Question / Advice about Painting for 3D (my experience thus far).


My main focus is 3D. I was told 2D foundations could help me improve my 3D artistic skills. So I went ahead and started practicing 2D art, learning what I could. Now before anything, Ive read the article about learning 2D foundations to improve 3D here:

Ive read the forum post its based off of which is what convinced me to carry on this 2D crusade awhile ago. Now that Ive spent a long time in 2D (coming from 3D), a few things stood out for me when reading that article again. Now I dont mean to say any of this to discredit or start an argument. This is just what Ive observed which blurs the line between 2D and 3D for me if that article is 100% true.

“You can learn the foundations without drawing and painting, but the reason why people say drawing and painting helps so much is because 2D art forces you to learn the foundations, while 3D art does not.” - It forced me, read below.

“But in 3D, because the way assets are generated, you can produce something “finished” looking, even if the foundation elements are absolutely horrid.” - Finished looking is subjective so I cant really say for sure if I ever made something “finished looking”. I never use generated assets though. My rookie renders were horrid regardless of how high the render settings are.

“Whatever you learn in 2D is just as effective when applied to 3D. The reverse, however, isn’t as true.” - Read below, it was true for me.

“there’s no cheating in 2D” - Cheating is also subjective but im going to assume that means anything done via program and not skill. 1000s of photoshop brushes with premade body parts, elements, and patterns (just like in 3D). You can trace anything quite easily. You can use filters to slightly distort a real image and call it “drawn”. Some people consider manga / anime to be cheating since you can simply put a line where a nose would be and there ya go, a nose. The liquify tool. You can also paint with masks, similar to 3D texture painting. You can even import an image and adjust it to match the rest of your painting (this seems common).

“there are no “polish the turd” buttons like there are in 3D where the surface textures and material properties can be procedurally generated” - Adobe After Effects is filled with polish-the-turd filters. Photoshop comes with some polish filters I believe. Plenty of patterns can be used and I think Filter Forge procedurally generates anything. If you’re going for 3D hand painted styles, nothing is procedural.

Thats what ive observed thus far. It just simply wasnt true in my experience which leaves me lost. Im really needing advice on this as someone who went into 3D seriously and then went into 2D after. This is where im at thus far…

  • 3D art forced me to learn Anatomy / Form. My 3D characters sucked, proportions were all out of whack. However I was able to study Form, Shape, the way things bend and move from all angles in 3D easily. Studying lines of motion also helped immensely from a 3D perspective.

  • 3D art in Zbrush taught me hand eye coordination and fine control for those straight edges. My strokes became steady as time went on. I dont know if this counts for anything.

  • 3D texturing forced me to study Color Theory. (Hand painted, no generated materials). Hand painted stuff requires baked in lighting and shadowing depending on the situation. I never generate anything, I always went for hand painting for practice. I like the painterly look so thats what I shoot for. I definitely prefer to study color in 2D though, using zbrush’s canvas is similar to any paint program but I just dont like to use it.

  • 3D rendering forced me to study Lighting. (Studying a simple cube, looking at how light interacts with basic surfaces made something click for me). Looking at my character, studying how lighting affects mood. I was able to move lights, take notes, and see the results instantly. Bad lighting would always kill my renders.

  • 3D scene building forced me to study Composition / Perspective. Otherwise everything would be too cluttered, or too empty. Same for awkward camera angles.

  • 3D gave me an eye for observation. I can paint things that I see pretty good. I think its from all the references Id use for practice and study in 3D. I was never able to do that in 2D prior.

  • 3D helped me take up painting almost immediately. Its like sculpting for me, it just clicked.

Overall nothing in 3D seemed to take longer than anything in 2D unless you plan on retopoing / animating / rigging. I felt being able to look at something from all angles actually quickened my learning experience.

Now im not the greatest at any of these foundations. Im still studying them passionately as I go along at my own pace. However, all those 3D skills ive learned up until I started 2D carried over. 1 for 1. The ONLY set back was getting a feel for lines instead of clay and the different process’s that come with it. I knew where everything should go. If my knowledge in Zbrush was a 5, in 2D they were at a 1, then it quickly caught up to a 5 in a few days of getting familiar. I was able to picture an object in 3D in my head and know what line should be placed in 2D at that angle. Im at the same level I was at 3D when I started 2D. If I were to sculpt a head and draw a head (line art) they would both be pretty much the same in terms of skill. If I misplaced an eye in Zbrush, it will be misplaced in Krita in the exact same way. I also noticed the time it took for me to sculpt a head in zbrush from scratch compared to painting a head was more or less the same time frame.

I want to improve and im still pushing into 2D for the sake of something new and producing better thumbnails / concept. My main question is what is drawing exactly? Some say its simply shadeless line art. Some say its shading with a pencil. Others say painting IS drawing because you’re still making lines and form. Ive been thinking drawing is lineart and painting is painting.

What would improve my 3D even further in 2D, drawing or painting? Is there truly a difference? I only want to paint for conceptual thumbnailing. I dont have any interest of plans to do line art or comics. Would I be missing anything? Sorry for the english / long post. Im just lost.


Without seeing your work in 2D and 3D it’s hard to know where you currently are in your artistic development, what your weaknesses and strengths are, and what you need the most right now in your current stage of growth. To help you, I would need to see your portfolio, as well as works that not also demonstrate your failures so I can see what your weaknesses are and then help you overcome them.

