Tips to Get a Less Digital Look on Your Digital Art | Jennifer Nichols | Skillshare

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Tips to Get a Less Digital Look on Your Digital Art

teacher avatar Jennifer Nichols, Leila & Po Studio

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. What’s This Class About?

    • 2. Brushes

    • 3. General Practices

    • 4. Color Tips

    • 5. Texture Tips

    • 6. Examples!

    • 7. Class Project

    • 8. Quick Review & Thank You!

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About This Class

Are you ready to hear about everything I’ve learned to help you achieve a less digital look to your digital art? These techniques can be used on any platform so whether you use Procreate, Adobe, Affinity or anything else, these tips will be useful for you! 

I have kept this class short and sweet. I’ll walk you through general tips, color tips, and texture tips. Then I will show you several examples of complete illustrations where I’ve used those techniques to create beautiful digital art that doesn’t look super digital! These techniques are easy to remember and you will be able to start using them on your own work right away! Let’s get started!


Meet Your Teacher

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Jennifer Nichols

Leila & Po Studio


I’m Jennifer Nichols and while I’ve always been an artist, I’m also a teacher, a musician, and a lifelong learner which is one reason I love Skillshare! I love sharing what I know about iPad art and the Procreate app. My teaching style allows you to follow along with me and learn a ton along the way.

If you are new to Procreate, I would start with the Beginner class and then you’ll be ready for any of my other classes! I gear most classes toward beginner and intermediate level procreate users. ANYONE can succeed at the projects I teach no matter what your artistic abilities are! All resources that are needed for my classes are given as free downloads, including palettes and brushes!

