digital painting portrait Digital art is somewhat of a dirty word in certain circles, and some artists don’t even consider it to be a real art form.

I think the problem is that a lot of people don’t really know how to understand what digital art is, and we tend to fear what we don’t understand.
Many times when friends come to our house, they admire the framed print of a digital painting I made of my girlfriend last year. When I’m asked about it I say something like, “I painted it on the computer”. I am invariably met with a look of confusion, and I have to explain how a graphics tablet works, and that no, I didn’t just apply filters to a photograph.
Eventually they kind of understand, but it remains somewhat of a mystery to them. That is, unless I actually show them how to paint digitally using a graphics tablet that is connected to my laptop, or at least show them a video of the digital painting process.

I think it is this doubt, of whether or not the image was created by photo manipulation, that puts off a lot of artists from using digital media – and understandably. If you spent days hand-painting a beautiful portrait, only for someone to look at it and think you just ran a photo through some filters, that would certainly be off-putting. I know some amazing digital artists who get that response a lot.
The fact that the digital artist’s weapon of choice is often Photoshop, a program traditionally used for photo manipulation, probably doesn’t help matters. Here is a quick overview of how to paint digitally using traditional techniques.
Traditional Digital Painting
When I’m painting digitally, I try to keep things as traditional as I possibly can, without making things unnecessarily difficult for myself.
digital sketching horse
I tend to build up my paintings in a traditional way, by starting with a sketch, then blocking in the values of the main shapes, before refining the shapes and values, and finally adding detail.
I try to keep the layers I use to a minimum, often using a single layer for the entire painting. Occasionally, I will add a layer near the end to add fine detail like individual strands of hair. This is purely a time-saving device, so that if I make a mistake, I don’t have to repaint the entire area.
I generally avoid the airbrush, opting instead for a more realistic looking spatter brush. This gives a more painterly appearance, rather than the polished plastic look that you sometimes get with the paint brushes

When picking colours I usually start by creating a palette, just as I would for an oil painting. I mix my colours on the palette, until I have enough of them in the painting so that I can use the eyedropper tool to pick colours directly from the painting. I never pick colours directly from the reference photo.

As you can see in the video above, I sometimes use Photoshop’s guides for measuring. I often start off with a single horizontal and a single vertical guide to split the canvas into four quadrants. This helps with the accuracy of the initial sketch, and is similar to the grid method used by traditional artists for centuries.
digital measuring painting
When checking the measurements of my drawing, I tend to use the traditional method of sizing using a basic unit, measured with my thumb against my stylus. Occasionally I will pull out another guide to check vertical alignment of two elements, but only to check the measurements after I have drawn them and correct if necessary. I never leave guides on the canvas for any length of time.
I leave my painting zoomed out for as long as possible, until it’s impossible to paint any more detail without zooming in. This ensures that I’m keeping the overall composition in mind at all times, and not getting wrapped up in fine detail too early on.
I will happily use the ‘undo’ feature if I make a mistake which it would not benefit me to repaint. Likewise, if I paint an eye, for example, and later find that it’s a quarter of an inch too far to the right, I have no problem with lassoing it, shifting it to the left, and repainting around the edges of the selection. However, if there are other problems with the size, shape, or value of the eye, I might consider erasing it completely and repainting it.
The Debate Will Continue
Most traditionalists will always be averse to change, and especially anything that offers shortcuts and takes some of the hard work out of the process. When artists first started using mass produced paint out of a tube rather than grinding their own pigments, I imagine the response was somewhat comparable. It’s true, digital media offers artists a lot of shortcuts compared to traditional art. But, using these shortcuts doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not really creating art.
Digital media is just another tool in the artist’s belt. It’s up to you to decide how you can use that tool to create works of art, which shortcuts you’re happy to use, and which you’re not. For me, it’s about utilizing the tools available to me while making sure I retain my artistic integrity.


Thank you to Dan Johnson for sharing this interesting post. You can find out my about Dan and his digital art here >, and on Dan’s blog and website

You might like to read this thought provoking post, The Importance of Being and Artist in Today’s Modern World

***Let’s meet on Twitterand on Google Plus, Pinterestand join in the fun at Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page! Please checkout my art too, or find me on Instagram lorimcneeartist. ~Lori

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