This is not exactly a guide to digital art in general but it is more of an inside look on the way I started painting, the software and hardware I used and eventually, the way I paint now.
From what I remember, I was never that much into art when I was little. I wasn’t very good at it and I don’t think there are any drawings saved from my childhood. I remember having watercolour pencils and liking them, but never taking any serious attempt to become an artist. Writing, even when I was little, was more my thing.
We used to have Apple computers when I was little, and one day my dad came home with something new. A graphic tablet from Wacom. I think it was about 8 years ago, and I still have it, it still works and up to last year I used it vigorously. That trusty tablet is a Wacom Graphire2. No longer for sale, but I looked real hard and found a picture. The program I used to experiment and fail at the time was some version of Corel’s Painter. I think it was called Painter Classic. Although I can’t very well remember much about the program I can tell you about the tablet, having used it for so long. It is a5 size and it doesn’t have many pressure levels, but it has enough to let me make my favorite painting of all times. Funnily enough, the first digital painting I had a serious stab at remains the best I’ve ever made. The quality of the tablet becomes evident because it has survived me for 8 years counting. I think I once replaced the pen tip (it came with 10 tips), but other than that the tablet is still in it’s original form. There is a crack in the pen and the tablet has changed colour in places where my hand has rested most, but it still works like a charm.
In my last year of high school I got the idea of wanting to do things with my own money, so I bought a Wacom Graphire4. The old one was up for replacement anyway, though I used them both. It was more of an improvement than I thought it was going to be. After that I stopped experimenting though, often suffering hardware failure until I went from wireless to one with a cable, which seems to be more reliable!
I had no real reason to do art anyway because my high school didn’t really leave me any time to do art and I really didn’t know what to do either.
When I started university, probably in my second year, it changed and I got more into painting again. I still used my older tablet as well, and completed my first really big painting and good painting of the lead singer of the Fratellis. It took me about 50 hours to finish.
Wacom Cintiq 21UX
When I got my first internship I had the pleasure of working with a Wacom Cintiq 21UX. It’s a tablet that serves as a screen that you can also draw on with your pen. I used it to make some concept art. And once you’ve tried a Cintiq everything that you compare to it is less good. Thus I managed to make a deal that meant they paid for half of it and I paid for the rest and now I still have one. It makes a lot of people really jealous. I also have special extra pen that has all the traits of an airbrush. I don’t know how to use it properly though. It did open up a whole new world for me though. Oh, it’s 21 inch, which is quite nice and you can tilt it to any angle you like, as well as rotate the screen. To keep the surface from scratching and getting greasy, I’ve also bought a little pinky finger sleeve.
The latest addition to my tablet family is also the latest in the Wacom line: Wacom Intuos4. This tablet I acquired as payment for a designing job I did. It’s the largest portable tablet I’ve had and it is extremely precise. Downside is that it’s impossible to bring, as it’s too big to fit in regular bags. It has extensive programmable functions and the surface is slightly rough to resemble real paper. Mine came with a limited edition pen and pen stand with loads of different pen nibs. I also have an inking pen with it, but I’ve not used it yet, even though it’s supposedly very handy. I believe it uses real ink that you can use on actual paper as long as you put it on top of your tablet. You can then trace an image you’ve made on paper and it will be digitalised. Very natural.
Corel Painter classic, 10 and 11
I’ve used several version of Painter, by Corel. Painter classic came with the first tablet and is not to be confused with MS Paint. Painter, in all version, has been the leading software in imitating actual brushes and materials. It’s a very artistic program that I fancy using for pencil like sketches most, though I do not use it anymore. It does make for very convincing water colour paintings and oil on canvas. I can’t really work with it that well because it is very true to real life, meaning you can’t just erase the digital paint.
Another program that I used was Artrage. I think it is meant for people that want to paint digitally but can’t afford expensive software like Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop. It’s a very cheap, easy to use and well designed program. When I started using it, it didn’t support the use of layers, but later versions were upgraded with that very important functionality. What I like about ArtRage is that it looks really natural and like Painter also imitates brushes fairly well. It is an ideal program to use when you are just starting as a digital painter.
Open Canvas 4+
One of my all time favorite programs to do line art in is called Open Canvas. I recently discovered that it is back on the market, in a new version. Unfortunately it isn’t available for Windows 7 yet. Or Mac OSX. It has always been a Windows program. The version I used was 4+. There is something very shiney about the art that I used to make with Open Canvas. I’m hoping there will be a new release soon. Funny fact: Open Canvas 1 allowed two users to be painting on the same canvas, live. I never had the pleasure, though.
Adobe Photoshop CS2, 3, 4 and 5
The program I currently use for pretty much everything I do graphically is Adobe Photoshop. When I was a student I bought a student license, something I think should be available for everyone. A normal license is not affordable. I love the way Photoshop handles the tablet pen’s pressure levels and the extensive amount of customizable brush-presets it has.