Understanding Digital Art Basics

Have you ever wondered what defines digital art? What are some of the things that a digital artist uses to communicate ideas...
Digital art basics

Contents

Have you ever wondered what defines digital art? What are some of the things that a digital artist uses to communicate ideas in their work of art? This article will explore the digital art basics that every aspiring artist needs to keep in mind, whether they are beginners or seasoned artists.

We’ll take a look and define some of these principles and elements. The article will also provide some practical tips to get you started as a digital art beginner. Let’s take a look.

What are the basic elements and principles of digital art?

An artist combines the elements of art and the principles of design to create and form what other people see in a work of art. Every digital artist has to learn basic elements of art if they want to take their skill up a notch. They include;

Line

You may have learned that a line is a continuous mark or point in space. In art, a line can be straight or curved. It can go in different directions, including horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.

A line can also vary in length, width, space between the lines, and the degree of curve. 

Shape

Two or more lines can form a shape.

In art, a shape is the area enclosed by an outline or edge. Shapes are multi-dimensional (2 dimensional in this case). A shape has length and width. Shapes can be Geometric or Irregular.

Examples of Geometric shapes include squares, triangles, circles, rectangles, and other polygon forms that can be measured mathematically. Irregular shapes cannot be measured mathematically because they are non-geometric.

Form

A form in art has 3 dimensions that can be measured.

Take any shape we have mentioned above, add depth to it, and you have a form. A form has length, width, and depth. A form is mass that occupies space and has physical space.

When depth is added to geometric shapes, they take on different forms. For example, squares become cubes, circles transform into spheres, and triangles change to pyramids. When depth is added to irregular shapes, they become free or organic forms.

Space

When examining a shape or form, the open part inside or around the shape or form is known as space. In shapes, space can be defined as the feeling of depth. Spaces can either be positive or negative.

A positive space is the area that a shape or form covers. It’s the main part of the artwork. A negative space is the area that is around a form. It supports the main part of the artwork.

Value

Value in art means the lights and darks of any color. Values can be tints or Shades. Tints (or light values) occur when white is added to a color. Shades occur when black is added to a color – also called dark values.

A value can transform a shape into a form. You can use color to add depth to a shape.

Texture

The feeling or look of a form is called texture. It gives you the idea of how the surface would feel if you could touch it. Texture can be Actual or Implied/Visual. Actual texture is how the surface actually feels. Implied or Visual texture is how the surface looks like it would feel if we could touch it. 

The principles of design is what completes what we have just discussed above. You can call them the intricacies of art. They are the little details that bring out what the artist is trying to communicate in full detail. They include;

Emphasis

This is the part of art that catches your attention when you first see it. An artist can make one area of art stand out by making it distinct from other areas. To do this, an artist uses Contrast to adjust the size, color, texture and shape of the object. 

Unity

As the word suggests, this is what tells you that every part belongs to the same artwork. You get a sense of oneness or wholeness. Unity is created by repeating elements.

Repeated colors, lines, textures, shapes, etc., create the feeling of harmony in a work of art.

Rhythm

Like the rhythm in music, an artist can repeatedly use one or more elements of design to create a feeling of movement. It’s called “adding visual beats” to a picture. Rhythm leads the viewer’s eye around the artwork.

Variety

An artist can use several elements to capture the viewer’s attention. Variety can be created by changing one element among many or merging several elements at once.

Proportion

Proportion in art is the relative size of various elements within a composition. It’s how the sizes of objects or parts of a whole picture compare.

Pattern

Like we saw above in Unity, when certain elements are repeated, they form harmony within a composition. When elements are repeated within a piece of artwork, it’s called a pattern. Combine this with repetition, and you have Unity.

 Balance 

This is the distribution of the visual weight. In other words, if the composition is a scale, elements should be balanced. There are different types of balance;

  • Symmetrical balance, which is when two sides of art have similar elements.
  • Asymmetrical balance, where the sides appear to have the same weight but have different elements.
  • Radial balance means the elements appear around a central point. The elements may be similar.

What do you need for digital art?

You need both hardware and software. 

The hardware

  1. A comfortable chair – It might seem like a no-brainer but don’t take it for granted. Practicing or working on a piece of art takes a lot of time, and you might as well get comfortable as you do it. A good chair can keep you focused and reduce fatigue.
  2. A powerful computer – Most computers will work fine enough for digital painting. However, when you have to work on large pieces or use stylized brushes, a cheap computer can be a pain. It may freeze or crash often.
  3. A drawing tablet – we have talked about those for a while here. A drawing tablet is the first thing you have to get as a digital artist. A drawing tablet gives you a lot of freedom to work on any artwork. Pick a tablet that addresses your drawing needs and one that also fits your budget.