Here are a few illustrations I’ve made in Procreate. I lo... See full profile

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1. What’s This Class About?: Have you ever wondered how to get a less digital look to your digital art? I've spent years practicing this and I can't wait to show you everything I've learned. Hello, my name's Jennifer Nichols. I'm an Artist, a Teacher, and a Fabric Designer. I love Procreate, and I do use it in this class, but all of these techniques can be applied to any digital program. I've kept this class nice and short. I'll review three main categories of tips and show you plenty of examples of completed illustrations where I've applied all of these techniques. After class, you'll be on your way to finding your favorite tips and applying them to your own work. If you use Procreate, you'll also get a ton of free texture brushes. Many of them are my favorite brushes. Don't forget to head to my Skillshare profile to find all of my other classes. You can follow me there and you can see my links to all the other places where you can find me online. I also have a great newsletter you can get to on my website and you'll get lots more Procreate freebies. Grab a paper and pencil and let's get started. 2. Brushes: We just need to get this brush set. Go to Projects & Resources in class. Make sure you're in landscape mode, in a browser, not in the app. Try different browsers if yours isn't working. I use Safari and I never have problems with the resources in Skillshare. You should see it right here. Just tap on it. Say download, and it will come right here. For some reason it says it's a zip file, but it's not. Tap on it, and if you don't remember the name of it, you can just go to Recents and it's right there. Tap on it again and it opens right into Procreate at the very top. I have 10 awesome textured brushes for drawing and painting with, six nice speckly textures to give bigger areas some texture. These four brushes are also just texture brushes that you can use on clipping masks on top of something and things like that. But they also work as a great overall background brush. We'll talk about that later. Finally, I do have five paper brushes to give you some different Canvas looks with papery feels. This one, you'll recognize if you took my character design class, it's the pulpy paper, it's one of my favorites, and then I've made some others for you as well. We'll talk about those in class. 3. General Practices: In this class, I'm going to quickly go over the things that I've learned to help give my art a less digital look. This is just to give you an idea of something that looks a little more digital compared to something that looks a little less digital. When I'm talking about this, I don't mean that I'm trying to make things look like traditional media. We'll quickly go through the tips and then I'll show you examples as well. The tips will be in three main categories, general practices, color tips, and texture tips. Let's get started with general practices. The first tip I want you to take with a grain of salt, emulate traditional media and also watch the lessons on traditional media and just take away what you want from those lessons. If you're trying to draw something with a more pastel look, go watch some pastel classes. This class isn't trying to specifically make things look like traditional work, but watching those lessons will give you ideas to help things look less digital. It's still a great idea. The second general tip is to be careful about how much you zoom in. You wouldn't use a magnifying glass or a microscope on your traditional work. Keeping things a little bit zoomed out. Although I still like to take advantage of the digital abilities of zooming in and looking close up at things but keeping them zoomed out as much as you can will help it give a less digital look. The third tip is to use fewer layers. I'm showing this moth because, on this moth I used fewer layers than on the more digital version, which we'll look at later. The fourth and final thing to keep in mind is to be careful about the digital abilities that you have There's a lot of them that won't look like you could have drawn that by hand. Caution blur, certain blend modes, snapping shapes, and straight lines. These are all things that you wouldn't really do by hand. Here's an illustration from my character design class. I thought it was a good example to show you some of the things we just talked about aside from the first tip to emulate traditional media, I haven't tried to emulate any traditional media here. That one was pretty straightforward with the watercolor image that I showed you but I did stay zoomed out. One of the things that I can show you about that is, I know the coffee here, if I had zoomed in, I would have had it be super precise and maybe even a little bit less textured. I love how it looks when I'm just looking at it like this. I'm really glad I didn't zoom in. This is also a good example of using fewer layers. I use a lot of layers, but most of them are clipping masks. For example, this sweater is all on one layer. The light stripes and diamonds are a separate layer, but all of this sweater is one layer with some clipping masks. When I was starting to use Procreate, I would have had this neck area, a separate layer since there's a nice defined area right here that I could easily just put separately. Then I could shade it very quickly however I wanted to without worrying about it getting down here on this part of the sweater but instead, I made the whole sweater. Then I'm clipping masks, I added shading to these areas to define them more. I can show you what I've done here. I have just the green and then I added a multiply layer because if you choose the same green and you go to multiply on a new layer, it makes it a little darker. I started adding some of the shadows. Now, I had the sketch layer on when I did this. I knew where things needed to be darker. I added some highlights with a texture brush. These are all with the brushes I provided. The darker shadowing was width and milky chalky Larapuna, one of my favorites. These lighter textures were grunge streaks. I added this with the split or not, the massive texture brush, I made it small. Then finally I have another multiply layer. I added a little bit more darkness here and there and then some details. Al these stripy details. I'm not done with this illustration actually, I just wanted to use it for this example. Hopefully, that helps drive home those general tips. 4. Color Tips: It's time to talk about color and I have three points for you to keep in mind. The first tip is to have a less saturated, somewhat darker, and limited palette. The second tip is to choose how dark your background is going to be pretty early because it does affect all of your color choices. Here's a quick example of just looking at the identical shade of blue on a light background versus a dark background, and how different they look. The third tip is to rough in your colors pretty early. I like to start with a palette, play around with which of those colors might be my background, and then which colors I'll use on top, figure out what's my favorite, and then rough in those colors on my final sketch. I'm using this for another example for our color tips. I do have a texture layer on here and I'll talk about that later. But you can see here I have a limited palette. I have very muted colors, all of the color choices are all really within here and not super saturated over here. I roughed in the colors early, I did end up changing some of these later because I added some texture layers and it changed some of my color choices. That is one thing that we'll talk about next, where you'll want to know if you're going to have texture layers and then make your color choices. 