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Carlo Marco's Easy Guide to Painting Digital Art

In this thread we will learn about Digital Painting.

Q: Is digital painting even 'real' painting? Why should I try to learn digital painting? Artists who work with physical art get paid better, surely?

A: Yes of course digital painting is real painting. All the skills that go into any physical piece of art - composition, anatomy, color, detailing, etc. are present in a digital painting. An artist who works with a stylus is every bit as respectable as any artist who works with a brush. His life is a little easier due to the ability to 'undo' mistakes, but also the infinite digital canvas allows easy switching from traditional painting scenes to comics and animation.

Artists who work in paint and canvas can earn a lot and acquire much fame, yes. However, a digital artist is under greater demand because the Internet exists and there is always a lot of things to illustrate - websites, portraits, storyboards, novels, games, and so on. Having the skill to quickly sketch out what you're visualizing is always helpful.

There really isn't much of a divide between physical and digital artists. One could comfortably be both.

Q: Isn't digital painting, like, expensive? Pen tablets are so pricey! Can't I do without?

A: No, you cannot do without a tablet. It would be like trying to make art without the essential tool of the craft, like pencils or brushes. However, there is nothing that says you need to buy the top-of-the-line products from the start.

I actually use a Genius i608x Pen Tablet for all the works you'll see in this thread. It does most of what an Wacom tablet can do, but priced at only $50 instead of $400.

Q: What software do I need to buy make digital paintings?

Technically speaking, none. There are a bunch of free software around that provide convincing brushes and palettes. FireAlpaca, for example. Gimp is the open-source alternative to Photoshop.

But I use Paint Tool Sai, which is -the- coloring and painting tool of choice in Japan's doujin scene. It has different brush modes and fine control over brush sensitivity and gesture smoothing. Plus, I love that it has a vector Linework layer that allows me to continually adjust lines separate from the coloring layers.

It's like... consider MS Paint and its line curve. Remember how you can edit the depth of curve after laying down a straight line, but only twice and then it becomes an uneditable fixed part of the picture? In Sai, lines can be endlessly be meddled with; curves and thickness and pointiness, as long as they remain their own separate layer.The English license is only under $50.

For extra post-processing and text editing, I use Paint Shop Pro 9. Any other software would do here, really.

Q: Not Photoshop?

A: Photoshop is very expensive. Also, I decided on these software long ago because they're very light on computer hardware. No need for an expensive desktop-replacement laptop. More features mean longer load times, more memory hog, and more lag.

Q: If the software and devices aren't so pricey, then how come digital artists charge so much? Can I really dare to ask to be paid for my hobby work?

A: Of course you can, because skill and working hours are a separate investiture. Tools are tools, it's the person that makes the difference. The transition between a hobbyist and a paid professional is the recognition that people need things done for them, and that your time is valuable too in freeing them from the hassle and uncertainty of finding something to illuminate their ideas.

Q: I don't have talent for this.

A: I don't believe in talent as the requirement to becoming good at something. It just takes hours of determined effort, much like anything else.

Q: My lines are too shaky! How do people make those fine clean lines?

A: Either adjust smoothing levels in the program you're using or make smaller curves. Those curving parallel lines you see may be from a flat brush.

However, it is likely that such perfect lines are actually made using the Line tools in their graphic software. Tracing over lines is very much like the comic book process of pencils -> ink -> colors. It's not difficult, only time-consuming.

Next: From rough sketch to final product

Last update on February 20, 5:20 pm by Carlo Marco Alfonso.
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Hi, TriberZ! It's time to continue this demo of the digital painting process.

1) Work out out the drawing areas.

The first thing is to make a rough outline of to figure out the shape. Here the background is actually some photograph I ran through a filter.

2) Draw the lines and underpaint them.

The magic word here is LAYERS. Without the ability to work in layers, you cannot paint with ease.

Here, I made a layer under the guidelines to sketch out the figure-
Then another layer under that to fill out out the solid shapes.

I discourage using the 'Paint Bucket' tool directly. Use the 'Magic Wand' tool on your graphics program, be it Gimp or Sai or FireAlpaca or Photoshop to select the area to be filled, then make a new layer, and only then fill the active selection with the Paint Bucket. This makes for less jaggedy edges when filling shapes, and if there are still color mismatches, they can be fixed without messing up the lines.

And then you could put another layer over the Lines layer for the brighter lines and finer details.

3. Check the vanishing point.

The viewing angle must converge the lines and proportions facing away from the viewer. It's a tricky thing that trips up many, but it's the key to dynamic action poses later on. For simple side views, just make sure the side facing away from the viewer has a perceptible tilt.

These guide lines should, of course, be on another layer you can remove later.