As for your many counter-arguments, most of them were stated assuming the person doing the 2D is doing everything he can to cheat and use pre-fab elements or filters. That’s simply not what most serious 2D artists do. Even the professionals who use those methods are only doing it to speed things up due to deadlines, but at their level, they can absolutely produce proficient works completely from scratch, without a single cheat, or in many cases, even without any references. Give them a blank piece of paper and they will blow your mind with what they can do, and often after just 10 to 15 minutes of drawing casually and ending up with something so expressive and full of life.

There is so much about the foundations that’s not understood until you actually have learned to become proficient as a 2D artist. I’ll give you examples. Some of the students I’ve taught were professional studio photographers, lighting TDs at famous CG studios, lead 3D artists, etc. Youd assume those guys certainly know so much about lighting, right? But as soon as they tried to do the assignments I gave them on lighting, they immediately realized they didn’t know nearly as much as they thought they knew, and that realization shook some of them up because that possibility never even occurred to them. One of the most common comments I hear from students–including those who are already professionals and working in high positions in well-known studios, is that they learned so much they didn’t realize they didn’t know.


I dont have a portfolio or anything. Just a bunch of sketches practicing line work. I just want to know if I can simply paint and study with painting techniques as opposed to simple line art. The difference between painting and drawing is never really explained.

About my counter arguments, thats how I felt about the arguments against 3D in the article. Most of them are assuming someone in 3D will use generated assetts or “make it good” buttons. Its just not the case with serious artists. Having experimented with 2D coming from 3D, to me its really just another medium.

Im not saying those students were wrong but everyone learns differently maybe? It just wasnt the case for me. 3D is like an experimental play box. I could tweak and study form, lighting, and color in a different dimension than 2D. Results are instant, mistakes were apparent without having to erase or remake layers.

I guess everyone finds there own way. I just wonder about the different between drawing and painting. If there really is a difference. If its not just another medium like 3D and 2D.


There really isn’t much difference between drawing and painting besides the execution itself. Both can convey lines, or patches of values, or colors, or variations in edges, or textures, etc. The only difference is how you handle the tool to achieve those effects. A drawing can be made to look like a painting. Take a look at color pencil artworks:

And drawing can be done to convey full range of values and clarity of forms:

Painting can allow some effects that’s not possible with drawing, or at least you can’t reproduce those effects convincingly, such as using washes, splatters, scumbling, impasto, etc. But those are not tied to the basic foundations.

Both can allow you to learn and practice what you need to understand about perspective, composition, shapes, forms, values/lighting, colors, anatomy/figure, etc.

It seems like you’re feeling defensive about the article I wrote. I’ll explain it from a context that you might understand better.

Having worked as a studio art director and also art instructor who has to go through hundreds of portfolios all the time, I see far, far more subpar 3D portfolios than 2D ones, because there’s a disconnect in many 3D applicant’s mentality–they don’t realize or they forget that they are “artists” first and foremost, and 3D is just a medium/tool. Vast majority of them lack even basic understanding of the fundamentals of visual art, precisely because 3D does not force them to learn the fundamentals. 2D artists can have that problem too, but much less so, because 2D does not allow them to create proficient works without having some level of understanding of the fundamentals. While I do see both 3D and 2D portfolios that show lack of understanding of the fundamentals, I see it far more often in 3D portfolios. So it’s not just some kind of biased opinion–it’s based on solid experience working as a professional art director and art instructor whose job includes assessing portfolios and teaching artists, and I can tell you that my colleagues all have similar experiences. If you polled art directors and art instructors across the entire industry, you’re going to get very similar answers.

Also, if you are the exception to the rule, realize that your experience does not represent the typical experience of most 3D artists. Maybe one day when you are in an authoritative position to have to assess hundreds of portfolios or to teach aspiring artists, you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’ll realize that most 3D artists don’t have the awareness you had while learning 3D.


Thanks, I can never find an explanation on that. I appreciate it. Also, im not defensive? Theres nothing to be defensive about. The article is an opinion just like my post is. I was just simply stating that my experience was different. I was just wondering if I was missing something but it really does seem like its a case of different opinion / experience.

Maybe I am the exception, who knows? Ive seen this question asked tons of times on other forums as well. Maybe there are others? I dont know. I am happy I went from 3D to 2D though. This debate has always made me wonder until I finally made the jump from 3D to 2D to see for myself. Thus far ive learnt…

3D = Efficient for studying form, light, anatomy, and composition.
2D = Efficient for studying color, thumbnailing concept, and perspective.

3D = Can cheat with premade brushes, assets, materials, textures, layers.
2D = Can cheat with premade brushes, tracing, textures, liquify / perspective tool, layers.

3D = A bad 3D portfolio is due to lack of foundation.
2D = A bad 2D portfolio is due to lack of foundation.

3D = A bit more technical. Need to learn the sculpting program. Even with foundation experience, if you just go for sculpting in zbrush, you will end up with a head like in the article. It just cannot be done.
You’re Prometheus. You take your time, learn your tools, and create life.

2D = Pick up a pen and draw. Flexible in line art or painting style.
You’re Leonardo. You paint the image of life.

I would be a bad teacher because all I would do is guide them towards the foundations and let the student decide if they want to learn it via 2D or 3D, whichever medium they want to express themselves in. “Do you want to be leonardo or do you want to be prometheus?” If the answer is both, thats just more flexibility.