Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Digital painting is a skill I first learned during my training as a scientific illustrator. As I transitioned away from being a "SciViz" (science visualization) professional, digital painting became more of a tool for creative expression and play. These days I occasionally (digitally) paint for fun.
I'm writing this post to share a little bit about my journey in learning how to paint, including tips and resources for those of you who are interested in picking up the digital paintbrush.
Tip #1: Keep a sketchbook & draw from life.
Understanding how to turn what your eyes are seeing into a 2D drawing is no small task. I've been sketching and drawing for a while and still have a lot to learn. Drawing objects or people in real life and not from photo references (that's a different skill that's valuable in its own way) helps develop your ability to turn light and shadow and texture into lines on a paper. The sketches below were mostly drawn from life (a couple from photo references) using pencil, pen, charcoal - some took 10 minutes and others took a few hours.
Tip #2: You can find quality digital painting lessons online for free
There are all kinds of digital painting tutorials and resources available online. Sometimes it takes some digging to find the best ones so let me save you some work, one of my favorite resources is Paintable. They have amazing free resources, lots of inspiration, and they've hosted a one week portrait challenge every year for the last couple of years that helps you work through the entire process of digitally painting a portrait. There's also a large community on social media of people who participate in these challenges who are willing to give you feedback and encouragement. I've used the resources on this site to guide my painting of these two portraits:
Here are the tools that I prefer to use for digital painting.
Apple pen (if using procreate)
Wacom tablet (if using photoshop)*
Some final thoughts:
You have to start somewhere. Your first painting won't be your best (obviously). Not counting the years I spent tinkering with photoshop as pre-teen in an attempt to develop "skins" for a virtual avatar in my favorite online game, this was my first real photoshop painting. There are so many things I would change about it now and I would go about making this painting in an entirely different way. But after finishing this painting I felt like I had the capability to successfully make something even better.
Right now I'm interested in playing with color and different brush textures. The sketch on the bottom right is all digital, created using some amazing graphite brushes in photoshop.