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.

Maker:S,Date:2017-10-12,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Lots of drawing space on the tablet, the hardware seems like it’s good quality.

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:

First-digital-2.jpg

Look at this digital dinosaur, he is disappointed in himself.

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:

self portrait

Hey that’s me, except I forgot how to draw lines and make normal shapes.

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.

Progression within Krita

Here’s a view from the Krita program. The drawing is bad, but the program is good.

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.

MVIMG_20180602_222116

I never learned to color inside the lines, and it gives me heartburn (left).

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.

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28 comments

  • I tend to just draw on my Samsung tablet with my finger, but I have a wacom bamboo tablet, and I had a bigger wacom tablet in the past. I have tried various drawing apps. At the moment I’m just using free ones. The quality of the drawing can vary a lot depending on the app and the stylus/tablet……

    • With your fingers, no kidding? Do you feel like that gives you enough precision when you draw on your tablet?

      • I’m not as happy just using my fingers …I had a stylus for this tablet but lost it. I find my finger often drags on the screen which makes the lines uneven. I need to go back to the wacom bamboo but using a tablet is so much more convenient than being attached to a pc.

      • Oh yeah, I can see how that would be really nice to have an independent tablet, so you could just sit anywhere and draw. Having to be connected to my computer isn’t too terrible, since I usually draw at the same desk. But it would be kind of nice to have the couch option.

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  • Hi Jon, what a coincidence as I bought a graphics tablet recently too! One idea I’m trying is to upload a scanned image of a hand-drawn picture I’ve done to the software, and then trace over the top to kind of calibrate my hand to working on the computer, if that makes sense? To try get a feel for my normal way of working in a different medium. I agree though, I think it does take a bit of getting used to.

    • So, which brand/model did you go with? And have you had a chance to draw with it yet?

      That’s an interesting idea about scanning a hand drawn one to help you practice with the digital process. It sounds like it might be too much for my laziness to overcome, but I’d love to hear how it turns out. Are you going to write a post about it? I’m definitely interested in reading up on your experience.

      • I got a small Wacom Intuos Draw to get me started but I’m looking at maybe getting a big XP-Pen screen style one if I can get into the swing of it and save some pennies! I don’t think a bigger Wacom would be worth it based on some of the reviews I’ve seen.

        Thanks for the feedback, I’ll look into making a post about it. I’ve got a picture I’m working on at the mo. Seems to work pretty well in terms of drawing an outline but need to experiment a bit with colours/patterns which seems a lot more difficult.

        Your self-portrait seemed like a great first go! I can see how you translated your drawing process from your previous post with layering it up. Do you think you might give the tablet another go?

      • Awesome, I’ll keep an eye out for some digital stuff from you! I can’t wait to see how your idea turns out.

        I’m sure I will give it a try again, but I need to come up with some practical game plan to improve. Even if it’s something small, I like having a plan. I was thinking about adjusting the sensitivity of the pen, and probably watching some YouTube videos. I got a lot of great ideas from artist YouTube videos early on when I started using colored pencils, so maybe lightning will strike twice.

  • Great first go at digital drawing! I’ve been using a tablet for more than a year and still find it ridiculously awkward.

    • Ohhh wow, ha ha…over a year, and it’s still awkward! I wonder if digital tablet drawing is something that, if you’re ever going to take to it, it happens quickly and naturally. And if it’s not a good fit, you can sort of tell right away.

      Is any of the art featured on your site done via digital drawing/painting? Since you’ve been using a tablet for so long, I’m also curious which program you prefer to use. I’m a fan of free tools, but I’m certainly open to other ideas to make things smoother.

      • Oops, this slipped away on me – my apologies! I don’t have anything on my site that I drew digitally from beginning to end. I do touch ups with the tablet and sometimes add subtle backgrounds ( I change the opacity of layers I draw with the tablet so that they’re barely visible – for example, the shelving behind the shopkeeper): https://asmuchcake.com/2018/05/27/checking-in/

        I prefer to draw by hand, photograph and then bring into my computer – completely low tech! I do use Photoshop to add washes of colour and to add layers when I want to draw in a background or some other detail. Not very inspiring, I’m afraid … that’s why I was really impressed with your first attempt!

      • It’s all good, it’s so easy to lose track of all the comments flying around!

        I think I see what you mean on that sketch – hand drawing, then some digital fading or tweaks. That’s really great, I’ve got to learn how to do stuff like that too. I can see how it would be really helpful. So, you use Photoshop for the most part?

  • It’s different and similar. It took me a good four months to feel like I could apply my traditional drawing skills to my digital art, and this seems like a pretty good first attempt for a tablet. I still can’t really use tablets. My friend has a dope cintiq with like no lag and a color display which I loved, but those things are crazy expensive. Mice have advantages too, like precision and the fact you need to manually adjust flow and opacity, so it forces you to think about things before you do them in a different kind of way.

