Digital Drawing is Really Hard
I am generally very interested in tech-related things, and love to waste money on gadgets. I am the type of person who will have a wild idea based on something I read, get really into it for a little while, then abandon it forever after a few weeks. A great example is when I briefly got into messing with Raspberry Pi and made a Recalbox. I built the thing, played some games with it for about a week, then haven’t touched it since. Along those lines, I’ve had in my mind for months now that I wanted to try digital art using a drawing tablet. I had not made that leap yet though, mostly because I didn’t know much about it.
Well, I finally decided to give digital drawing a try! I had some leftover birthday gift card money burning a hole in my pocket, so I picked up a digital tablet/pen device on Amazon. I purchased a XP-Pen Deco 01, which seems pretty well reviewed and at a good price point. It has a pretty good sized drawing space, and the pen has impressive range of pressure. I was a little surprised at how dynamic the touch is of the digital pen. I’m sure part of that is because I’ve never used a digital art pen, but kudos to them on the design. The hardware quality seems solid on the tablet and pen.
So, with the tablet in hand, I was ready to start drawing right? Well, not quite…to actually get into some drawing, you need a program to do it in! There are a ton of choices out there, some of which cost money. Fortunately, there are some great free options too. Based on my research, some of the most popular free digital artwork programs include Krita, GIMP, MyPaint, Paint.net, and Artweaver. After reading a bunch of sources praise Krita, I made that my choice. Here’s a sample blurb from TechRadar:
“Well designed brushes and tools, accessible interface, handy drawing aids. Krita is professional-quality painting software created by a team of artists with the noble aim of putting top-notch creative tools within reach of everyone.“
So, with Krita installed and my new tablet plugged in, I dove in head-first. First, I did some random scribbling to figure out how the pen works. Eventually, I tried to do some basic sloppy people sketches…the results were not good. I erased all of those doodles, and said, “okay, let’s try a dinosaur.” Dinosaurs are pretty easy, so I figured that was a good place to start. This is when I realized just how difficult digital art actually is. Here’s this poorly drawn dinosaur:
It looks pretty bad, and took a surprising amount of time and concentration. If I had done that using colored pencils, it would have taken five minutes and looked much better. Clearly, there is a significant learning curve with digital artwork! Let’s look at an another example. I also made an attempt at a self portrait:
This one was a slight improvement, and does resemble me, but was still really challenging. One of the most difficult things about this digital tablet stuff is drawing a straight line. I’m honestly not great with them even using a pencil on regular paper, but a digital pen-on-tablet a straight line is almost impossible for me. I mean, look at those crazy wavy lines! I’m not sure if this is a common difficulty for people who are new to this, but tight control of lines is so much harder. And really, line control is everything – that’s a simple way to define pencil drawing.
I’m sure some things getting easier over time, especially once you’re familiar with the interface. I was slow selecting colors and figuring out program tools, and I’m sure that becomes faster with practice. But the shaky lines might be too large a barrier for me. It’s a fun tool, but can it become a practical substitute for my real paper? I’m quite skeptical at this point.
While I was working on the dinosaur, I set my phone up and captured some of the sketching action. I thought it could be interesting somehow, or maybe give a good view of the tablet in action…but I actually look like I’m doing something painful. Do these screen captures look like they’re of someone engaged in a fun and exciting hobby? I’m pretty sure I don’t wince like that when I’m sketching on paper. And now that I think about it, I probably should have tried to put my phone’s camera over my shoulder, so you could see a video of the tablet and screen together. I have no idea how I would do that though, outside of asking someone to hold it.
This was an interesting experiment, but I think this tablet is going to be a brief fling for now. The learning curve is much steeper than I thought it would be, although in hindsight I have no idea why I thought it would be easier. If I’m to become good at digital art, I can see clearly it’s going to take time and effort similar to my learning with colored pencils. That has taken months to refine and develop as a skill, and this probably will too.
I would still like to learn, and won’t close the book completely. But I’m not ready for a massive dedication to a totally new skill. And really, if I’m going to learn something completely new, part of me wants that to be painting. I think I’m going to do a bit more research on the topic of people who are new to digital art; there are probably some YouTube videos or something that might help.