The Software 

To choose a digital art software, you need first to consider what you want to create, how much you wish to spend on the software, and how well-versed you are with a particular software. Below are some software that digital artists commonly use;

  1. Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop should be your number one digital art software to consider. First, because it’s the industry standard, and practically everyone out there has heard about it. Second, Photoshop is literally good at everything.

Whether your initial idea is to edit a photo, draw, or paint, Photoshop has got you covered. The software works on multiple devices, including cellphones and tablets. You can also easily share your work on social media and other areas on the internet with Photoshop. 

  1. Corel Painter

As the name already points out, Corel Painter is good for digital painting. Corel affords you a lot of tools to draw almost perfect paintings that can be indistinguishable from those drawn by hand.

There are plenty of brushes put into categories that you can easily remember. You can create custom palettes for your favorite brushes and find a particular brush through a quick search.

  1. Procreate

You will need Procreate if you want to draw and paint on your iPad. The software has the backings of many digital artists who love it for what it offers. It is packed with powerful tools that make it a must-have piece for any digital artist.

There are hundreds of layers to work with, masks, blend modes, and more than 100 customizable brushes. 

  1. Clip Studio Paint Pro 

Clip Studio Paint is the go-to software for manga art and comic artists. It offers a natural, conventional feel with pen pressure detection that allows you to enjoy real-like pen strokes when you’re working with a graphics tablet.

When you are just beginning, you can opt for the convenient Pro version. If you want all the features and can afford to pay, then go for the EX version.

  1. Krita

If you are short on cash but would still love to have a digital art software to work with, Krita offers you that option. The program offers you many features that you will appreciate whether you are a beginner or Pro digital artist.

It has a UI made of panels that need to be moved around to start a customized workstation. You can also create shortcuts for common tools used by digital artists. You get 9 unique brush engines (Color Smudge, Particle, and Shape).

What should I learn first in digital art?

Once you have picked the right hardware and software to start your digital art journey, you need to figure out where to start.

Since anyone can be a digital artist, it doesn’t really matter how you start. If you are patient enough and know what you want, you can go ahead and become a pro in a short time. But here are a few things you can learn first;

  1. Familiarize yourself with software

Take a lesson or two about how to use the software you have chosen to go with. You can read the user guide that comes with the software or find a video that shows how to go through the basics of the program.

Even if you don’t get the time to get familiar with your software, you need to learn;

  • How to create a document and set a DPI
  • How to adjust brush settings
  • Opacity
  • Brush hardness
  • Layers and modes, and masks
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • The digital art basics like Composition, Structure, Lighting and Value, Color theory, perspective, anatomy, etc.

Even if all these are too daunting to learn at a go, you can start by experimenting with different styles and discover tricks as you learn to draw more.

  1. Learn a workflow

Don’t be discouraged by what seems like a lot of things to do to draw your first painting as a digital artist. You can start by copying the workflow of artists who have already done and shared their work online.

There are plenty of resources online that you can check out and learn how to draw your first painting in digital art.

Tips and Tricks 

Digital art is fun to learn, and all it takes is a few things to keep in mind. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started.

  1. It’s easier to draw on a tablet with pressure sensitivity

We have already seen that you need a drawing tablet to get started. But it goes without saying that the tablet you pick has to offer as smooth a drawing experience as possible.

If you can get a tablet with more layers of sensitivity, you can add finer details to your drawings with ease. Its worth noting that both an iPad and touch screen laptop are not pressure sensitive.

  1. Familiarize yourself with digital art basic tools

When you first open a digital art software, you will be greeted by little squares and menus all over the program’s interface. These are what we call “Tools.”

You will need to learn which ones are used to draw, which ones are used to erase, selection tools, and move/transform tools. These are the core of digital art.

  1. Go slow on brushes and pencils

If you watch many digital art videos, you will be overwhelmed by the number of brushes some artists use, especially if you are a beginner. Don’t let this go over your head. The main thing is to stay simple by only using a few brushes at a time until you are comfortable.

Pick 2 or 3 brushes offered by your software and keep learning until you are completely familiar with them. You can then download additional brushes later and continue learning, but only 2 or 3 at a time. 

  1. Take advantage of layers

Layers are the main difference between traditional art and digital art. In digital art, you can work with layers however you want, to sketch, refine, and test your work.

To take advantage of layers, learn the layer menu and how to manipulate each layer. Drag them around, turn them on and off, rearrange them, merge them, etc. 

