Starting out, traditional or digital?



  • So listening to the Tools episode of the 3 point perspective podcast they mentioned that when starting out it is better to go traditional over digital unless you follow some self imposed rules, like not using certain tools.

    What rules would you all feel would be appropriate for a newb, probably things like not erasing ink lines and such.

    Or is it just better to go traditional for a while, I already have a Huion 220gt I've been using for over a year now.


  • Moderator

    If you've already been using digital for a while and then shift to doing things traditionally, you'll see what limitations you have to impose on yourself when you go back to digital...

    In my opinion, doing digital art is rather like sewing or making music. You can do a million wonderful things, but you can't do everything all the time in the same garment or song. It's in the limitations that digital really shines--your capacity to narrow down the tools to only what you absolutely need or choose to use. I think people are sometimes paralyzed by choice when they use digital tools, and therefore their stuff looks like they've used everything and the kitchen sink... It just ends up looking "too" digital.

    Starting out traditionally enables you to embrace the expressive capacities of a narrowly constrained tool set, to practice without being distracted by bells and whistles. You learn to do more with less. And that's vitally important when working digitally, I think, otherwise you can get easily overwhelmed.


  • Pro

    @Kevin-Cochran There's no right or wrong way. It depends what you are interested in. It's true that starting traditional can help develop a lot of good drawing habits, it can improve your dexterity and teach you to draw it right the first time around because you can't fix it. But if you want to be a digital artist, obviously you want to practice that.

    I'm not certain what Lee meant by self-imposed rules, but I think maybe he meant not trying too many media (or complex media) so you can focus more. As a beginner, you want to get your fundamentals right and trying out complicated techniques like oil and such could just make you lose your focus. I do think when starting up, a simple set-up is really good. You don't need much more than pencils and a sketchbook, and you can scan those into your computer to practice traditional AND digital at the same time. Then again, there's nothing wrong with experimenting and by trying out different media you can have fun and maybe find one that really resonates with you. Like I said, there's no right or wrong way to do this so you gotta take everything you hear with a grain of salt! It's important to think about what approach will best benefit you, and that might not be the same as someone else!

    Here's a recap of my crazy journey as an artist:

    • Started with sketchbook and pencils. I liked to try coloring pencils and pastels at this time too.
    • Moved on to acrylic paintings on canvas and paper
    • Got a computer but no tablet, taught myself how to draw with a mouse over the course of a year
    • Got a tablet and practiced more with digital
    • Went to college in visual arts, and they had us try many different things: sculpture, collage, plaster casting, paper mache...
    • Went to college in animation and focused on digital again
    • Got into watercolors


  • Good stuff,

    I can probably benefit from working in both mediums switching weekly maybe, and just stick with the brush tool and layers only, hopefully the traditional habits should bleed over.


  • Moderator

    I have developed a habit of using both now. I sketch on paper and when I have a good image/idea that I want to take further, I take it into procreate and use that to get a nice composition and values, then print that out and finish it in watercolor and ink. I’ve finished a few things digitally but I like traditional more.


  • Pro

    @burvantill I do that printing thing too! I prefer sketching digitally so when I watercolor, I print out my sketch haha



  • @Kevin-Cochran I've been Beta testing Adobe Project Gemini, which has the features of Photoshop but geared for digital drawing/painting in pixels and vectors. It's kind of what I've been waiting for, as it means I'll be able to draw everything on the iPad and not have to finish off in Photoshop on my desktop. I'm really quite impressed with it. Apart from the bugs! But that's to be expected. It's coming out this summer. Worth getting if you have Adobe Creative Cloud.

    I try to restrict myself to using one or 2 types of digital brushes at a time so there's consistency in my work. I limit my colour palette because I'm used to screen-printing, where every colour means making up a new screen.

    I still draw quite a bit in pencil and inks though. Can't beat real liquid on paper and wood. I'd recommend doing both digital and traditional.



  • I think it's each to there own, do what works for you. I know an artist who draws digitally prints out the sketch and colours the artwork with chalk pastels traditionally. I know another who can only draw traditionally and adds colour digitally. In my opinion the reason people suggest learning traditionally first is because some digital techniques or processes mimic traditional artwork, so knowing how its created traditionally will help when you are creating digitally and helps you avoid decision fatigue when you have access to all the brushes all the colours etc.

    When I started out I used to use gouache and coloured pencils and I only had a few colours as they where expensive, I never realised but this was a blessing as I didn't have much choice when painting because I had a very limited palette. I had more colour harmony because of my limited palette.


  • SVS OG

    I'm still learning so wouldn't consider myself an expert on this question but in my experience, drawing digitally or with pencil isn't significantly different (though drawing digitally can be a lot faster because you can re-size things and move them around) but working traditionally really accelerated my understanding of values and color theory. I started painting in Procreate on my iPad but a year ago decided to learn traditional watercolor and having to mix my own colors forced me to really understand color theory in a way I hadn't before.

    Like several other people have mentioned, however, I often go back and forth, doing sketches in pencil, cleaning them up digitally, printing them to trace and ink by hand, scanning the ink work to do a fast digital value/color study, using that as a guide to paint traditionally, and then finally bringing it back into Procreate to fix my mistakes!


  • SVS OG

    I think it depends on your goals.

    Personally (and I'm a beginner) I am learning to draw traditionally but when it comes to colour theory, I like to use digital tools. I just don't want to add learning how to mix paints to my to do list just yet. Once I feel I've reached a certain level of drawing, I think I'll switch it over and focus more on traditional colours and digital drawing so I can have a sounder understanding of colour theory.

    I think a mix of both is good. Sometimes, if I'm practice and have something repetitive to do, I find it easier and more time efficient to do it digitally. Optimised my time 🙂



  • @Kevin-Cochran I'm relatively new to drawing, so I wonder the same thing. To limit myself from overwhelm in art stores, paper, etc., I stared with Procreate on the ipadPro. I did Inktober last fall, and limited myself to 1 brush, only different widths, same character, shading via same tool with cross-hatching and textures. I tried really hard to not allow "undo" or erase. It was a great discipline for that month-I think I succeeded about 98% of the time.

    I'm not regularly so disciplined, and I struggle with wavy, shaky scratching lines. I need to go on a 30 day campaign for those. At the suggestion of the recommendation of another learning program (Drawabox) explicitly recommends starting with a fineliner and paper. I tried it-and boy it sure is different. I resist doing this-we'll see.

    I'll look forward to seeing how this goes for you.


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