Idiot’s guide to digital drawing

For another image I was drawing, I needed to draw a person’s hands. I kept stuffing it up, and ended up drawing my own hand. In doing so, I made one of the mistakes I mention below.

I’ve had my Bamboo pad for a while, and here are some things I wished I’d realised when I started out, things I’m learning through trial and error while fiddling with digital art in Photoshop.

You know how Photoshop has layers?

Yeah, like onions. USE THEM! In fact, put everything on layers, and leave the canvas that Photoshop creates when you start a new file blank. Make a layer for every object. For example, the arch with the space ship I posted a few days back has the following layers: the arch, the tiled floor, the people, the sky, the ship, the shadows of the arch, and the shadows of the people. It is especially important that you create separate layers for light effects. Do not draw these onto the image itself. The reason? You can change that layer’s opacity, erase shadows that don’t work, or hide the layer, without having to touch the object onto which you want to project the light effects. You can also change the order of the layers (which one goes on top of which) without having to re-draw anything.

You know how the brushes in Photoshop have opacity settings?

Leave them alone, and draw the outline and main body of your objects in 100% opacity. Is this colour too dark? Add white. Also, you can change the opacity of the entire layer layer. You can take opacity away, but you can’t add it.


Digital painting is a back-to-front operation, like painting acrylics. This means that you have to lay down your background first and paint everything else over the top. This is where you can use lower opacity settings on the brushes. Remember the layers?

You cannot make your initial outline/background of your objects too bright or too colour saturated. It is much, much, MUCH easier to tone down the saturation of an object (remember the layers?) than it is to brighten it up. I’ve made this mistake a lot, and have to keep reminding me: USE BOLD COLOURS FIRST. It does not work if you have to add saturation later.

Image of the day arrives at the spaceport

While I’m editing (which isn’t half as interesting as writing), I’ve been playing a bit more with my wacom drawing pad. One of the advantages of Photoshop is that you can put each element–background, sky, clouds, foreground objects, on its own layer, and you can individually move and delete or copy layers, as well as change the transparency.

Image of the day goes into the cold

No, it isn’t really that cold here, although we are having an unusually cold snap for summer.

An image drawn with my new pen. I like the way you can play with various light sources. It’s a bit like I imagine an air brush to work, except there is no mess. I can see I am going to need a lot of practice with this thing.

Image of the day is a doodle

Now let’s see if I can do this. I got a Wacom bamboo pad today and am writing this by hand. I also made the image doodle in Photoshop by hand. I think I could grow to like this thing. It is well attuned to my handwriting. I also like the draw function and how it works with Photoshop. Obviously I am going to need to practice with it. Quite a lot probably. But. … tadaaa! My first doodle.