An Introduction to Digital Art | Skillshare Projects

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An Introduction to Digital Art

Digital art is the result of continually evolving technology. Through the years, digital art has emerged as a frequent topic in talks about the modern art world. While there has been occasional pushback from art traditionalists, digital art represents advanced creations ranging from 3D model animation to even paintings.

Today, aspiring creatives have better access to learn and create. In classrooms and online, students can learn to draw cartoons, caricatures, apply shading techniques, and even frame-by-frame editing. This accessibility opens the door for individual creative perspectives to come through even more. With access to multiple tools and courses, creatives can begin to get their ideas and works out to the world better than they ever have before.

It's no surprise that many artists are embracing the movement. Some even think that it might soon surpass the popularity of traditional art. If so, digital could become the primary source of art in today's society. This idea isn't much of a shock, with online platforms able to host your art that range from Behance to YouTube.

This is indeed a debatable subject, and the need for traditional art will never go away. However, digital will only increase, as will the access to art tools and platforms.

With advancements in augmented and virtual reality, even a trip to the museum can occur through digital mediums. This makes the notion of its dominance rather easy to understand. Furthermore, the rise of individual perspectives is assisted by a similar increase in online exhibitions. Sometimes dubbed "net art," these creations have steadily moved from fringe trend to an accepted art form. 

This has led to some debate in the community about what accurately defines art. Much like the debate in digital music production, much of the argument hinges on your interpretation of how physically involved the artist needs to be in the process. However, that argument can be countered itself, as art is entirely subjective. Then, that can also be argued because of art’s need for some loose structure to define each art form. In short, the debate won’t be definitively settled anytime soon.

Regardless the distinction, digital art is here to stay. Some careers that use digital art include:

  • 2D animation/design
  • 3D animation/design
  • Gaming animation
  • Character animation
  • Facial animation
  • Video animation
  • Digital drawing
  • Art restoration 
  • Visual Design
  • T shirt and clothing design

The digital art market may even surpass the traditional market soon enough. Digital art from paintings to prints are in demand. Art auction destination Phillips's first "Paddles ON!" sale partnered with Tumblr to sell 20 digital and digitally-related works. The event saw 80% of the art sold at a fraction of the rate it would take to buy a classic piece. However, the sales and attendance numbers were promising enough for more events to come.

“We feel there’s been a disconnect between the art world and the tech world,” said Megan Newcome, Phillips’s director of digital strategy, to The New York Times. “Younger collectors don’t find these works intimidating. They relate to them on a generational level. The market is still nascent, but this is a direction contemporary art is going in.”

While the jury is still out on digital art’s stature in the art world, one thing is clear: digital art will gain in prominence as time moves on. Schoolchildren are learning to make their first animations. Meanwhile, they're drawing in art class and learning about digital cartoons online in their free time. As the children grow older, their projects' scales increase in and out of the classroom. Soon, they're working on detailed facial animations for class and pleasure. It's already been happening for years, with many of these students now graduated and in the workforce doing the same things they learned years before. The numbers will only continue to rise.

Whether it’s for work, fun, or a combination of the two, learning digital art is an incredible idea. Make today the day you enter the ever-evolving, often challenging, and always rewarding, world of digital art. Heads up; there’s a lot to choose from. Here’s what you can expect.

 

Tablets, Touchscreens, and Styluses

The vast world of digital art begins with your tools. Creatives of all levels have a vast array of tablets, touchscreens, styluses, and more when creating their digital art. If you find it overwhelming, have no fear. This is a common feeling to have. The sheer number of options on the market can make it stressful for anyone. Prices vary, and it’s difficult to try everything on the market. So, making decisions can be challenging.  

Even getting to that point can be trying. Deciphering what you need is hard to project when you’re just starting out. Knowing what will make your workflow easier and what you won’t use are critical questions to ask. Each decision adds up over time and impacts your bank account. You don’t want to deplete your funds or overload your toolkit right away.

