Digital setup towards illustration



  • Hello, I'm new to svslearn and "attending" @Will-Terry's composition class -- which I can only recommend, it's very concrete, to-the-point and I'm learning loads I've never been taught elsewhere, so sincere thanks.

    Up until now I haven't worked digitally, but I'm sold now, seeing how practical it is to work out compositions, reuse thumbnails and sketches and experiment with variations without having to redraw manually on paper all the time. However, I'm currently on a Linux operating system, so basically my computer won't work with Photoshop or Wacom products.

    I saw that @Coreyartus pointed to alternatives like Krita which would work on Linux and I've heard of people getting Intuos to work with Ubuntu machines, but I'm not convinced that's a good way to go. I don't mind taking on an extra job and working the time it takes to get some money for a reasonably decent setup that would work well for someone working towards illustration (so mainly Photoshop and InDesign usage probably).

    I'd be grateful for your thoughts and recommendations, be they as opinionated as they may. I'm impartial to the operating system (since I've been on Linux for the last years anyhow) and have no experience with digital artwork or tablets, but am otherwise at ease with tech. What would you work towards and buy?



  • There is a book by Cal Newport called Deep Work that has a section on tool selection that I find useful. You'll get a lot of great answers about tools from other illustrators, but it first depends on what your immediate and specific goals are in illustration, and then it takes a bit of analysis on your part to see which combination of tools will best help you meet your goals. It's really not about the general benefits of each tool. In the book he gives examples of what people do when they have the "any benefit approach" to tool selection and then talks about the "craftsman approach" to tool selection. The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection is "Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if it its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts."

    So for example, I was frustrated with the subscription model of Adobe Creative Cloud, but my versions were so old that they were on my old computer that couldn't keep up with the wacom tablet. I didn't feel like I could quickly break out the acrylics to paint every day, and couldn't practice without frustration with the wacom, so instead of getting a new computer and software, i decided on an ipad pro with the apple pencil. It really helped me meet my goal of drawing every day (learning, like you), because it's so compact. It's self contained in that it doesn't need to interact with my computer, but can be practical in the same way that you're describing as well because it did help me organize a bunch of ideas. Just being able to duplicate a file right away was great and allowed me to experiment freely in a drawing. Now that I've had a bit of time to get back into drawing I have paid for a subscription to adobe cc and i'm happy with it, because I need to be able to clean up the drawing and present it, with dummy books and creating a portfolio. It was right for me to do it this way because I am ok with paying for a subscription now that I am clear on what it's going to help me do.

    So what are your goals? Also what are your current projects like?



  • I work almost all digital and honestly it's worth it! I use Krita and I love it; even though it's free its VERY professionally made and great for painting and general visual art.
    I'm on Windows, but I use an Artisul brand tablet. It works pretty well, I haven't used Wacom/other brands so I can't really compare them personally. I believe it works with Linux too, so it could be an option you could look into!



  • It all depends on how much money you want to spend I suppose.

    I'd suggest making sure you have enough money for a quality tablet (cintiq if possible, but other brands are becoming popular, too). I wouldn't worry AS much about the computer hardware itself. You don't need to drop lots of cash on a macbook pro or a crazy overclocked tower monstrosity. A middle of the road PC should be able to suit your needs just fine.


  • SVS OG

    I’m also in the same boat as you. I’ve been planning to upgrade my setup for so long now. I’ve been researching and I’m leaning more towards PC. But regardless of which operating system you’re going for, here’s a few specs you should consider:
    Core i7
    8GB RAM
    SSD Storage
    6gb Graphics card

    From what I’ve read, photoshop will perform at its optimum with those specs. However, they are not set in stone. You can still use lower spec computers and Photoshop will still work though a bit slower rate but it still does the job.



  • I also have the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I think I pay about 52.00 a month and have access to software that use to cost a lot of money and was prohibative to keep up to date, for me anyway. I have an X-Pen display monitor. I don't know if they work with Linux though (I have a Windows PC). The cost is conciderably less than a Cintiq, but I think you need a new model to get the best screen. Mine is about 15". I am very happy with mine. I would not start with a non-display monitor to save money. A display monitor makes digital much more enjoyable for one thing. These days you can get relatively inexpensive scanners. I have an Epson that works great. I also have an Epson black/white echo ink printer. It's been working great, the ink is cheaper and seems to last longer. I go to a print shop for color prints.



