because it obvioulsy wasn't meant to be deprecating, it wasn't even meant to be reassuring. It is exactly what it means. Sketches, blocking, anything done in the planning stage, is a sacraficial step.

I guarantee you every great artist is not as talented at putting down the right shapes so much as they are at recognizing the wrong ones. In my mind one shouldn't aspire to make great images from nothing, work to make great images from vague ideas.

2. Remember, all drawings are just 2d blobs of colors!

Just because you're going to hear about things like how light is bounced from and absorbed into various surfaces or how clothing drapes in a physically accurate way doesn't mean these pages will require you to brush up on physics. It's not wrong to be more concerned with an image "looking" real than an image "being" real.

3. Art is incredibly time consuming.

This is an important point to realize and realize early on.

One exercise I've used to convey this is to have a group of new students all work on smaller parts of a larger image. It works like this...

  • Take an image and decrease the number of colors in it to about four or five.
  • Divide the image up into evenly sized squares. Ideally there are about three or four squares per student.
  • A single tile that most new students would be comfortable recreating.
  • Each student, regardless of artistic talent, is asked to duplicate the content of the square exactly.

The students are not aware of what the final image is until they are all done and have had a chance to arrange it themselves. Like a puzzle.

What happens is that by breaking an otherwise complex image down into very basic parts you get images that almost anyone can reproduce and reproduce faithfully. It's easy for almost anyone to see a simple curve or flat shape and identify a color as black, grey, or white. It typically shouldn't even take very long since no one is confronted with the fear that comes with more complex images.

Below is the final version of one such project.

This means is that if there are about 10 students, and each student spends 10 minutes on about 4 squares (about 40 total), then it stands to reason that one person of average skill could do similar work in 100 minutes.

What this shows is two things. One; quite a few people are capbable of doing more than they think they are if they simply put their mind to it (yeah, I said it). And Two; it will take time.

A color image of more tones and greater variety in subject matter? Hours. Days. While the technical aspects of drawing can be developed on a day to day basis any quality work will require the artist to put in the time.

Hardware

If you are seriously considering either a career or a hobbyist jaunt into digitial painting then a drawing tablet will be a must. Whenever someone asks if I could teach a drawing class without a tablet, using just a mouse and computer, I compared it to trying to teach a basketball class with a soccer ball. Technically you could dribble it. But you wouldn't call it basketball.

Brushes

"Brushes" in digital painting are exactly what they sound like. Different shapes and/or patterns in various sizes that apply a selected solid color or image in memory to a canvas.

For the vast majority of programs there will only be three pirmary settings to worry about when it comes to brushes...

  • Brush size
  • Brush hardness
  • Brush opacity

Brush size

Size should be self evident. This is typically measure in the diameter of the brush. If you only familiarize yourself with photoshop then this is measured in pixels and can be changed easily by right clicking and changing the slider labeled "size".

Brush hardness

The concept of "hardness" can be conveyed through several terms. Hardness, softness, falloff, edge type, but they'll all refer to how the edges of the stroke look. Let's just look at an example.

There are two circles below. These greyscale images are typical of how a brush might look within a drawing program. Both have the same exact size but represent different settings of "hardness". The left circle shows a brush with a hardness setting of 100% while the right circle shows a brush with a hardness setting of 0%.


Two circles representing a brush with 100% hardness (left) and 0% hardness (right).

What different will these two different setting values make in an actual painted image? Generally the softer the edge of the brush the softer the image will appear as a whole.

Different styles will demand different uses of these two options, and keep in mind you can use any value between these two extremes, but the general rule of thumb will be to use the hard edged brush to define object boundries while the soft edge will help to shade and color the actual surface within those boundries.

Brush Opacity

Opacity serves two primary purposes;

  1. Drawing translucent matter such as fog, glass, or pastic.
  2. Building up shading on an object to show curvature and/or reflectivity of a surface or also perhaps develop the softness of the lighting.

When it comes to using opacity to build up the shading on a model you can consider it as a way of faking blending. It's possible, in some programs, to simulate the way paint mixes and smears on an actual surface but sometimes you may not want the color changing or smearing effect that comes with that.

Technical Planning

With that said there are a few things that you can do to prepare for any exercise you might have in the process of learning art. Most of these involve asking yourself simple questions about what the goals are.

Will the final product have a predominant hue or brightness (for instance a scene that takes place in the day or night)?

Will this image be an image that you either want to A. print off as a poster or some other large format or B. something you might want to save as a personal accomplishement?

Stylistic Planning

This is a subject that can, and has, had entire books written about it. What styles, motifs and mediums will best convey the feelings or attitudes you are going for?

Below is an example image by the illustrator "Jcoon" showing various rendering possibilities for the same character. Note how some are more "dramatic" than others while some are simply more or less "realistic" than the images next to them.

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Digital Imaging

Because so much of how digital images work is also covered in the Graphic Design section I've decided to just link to there from here. If you are new to how computers record, change, and display images on your screen then follow the link below.

Graphic Design: Color as Information

If part of the software pertains specifically to artistic drawing and painting then of course it will be included in these pages.