The first step to trimming your options is to ask yourself what you are learning. The easiest cuts come when you know what won’t be needed. If you’re creating digital cartoons, there’s no need for a video editing program and the tools that come with it. But, of course, this is an obvious point. To really determine your needs, tap into the community. If you know other creatives, ask them for their opinions. They may even have some tools for you to try before you buy anything.

Online is another viable option with several areas to inquire. Online communities like Behance, Dribbble, and some subreddits brim with advice. You can also learn about the tools you need from your Skillshare courses. Before beginning a class, read and watch the videos explaining the course. Doing so gives you specifically listed tools and apps to start with. This usually gives you more popular, industry-approved items to build out your digital art toolbox as well.

In the end, however, the choice comes down to you. Choose what you work best with and how well it helps produce your art. Regardless of your decision, do yourself a favor and don’t go overboard in the beginning. Start with a limited amount of gear to work with. This will develop over time into a robust art arsenal. But to reduce unnecessary purchases, consider keeping your choices to just a few at first.  

While deciding which works best for you, here are some of the many products you can select from. First, we’ll delve into tablets:

Tablets

Tablets are essential to virtually every digital art medium, from artists to engineers. You’ll often hear a digital art tablet referred to as either a:

  • Digitizing tablet
  • Drawing tablet
  • or a graphics pad

Tablets work either as a freestanding tool that replaces the mouse, or they can work in combination with your other devices. Its two main parts are the trackpad and stylus. The trackpad allows for easy drawing and tracing in addition to fundamental note-taking. This works through the surface of the tablet and the trackpad's pressure-sensitive technology.  

Each trackpad and stylus comes with different settings and functions. With certain trackpads you can assign individual settings that can improve your workflow through their interface. Some styluses come with similar features. One or the other will almost assuredly have a few buttons that can help your art as well as web browsing.

Both tools offer many options for you to choose from. With tablets, they range from inexpensive to top-of-the-line prices. Wacom is recognized as the market's innovator and the game changer. Its tablet became the first to imitate hand-drawn art on a digital surface. In doing so, it opened doors for creatives and the market around them. Today, Wacom and other brands offer graphics pads for you to choose.

You can purchase your first tablet for as low as $25-$50, with a top-of-the-line model going for around $400. In some cases, they can reach into the thousands, depending on the model and professional grade. The higher the price point, the more features and functions you’ll receive. There’s no need for a beginner to start with an ultra-expensive tablet.

 When deciding on your tablet, consider these key points:

  • Controls: Each tablet and stylus have different functional layouts. Choose where you'd like your buttons and controls for your best workflow.
  • Pressure sensitivity: Tablets vary when it comes to pressure sensitivity and stroke lines. The higher your tablet's pressure level (2048) is, the better it will be for creating lines with the thickness you prefer.
  • Screen size: The more space you have, the more a premium it is. Don't skip on surface area just to save a few dollars.
  • Battery life: It's never ideal to be bogged down by having to work while charging your devices. Make sure your stylus and tablet can last.
  • Ergonomics: With your device in your hands for long periods of time, it's wise to have a tablet that doesn't hurt your eyes, back, or neck.
  • Add-ons: What else comes with your purchase? Some products offer free screen protectors and tools for your trade.
  • Simplicity: Find out what the learning curve is for the operating system, its tools, etc. If you’re not so tech-savvy, avoid a complicated tablet. 

Beyond these broad points, each profession benefits from particular tablet features. Consider which best suits your endeavors. You might find that what works for game designing isn’t ideal for children’s book illustrations. Consider the following examples:

Graphic DesignGraphic designers should keep their eye out for features that extend their visual design purchasing power and battery. Free programs are helpful for beginners looking to make their first steps into the field. This will cut down on initial expenses while deciding if this is the career for you.

