Digital Painting: Tips and Techniques for Beginners With David René, Matellis, LotekK


[color=darkorange]Digital Painting: Tips and Techniques for Beginners[/color]
With David René & Matt Ellis.

The digital medium is absolutely awesome, it’s easy, wicked fast, productive and practically non-destructive, or at least it can be - thinking back to when I was taking my first steps with this medium it was none of those things. Unfortunately, for digital painting to become truly intuitive, one must first have a strong working knowledge and a bit of inside into the inner workings of the painting application.

This thread was created to act as a resource and an environment in which beginners may start learning the technical aspects and techniques of digital painting - this thread does NOT deal with the artistic side - if you are a beginning artist and you have questions related to drawing or painting in general, I would refer you to the Beginners’ Lounge.

Tutorials and exercises will be posted by myself or Matt (and hopefully others) on a regular basis but I encourage everyone comment, ask questions or offer advice.

[size=2]It has been several years since I started painting digitally so a lot of things have become second nature to me, therefore I’m really interested in hearing your suggestions as to what should be covered in this thread - remember there are no stupid questions and nothing is too basic. [/size]


  1. Although I will be giving comments and critique throughout the thread and helping with technical issues, the thread is about community input to help each other develop our skills in an environment of constructive group critique and interaction. Flaming is not allowed.

  2. This thread is about Beginning Digital Painting with a big emphasis on “digital” - we’re not going to cover general drawing and painting techniques but rather we’re going to focus on getting you comfortable with the medium so that it does not become an obstacle in your artistic development.

  3. Please limit the SIZE of your POSTS to 800 pixel WIDTH x Appropriate pixel LENGTH. No huge images, please!

  4. WIP is encouraged. Please post your best work as you go along.

[color=orange]Beginners’ aims: To get a working knowledge of both application and input devices. I still invite experience users to participate in this thread, it’s always healthy to see different approaches to a problem and who knows you just might learn something.[/color]

  1. Lets make this fun!


Links to tutorials:

Getting comfortable with using a tablet by Corvax
Getting better pressure control part 1: Tweaking your tablets settings. by Corvax
Quick Mask by LoTekK

Navigation tips:

1) Creating hotkeys for Brush Tool Presets. by Corvax

Interesting posts:

LoTekK posted a link to a site that has a description of the Photoshop blend modes.

RebeccaK posted a hotkey that will cycle through Photoshop’s blend modes.

Corvax posted the direct hotkeys to Photoshop blend modes.


Getting comfortable with using a tablet:

If you don’t know what a tablet is, don’t worry. A section will added to this tutorial explaining what a tablet is and why it is important to digital painting.

So you’ve bought a tablet, you’ve plugged it in, you’ve installed the driver software and you’re ready to start creating some digital masterpieces - but something’s wrong, it feels odd, its nowhere close to the natural and intuitive sensation you where promised!
Drawing with a tablet is NOT like drawing with a pencil or brush, despite of what the manufacturer may tell you, so just because you can draw with a pencil it doesn’t mean you can jump right in and use a tablet with the same precision. If drawing with a tablet seems difficult at first, then don’t worry, there is nothings wrong with you or your tablet. It will just -like anything new- take a little time to adjust to. I’m willing to bet, that if you think back, the first time you picked up a mouse, it felt odd too. But look at you now, using a mouse is the most natural thing in the world to you, and I promise you that using a tablet will be just as - if not more - natural with just a little practise.

To hopefully shorten your adjustment period, I thought I would put together some tips and exercises to quickly get you comfortable with using a tablet.

  • Use the tablet. Right now you’re browsing a webpage, are you using your tablet? - Well you should be. Every bit of practice is going to count, so you should be using you tablet for everything you do on a computer, whether it is sending an e-mail, arranging you files, editing text etc. Don’t just use the tablet inside your graphics application, use it everywhere!

  • Unplug your mouse. Your frustration with the initial oddness of using tablet may cause you to constantly reach for the mouse, but one of the tricks of adjusting is forcing yourself to use the tablet, and having the mouse there as a “safety net” is just going to lengthen you adjustment period, so unplug that mouse and put it out of sight.