4. Using gray tones, solidify the figure.

Properly lay down the details. Add more layers as needed. Two new Layer modes are important here:

The first is Multiply. A layer set to Multiply above the normal working layer will lay down colors that automatically darken of the layer below. Blending these dark areas and erasing where convenient provide the illusion of shadows and shades.

The other is Screen. A layer set to screen will brighten the figure. Use it sparingly, prefer Multiply layers and just erasing if necessary to get back the truer shade.

Make sure to pay attention to which direction you put the 'light source' and all the shadows corresponding to it.

Next: How to Color

Last update on August 20, 12:45 am by Carlo Marco Alfonso.
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It has come to my attention that the above guide may be mildly unhelpful for true beginners. It's like that old meme

So let's get back to the practicals:

Q: My lines are always a mess. Perhaps I should have bought a Wacom after all?

A: This is a very common complaint. It takes quite a bit of time to acquire the muscle memory to draw lines looking only at the screen without paying attention to what your hand is doing. One common thing I've seen beginners do to compensate for unsteady fingers making sloppy curves is to thicken the lines.

This is NOT actually a good idea until you're more comfortable with gauging pen pressure. Think of your pen cursor as a real brush or marker. If you're having trouble with lines, do you really think getting a big fumbly broad-tip marker is going to help?

For practice, I actually recommend you go for the very minimum, a 1 pixel-wide brush, and don't worry at all about how the lines aren't clean. The objective here is to create nice, appealing forms - the lines themselves don't matter except in outlining the shapes that form a picture.

And then through the magic of LAYERS, you can use a Line Tool to just trace out the outline for nice, perfectly clean lines.

And now, some more FREE art program recommendations.

The first picture in this thread shows the workspace of Krita, which is an excellent full-featured alternative to Paint Tool Sai or even Photoshop or Corel Painter.

But for beginners, I recommend MyPaint which is much less intimidatingly cluttered with features and with an intuitive set of virtual brushes and pens. It is also completely free.

Last update on August 20, 12:32 am by Carlo Marco Alfonso.
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Hello again, TriberZ! Shall we continue?

Q: Okay, so I made this grayscale graphic. How do I color them without the result ending up too dark?

A: You've already seen how useful Multiply and Screen layers are at giving you the tonal shades you want. To go further, we will use the same two types of layer and a new general-purpose layer - Overlay.

But I actually lost the intervening steps for coloring, so please excuse if we have only limited example.

This image demonstrates the results of applying a GREEN and GRAY shade on a new blank layer over the grayscale original.


    Multiply Layers darken everything under it by a shade below the selected color. Black lines and shadows remain clear black, so it is useful for putting down pure colors. You may try to adjust the brightness by using progressively lighter and lighter colors, but it will never be brighter than the underlying shade. Pure white is just 'erasing' the Multiply result.


    Screen Layers are the opposite, brightening everything under them. It works on blacks, so it is useful for creating glow and shininess and the impression of glass, but there's a risk of destroying details.


    Overlay Layers are a combination of the two, but it works on color values. As you can see, it adds bright color while maintaining the darkness value of the underlying shades. This makes it good for laying down areas of high contrast and truer colors, but it is less useful when the underlying values are toward purer shades of white or black.

    Pure white overlay behave like the function Color Dodge while Pure Black behaves like Color Burn.

Overlay might sound the best layer to color with, but it has its limitations. Since it is dependent on color values, it requires a grayscale or other image below it. This is why I suggested a grayscale tonal painting first. It does nothing to pure white or pure black underlayers.

At least with Multiply, you can draw on blank canvas. If there's nothing underneath, you get the true color selected.

Therefore, the layers should go in order

  • Screen
  • Overlay
  • Multiply
  • Original

Add new layers in these groups over the old trio of layers if necessary. Mix Normal layers here and there to add fixed details. It's not unusual to have to run with fifteen or more layers in the course of digital painting.

Adjusting the size of the brush and blending the colors together all add up to the desired effect.

This is why making the grayscale picture saves a whole lot of fiddling about trying to get the colors to 'look right' on both darkness and saturation. It's much easier to start out knowing where the shadows and highlights are supposed to be.
Last update on August 20, 12:40 am by Carlo Marco Alfonso.
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One more set of samples to demonstrate what I'm talking about:

As always,starting from a rough sketch. It doesn't have to be well detailed, you just need to keep in mind where things should go.

Building up without grayscale is the more painterly approach, but more time-consuming matching the palettes.

I rather like bold storybook style colors. This is actually for a web novel I'm working on.

Btw, if anyone's got a book or child's story you'd like me to illustrate, just drop me a line. Smile

Last update on September 1, 4:03 am by Carlo Marco Alfonso.
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