Digital Painting: Digital painters will especially want to factor in screen size. While many graphic designers go for 13-inch to 15-inch screens, professional digital painters often go for a higher resolution device. Some higher-end tablets go up to around 20 inches but will cost a bit more.

Animation: If you like to take your work on the move, you should look for a durable, portable tablet. Animators differ on which tablets they prefer. Most opt for display tablets and their singular focus, though others prefer a graphics tablet that has them working dually on the computer while animating on the tablet. The general consensus is to buy a portable device with a smaller screen, dynamic brightness display, and a simple interface that allows you to keep working with little to no distractions.

Architecture: Larger screens replicate the standard A3 paper professionals use. However, this comes at a steep price. In this field, you'll often find the prices higher for the features and capabilities that a professional architect seeks out.

Advancements in tablet tech continue to improve and steer features. They include:

  • Opaque surfaces that track the stylus
  • Tablets with a monitor built-in to enable direct drawing
  • Tablets bundled with paper that translates its image to software

Expect your price point to go up the more features you need. Depending on screen sizes, apps, and other features, you may find yourself going well above the average. Weigh your options and determine if each feature is actually needed. If you’re an advanced professional, then a large purchase may be justified. Meanwhile, others can usually get by with a smaller set of needs for now.

Whichever you choose is up to you. You’ve already made the best decision to pursue your artistic endeavors further. With a tablet, you can bring many of your creations to life. Be it for professional or personal goals, having a tablet allows you to bring your art into the digital realm for a new set of possibilities.

Touchscreens

From cell phones to computers, touchscreens are a presence in most technology today. For artists, they serve as an alternative to tablets for creating art. In some cases, they will work. However, many professionals do suggest using a tablet instead. However, if you’re just beginning or looking to learn a new hobby, then a touchscreen is perfect for you.

Touchscreen technology is a bit more complicated than some may think. That's because six different technologies occupy the space to meet our differing touchscreen demands. What works on an ATM indeed won’t work in children’s book illustration or facial animations.

If you choose to use a touchscreen for your art, you’ll be using a capacitive touchscreen. This evolved from the earliest technology in the 1970s that relied on an internal grid system to register a touch. Capacitive touch technology instead relies on three layers working together. The insulator is surrounded by thin conductive layers on each side that creates an electric field around them all. This field is affected by any electrical touch, including from our fingers. That change in the field indicates where you are touching. Then, the technology interacts with its own screen to determine its interaction.

 Depending on the device you want to use, your price range could vary widely. For example, you can use a phone to make photo corrections and other edits. This will run you anywhere from $200 to $1000 or more, depending on your plan and the model. Phones aren’t best advised anyway. Instead, you’d likely want to get a laptop or desktop. More devices are now including a touchscreen. Yet, you get what you pay for. Affordable computers have touchscreen technology that is more suited for jotting down notes and highlighting PDFs. You’ll have to spend more money to get a computer that rivals a tablet. Even when considering tablets, Wacom doesn’t offer touchscreen capabilities outside its top models that run in excess of $3,000.

Convertible laptops have gained popularity in recent years. Models like HP’s Spectre x360 2-in-1 runs slightly above $1,000. Meanwhile, a Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 can save you money at around $650-$700. The key is to find a touchscreen with the ability to come close to a tablet. Otherwise, you’ll lack the pressure sensitive, real-time stroke tracking needed to achieve your visions. Other features worth considering are:

  • Stylus
  • Processing power
  • Memory
  • Graphics card

Each helps you determine if the computer is up to replicating tablet-level art. Make your decisions based on your profession, as always. One specification won’t suit all creatives. For example, graphic designers will want to find a screen that's at least 12 inches. If you can, shoot for somewhere between 13 inches and 15 inches. Couple this with a strong processor and 1TB or more of memory and you will have a high-performing design computer.

Painters and other creatives will also want to consider bundles in their orders. Painting programs can be costly. Any free resources help lower your spending. This extends to software and brush presets, too. Though affordable, it might help sway your opinion when it comes to buying between two similar touchscreen computers. 

