….That’s a good question. It also happens to be one of the most common ones asked by beginner digital artists – all kinds of artists, really, with respect to their specific field.
When you buy your first drawing tablet and stylus, you invest quite a bit into it, and you will understandably want to know how long it will take before that investment begins to pay off. After all, it’s only when you’re sufficiently proficient that you can get hired and start to make money from your newfound skill.
In this article, we shall try our best to answer that question. However, it’s important to point out early that it’s pretty ambiguous if you think about it. No matter what field you’re in, you can’t learn all of it in anything less than a lifetime.
There are already so many digital art applications out there, each with their own learning curves, and they’re pumping out new features and whole new applications every year. You finish one set and another is waiting for you around the corner. Similarly, digital art is constantly evolving, just like traditional art.
New techniques, art forms, and movements pop up and die all the time. It would be a tall order to learn them all. In fact, the greatest artists often gravitate toward a particular style (or invent it over time) and become really good at that, which gives them an identity.
Now, when someone wants something done in that style, that artist will be the first to come to mind.
We won’t tell you which styles to learn or gravitate to. You will figure that out yourself. Just experiment with as many different ones as you can when you’re starting out, and you’ll eventually notice you like some far more than others. It’s like they call to you, and you’ll recognize that call when it comes.
So, with all that said, we’re not going to give you a hard answer for how long it takes to ‘learn art’. It takes anywhere from a few hours to a lifetime, depending on how you define ‘learn art’.
We will, however, give estimates for how long it would take you to, say, become proficient enough that you can start taking on commissions, or at least for you to feel more than a little confident in your skills.
How long does it take to learn digital art?
Let’s start by considering what it takes to get good at digital art. The main difference between a digital artist and a traditional one is the tools of their trade. A traditional artist harnesses physical tools to do his work, such as canvas, brushes, and so on. He lives in the physical realm.
A digital artist, on the other hand, uses virtual tools (albeit housed in physical devices) to achieve his goals. He uses virtual canvasses, virtual brushes, and so on. He can draw, animate, sculpt, make graphics for websites, digitally enhance photographs, and much more with these virtual tools.
See, these virtual tools don’t just mirror their physical analogues, but improve upon them by orders of magnitude, making everything much easier. They also aggregate them.
While a traditional artist might need a large warehouse to contain all of the tools he would need to do such a wide variety of things, a digital artist can fit them in his pocket. The warehouse is his iPad, Wacom tablet, or whatever other device he uses to do his work.
And even when that device is too large for his pocket, it’s often still small enough to fit on a large desk at most. Still a significant improvement.
And yet, all of these tools can only be thought of as very competent assistants. The color picker does not teach the digital artist about color theory, nor the blender about how to blend values properly. While technology has grow immensely over the years, it still can’t teach you these things.
What this means, then, is that you need to understand the fundamentals well before you can fully utilize what digital art provides you with. In that sense, you should have solid traditional art skills first before you can hope to become a good digital artist.
This isn’t to say that you should spend many years learning to work with oil paint before you pick up a stylus, but you should be very good at sketching with a pencil and drawing expressive lines and shapes. Knowing how colors mix together will help you use the color picker. Knowing the basics of lighting and composition will help you use the tools that do that in the tablet, and so on.
This is a rule you shouldn’t forget. Spend as much time as you need to master the basics, as un-glamorous as it might feel. It will pay off very large dividends farther down the road.
How long does it take to become a good digital artist?
So now we can answer the main question. How long will it take you to become a good digital artist, at least good enough to make a living off of it? To be honest, it varies from one artist to another.
Some, especially those with a solid background in traditional art, can pick up digital art in a year. Others, starting from scratch, may take up to 5 years of dedicated work to learn.
Basically, learners of digital art can be split into two groups: those who learn via formal education, such as a degree program, and those who go the non-formal route, such as learning on YouTube or buying courses on Skillshare for example.
If you’re starting from scratch, it might take you longer if you go the non-formal route. However, depending on how dedicated you are, you can learn a lot more this way, and it helps you learn to be disciplined. It’s no small feat being self-taught in anything.
You can also go the formal education route. One major advantage of this route is the structure that comes with it. You will have a well-defined curriculum with curated lessons taught by trained teachers. You will also get the opportunity to network with students and teachers, many of whom may be employers, employees, or collaborators in the future.
