Entering the world of digital art can seem intimidating, but there isn't anything to be afraid of. It's definitely one thing that you best learn by jumping straight into it. But if you're desperately searching for entry-level advice, here's our ultimate collection of tips for beginners looking to get into creating digital art.
This guide was written assuming that you already understand what digital art is and what tools you need to create some of your own.
1. Explore as Many Programs and Tools as Possible
As you probably already know, there isn't just one way to make digital art. There is a huge library of creative software available, both paid and free. You might have already picked out what you want to use, but it's worth at least trying out all the options available to you.
There are a few good reasons to do this. For instance—the more you learn, the easier it becomes to learn more. Most image editors have a handful of common tools and features, such as layers, rotate, crop, flip, color picker, fill bucket, etc. Knowing how these work in one program will usually mean that you know how they work in other programs as well.
It doesn't hurt to be familiar with as many workspaces as possible, either. Different teams often have different ways to accomplish a goal, which means using different tools. It'll help you become a more versatile artist.
2. Customize Your Workspace
Learn how to make any workspace the most comfortable for yourself. Rearrange the tools, organize the menus, and fiddle with all the settings/preferences available. One thing that's often unique to every artist is keyboard shortcuts.
You'll probably want to keep the universal shortcuts as they are (like Ctrl + C for copy or Ctrl + V for paste), but if there are any tools or features you use very frequently, you can save a lot of time by designating a key to them.
This is one small thing you can do at the beginning of your digital art journey that'll save you a lot of time. Eventually, muscle memory will start kicking in with repeated use, and tasks that used to take you a while will become a cinch.
3. Properly Name Your Layers and Files
When you're in the zone, a digital artwork with only five layers can suddenly have 50 layers a mere half-hour later. Then, when you need to go back in and edit something, you can't find what layer you drew it on.
Save yourself the trouble: name your layers as you work. Some programs have more advanced organization systems that also include layer groups/folders or color-coded labels. There isn't a right or wrong way to go about organizing your layers as long as you understand what's on each one.
The same idea applies to the files you keep on your computer. We've all committed that sin before: saved something with a name like "artwork_revised_final_v2.psd." At the time of saving it, you think you'll only have one or two files saved like that, but before long, you soon find yourself with a whole folder of them.
4. Flip Your Canvas or View Your Model From All Angles
Sometimes, when you stare at an artwork from the same view or angle for a really long time, your eyes adjust to it. You become so used to looking at it that its flaws wind up being less obvious to you.
Actively fight against this phenomenon by constantly flipping your canvas (when working in 2D) or rotating your model (when working in 3D) as you work. You just might see something you'll want to fix or adjust that wasn't visible from your previous viewpoint.
5. Know Your File Formats
All the hard work you poured into your wonderful digital artwork will be for naught if you don't know the best way to save it. Every file format has its own pros and cons, which means there are different forms of work that it is best at preserving or displaying.
2D digital illustrators are probably going to become most familiar with the JPG, PNG, and GIF file formats. Photographers often work with JPG and RAW images, while 3D artists might save their work as an OBJ or FBX file. Most programs have custom formats, too, that load best for them or allow you to go back to change things easily.
6. Be Mindful of Body Pains
If your wrist or back is hurting from work, that's probably a signal from your body telling you to take a breather. It's easy to get absorbed in your work, especially when inspired or determined, but listen to your body.
Take breaks. Get up from your chair and walk around, or do stretches between work sessions. When it's time to get back to work, try to maintain good posture. When drawing or using a mouse, use your other arm pivots (like your elbow or shoulder) to reduce strain on your wrist.
You might even want to consider investing in a quality work chair, armrest, or mouse pad with wrist support if you work for hours at a time at a desk.
7. Ditch the Perfectionist Mindset
It's common for new digital artists to work on one singular piece of artwork for a really, really long time. They think, "I'm a beginner, so I can take my time with this." And while that's true to an extent, perfectionism is a real problem that plagues artists everywhere, preventing them from creating as much art as they can.
You get better at something with practice—by doing it over and over again. You'll never get to that point of conscious and meaningful repetition if you're stuck on the same step of the process for eternity.
Know when it's likely that an artwork isn't about to get much better (even if you were to put more time and effort into it), and when you should move onto the next one.
8. Practice Often and Embrace Constructive Criticism
People always ask for the quickest way to improve at a skill, and the answer is typically the same regardless of what is being discussed. It's all about practice, and acting on constructive criticism given to you by viewers and other artists. Digital art is no exception.
Amazing artists aren't amazing right out of the gate. They rose to brilliance with hard, mindful work, and dedication. Practice might not actually make perfect, but it surely will help you get much closer to that than you would've been had you not practiced at all.
And yes, naturally, hearing criticism of any kind can hurt sometimes. Maybe you poured your heart and soul into an artwork, and got a strongly-worded critique in return. But those words (albeit temporarily painful) are meant to help you improve, so see what you can do to listen to them.
Anyone Can Make Digital Art
Digital art in all its forms—from computer drawing and 3D modeling to photography and more—is open to everyone.
If you're already a traditional artist, making the transition to work in a digital space isn't too difficult. If you're new to art as a whole, the ease and convenience that technology has added to the creative process will make learning the fundamentals so much easier.