Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Recs From The Writer: So You Want To Draw Digitally

by Skottie Young

Disclaimer: I'm not a really great artist, you guys. Despite going to an art school for four years, the craft has been relegated to a skill I use once in awhile and mostly for fun. Super heroes, robots, and the odd purple creature or two. I do get asked a lot about what type of program I use when I draw and what someone starting out should purchase to learn on. Photoshop is always the the first program that gets mentioned to me, but dudes, I don’t really use nor recommend it. 

So There's This Program Called Photoshop Everyone Talks About
   Don’t get me wrong here, there are many good things about Photoshop. It’s extremely versatile and it is the de-facto program used by just about everyone in any industry that has some form of artistic output. It’s a good program to have under your belt if you want to get work in one of those areas. And have you seen those cool speed paints on Youtube? Holy crap you can blow so much time watching those. However if you’re just looking to draw digitally or get into learning how to drawing digitally as a hobby, it may not be the best option.

   The price alone is a staggering $699 to get started, and once a year they come out with an upgrade that can set you back another $199 if you want to keep up to date. For someone who wants to play around with a program on the weekends by working on Sherlock fanart, it’s a steep investment.

This is a lot of stuff.
If you can go download a pirated copy off your best friend cough up the money or find a way to get it free through work or school, you have a program that has a lot of bells and whistles that can be tricky for a beginner. It’s a very technical program, and for me at least it’s always felt inefficient for drawing for enjoyment due to the amount of hot keys I needed to know to make the tools quickly accessible to me as well as the amount of time I ended up watching tutorials on Youtube. It never really feels designed for the artist in mind. And when I got a tablet PC, I really didn’t want to carry around a separate keyboard just so I could access those shortcuts.

Then There's This Other Program Called Sketchbook Pro Everyone Is Like "Huh?"
   There are a lot of little programs popping up now as Photoshop alternatives (the skuttlebutt is Manga Studio is pretty cool) including many free ones you can try at your own risk. However through trial and error I’ve found Sketchbook Pro to be a great alternative to Photoshop, especially for beginners. Price wise it’s $59 for a computer install, $2.99 if you want it on your iPad or tablet, and there's even a iphone/android version. So a staggering difference in price and availability. You won’t find filters or clone tools in your tool bar, or the ability to keep multiple files open at once. In fact if you open up Photoshop and Sketchbook Pro side by side you’ll think it’s bare bones compared to the meatier Photoshop. However when you’re drawing digitally a lot of those other tools can get in the way, and the streamlined setup of the program itself works in your favor when all you want to do is doodle Buffy staking Edward and then post it to Facebook.

The Deets
   First and foremost, you have a lagoon you can put in one of the corners of your Sketchbook Pro window. It allows you to open certain tool windows quickly and swap out brushes and colors while not hogging up a lot space on the screen. It’s a quick setup to learn for someone who's new to digital art, and a nice short cut that keep you drawing more. I prefer to work with it in the lefthand side because there’s little chance of me accidentally hitting it, and if I might it’s very easy to click on the the magnifying glass that controls the zoom and placement of the canvas (which you can find it in the lagoon) and move the canvas away to keep the corners out of the lagoon.
This is way less stuff.

   Brushes are another plus. Up until Photoshop’s recent upgrade, its brushes haven’t had the physics of the actual tools they are supposed to mimic. It made a photoshopped drawing easy to spot due to the quality of the strokes, and the ability to make digital art look like a physically drawn piece quite a feat. However when you begin in Sketchbook pro, you’ll see the brush selection is limited yet contain the physics Photoshop didn’t have for so long. Even in the iPad version.

    Pencils look like pencils, ball points work like ball points, paints look like paints, chisel tip markers have a great edges and the airbrush gives a nice glow around your Green Lantern. Personally my favorite brush is the marker brush, because it mimics rather pricey Copic markers perfectly. You have to work from light to dark on your layer, each color will interact with other colors laid on top and wider strokes actually look like marker has been laid down (this tool has fooled a few people into believing I’ve actually used marker). You can adjust the opacity, brush sensitivity and the like and save them as new brushes too. However I’ve never really used a modified brush other than a ballpoint I prefer for my line work. The pre-made brushes are great as they are, and you can always find new sets to download.

Steps on a mashup sketch I did for CBC's Weekly Facebook Challenge: Fantasy/Sci-fi
     It should also be pointed out that the sizing button can be kept on the screen to make resizing your brushes effortless. Simply drag the brush up or down on the circle to make the brush larger or smaller, with the screen telling you the exact size of increase or decrease. It’s great for laying down a large amount of color, and then automatically shrinking your marker for smaller detail. You can move the button around the screen too, so it’s never in the way and always where you need it.

We'll get to layers in a little bit, but adjusting opacity and overlaying? Best thing ever.

    Speaking of color, the color tool makes it easy to set up a pallet and stick to it, because the color window has a pallet space. Setting up your colors means all you have to do is drag and drop them into the pallet spaces, and the above color wheel and grey scale makes it easy to learn your value and color theory and come up with a pleasing scheme. I will say the one weakness of the program lies in the color window, because the color grab tool (the eyedropper) on mine is finicky and only works when it wants to. But other than that I have no complaint.

My paint layers always get all over the place, but you can see the gist of it.

   The layer tool is also a thing of beautiful simplicity.  While you don't have the ability to place layers into groups, they still have that streamlined setup that makes them quick and easy. You can drag and drop them into the order you next, change the opacity, add or delete and do everything else within the layer editor.
The final sketch.

 The Bottom Line
   It's easy, fairly inexpensive, and fun. The learning curve isn't headache inducing for those who are just starting out yet it's still polished enough to turn out clean, professional looking artwork the more you learn about drawing (enough so that more and more studios are beginning to use it).

Obviously not one of mine.
The Part Where I Give You Tips 

- GET A TABLET. If you want to draw, please get graphic tablet. Drawing with a mouse can wreck your wrist, and it's just not worth it. Tablets come in all price ranges and the lowest price ones do the job just fine. Try craigslist even to get a good deal. I had one for years and it worked great.

- If you are semi-serious and also looking to buy a computer. Asus has a line of tablet PCs that are great for drawing, because like a graphic tablet they have actual pressure sensitivity. The Eee Slate is easy to transport and great for reading comic PDFs/taking notes/browsing/getting asked about your tech/ drawing. It is also way cheaper than buying one of those fancy Cintiqs. Seriously.

- If you've drawn on paper and want to import it in a smart phone pic works just great if you don't have a scanner handy. Import via bluetooth, open it up in Sketchbook Pro, add a layer on top and go to town.

- Always start out with an underlying drawing. Do a stick figure of the pose of your character or a rough of the landscape, bring down the opacity, and then start another layer and draw on top. You can always keep redrawing that rough until you get it just the way you want it.

- If you are drawing more than one character or element, rough them out on their own separate layers. That way you can always drag them and reposition them for the best composition possible.

- You may be scared about having a ton of layers but that's okay. It allows you to adjust things quickly throughout the process. The further you get a long in drawing, you'll probably use less layers.

- The symmetry tool is particularly fun and helpful. Using it means that whatever you draw on one side appears on the opposite side. It's a nice tool for doing portraits and robots or just drawing random shapes and seeing what kind of weird abstract you get out of it.

-Layers work from top to bottom. The layer on top will be placed above the others.

-Study what you like. Find an artist you think is the coolest artist ever and look at their stuff. There are lots of tutorials on how to draw, but honestly if you get the basics under you belt and work on drawing in a style you want it's more fun.

-Enjoy yourself & remember if you draw something, I want to see it.

Robot by Lorin Wood done with the Symmetry Tool

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