If you’re anything like me, you think that you’re pretty good at drawing, but not quite good enough to call yourself an artist. Nonetheless, you still draw, and you do it often. Maybe you draw using a pencil and a sheet of paper but you’ve gotten a little curious about digital art. What is digital art? How do they do that? What do they use? A mouse? Microsoft Paint? Is there a scanner involved?

Well today I’m here to take your hand and show you what you need to get started.

But first, let’s address the most important question:

What is the difference between traditional art and digital art?

To be frank, traditional art is created using a physical medium (i.e. acrylics, pencils, ink, anything that you pick up at your neighborhood art supply).

Digital art is more of an abstraction of traditional art. It is created on computer applications that try to recreate multiple artistic tools (i.e. brushes, smudgers, canvas textures) that one might use when practicing traditional art. Many prefer digital art because it is easily distributed on the internet and is not as “messy” as traditional art. I for one prefer digital art because it is a lot cheaper. I don’t have to worry about purchasing more supplies and breaking the bank and this is an especially reasonable concern if you do not actively sell your artwork.

Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about what you should do to get started:

Invest in a Tablet

Think of tablets as technologically advanced sketch pads. These pressure sensitive trays and their responsive, inkless pens are what every digital artist needs. They allow users to compose artwork on the computer while still being able to assume the natural pose they would use when drawing on paper. The only difference is that when using tablets (at least the reasonably priced ones) you have to learn how to look up at the screen to see what you’re doing as opposed to looking down at what you’re drawing on. And trust me; it’s a lot easier than it looks. Tablets can get very expensive, however. And I highly suggest that beginners lean more towards the Wacom Bamboo Tablet Series, where the cheapest tablet comes up to 50-70 bucks.

Start Looking for a Program

Microsoft Paint can’t help you anymore. My two staples are Photoshop and Paint Tool SAI and both programs are very popular on communities like Deviantart. I use Photoshop for color alteration, text insertion (if I need it), its advanced layering system and many other features. Paint Tool SAI allows for a more natural drawing process. Users are allowed to rotate their page at any angle and there is a greater emphasis on pen pressure and line composition, allowing users to create smoother, more seamless lines. Both programs must be bought but Paint Tool SAI is significantly cheaper. If you still aren’t sure about digital art and you don’t want to purchase any programs just yet, look into programs like Sumopaint that have similar features to the two programs listed above but can be used free of charge.

Image by EsbenLash via Deviantart,com
Image by me. Inspired by EsbenLash

Learn Technique and Practice Every Day

You might not have a problem looking at a few “how to draw a face” tutorials, but that’s not the only way to learn. If you see a piece of work with a really dope lighting scheme, I encourage you to try and mimic that aspect in a doodle or two. Don’t go around claiming that you did it all on your own. After all, it’s just practice. But if it’s really a technique that you want to use in your future works, learn how to apply it to your style in a unique way. Many of my favorite drawings were inspired by the little things someone else put in their work.

Don’t be afraid to practice every day. I don’t do it anymore, but when I did I experienced the most drastic improvement in my work. It’s a hard thing to do—especially if you get artist’s block and quit for a few days. I encourage you to keep going and try your hand in multiple styles until you get to a point where you are comfortable enough to assert your own.

I wasn’t sure what to say in this post, as “Digital Art 101” is such a very broad title. But if you want to know about more specific things, or if there is a topic you want me to discuss, please comment below and I can make more posts pertaining to digital art.

Enjoy this recording I made of a speed paint exercise I did earlier this week!

Lauren Harris is a high school senior at an arts school. She is an advocate for the educational enrichment of African-American children and is also very interested in researching how African-American women are perceived by themselves and by the rest of the world. She enjoys online shopping, curly hair, macaroni and cheese, “The Twilight Zone”, and Friday nights playing The Sims. Please read more of her work at her blog www.afrogirltalks.com.