5. Texture Tips: I have five texture tips that I'm going to go through really quick. The first tip is to pick brushes with a lot of texture. This is one of the things that helps things look less digital. I particularly like brushes that have texture within the stroke and along the edge. The second tip is to color things in by hand instead of using color drop. Then you get the beautiful texture throughout your piece instead of just along the edges. The third tip is to use textured canvases. Here's a quick way of seeing two identical swatches, one with a texture canvas and one without, and I'll show you how to do that in a minute. The fourth tip is erase with textured brushes as well. You can see easily here, I've used monoline for one and a textured brush for the other. It just helps you get a cohesive look. The fifth tip is to be careful with your smudging. The biggest reason is you're smudging the texture right out. Here, you can see the first swatch nice and textured. The second one is a copy of that, but I've smudged it. It's still on a textured canvas so you can still see the texture of the canvas, which is great. But I've smudged all the brush texture right out. Let's talk about textured canvases really quick. For textured canvases, and this might not be new information for you if you've taken some of my other classes, I would come down to these bottom nine brushes and start playing. I really like this pulpy paper brush. Then I like to go to a middle gray. I always use this for my palette and I just go straight across on a pretty big size, and then fill the whole page without lifting up your pencil. You can see that beautiful gray texture. Then you can turn that Blend mode to Color Burn. Then when you draw below that, you'll have that texture. I'll just choose dry ink here and a pretty pink. You can see that pulpy paper texture through the dry ink. Here's what it looks like without and with. Then of course, you can layer up these textures and grab another gray. You can play with different shades of gray. Grab another brush. This is the sponge paint texture brush. Decide on your size and fill the whole canvas without picking up your pencil. The only reason you don't pick up your pencil is because it will add another layer of darkness there. Turn that one to color burn. You can play with different blend modes. This is just the one I found that works really well for me. Here is that same swatch with both of those layers turned on. You can group those layers together and title it as your Candace. Call it something, I'm terrible at naming things. Here's what it looks like without any texture at all and width. You can see there's a big color difference too, and that may not be ideal. You can turn the opacity down. It does take away some of that texture, but it also helps the color be a little bit more accurate. That is a very simple textured canvas. Now, when we're talking about things that are really bumpy like a watercolor paper, I am not an expert on that, so I can't help you with that, but this is what I do with most of my work. This Jen's massive texture is the one that you've been seeing in class. It's got a beautiful texture. One of the things that you can do if you want to try to blend. This is a very saturated color. If you want to try to blend and maintain some texture, what you can do is Alpha lock some two fingers swiping to the right, so I can see Alpha lock is on. I'm going to tap and hold the smudge brush so I have the same brush selected, and I can smudge the colors. Because Alpha lock is on, the colors can only go where there's already pixels on this layer. I can really smudge things around and the speculi texture is going to stay there. That's one way to smudge. It's not really smudging, it's giving a very smeared look to the color itself, but it still is a nice way to smudge and maintain that texture. Certain brushes, if you're careful, you can also smudge and still get some texture pushed through. You can see, I still have texture there, but I am smudging the texture away where I'm putting my pencil down. You can still smudge carefully. Just try not to smudge the texture right out. Let's take a look at this without our canvas. It's a completely different piece. This is another thing that you need to start early is decide on a canvas texture if you're going to use one. Here's another example of where you color in by hand versus using the color drop. I did use a textured brush for the circle and then color dropped into it. I still have texture around the edges. Sometimes your brush just is too small or it's just too big of an area to coloring by hand. I wanted to show you something that you can do if coloring in by hand isn't feasible. Go to a new layer and add a clipping mask. On top of this, you can add more texture. Whatever color you want to use next, and you have a texture brush, you can add more texture right to the top. Let's go with a darker color. Maybe you have a brush like this soft cram, one that gets pretty big and you want a different texture on that. It is very easy to do that with a clipping mask. It's not the same texture, it's just an option for using all sorts of different brushes on a clipping mask. The nice thing about having the texture on the base layer, even when you're working on a clipping mask, you are going to still have this texture coming through where you have some gaps. Even if I have a brush that is going to fill in a lot of this space, I still have the texture from that original layer because on a clipping mask, the only place that this layer, this clipping mask layer is going to show up, is on top of anywhere that already has pixels on the layer that is clipped to. But this is still a very great option for getting some texture, even if you've used color fill. 6. Examples!: This is a piece I made specifically for this class. This isn't my specialty, so I didn't put a lot of time into this version that's supposed to look more digital. I have a similar color palette, but I have a lot of differences with all the texture brushes that I used on these two, so I just wanted to show you a comparison. I used a lot of smooth-edged, blurry airbrush, Monoline Studio Pen, those types of brushes and it's cute. On this one, I have a texture. It's a less saturated color on the background. I have a whole bunch of texture going on and I also have a textured Canvas. You can see I have just a ton of texture and the speckles on top of here. These brushes that I gave you, a lot of these brushes are from other classes so you might recognize some of them, but this crazy messy brush is so fun and it's so blotchy, and I'll show you another one that is more obvious with that one. But you can see I use the 6B pencil, gives that real pencilly look. Now that I'm going for a colored pencil look, but just going for texture everywhere I can get it and you have to be careful not to do too much contrast with your textures as well, it can look pretty harsh. Here's another example of a brighter blue background. I think I used the same greens here, slightly brighter purples up here, so this is