Introduction: Digital Painting Lesson 1: the Basics of Using a Graphics Tablet

About: All you need to know is I exist......

Computers have brought change to every corner of modern society. One of these corners is art. The internet is full of concept art, desktop wallpapers and many other kinds of image that have been drawn by some user at a computer.

When I bought myself a graphics tablet (roughly a week before this ible was published), I was dissapointed to find there are no beginner tutorials to digital painting. They either assume you have previous experience in some form of art (I suck at painting and drawing), or are so basic that they leave out the art.
So the aim of this little series of tutorials is to provide a few tutorials to teach people how to use their graphics tablet, but perhaps more importantly, leave the creative aspect in the drawers hands.

This is the first tutorial in a small series (I haven't decided how long). Other tutorials are:
Lesson 2: A feather

Step 1: Requirements and Tools

In traditional artwork, the artist has to draw every single thing, but in digital artwork, we are not constrained by physical tools. Through the use of various filters and brushes, what would have taken a painter hours, can takes us a few strokes of our digital pen. For this reason, I'm going to ignore software that focus' on emulating traditional media (eg artweaver) and instead use a digital image manipulation program. I'm cheap, and can't afford photoshop, so I'll be using Gimp.

- A computer (with enough specs to run Gimp properly)
- A graphics tablet (with drivers etc)
- Gimp (or photoshop if you can translate to the tools there. Note that I'm using v2.6 because v2.8 has some issues with my tablet)

- An hour or so
- Some proficiency with gimp, or the ability to use google
- The ability to move your hand
- The ability to see what's on the screen
- Some creativity.

So sit down at your desk, get comfortable, put on your favorite music, and let's start.

Step 2: Basic Use of a Graphics Tablet

You've probably got most of it figured out, because it isn't hard:
- Hold the stylus in your writing hand like a pen
- Put the stylus on the tablet
- Move your hand and watch the cursor move too....

- Don't look at your hand. It does not tell you where you are going to draw. Look at the screen. You don't look at the computer mouse when you use that do you?
- Have the tablet facing you square. When you move your hand towards you, the cursor should move down. If it's more than a few degrees off, it get's frustrating trying to draw where you want.
- Remember your posture. You'll be using the computer for a while whenever you are drawing something.

To get used to using the tablet, try not using a mouse at all. The tablet provides everything you need (clicking, scrolling, moving the cursor. What else does a mouse do?).

Be aware that nothing in this tutorial actually requires a graphics tablet, but is sure makes things easier.

Step 3: Getting Ready for Drawing

Now it's time to set up the computer for drawing. I'm assuming you've got the drivers installed for your tablet, but the way you lay out the screen is important.

Gimp uses a three-window system. This is annoying, and so for new versions (gimp 2.8+) they have a button to change this:
On the gimp main box, click Windows -> Single Window Mode
Unfortunately Gimp 2.8 has issues with my tablet, so I tend to use 2.6. This does not have single window mode, so spend five seconds and arrange the windows so nothing is overlapping.

Step 4: Do Some Doodling and Sketching

While a tablet is more like a piece of paper than a mouse, there are still slight difference, and it takes a bit of getting used to to use for drawing. If you think you can already draw where you expect to on a tablet, skip this.

Set yourself some exercises to get used to the tablet. Things like:
- Draw a square with straight edges (not using the straight edge tool either)
- Draw as round-er circle as you can
For these I tend to use a large brush, generally a hard edged one at ~10px. I tend to doodle on a moderate canvas of 1024x768.
Then try your hand at writing. Just for fun take a calligraphy brush, work slowly and carefully and see what you can come up with.
You can also try freehand sketching. Take a thin brush of 2-3px, and sketch. Notice that you can do light and dark lines.


These three exercises represent just about every type of motor control you'll need in digital art:
- The ability to draw straight (doodling)
- The ability to draw smoothly (doodling)
- The ability to draw where you want (Writing)
- The ability to control pressure (sketching)

Step 5: Starting a Drawing (outlines)

While there are a lot of ways to start a drawing, i tend to start off with a very rough sketch of the outlines. I do this on a seperate layer, so that I can turn it on and off as I work on the rest of the drawing.

For the castle, I had lots of layers. One was the approximate outline, One was the actual castle I was drawing, and the third was guides. When drawing spheres and cylinders, it is often useful to draw a box where you want them to go.

The bulk of this ible will go through drawing and shading some boxes and cylinders, so let's start out by drawing their outlines.
For the boxes it's easy. A regular (ish) hexagon, and some intermediate lines make a simple box. More complex/accurate ones can be done using perspective lines.
Cylinders are a bit harder, but if we draw a box, and then change the top and bottom into elipses, it's still quite easy.

Any technique you know for drawing things on paper will work here. If you feel like using a tool in the software you're using for drawing the oulines, go ahead. Gimp does not provide us with an easy way (unless you count the gfig plugin I suppose)

For the rest of this ible, I'll be working with the final image shown here, containing a box and a cylinder. We'll look at how we can shade them nicely.

Step 6: Shading: Fill It In

Most objects are opaque, so I tend to start by making a silhouette of the object in a neutral grey. (We'll talk about color later)

So create a new layer, call it shading, and with a medium size brush, color in the shape. Press firmly so that it is opaque. Turn the outlines off and be amazed how irregular it is. So go around with a brush and eraser and neaten it up. Then you can turn the outlines back on.

Step 7: Shading Method 1 (Sketch and Smudge)

There are few things with only a single way to do them. With shading, there are so many ways that I shall not list them all. But these are the ones that I use.

Most importantly though, do not forget to work on the shading layer. It is a right pain when you draw something on the wrong layer. If you do, evaluate if you should do it again, cut-paste it, or ignore it.

With sketch and smudge, you simply, well, sketch and smudge. There's no other way to describe it, so have a look at the image.

It does take time to smudge things in well, and a bit of care to not go over the edges, so don't rush things.

Step 8: Shading Method 2: Lighting Brushes

Gimp's brushes normally just overlay on what is behind, but there is an option where you can get them to instead apply lighting.
This can be found in the tool options. Look for the drop-box which is by default filled with 'Normal'
Change that to Hard light (or play around and see what they all do. each is useful).

One of the best things about this brush is that it won't paint on anything transparent. So you don't have to worry about keeping the exterior edges neat.

I still do use smudge on this method to tidy up and make sure transitions are the way they should be.

Step 9: Coloring In

You thought that was the coloring in part? Nope. Now we get to add color.
So create a new layer and color it the color you want (remember to set the brush back to 'normal' colour blending). Put the color layer underneath the shading layer, and set the shading layer to 'hard light.' You may like to tweak the opacity.

I tend to turn off the guidelines at this point.

Step 10: Shadows

Currently our objects are floating. We need them to interact with their environment. The way to do this is to add a shadow.
People can spend years describing ambient occlusion, shading, shadows and such, but my guess is you actually have a pretty good idea of what they shadows should look like just from living for the past however many years. So just do what looks right. Here are a few tips though:
- Objects darken when they get close to each other, or in corners. (known as ambient occlusion)
- Shadows are away from the light (duh!)

Other than that, just look at objects around you to see how the light effects them.

Step 11: Scaling

These are the basic tools you need to do digital painting. Everything else is a matter of creativity, clever work with tools, and some ingenuity.
The same tools apply to mountains, feathers, and, well, anything.

There is nothing like practice though. So instead of just reading this tutorial, actually try some if it.