Starting with digital painting - tips & tricks

Sep 4, 2019
4 min read

Myths about digital art

Let's start by bringing down the myths about digital painting as such. Very often I read on the Internet that digital art is much simpler than traditional painting or worse - that it is perhaps not even art.

And no, it's not easier. Digital art requires the same process of learning and understanding the theory. Let's say I start by learning traditional canvas painting, I need to learn to understand tools, to be able to understand how each medium reacts, color theory, what effect a certain type of brush has on painting, etc. The same applies for digital painting. I have to go through the process of learning the software, its limitations and possibilities, I need to understand how layers, filters and brushes work. And it still applies that I need to know the theory of colors, anatomy, composition, light, shadows, etc. Unless you do have a crazy talent from nature which would make you do not even have to think about such rules.

However, the process to create traditional painting differs from digital painting and some of the tools we use as well. Digital painting has only one advantage - we can simply go back and repeat steps and failed strokes, and we can paint thousands of lines in a single document without damaging it and drawing paper through. Of course, tablets and similar devices have many other benefits such as portability, material savings and sharing over the Internet.

Choosing the right software

Nowadays, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by all the options we have online. It is always good to be prepared in advance and do research for yourself, to ask basic questions before investing in often very expensive applications. Do I need a raster (pixel) or vector program? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them and do I need everything what the program offers? Because in the end the program does not define the artist. It's just a tool that helps me transfer creativity, imagination and my art to the virtual world. It doesn't matter if I have chalks and paper, or a tablet and a stylus. Create a worksheet, explore options, and decide which software might work for you.

Theory is the basic

Find a good book, browse YouTube, visit a website dedicated to the topic, and even get a Pinterest account for inspiration and references. The book will make you slow down, devote yourself to learning methodically and teach you to approach things purposefully with reflection. I understand that for some of us, a book is not a best friend, but sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice a little if we want to move on. For example, I have a problem with studying from digital media, I can easily distract myself with something else and therefore I print the texts on a paper, where I can highlight, scribble and doodle as I want to.

Fundamentals of theory to follow: Colors, light, shadows, compositions, lines and values.

Good idea

The main fragment is to have an idea of ​​what I will paint. It doesn't have to be detailed, it's enough that I know, for example, that I want to paint a rocket aimed at Mars, and I want the center of focus at Mars under explosion. By creating an idea in your head, you avoid the problem of staring blankly at the screen for hours. Without thought and direction, you won't even be able to start sketching and working on details. However, there are also people who are an exception, for them the absolute opposite works. Their idea arises and develops gradually with each move they make on their canvas.


The sketch does not have to be professional and full of details. Nobody will see it anyway. Sketching is for us to materialize the idea and prepare the composition for the canvas. Never spend too much time with the first sketch. It's a waste of time and you'll probably decide to change a lot more as you go.


Try to eliminate the number of brushes you use. Believe me, ten similar brushes don't really make me a better artist. Stick to a few basics, try to understand how they are set up and how they work. Over time, you can expand your collection, because by then you will already know what is a necessity and what is a waste of money.


Once you are familiar with the basic principles, you can use online courses (or follow tutorials), which focus on specific topics such as painting dragons, magical monsters or medieval castles. In these courses you can expand your knowledge of theory and apply it to all future projects.

Daily sketching / painting

Daily practice is without discussion. Even a small 15-20 minutes sketch each day will move your skills forward very quickly. Improving means investing time and effort. In the beginning I didn't paint daily, just when I had the mood or felt like. You will be amazed how much you can forget and what impact missing days / weeks have on your abilities and perceptions.

Soul as an open door

Study, observe and discover objects, people, buildings, basically everything around you. How does the light fall on the vase? What will the shadow do with my red T-shirt in the corner of the room? What is unique about this cherry? Look carefully and focus on the details. How do young children learn? By watching and listening.

Reference log

Take pictures of things that interest you. Create a diary full of pictures, photos, doodles, poems, just full of anything that interests you in some way. It will be very useful at a time when you feel lost and ideas don't come. This diary will be your well of wisdom.

The steps mentioned above should take you in the right direction. Of course, there is much more behind the curtain, but we cannot talk about everything in one article. After all, it would be boring and then I would have no more topics to write about.

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