  • @carolinedrawing The craftsman approach is sound advice and I fully agree; thank you for the book reference. The way you approached the topic on your part makes good sense too. As to where I'm coming from, slash heading to - I have a fine arts background, so have mostly worked on drawing skills. I enjoy that, but am now interested in going more into storytelling and not "just" making pretty renderings - hence the appreciation for Lee's Storytelling and Will's Composition lessons. I have a day job, and basically plan on spending the next years continuing to work on the craft on one side, but also working towards building illustration skills on the other, to subsequently start breaking into the illustration as a freelance. Hence, the realization that I do need to go into digital to complement and support the traditional - like for compositional work and for all the good reasons stated in the podcasts (speed, accessibility and preference for clients, it's another cool tool to make good art). That's the midterm plan. The long term plan is to take on assignments in illustration as a freelance in the publishing / prints sector, learn and build up experience about the market in Europe. So, I'd like a setup that will enable me to get into the illustration digital working process, to understand, follow along and learn from how Lee, Jake and Will do it.



  • @jwing Hm, ok that's interesting - so Krita might be a valid working solution and alternative to Photoshop... I'll try @Will-Terry's Photoshop Beginner's course and see if I can transfer the lessons to Krita. And I'll look into the Artisul tablet, because my computer is actually quite good and fulfills all of @Nyrryl-Cadiz's specs otherwise (btw, thank you for that info 🙂 ).

    I've found people getting Intuos Pro's to work with drivers on Ubuntu OSs, but from @deborah-Haagenson I take it, that it woud be a waste to go with a tablet even for a beginner in digital, and that one should go for a display-tablet directly if aiming for the illustration sector. Do you guys concur on this? In the context that I will very probably always prefer working on paper, but would switch to digital for trying out ideas and for finishes -- meaning I don't plan to go full / exclusively digital, but I would like to learn and leverage its advantages. And if so, what display size is a good and reasonable starting point 13", 16", 22"?



  • And in general - thank you very much for all your responses - it's very helpful to be able to discuss this with you!



  • @Finn I was thinkin' your computer would be up to snuff if you were a linux user 🙂

    A display tablet is definitely the thing to get. There's a learning curve and a bit of an adjustment period, but it's totally worth it.

    As for the size, I have 13" and I don't have any plans to replace it until it breaks. I have, however, gotten pretty good with the keyboard shortcuts 🙂

    I suppose it all depends on, once again, how much cash you're gonna have to burn and whether it's likely you're actually going to use it regularly. I know at least one guy who dropped well over 5000 for a 27" cintiq and I think only turned it on once.

    You could always buy a cheaper non-Wacom display tablet and then if it turns out you're using it on a regular basis upgrade to a cintiq.



  • @Braden-Hallett Haha - I just looked at your work and had a great laugh - thanks for the fun imagery before bedtime, the kids are super 😃

    Ok, nah, I'm pretty serious about using it for its strong points to support or enhance what I get manually. A 27" Cintiq is probably not the first device I'll be getting, but still - 13" sounds reasonable, I'll look into that. Thanks, for the tip.


  • Moderator

    @Finn, everyone is right about the Display tablet aspect of things... If you've never worked with much digital stuff before, if you get a non-display tablet it will require you to develop a level of hand-eye coordination to become effective at expressing what you want. Many people have overcome that hurdle, but with today's cheaper display tablets it might not be as necessary as it was in the past...

    Wacom just came out with a Wacom One display tablet... It's pretty cheap. If money is an issue...

    In general, the larger the display tablet (13", 16", 22", 24", 27", 32"...) the more you can use your shoulder and upper arm to do your work. Smaller tablets are more oriented toward wrist movements, and would require you to zoom in on your piece more than larger tablets would.

    My personal preference is the iPad Pro. It seems to have less parallax and more responsiveness. But it's an OS that isn't Linux... There is a Wacom Linux project, though. Just an FYI.



  • Alright, thanks everyone. I know what I shall be saving up for next. 🙂 Cheerio and happy sketching!! Looking forward to future shares and exchanges!


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