    Anyway, I think it’s cool you gave it a go!

    • So, what do you primarily use in those elaborate creations you make? Is that mostly using a mouse? I know you’ve got a lot of experience with digital art, so that’s interesting if you do prefer mouse over digital pen/tablet. I always suspected, but I can now officially vouch for how hard digital drawing/painting is to do

      • First off, thanks for calling them elaborate : )

        To answer your question, I own an Intuos 5 but only use it for rough sketchs and planning. I do outlines with the tablet but use my mouse for the finished pieces. Pads save time for rough sketches, but I prefer the precision of the mouse at this point. It definitely has limitations and smooth shading can be really hard without making masks constantly but for the stuff I’m working on it does the job XD

        Most of what I do involves photomanipulation too, which is something Tablets are really clunky with in photoshop. The mouse has a big advantage for anything involving image transformations.

      • Haha, you bet! Well, they certainly are elaborate from my perspective; great contrasting light and dark, intricate patterns interspersed with the subject, etc. Of course, that’s coming from me, a person who has completely empty backgrounds on most drawings.

        I can see how a tablet might not work well for that. I actually found myself search for my mouse somewhat regularly, like when I wanted to select a new color or click through some options. The digital pen is cool, but the mouse is still so much more intuitive to me.

  • Ooh, very interesting. I have been considering to start that digital drawing, but I am so new at this, I had no idea where to begin, or what to purchase. But I have some kind of feeling, I would really cherish drawing on a tablet like that.

    Haha, your comments though. “Hey that’s me, except I forgot how to draw lines and make normal shapes.” Lol, made me chuckle.

    That poor dino though. Don’t critisize it too much. It reminds me of the old cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 😀

    Hm, I see what you mean, you do not look relaxed at all. I guess a learning curve in creative work is not the best of combinations, unless one brings an emormous amount of patience. I think that’s what has kept me from trying. Well, that, and not sure which purchase to make. But maybe I should give it a go with that one you list 🙂

    • Well, I’m definitely no kind of expert, but I can at least share with you what I purchased. I put a few of the art supplies I use in here: https://jonamdall.com/shop/. I also added the digital tablet I used from this article, which I think is relatively inexpensive compared to other similar options. The links in the store go to Amazon, but I’m not sure if they have a presence in your country at all.

      And actually, now that you mention it, that dinosaur does sort of have an old Ninja Turtles cartoon vibe, doesn’t he? I should have given the guy some nunchucks or something!

      • Oh, thanks a lot for the tips. Added to my Birthday wish list then 😀 I actually look forward to getting started! I’m sure I can track it down in my country.

        Right!? You should totally add a couple of nunchucks and a head bandana!

      • Very cool! So, are you going to get into some digital drawing? I look forward to checking that out – hopefully you’ll share that to your site if you give it a try

  • Hah, this post got recommended to me, and it made me visit it again. Now I know exactly what that drawing is, Jon. There was this Turtles episode with these little weird creatures, that would grow to enormous size when they got put in the microwave. THAT is what you have drawn! Well, almost…

  • I hear you about straight lines – jitters are definitely a thing in digital art! Of the programs I’ve tried thus far, Manga Studio (now Clip Studio Paint) has the best line stabilization – and I’ve heard lots of others also say it’s the best for line art, which makes sense since it’s designed for creating comics. I use it for almost everything though – it’s incredibly flexible. I think you can download free trials? It’s a one time purchase, not a subscription, if you choose to go that route.

    Personally, I think these are pretty good for a first effort! Thanks so much for sharing these and writing about this!

    • Thanks Akire – do you use tablets often? I haven’t ever gone back to digital/tablet drawing since I tried it in June. I really should give it another shot, because it’s so clear and bright when viewed on a website.

      I might have to give the trial version of Clip Studio Paint/Manga Studio a try! Maybe another software program would help me get acclimated. Thank you for the comment, and for checking out the post!

  • I have done digital art before myself on a drawing pad. Like you said in your post it is a challenge especially if your doing it for the first time. It is also time consuming compared to drawing by hand on paper but digital drawing definitely gives you a lot more to work with and allows for more errors. For this being your first that is a very assume job you did because you seem like your very experienced with digital drawing. But its good you shared this because I remember going through this too and its a heads up for artist that its sometimes going to be hard doing something new. Thanks for the good post and your drawing is good! I love it!

    • Those are some great points, and thank you for saying that about my digital sketches! Honestly, I haven’t tried it again since this post, mostly for the reasons you mentioned. It is pretty time consuming, and I feel much more comfortable with pencil and paper. I love the ability to hit undo, and some of the other digital tricks, but it sure does have a learning curve

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