  1. Ctrl + Z will slow you down than perfect you

If you are using Mac, it’s Cmd+Z. This function is potent and can help you keep your work in good form. However, overdependence on it can be disastrous for your learning.

If you are always Ctrl+zing your work, it will take you longer to learn. You will not always get the perfect line or curve. Own your mistakes and find other ways to fix them.

  1. Start with simple exercising to warm up

Simple exercising in art means drawing circles, squares, ellipses, and congruent marks across the page to get a feel of your digital program and temper your drawing skills. You can do this for 15 minutes before you begin sketching.

  1. Do a lot of sketching 

Sketching is another way of getting familiar with your program of choice and improving your drawing skills.

Make it a habit of sketching as much as you can every day to get comfortable with your software. You will enjoy and quickly learn the program, your tablet, and drawing tools.

  1. Clean up your sketches

Because you’ll probably have a lot of sketches of the same drawing, it’s time to pick your favorite sketch, clean it, and turn it into a masterpiece. Use the eraser to refine lines.

Lower the opacity on layers, make other layers, and try to draw accurately and more clearly.

  1. Learn a new tool each day

Check out new tools each day and pick one utilizable tool to add to your work. This will open up new creative possibilities and increase your proficiency in your software of choice.

Go for a tool that has more purpose and gradually include more specialized ones as you improve.

  1. Don’t forget to master shortcuts

The best way to do this is to write them down on flashcards or check them every day to memorize them. Shortcuts will help you speed up certain things in your work instead of having to the menu. 

Resources

After you have learned all these things and become interested in becoming a digital artist, you will probably wonder where to go next. Where can your skills take you? What platforms support digital artists like you? And so on.. here are some resources you can check out;

Best resources for learning

Here you can find several platforms that offer digital courses. They include;

  • Skillshare – where you can learn digital art and digital art programs and interact with a community of artists.
  • Udemy – Probably the best online learning platform. You can learn many digital art courses, some even for free.
  • Coursera – There are courses here taught by professors and experts from some of the top universities in the world.
  • YouTube – The best place to learn digital art for free from anyone you like for free. There is plenty to learn here.

Business resources for digital artists

Here you can interact with art marketing experts and learn how to make some money from digital art. They include

  • Art Biz Success – The site offers business and marketing advice for artists. You can learn how to run your art career and become even more successful.
  • Fine Art tips – Lori McNee shares powerful insights on fine art and how to build a social media following as an artist.
  • The Abundant Artist – you will learn how to sell your art.
  • Artsy Shark – You will learn how to build a successful business as a digital artist.

Website Resources

These are useful when you build your website. They include;

  • Yoast – This is a credible place to learn about SEO and bring traffic to your website.
  • Codecademy – This is a coding site that teaches programming languages like Python and JavaScript. 
  • Udacity – A fantastic site to learn mobile development, web development, data science, and others.

Marketing Resources

These are places to showcase your work as a digital artist. Some of them include;

  • Squarespace – This is a website builder with powerful tools to create a beautiful online shop.
  • Buffer – this is a tool that helps you post on social media.
  • Artwork Archive – This inventory management platform allows you to track everything related to your art business. You can track contracts, shows, inventory, income, and locations.
  • Blurb – This is a platform that lets you publish ebooks. You can create comics and graphic novels here.

Inspiration Resources

These sites will help you take your business and ideas to the next level. Some of them include;

  • Fast Company Design – the site helps designers get their big break the latest inspiration, ideas, and news from the design space.
  • Frame Destination – Here, you can read articles on art and find advice and insights.
  • Cool Hunting – This magazine offers the latest news on art, technology, and design.
  • 1X – if you are a photographer, you can take your skills to the next level here. There are thousands of curated photos to learn from.

Selling Resources

These are places you can promote and sell your artwork.

  • Artzine – if you are top-notch at what you do, Artzine will allow you to sell your artwork.
  • Artsy.net – here you can showcase your work and allow the site to auction and sell it to major galleries worldwide.
  • Artfinder – The site allows artists to sort their work and sell them.
  • Society6 – The site uses your artwork to create pieces and sell them. You get a percentage and maintain the rights to your work.

FAQs

Is digital art easier for beginners?

No, it’s not. Until you get the hang of it, digital art is tough to learn as a beginner. Even if you are a traditional artist, once you go digital, the skill set changes, and you have to relearn the basics if you want to succeed.

You will need to spend some time learning the basics before enjoying what it has to offer.

Conclusion

Digital art basics give you a feel of what you’re in for before you begin your journey. As you can see, there are a few things to learn before you can get a tablet or computer and start drawing. However, once you get through the initial stage, everything else becomes fun, and you can only improve from then on.

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