When to go digital, and how much practice?

  • Dear brothers and sisters,

    Not sure if I should be asking this of our Forum, or directly to SVSLearn, but let's start with us lot at the Forum:

    I have recently started as a subscriber to SVSLearn, with the heady goal of re-training to become a professional illustrator. I have reduced my work hours in my current job to three days a week so I have about three spare days and an hour of two on work days to focus on my artwork. I'm currently going through the Foundations Curriculum and have completed the first three courses - Jake's How To Draw Everything, David's Basic Perspective Drawing, and Will's Visualising Drawing in Perspective. I'm thoroughly enjoying it all and, probably for the first time in my 40-odd years, have finally found something that I can put my heart into. It's quite wonderful!

    However, I've hit a snag: I've just started Lee's Light and Shadow For Illustrators and notice he's focussing entirely on using of Photoshop. I was kinda surprised SVSLearn would do this so early on in the Foundations Curriculum as clearly this would involve quite an investment in additional hardware and sotware. There has been no instruction so far to buy these things. There is a footnote on the homepage for Lee's course that "the concepts taught do not rely on any specific medium. If you are not going to work digitally for this course it is recommended that you use an opaque medium (acrylic, oil, marker and colored pencil, etc)." But after Jake's How To Draw Everything, everyone is working digitally and I didn't see any other notes about when to start with digital when skimming through the later courses in the Curriculum. Jake suggested what equipment (pencils, pens, paper etc.) to buy, so I went and bought those, but none of the other instructors seem to use them and even in Jake's next course (Introduction to Prop Design) he's using digital.

    Does anyone have any comment about this? For those of you who have done more of the course, does it become clear later as to what we should do? Although I have professional ambitions, I feel that I should focus on becoming proficient at pencil, pen and paper first but I'm a bit confused about what I should be doing.

    Also, there's not much guidance on how much practice I should be putting in. I do appreciate that it's an online course and there isn't an instructor to show my work to, but how do those of you who have been through it already decide when you're good enough to move on? Perhaps you're ready when your illustrations are looking as good as the instructor's on each course?

    Thanks for any help you could offer.


    Sheffield, UK.

  • SVS OG

    @Adam-Thornton for me I think it’s vital to be acquainted with traditional media first before going digital. You don’t really need to be as good as your instructors before you go digital. I went digital back when my skills were still very amateur but that was after I’ve dabbled with watercolors for a bit. I started with a wacom intuous small and my old computer. I figured that I love the freedom and variety digital media gives me so I then invested in an ipad and procreate.

  • Hello and welcome! I suspect digital is a preferred teaching tool because it is very easy to set up, record, manipulate the teaching materials, and correct mistakes. I think following along traditionally is perfectly valid and just as useful. I'd stick with traditional materials and if you ever want to dive into digital work- feel free to do so. You can do both too. It's all about personal preference.

    As for moving on from a course- I say at minimum, complete all the assignments given and then maybe try to apply some of that knowledge to your own piece. As a bonus, find other tutorials or books that supplement the course material, and do a few assignments based off of those- then move on to another subject. You do not have to master or even feel comfortable with a subject before you move on to something else. Just keep in mind that you will be revisiting concepts over and over. Knowledge with be built on over time as you try and apply what you've learned, see it in other work and the world around you, and return again to similar material. Sometimes you'll feel you don't really understand a concept very well after you've taken a course, and then months later when you return to it again, it will make a lot more sense.

    Good luck! We are here if you need feedback as you go through the courses.

  • SVS OG

    Welcome Adam! It certainly isn't necessary to go digital, and as Nyrryl says it's good to have a traditional base. I do think, however, that it's a lot easier to draw freely on an iPad or Cintiq type monitor that it is on an Intuos. I could never get used to one as the experience is truly different. I only say that so you won't question yourself if you find it difficult.

    A lot of illustrators use Photoshop (or Procreate) because it's faster and the files have to be digitized sooner or later. I remember the feeling of complete overwhelm I had when I started, but it really does get better. Will's Photoshop course (the one with the frog) is a good start and I learned a lot from it. I also learned a lot of the basics from Crtl+Paint. And you can get a photography subscription to PS for not that much per month. The Cintiq is unfortunately another matter, though I hear they've come out with a new one that costs a lot less.

    I'd say just go your merry way with traditional media until you get the basics down, and then once you think it's truly holding you back in some way, invest is a digital setup. Plenty of people here will be happy to give you recommendations! But there is a lot to be said for traditional and many professionals still use it (for watercolor especially), so never be ashamed of remaining traditional!

    As for practice, go by improvement/results and not a set number of hours, because it all depends on the person and how much experience/knowledge they already have. And of course you can do them more than once! I know there are groups on the forums who go through the courses together, and many people post work for critique. If there isn't one for the course you're taking, you can always start a post and say, "Anyone want to join me?" It's a good group!

  • HI Adam!

    I agree that the reason they are using digital is it's a lot easier to use to teach classes with, record make edits and present with - there is nothing "wrong" with working traditionally.

    I went to art school for animation/illustration and I didn't learn digital until about year 3 out of 5. We had a few visiting pros who used digital mediums and gave us tips. But the idea was that as long as you understood how to make art traditionally, you could then translate that knowledge to any other meidum. It was FOR SURE a learning curve to learn digital eventually, but easier since I wasn't learning digital and foundation skills together. Also, if you're into Children's Illustration, there is still a desire for traditional work, so I think you'd be fine!

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