a little more digital looking. I used also more layers, I have this set of wings on one layer, this set of wings on another layer, which makes it easy to shadow things like I was able to get the shaded wing down here by just going chuchuchu on a clipping mask and it didn't affect this one up here. But because this is a separate layer, I now have a really harsh edge right here and I can't do any blending on the two layers, so there's limitations that also make it look more digital at the same time as limit you and so it's just something to keep in mind. Here's an example of something that's more of how I like to illustrate, I don't like to use the word style, so if I accidentally say that, forgive me. I like more texture in my illustrations and not trying to go for a traditional media look here, this isn't trying to emulate pastels or colored pencils or anything like that, but I've used a lot of texture, even texture within these greens here, I have some probably soft CRAN, that's a wonderful, wonderful brush also included and this is that crazy messy brush. You can see all the subtle textures in the background are not too different from each other. I have a more muted blue, but then I used a little dark and a little light on two separate layers so I could play with them both separately. I even erased from those layers too, so that crazy messy right here, let me make sure I'm on a good layer, I'll just add a new layer. I guess I need to go to a color you can see. This is pretty big, I made it much smaller and I just went all over and then I also erased as well. I did that a lot and I did the same thing with a darker version and it added a beautiful texture to the background. Also, some nice texture stripes on the body itself. You can see I didn't use symmetry on the little antenna here. I actually didn't use symmetry on this. This stamp is a sketch stamp, so I had that and that was made with symmetry but when I added the color to everything, I did it all separate because symmetry is another thing that when it's overused, it does give a more digital look. Here's another really great example of why it's important to know your background before you choose your colors. I darkened my background on this before I started, and I was shocked at how dark my color choices had to be in order to make them not look like they were super bright daylight colors. The dark browns are all almost black. It's really crazy here, I'll open the palate and sample some of them, so even this lightest color on the Hedgehog is really dark. This slightly darker color is almost black. Obviously, it's not almost black. You can see that it's brown. This brown on the tree, also very dark and more towards the gray, less saturated, so this looks nice and bright. Here is some red mushroom over here. Look how dark that is. Even this brighter spot on the mushroom here, look how dark that is. Those are not colors that I would have been choosing if I had a white Canvas. Those would look black on a white Canvas. This is a great example of just choosing less saturated colors, you can see nothing is pegged out over here, the blue, anything I choose, probably the bright light will be light and this light highlights on the mushroom, of course and you have to see the ladybug. I had to zoom in for the ladybug. I made this using the techniques I show in my character design class and she has a different pose than what we do in class, but you can see I have the poppy paper Canvas, with all these little specs. You can't see it always with light colors, so it's not showing up as much on her face. I have nice textured edges, I used textured brushes for all of the leaves as well. Then I also shaded her face with a textured brush. I did not use airbrush or anything like that. I didn't use Gaussian blur, just a nice textured brush. If you're familiar with the Polar Express, you'll recognize this bell. Even this bell with a shiny metal look, if you look closely, I've used textured brushes. Let's look at the shiniest spot on this bell. Look how much texture that has. The highlights on the ribbon, the cut edge of the metal. Here's another example of a lot of texture even though you wouldn't think that it would be. If I zoom way in on these aloe leaves, can you see all that texture? This was probably one of my larapuna brushes for most of this illustration. Finally one of my Hanna and Ali illustrations, so just want to show you with the palette, sampling some of these, how they are not picked out and saturated, even light, light, light blue. The red, it's darker, it's closer to the edge, but not all the way on the edge, but it's also darker. I think that's plenty of examples of finished work. Come back to the next video to hear about your class project and we'll also do a quick review of all the tips. 7. Class Project: Your class project is to pick one thing to illustrate while applying the techniques you learned in class. You can choose anything you want, but I've provided this sketch, this sketch and this. This is a brush stamp of mine that some of you might have, but in case you didn't have it, I've provided that and you can choose anything, it doesn't have to be one of these three things. Take the tips and tricks that you learned in class and see how it changes your work. Make notes on what you like, what you don't like, and practice. Post your finished work to the class projects so we can all see what everybody has done and let us know what you think. Did you learn anything new? Do you already apply most of these tips? Are you excited to add some of these things to your work and give your work a less digital look? I can't wait to see your projects and I hope you post them and share with everybody. 8. Quick Review & Thank You!: Now I just want to review the tips really quick with you. The first general practices, emulate traditional media. Sometimes stay zoomed out. Use fewer layers to help you mix and blend. Try not to overuse digital abilities like streamline, blur, quick shapes, super straight lines. For color, use less saturated, darker, and more limited palettes. Decide on background color or at least how dark it's going to be before you make other color decisions, and then rough-in your colors pretty early, so you have an idea of those decisions. Texture, use texture brushes. That's huge. Texture within, texture on the edges. Color by hand instead of using color-drop. Use textured canvases and start out that way so that it helps you with your color choices since it does affect your colors a little bit. Erase with textured brushes too, and try not to over smudge and blend out all the beautiful texture that you get. Thank you so much for taking my class. I hope you found that helpful. I would love it if you left a review and let me know what you think. Of course, post your class project, so we can all see what you've done. If you're not following me, you can tap right here to start following me. You can also head on over to my profile right here and see all my other classes, and all the links for find me online. Be sure to head to my website, where you can sign up for my newsletter and get even more Procreate freebies. My art sister and fellow Skillshare teacher, Brenda Bakker and I have a wonderful Facebook group that we would love for you to join. It is for Procreate artists, and it's a very safe and fun place to share your art no matter what skill level you are. Thank you again so much, and I'll see you next time.