How to Get Started in Digital Illustration

Becoming a Digital Illustrator is no easy task. It takes building out your talent and skills, and most importantly passion. Before starting your journey make sure you are on the right path. In this article, you’ll get sound advice from industry professionals to get you started on the best foot possible to learn how to create stunning digital illustrations. Having a Tablet Is Paramount Even if you buy the cheapest, smallest tablet you can get your hands on it will allow you to take advantage of the mechanics of drawing with a pencil that you learned at a young age, making digital illustration a more natural process. While larger tablets do give you more space to draw, the most important aspect of a tablet is how accurate you can be with it or how many levels of pressure sensitivity your tablet has. All Wacom tablets are a sure-fire place to start when looking for a tablet with a good level of pressure sensitivity. tablet Three Key Terms to Know
  1. Pixels - Drawing with pixels, or units of a digital image, can be a very organic, additive process and truer to traditional painting when you just want to draw. Adobe Photoshop uses large amounts of pixels to create images you draw or paint. Pixel-based images are made up of a set number of pixels and the detail of the image is limited by the number of pixels available because each pixel can be only one color. A sketch or painting in Photoshop is the results of lots and lots of pixels working together to create the image.
  2. Vector - Setting out to create a vector illustration is a very intentional process. It is one where the artist creates and arranges several different vector shapes which work together to create the final image. Adobe Illustrator is a dedicated vector drawing program. In addition to it’s distinct style, the beauty in vector is that once your image is complete, you’re not restricted by the number of pixels and can resize your image without any loss of quality. Vector-based images do not have the limitations of pixels in terms of the amount of detail they can contain. This makes vector the best possible format for things like logos that must be able to be resized.
  3. Resolution - Resolution relates directly to pixel-based images and the number of pixels they contain. Files that contain larger numbers of pixels are capable of capturing more detail and are considered to be higher resolution but take up more space on your hard drive as well as system resources. Since adding resolution to an illustration after it’s been created is typically a bad idea, it’s important to understand how much resolution you need before the project is started. This way, you’ll be able to create all the detail you need for your illustration.
key_terms You Can’t Go Wrong with Learning Photoshop First Photoshop is a great pixel-based program because it is capable of doing way more than just drawing and painting. Whether it’s image editing, image manipulation, compositing or digital illustration, Photoshop is considered to be an industry standard in by many. A more affordable and focused alternative would be SketchBook Pro, which is sharply focused on digital illustration. Three Key Tools to Know
  1. Layers Panel - Layers separate different elements of an image, such as clothing from a model, and work together to create any image, vector or pixel-based.
  2. Brush Panel - This is an extension of the brush tool in Adobe Photoshop, here you can configure brushes with varying sizes, shapes and orientations to work differently for your needs.
  3. Layer Masks - In Adobe Photoshop, these masks allow you to hide specific portions of a layer.
key_tools Don’t Worry About Brushes There’s a misconception that if you use the same brush or brushes as another artist, you will be able to create artwork just like theirs. In reality, the brush doesn’t create the artwork. The artist creates the artwork. If you are just starting out, you should focus on the basic default brushes. For example, a simple hard round brush, and change a few dynamics in the Brush Panel. You will learn far more about brushes if you start off with the default brushes, using them to try and get the look you’re going for. When you can’t get the look you’re going for then look at creating your own brushes. Hard work and practice makes the artist. When you can’t achieve a certain look with those brushes, then you’re ready to look at creating or using other brushes. Save Your Work in a Layered Format, Share Your Work in a Compressed Format When saving your work, use a format that supports layers so you can modify your work later on. In Photoshop or SketchBook Pro, either a .PSD or a TIFF is a great choice. To share your work, flatten it down into a JPG or other compressed format which will drastically reduce the size of the file. Remember to always ask the recipient or check the destination for any preferred file formats. It’s All About Practice Like the first time you rode a bike, the more you do it the better you’ll get at it, starting with a solid foundation in the fundamentals of composition, color theory and line form. Practice what you’ve learned at least 30 minutes a day. Make finding time to practice easy by carrying a sketchbook with you or download an app to your smart phone. practice Seek Feedback from Others It’s something every artist should do. When you can step away from something and completely remove yourself, you allow others to see things that you would never see because you’re so attached to your art. Visit our forums to post your work in progress and get feedback from fellow artists. Don’t Get Discouraged It’s tough when the outcome of your hard work isn’t what you’d like it to be but you have to start somewhere. Digital illustration is a difficult skill to learn and requires passion from you as the artist. Great works of art weren’t painted by someone who just picked up a brush for the first time. Every experience is an opportunity to learn. Put Your Best Foot Forward When you’re ready to start presenting you’re work, consider putting together a portfolio of your best pieces. Your portfolio should consist of a maximum number of 10 to 15 pieces of your best work showcasing your own personal style and a variety of skills. For a visual development artist, those skills might be featured in a selection of character designs, human figures, color keys and concept artworks. portfolio Final Thoughts When you’re ready to start down the path to your creative future, use these tips to help you have an exciting experience and beginning to the world of digital illustration, without all of the frustration of going at it alone. Keep learning more and start creating artwork right away with this free tutorial covering a Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop, where you’ll learn more basic terms, definitions and even workflows for Digital Painting.