Additionally you’re learn a lot more than just art, such as how to think critically and solve problems more efficiently. Such a well-rounded education can prove very useful in a career as eclectic as art.
If you do go the self-taught route, one piece of seemingly unintuitive advice we have for you is to learn enough science and mathematics to be dangerous. You don’t have to get a PhD or be an expert in all the different fields of science. However, it is important to understand the basics of science, including concepts, principles, and vocabulary used.
Why? Well, learning the hard sciences can help you immensely in different types of art. A good knowledge of human and animal anatomy will enable you to draw better humans and animals. Knowing about vectors and a host of other mathematics concepts will make you much better at animation.
You don’t have to know them in-depth, but just enough that you understand your tools and their purposes better. It will also help bring realism to your work, and make your work more believable.
We also encourage you to practice. When you’re constantly doing art on your gadget, you allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. This will help you absorb all that information you get from tutorials.
Your dedication to your craft will be a huge factor in how successful you are, so be dedicated. Take at least an hour every day to do art, constantly trying new things and making the effort to improve, whether you are learning formally or informally. This will make you an expert much sooner.
Whatever happens, though, don’t forget to master the basics first. They can make or break you.
How long does it typically take to complete a piece?
This question is also difficult to answer precisely. It all depends on a number of factors, including your level of skill and experience, the complexity of the piece, and, of course, what tools you’re using.
For an experienced artist, many things are a function of muscle memory, rather than deliberate mechanical coordination. If you’re drawing 1000 lines, the 1001st will take almost no effort. Ditto for sketches and paintings of the same kind.
On the other hand, a beginner will tend to take longer, even for a simpler piece, belaboring over all of the details. If you’re drawing something you’ve done many times before, you will complete it much faster than something you’re doing for the first time.
The complexity of the piece also matters. A sketch is much easier to do than a detailed painting, which in turn is much easier than a feature-length animation. When you start, you should try the easy stuff first, because that’s where you’ll learn the basics.
Sketching will do a lot to teach you how to stabilize your hand and get basic lines and curves right. It will also teach you how to play around with values when you’re shading in just black and white. Many of the skills you gain here can later be transferred to painting.
As you grow, you’ll start out slow when trying something new, and then, after doing enough of it, it will become much easier, and you can move on to something a little harder.
But even if you’re experienced in drawing something, the level of detail will affect how long you take. All other factors held constant, the more detailed a piece, the longer it will take.
Finally, you should also consider the tools of your trade. If you’re working with a very powerful piece of software that can do many different things, you can potentially do your work faster than if you used a simpler application. But even then you should know how to use the software.
If your specialty is Photoshop, you’ll definitely work faster in it than, say Procreate, even though Procreate is a powerful software in its own right. It is therefore important that you use the software you are most comfortable with.
If it ever gets to a point where your software limits you, then take the time to learn a new and powerful one, so you can remove those limits. The same applies to your hardware.
Can I learn digital art by myself?
Yes you can. Many of the greatest digital artists around are proudly self-taught. As mentioned above, the main advantage a formal education has over an informal one is structure.
When you learn by yourself, you sort of need to wing it, chasing your curiosity and hoping that you’ll gain everything you need with time, as opposed to just having a curriculum guide you through the semester.
The good news is that there are lots of courses and tutorials online that can give you structure, provided you’re disciplined enough to follow them. Ultimately, discipline and dedication are what will determine your level of success as a self-taught artist. Have both in a healthy amount and there are no limits.
How many hours do digital artists work?
It depends on the work they’re doing. Digital artists hardly have defined schedules, unless they work in a corporate environment.
Instead, they have periods of intense work, either because they have a commission from a client or they are just in a state of flow and want to produce something, followed by periods of recharging and relaxation.
Per artwork, it really depends on the factors mentioned earlier. It could take anything from a couple of hours to several weeks of work. Day to day, it could be anything from 16 hours at a go (either because you have a deadline to meet or you have been possessed by the god of art and are in flow state) to no work at all.
And with that we come to the end of our article. As you can see, the answer to the question of how long it takes to learn digital art isn’t simple. It all depends. However, if you are dedicated and do lots of learning and practicing, you will get better sooner, rather than later. Until next time, happy drawing!