Digital painting and drawing on the cheap
As it turns out, digital art isn’t just for fancy-pants productions anymore…
If you’ve ever done some drawing, oil painting, cave painting, or whatever, you really might like digital art.
It just so happens that there are some very powerful and very inexpensive digital art gizmos available now that can do a whole lot more than you might think…
Every kid wants to be a superhero
When I was a kid, I did quite a bit of drawing. Ya know, mostly superheroes and comic book kind of stuff. I was actually pretty good, but I had one problem: it was hard for me to really come up with a complete drawing from scratch.
I was more like a “drawing photocopier”. I think the precision and attention to detail is what attracted me the most at that time.
Well, it’s been a loooong time since I was teenager, and I hadn’t actually drawn anything in years and years. Then, one day, I installed Autodesk SketchBook on my old Kindle Fire tablet. Sketchbook comes with a free 15-day trial where it’s full-featured, and then it goes into “basic mode” unless you pay for it.
Since then, I have expanded my artistic endeavors, and upgraded my drawing hardware. The rest of this article will explain some of the various options available to you, how much each costs, what each can do, and just how good they are…
The drawing software
The software I swear by is SketchBook Pro. I don’t do Photoshop. I know there are other drawing apps available, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. But there are a few things that I think make SketchBook Pro awesome for just about everybody.
First of all, the basic version is available for free for PC, Mac, tablet, phone, Android, iThings, etc.
Second, for the first 2 weeks after you install the software, you get the “full version” as a trial.
Now, note carefully here that the mobile version of SketchBook is a chopped-down version of the desktop version of the software. This is actually pretty awesome. Why?
Well, since most of us have either a tablet or a smartphone, we already have our first digital painting tablet! All that’s needed is a stylus.
So, start with a touch gizmo you have, grab a cheap stylus, and try SketchBook for a few weeks.
If you like it, you pay only $29 a YEAR to have access to all versions of SketchBook Pro (including the full-featured, heavy-duty desktop version) on as many gizmos as you own.
Don’t freak out about how to use it. They have tutorial vids on their web site, and YouTube is packed full of example drawings that teach you how to use fancier tools/techniques.
But to start with, your total software cost is: $0!
Now, onto the hardware…
The cheapest option
Most of you probably have a tablet, or at least a smartphone with a touchscreen. If so, you already have your first digital drawing tablet! All you need is some free software, and a stylus.
For the stylus, I recommend the basic Wacom Bamboo version:
This is the Wacom Bamboo Alpha Stylus, which is as basic as it gets, but it only costs about $11.
Now, you can use any old stylus for drawing on your tablet or smartphone, but I was far happier with this one.
You might think that the fat rubber tip on this thing would be kinda crappy for precise drawing. Sure, it takes a few tries to get used to drawing a pencil-thin line on the screen when the tip is a big fat squishy rubber thing, but it actually works surprisingly well.
So, for your dirt-cheap option, grab one of these which will work with any touchscreen gizmo. Pair it with the free version of Sketchbook, and start drawing!
A better stylus for iThings
If you use fruity iProducts, you might want to check out the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus:
The difference with this guy is that it’s not just a passive stylus… It contains a battery, two buttons, and pressure-sensitive tip. The stylus connects wirelessly (Bluetooth) to your iPad, and only works with certain software (including SketchBook).
The benefits are that you get pressure sensitivity for making thinner and thicker strokes when you draw, and the buttons can activate features of the drawing software – which is handy.
At only $25, it’s still pretty cheap, but definitely a step up from the basic Bamboo stylus.
BUT, it’s pretty much an iPhone / iPad-only stylus.
Your first real drawing tablet
If you try a stylus coupled with your tablet or phone, and you’re having a grand old time, you may want to graduate to an actual honest-to-god dedicated drawing tablet.
Your best option here is this dude:
This is the Wacom Intuos Draw Graphics Tablet, which connects to your puter via a good old USB cable (wireless add-on unit is optional).
With this “drawing pad”, you draw on the surface with the included stylus, so it’s basically like a giant touchpad on a laptop that uses a pen instead of your fingers.
It also has 2 buttons on the pen, and 4 buttons on the tablet itself so that you can do software tricks more quickly. Naturally, the stylus is also pressure-sensitive.
At less than $70, this is a huge upgrade from cheap stylus used directly on the screen of your gizmo.
Now, I know it seems like drawing on this tablet while looking at the screen of your puter would be really annoying, but it’s not at all.
I know many people complain about it, but I honestly don’t get it. It’s as natural to me as drawing directly on the screen. And anyway, you move your mouse all the time and watch the pointer sail around on the screen, so this is just the same thing – but with a pen.
It’s very nice!
Time to go pro!
Okay, now if you get really serious about your digital art, invest in one of these puppies:
This bad boy is the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium.
It has 8 programmable buttons on the tablet itself, a “click wheel” with 4 settings for doing things like zooming in/out with a swirl of your finger, 2 buttons on the stylus itself, pressure-sensitive stylus tip, an “eraser” end on the stylus, and the stylus has tilt detection so that painting with certain brushes is more realistic.
It also comes with a wireless kit, which is nice – although I prefer to use the USB connection. And it includes various different replacement tips for the stylus.
Next, it also supports multi-touch gestures – like for zooming in/out, panning, etc. Very handy!!
At the moment, this guy goes for $289, and you can see why when you use it. It’s pure concentrated liquid awesome.
It’s a bit more complicated to set up with your puter because you need to install the Wacom software, but even that isn’t so bad since the software itself is downright awesome.
Note that this drawing tablet also comes in small and large sizes. Personally, I found the “medium” to be plenty big for pretty much anything!
In short, if you’re serious about your digital art, get one of these.
So which one should you get?
Frankly, I’d start with a tablet (8-10″ is ideal), and the cheapest stylus. Stick SketchBook on there, and test drive it.
You’ll pay very little, you’ll get to play around, and then if it “sticks” you can upgrade the more art that you do.
A few final notes
No, I don’t work for Wacom. 🙂
But, I have tried their various products, and I’ve test-driven others, and I just like the Wacom stuff better. A tablet can be great, but if the drivers stop working when you upgrade to Windows 10, for example, then what’s the point? It’s about more than just the hardware…
Finally, digital drawing is not like normal artwork. You can paint, but you don’t have to do “light on dark”, for example. It’s incredibly flexible, and almost liberating… You can have multiple layers in your drawing, drag and drop chunks of your image, resize things, etc.
You also get a nice variety of virtual brushes, so you can oil paint, or do watercoolers, or do a pencil sketch, or charcoal, or pastels, or… Whatever!
But most importantly, don’t be intimidated. Learn as you go! You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to paint very complex objects – although that doesn’t mean you’ll get it right on the first try. Far from it!
Yeah, it’s digital, but the tools don’t do all the work for you. I would say it’s a different kind of creativity though that will appeal to techie folks, especially. Just don’t ignore basic rules of art like composition…
And on that note: YouTube is your friend! Be sure to check our Trent Kaniuga’s videos, which are very helpful for both budding and more experienced artists.