In recent years, touchscreens finally began to contend with tablets. Microsoft's Surface Studio claims to be able to turn your desk into an actual studio. Coming in at 28 inches, it aims to give creatives the massive, high-def canvas that they need. It works in a variety of angles and positions for hands-free (except when touching the screen) designing and drawing.

Dell's Canvas is another entrant in touchscreen's latest artistic evolution. Unlike the standalone Surface Studio that replaces your PC, the Canvas works with your computer. This puts it more in line with a tablet while employing the capabilities of a touchscreen. The Canvas will cost you around $1,800, while a Surface Studio costs more at $3,000.

Styluses

Most artists opt for a stylus when it comes to creating their art. They interact with your devices much better than your finger ever might. The tip of the pen interacts with your tablet surface or screen, where its movements are followed by the software or technology within the tablet. This occurs thanks to the styluses electrical charge that penetrates your device's perimeter.

A stylus acts as everything from a pen to paint brush and makes your workflow easier as well. It creates a natural pen flow that can’t be matched by a cursor or finger. Additionally, its buttons allow for shortcuts that keep you focused on creating. In some cases, tablet users choose a cursor or puck instead. These are used when creating precise lines and paths.

The stylus is an affordable addition to your toolkit. You can get one for as low as $15 and still design on your smartphone, though not much else. On the other end of the price spectrum, you can invest in one that connects to many devices (including via Bluetooth), boasts a pressure sensitive tip and other helpful features for all under $125. The best part is that there is no shortage of options. Explore and decide what works best for you. If you have some disposable income, this is an area of your craft where buying before trying is more acceptable.

Still, creatives note both pros and cons of using a stylus. While they love the excellent pressure detection and natural drawing motions, some styluses' buttons can be more of a hindrance than a help. Additionally, lags still do occur if your technology doesn’t align so well. Yet, it still proves to be valuable to the majority of creatives, from note-takers to painters.

Additional Features

You can personalize your art digitally just as you can in traditional forms. An assortment of nibs, brushes, applications, and programs are out there for you to consume. For some creatives, they’ll explore a bit and discover what suits them best -- only to change when something suits them better. In other scenarios, they continue to explore until they’ve gotten their fill of inspiration and workflow ideas. Whichever helps you create best is the right practice for you.

Fortunately, digital art technology is on the rise, and many new programs and tools come out every year to help keep up with the demand and feedback of creative individuals. They help further usher in the heart of the digital art movement. This access and information only helps propel this art form from the fringe to the mainstream.

 

Animation

What is animation? It may seem like a simple question, but the answer is much more complex than it once was.

Animation began in the early 1900s; the exact year is up for debate. Regardless, it has proved itself to be an evolving creative force in the century-plus since. Today, animators have the power to tell compelling, heart-wrenching tales just as easily as they can have us busting a gut over their hilarious visuals. It’s also an inspiring art form that’s the envy of other creatives.

And it all starts with the right programs, tools, and animation courses/tutorials at your disposal.

Animation is an art form that only a few tackle correctly. It not only takes the creative know-how, but it also takes the motivation and desire to achieve the goal. Sure, that applies to all styles of art, digital or manual. But with animation, there’s an additional degree of effort needed to succeed. It’s time-consuming work that is often repetitious and daunting. Yet, the final result usually leaves the creatives coming back for more.

The learning curve can be quite severe. So, it’s essential to find the programs that work best for you. You may want to dive right into the complex apps and programs for your 2D and 3D animations. However, it may be best to start slower and understand the fundamentals of the medium first. Consider finding a basic program that can teach you everything from the jargon of the art form to where the tools are located in the program.

After Effects is one of the industry’s signature names. Not only does it boast the name recognition from the massive Adobe Creative Suite, but it also provides users with the software animators want. Like any professional-grade program, it can be challenging to master After Effects at times. Luckily, there are online classes that teach aspiring animators everything from the very basics of After Effects, to the advanced skills for more experienced creatives.