Exercise #1: Pointing. (Photoshop)

This exercise is designed to help you practise your hand-eye coordination when using a tablet.

b[/b] Create a document similar to the one you see below or download and open the one I have created.

b[/b] Create a new layer by clicking the “Create new layer”-icon in the layers palette or by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+N.

b[/b] Go into Full screen mode by clicking on the icon in the toolbar or by pressing F.

b[/b] Select the Brush tool by clicking the brush icon in the toolbar or by pressing B.

b[/b] Frame the document by pressing Ctrl+0.

b[/b] Make sure you have the new layer you created selected, then start of by, in random order, drawing a circle around each of the dots.

b[/b] Once all the dots are circled, draw an X through each of the dots, again in random order.

b[/b] Once all the dots are circled and crossed, make a selection of the entire canvas by pressing Ctrl+A, then delete the pixels in the layer you’ve created by pressing backspace.

b[/b] Start over from step 6.


Exercise #2: Pressure Control. (Photoshop)

This exercise is designed to help you get comfortable with using the pressure sensitivity of a tablet.

b[/b] Create a document of a desired size (1024*800 should be fine).

b[/b] Select the Brush tool and open up the brushes palette by pressing F5.

b[/b] Select the Hard Round 5 pixel brush from the brush presets area.

b[/b] Turn off Shape Dynamics by clicking the check box next to its label.

b[/b] Turn on Other Dynamics by clicking the label; this will automatically take you to the Other Dynamics settings of the Brushes palette.

b[/b] Make sure that Opacity Jitter and Flow Jitter is set to 0% and that Flow Control is set to Off. Set Opacity Control to Pen Pressure, now you can control the opacity of you brush with the Pressure of you pen (shocking isn’t it).

b[/b] Now draw a spiralling curve on your document, like the one you see below, starting with a light pressure and gradually moving into a harder. Try to make the tonal gradation as even as possible through out the curve.

b[/b] keep on drawing these light to hard pressure curves as many times as you please.

I would suggest that you do about five to ten minutes of these exercises as a warm up before you start painting.

I know that the Photoshop steps of these tutorials are covered quite sparsely, but there will be tutorials in the future covering both the mechanics and practical usage of layers, the brush engine and everything else mentioned here, in a much more in-depth manner.

More tips, tutorials and exercises on digital painting are in the making, so stay tuned and have fun practising your tablet skills.
~David René.


[color=darkorange]Navigation tip #1: Creating hotkeys for Brush Tool Presets.[/color]

I do about 90% of my painting with only a handful of brushes that I switch between constantly, and I found that I was using a lot of time simply showing palettes, selecting brushes and hiding the palettes, not very productive. Wouldn’t it be great if you could map a brush to a hotkey, have it sitting there right at your fingertips.

Unfortunately Photoshop doesn’t allow you to map custom content directly to hotkeys, and brushes are custom content. What Photoshop will allow you to do is; call (some) custom content from an action. Actions can then be map to function keys; in turn creating “custom content hotkeys”

Yeah I know what you’re thinking, that does sound really technical to me too. But please read on, it really simple and fast to set up, and if you find yourself switching between three or five different brushes all the time, this tip will boost you productive significantly.

b[/b] Lets say that I really like the Flowing Stars Brush that ships with Photoshop, so I want to create a hotkey for it. First thing I would do is select the Flowing Stars Brush preset from the Brushes palette.

b[/b] I’ve also decided that the Flowing Stars Brush works best with Opacity at 25% and Flow at 80%, so I would set that up in the Options Bar.

b[/b] In order for this to work, I need to set up a Tool Preset for the brush, so I’ll open up the Tool Presets palette, click the New Tool Preset Icon. In the Dialog box that pops up, I would name it something descriptive and click okay. I’ve now created a Tool preset for the Flowing Stars Brush.

b[/b] Now for the exiting part: I’ll open up the Actions palette and click the New Action Icon.

b[/b] In the New Actions Dialog box I’ll name it descriptively. I’ll set the function key property to the key I want my brush mapped to and click record.

b[/b] While recording I would click on Tool Preset I had setup in step three. An operation should have been added to my action, It should read: Select tool preset “the name of my tool preset”.

b[/b] Click the Stop Icon in the actions palette. And I’m done!!

When I click the mapped function key, it will call the action, the action then calls the preset. And what do you know a hotkey to a brush.

I would repeat these steps for each of the brush hotkeys I want to set up, each time mapping a different Tool Preset to a different Function key.