Getting to know the basics requires understanding some interesting, and sometimes dry, lessons. Each serves an important purpose that will make your animation workflow much more manageable. Be sure to comprehend key basics, such as:

  • Opening and saving projects
  • Touring the interface
  • Exploring menus and panels
  • Project organization
  • Shortcuts and much more

Once you have an understanding of the basics, you can begin to learn more about animating characters in After Effects. With the proper commitment, you'll be able to create and style 2D and 3D layers and characters. You can even expand into visual effects as well, and much more. After Effects offers so many possibilities that some users can get overwhelmed. However, push through any concerns and initial hurdles, because the power in After Effects will blow you away. Put it to good use and make your animations come to life with ease.

 Once you begin to develop your animation skills, you’ll develop your own style. Like in any form of art, you will eventually take on your own signature style. This can be as simple or complex as you’d like it. Many animators prefer a simplistic approach. This is fantastic for less detailed animations. Animators that embrace this style prefer to work with scenes that are less busy. This style remains popular, as it was the foundation of panel comic strips and continues to be used by digital artists today. It appears that the older charm of simple character animation won’t be leaving the medium anytime soon.  

The corporate world also loves simple animation. Many popular companies love to utilize simple character animation in character design as well as animation. Companies strive for clear, simplistic messaging that connects with its audience. Think of all the iconic 2D animated brand logos you can remember. From Smokey the Bear to Snoopy to even the most controversial figures like Joe Camel, each employed simple animation to resonate with audiences.

In film, no company stands out more than Pixar. The production company has become a force in animation, appealing to adults and children alike. It's been able to use simple character animation to create legendary 3D animated films, including:

  • "Toy Story"
  • "Finding Nemo"
  • "Inside Out"
  • "Coco"
  • "Monsters, Inc." and so many more 

Pixar has been able to create in-depth stories that delight audiences with the finished product. And all their work began by learning digital animation for 2D and 3D animation design. All it takes is a bit of creativity and the desire to create. All you need is good character design skills and an understanding of how animation rigging works.

 While animation is terrific, it’s hard to focus on one area alone. It’s understandable, and there’s a world of animating to explore. If you feel the urge to pursue other endeavors in animation, give it a shot! Don’t be afraid to discover new areas of the art form. You never know what you might find out.  

You may love cartoons today, but also enjoy memes and GIFs that are particularly popular on the internet over the last decade or so. Creating animated GIFs even involves many dedicated communities, including some geared at only the highest-quality moving image files. GIFs focus on taking a series of images and converting them into a series of moving stills – much like the old flipbook cartoons many of us made as kids. With an understanding of animation fundamentals, you can pivot to learn about GIF-making with ease.

 Soon, you’ll have an expanded set of knowledge that allows you to take your talents across the animation spectrum. You never know, you could even find yourself moving from cartoons and GIFs to face animation or even animating whiteboards. By applying yourself, you'll be able to go anywhere in your career. Just like frame-by-frame animation, your lessons will come one still at a time. Be sure they're arranged to create the story of your animator journey when all's said and done.

 

Digital Painting and Illustration

Digital painting is becoming more and more popular as traditional artists make the switch to a digital medium. The same can be said for sketching, illustration, and cartooning. Across all types of digital art is character art. Without a character, a story can’t go anywhere. From fantasy figures to the surreal to Second Life and The Sims, characters are always in demand.

Making the transition from traditional art to digital can be difficult for some. However, the core of character creation remains the same in both fields. You must have the drawing ability to succeed in this area. No amount of technology can salvage incorrect lines and designs. No matter the tool, it comes down to your skills to maneuver the device to form the right creations.  

With that knowledge, the curve should already lessen. Take it one step further. One idea is to sketch your initial scenes and characters onto paper, then transfer your sketch onto your computer. Yet, if you are still learning the basics of scene setting, you’ll want to begin with a course that catches you up to speed. If not, you will set yourself behind the ball as you play catch up so you can learn. In this scenario, consider a paper sketch class that then takes your work into a digital realm. You’ll be happy you acquired the needed information before getting too far along in your later studies.  

Many creatives begin their digital painting and illustrating hobbies by creating cartoons. As we mentioned above, cartooning allows you to have simplistic character designs, but it's even more important to focus on expression. Without the proper expressions, your otherwise quality designs will falter. A misplaced eyebrow or show of teeth and your character’s emotions can change wildly. As you’ll understand through additional courses, each component of character design will shape your work. Without the right expressions in place, your story and images will fail to connect the way you’d hope. Continue practicing until you have the correct expressions and poses your character needs to make.  

Of course, concept art isn't just for cartoons. It's also for realistic digital paintings, video games, and illustrations. Much like animation, virtually every art form extends into fields like video games and illustrations. However, painting and illustrating become a near limitless study in the digital world. Today, restoration and game design are just two of the more polar opposite careers you can discover by learning this trade.

But of course, digital art doesn't start and stop with characters. A creative’s brain is its only limitation. With today’s offerings of digital tools, you can create anything that comes to mind, from bold to reserved. You’ll need advanced classes to bring your more intricate ideas and designs to fruition. But by applying yourself, this won’t take as long as some have recalled. If you want to create dynamic images, all it takes is for you to learn the steps needed. If you do so, your digital paintings and sketches can be as expansive as you’d like.  

You may find yourself like other creatives who ventured into the abstract. Here, they found enjoyment in creating patterns and shapes, opening new possibilities for themselves in other industries of art. In this art form, they can pause their other design preferences for more outside-the-box work. The good news is that it's easy to create patterns once you know what you're doing, especially if you use Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is one of Adobe’s most popular tools. It is used by animators and artists across the subjects we discussed and otherwise. Illustrator is one of Adobe’s most popular programs for a reason.

Beyond Illustrator, creatives can take their digital paintings and sketches with a slew of programs and applications. Like with every art form, understand what each does for your work and what it takes to learn the product. Whatever you implement in your work, be sure to study its functions for your best possible workflow.

 

Final Thoughts on Digital Art

Regardless the art world’s sentiment, digital art is a movement going forward. The tech booms of the last 20 or so years only pushed forward gains in each of these art forms. Artists continue to make the move over to the newish medium for one reason or another. Meanwhile, generations of aspiring artists are now taught digital art as a first choice in many classrooms. Today, the next wave of artists have their feet firmly planted in both digital and traditional art techniques.  

This rapid advancement and inclusion of digital art has only made it easier for creative individuals to get started. Even if you don’t identify as an artist, it is possible to become involved in the art community. What once was an expensive field that required accumulating pricey tools and classes is now accessible the world over. Free apps and programs allow you to try before you buy, meaning the product or the field itself. Even when you have decided to commit to the art form, top-tier programs like Adobe offer low-cost monthly payments instead of high fees.

 Digital art offers creatives multiple roads to embark on in their hobby and career. From knowing how to make animation and cartoons to character art and patterning, any and more are possible just by learning a few courses and programs. The return on the investment of your time will carry over for years, possibly even a lifetime. By embarking on a worthwhile endeavor today, in the future you will be educated and ready for whatever comes next in your life with art.

Whatever you choose, starting with beginner-level classes is the best thing you can do to ensure your success early on. Start learning with online courses today. Explore the Skillshare community to discover the best lessons taught by experts in the field of digital art and so much more. Discover excellent digital illustration courses. Dive into how to draw comics and characters digitally. Learn the importance of shading techniques in your caricature drawings. In short, learn just about anything you want from this large and exciting form of art. The only thing you'll regret is not starting sooner.

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