[color=silver]Questions, comments or suggestions on or about this tip are more then welcome. [/color]
~David René.


Go David! Its wonderful to see you put this up.


Tutorial on the amazing photoshop paintbrush coming soon! yum yum


Tutorials on layers and channels coming soon :wink:



This is great! Thanks so much for this first Tutorial, I am sure that many will benefit from this as well as from your future Tutorials here in this thread! :thumbsup:

Cheers, :slight_smile:



Amazing Idea- this is really what anatomy forum still needs :slight_smile: And a great resource for beginners. I remember how I struggled with photoshop a few years back when just starting. This kind of thread would have been gold.

I might throw in a tutorial or two when I have the time :slight_smile:




Great idea and an important new subscription for me…:thumbsup:

Will there be application-specific tutorials for Painter, also?


Frack, I thought this was going up a little later. Guess I gotta get cracking on the various masking tools/techniques.

First one’s up, lemme know if it needs revising/clarifying:
Quick Mask Tutorial


Matt and Teck,

Looking forward to seeing your tuts! :slight_smile: I’ve advertised this thread, I have a feeling that people will be expressing an interest in this for quite a while. :slight_smile:




Wow, I had no idea about the action function – my fave brush hotkeys, here I come!

LOVE this idea, will definately be stopping by often! Thanks guys!!


thanks for the tablet exercises. that really helps. and the hotkey thing was very helpful as well cant wait til next tuts.


I and many others really appreciate this! When you lot started I guess you didn’t have this type of help, and to give us it is wonderful!

You say it has to be technical and about techniques. So this means its just people who know the software and can post constructive tutorials? Or is it where us new people go through these tutorials that you post and show our progress? Sorry i just misunderstood a few things.


Thanks buddy.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would do a tutorial for us :). Should you decide to do one, please PM me with a short outline of what it would cover (just so that we don’t have two people working on similar tutorials at the same time).

I had foreseen that there would be demand for Painter tutorials as well, and I am working on how to deal with that.

I’m not really Painter savvy yet, so I don’t think that I would be doing any tutorials on that application, but that is not to say that be any, it’s really too early to say.
Also keep in mind that Painter and Photoshop are similar in a lot of areas, and there will definitely be concepts from Photoshop that you could apply to your Painter workflow.

I’m looking forward to your tutorial buddy!!:smiley:

I know the workshop description is a bit confusing right now, and I’ll try to revise it soon.

This is not just a thread where advanced users would simple post tutorial. I do want it to be interactive, but please be patience, we just started and it will take a while before we have an adequate enough resource of material, to actually start doing some more project based and interactive exercise – but there should an exciting little micro challenge up in few days :eek: , that you can work on.

~David René.


Thank you Corvex, and Rebeccak for advertising it. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. I love learning those little tidbits (like the custom brush hotkeys. Genius!) that make you go ‘OHHHH’ and instantly improve your productivity. :smiley:


I completed the first few tasks. They were really useful, it showed me how well I can actually use a Tablet. Before I was critical about how well I used it, but it wasn’t difficult at all.

This seems like a real fun topic, I will keep an eye on this, and come and be involved with what happens.


I have just a little question. Wil TTT (tutorials & tips & tricks) here cover only work in Photoshop or will there be stuff for Painter too?
For digital painting I tend to use Painter for only one sole reason, and that is document view rotation. Since let’s say you cannot make natural moves for hotizontal strokes and requires quite a lot of dancing and stretching in front of the tablet. :smiley: Some people here told me to hold tablet on my knees an rotate it … but that isnt quite a sollution since nobody rotates monitor and you do stroke in some direction on your tablet and it appears in totaly different direction on screen. And after all Intuos A4 is a little too big for such maneuvers.
Well don’t get me wrong. I hope I’m not complaining too much. The point is I adore Photoshop and use it a lot, but when it comes to painting I really (because of mentioned reason) prefer Painter. And brushes in both apps are wonderful!

So back to my original question… will this thread be Photoshop oriented or can we expect some stuff for Painter?

Otherwise I thing this thread is a great idea, even for us that are quite familiar with the tools since from time to time one can find out some useful tip, just like the one about creating shortcuts for different brushes.

Keep 'em comming :buttrock:


This thread totally rocks!! :buttrock:, thanks for this, Im trying right now all the excercises, keep this thread up