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14 Tips to Get Better at Drawing Digital Art

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I’ve been drawing digital art for over a decade already, and there are still new things to learn daily. In this post, I’ll share some of the best ways to get better at digital art and what has helped me improve my drawings.


Key Takeaways

  • Know your tools and equipment.
  • Don’t skip art fundamentals.
  • Practice drawing daily and do drawing studies frequently.
  • Don’t be discouraged by criticism or by the work you put out.
  • Include a story in your drawings and develop a drawing style.
  • Make drawing an enjoyable experience and have fun drawing.

Learn the Fundamentals of Art

The fundamentals of art include things like color, composition, form, anatomy, value, and perspective.

  • Color: The use of hues and tones to create depth, emotion, and visual interest in an artwork.
  • Composition: The arrangement of visual elements within a piece to create balance, interest, and focus.
  • Value: The use of light and shadow to create depth, contrast, and form in a piece.
  • Form: The use of shapes and volume to create the illusion of three-dimensional objects in an artwork.
  • Anatomy: The study of the human body and its proportions, used to draw figures.
  • Perspective: The use of techniques such as vanishing points and foreshortening to create the illusion of depth and distance in a piece.

The fundamentals of art also include things like line, shape, color, texture, and space.

  • Line refers to the way you use lines to create movement, direction, and definition.
  • With shapes, you can create form and structure for your work.
  • When using color, you use different hues and tones to create depth and emotion in an artwork.
  • When talking about texture, it’s a way of giving the artwork a sense of touch or feel.
  • In art, there are negative and positive spaces to create depth and balance in an artwork.

Whether you are creating art or simply appreciating it, understanding the fundamentals of art can help you better appreciate and understand the beauty and complexity of what goes into art.

Value (Light and Dark)

What has made my drawings better over time is by having the correct values for my drawings. Values, or the use of light and dark, are used to create contrast, depth, and form in a piece.

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On the left side, you can see how the values do not work (the face blends with the clothes), and on the right side, you can see how the values work better (the contrast differentiates objects).

Sometimes I forget to check the values, but whenever I have corrected the values in my drawings, they’ve become better every time.

Here’s how values work in art:

  • Contrast: You can create contrast between different parts of the artwork (face and clothing, for example), making some areas appear lighter and others darker.
  • Depth: Values also create the illusion of depth in the drawing. Lighter values are used to make objects appear closer, while darker values are used to make objects appear farther away or hidden.
  • Form: Values also create form and a three-dimensional effect on an artwork. You can use lighter values to create highlights on the parts of an object that are facing the light source and darker values to create shadows on the parts of the object that are facing away from the light source.
  • Mood: Values can also be used to create mood or atmosphere in a piece. Dark values can create a sense of drama or tension, while lighter values can create a sense of calm or tranquility.

Color Theory

Color theory, in simple terms, is the study of how colors interact with each other, how they can be mixed and combined, and how they can be used to create certain moods and emotions in art.

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Different color wheels.

Here are some key points about color theory:

  • Primary colors: Red, blue, and yellow. These are the colors that cannot be created by mixing other colors together.
  • Secondary colors: When you mix two primary colors together, you get a secondary color. The secondary colors are green (blue mixed with yellow), orange (red mixed with yellow), and purple (blue mixed with red).
  • Tertiary colors: When you mix a primary color with a secondary color, you get a tertiary color, such as blue-green or red-orange.
  • Complementary colors: Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, blue and orange, or yellow and purple. When you place complementary colors next to each other, you can create a strong contrast and visual interest in an artwork.
  • Color wheel: The color wheel is a visual representation of how colors relate to each other. It consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors arranged in a circle.
  • Warm and cool colors: Colors can also be categorized as warm (such as red, orange, and yellow) or cool (such as blue, green, and purple). Warm colors are associated with energy, passion, and excitement, while cool colors are associated with calmness, tranquility, and relaxation.
  • Color harmonies: Different combinations of colors can create different moods and emotions. For example, an analogous color harmony uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel and creates a sense of unity, while a monochromatic color harmony uses different values and intensities of a single color to create a sense of depth and variation.
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Example drawing showing the use of warm colors (top) and cold colors (below).

Composition

When thinking about composition, think about the way the different visual elements in an artwork are arranged to create a sense of balance, unity, and interest.

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An example of how the golden ratio was used to help place elements in the drawing.

Here are some key points about composition in art:

  • The elements of composition include things like line, shape, color, texture, and space.
  • Using the rule of thirds is a common guideline for composition that divides a piece into thirds both horizontally and vertically, creating nine equal parts. The points where the lines intersect are considered to be ideal places to position key elements of a piece.
  • A well-composed piece should have a sense of balance, meaning that the visual weight of the elements is distributed evenly. This can be achieved through symmetrical balance (where elements are mirrored on either side of a central axis) or asymmetrical balance (where elements of different sizes or shapes are arranged in a way that creates balance).
  • Composition can also create a sense of movement or direction, guiding the viewer’s eye through the piece. This can be achieved through the use of lines, shapes, or other visual elements that create a sense of flow.
  • A well-composed piece should also have a clear focal point, which is part of the piece that draws the viewer’s eye and creates a sense of interest. This can be achieved through the use of color (remember complementary colors), contrast (remember values), or other visual elements that make the focal point stand out.
  • Negative space, or the empty areas around and between the visual elements, can also be an important aspect of composition.

Perspective

Perspective in art refers to the way that the three-dimensional world is represented on a two-dimensional surface, such as a canvas or a piece of paper.

Here are some key points about perspective in art:

  • There are several types of perspective, including one-point perspective, two-point perspective, and three-point perspective. Each type of perspective creates a different sense of depth and spatial relationships within a piece.
    • One-point perspective creates the illusion of depth by using a single vanishing point on the horizon line. This creates the sense that objects are receding into the distance.
    • Two-point perspective uses two vanishing points on the horizon line, creating the illusion of depth and height. This is often used to create the illusion of tall buildings or other architectural features.
    • Three-point perspective uses three vanishing points, creating a sense of depth, height, and width. This is often used to create the illusion of dramatic, sweeping landscapes or other complex scenes.
  • Foreshortening is the technique of drawing or painting an object or figure as though it is receding into the distance.
  • Atmospheric perspective refers to the way that objects appear to change in color and contrast as they go further into the distance. This is due to the way that light and atmosphere affect the way that we perceive the world around us.

Perspective is an important aspect of art that allows you to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.

Learning the many art fundamentals will improve your drawings the most. Art fundamentals are there for a reason: they work and give your drawings professionalism, something that can’t be achieved otherwise.

It’s worth studying art fundamentals every now and then, even if you don’t apply them to your drawings right away.

Know Your Tools and Equipment

To draw digital art, we need some sort of drawing tablet and art software. One reason I got better at digital art was when I learned the ins and outs of the art software I use (which is Clip Studio Paint).

When you know how your drawing tablet works and how to use the art software of your choosing, you are able to draw more efficiently and thus speed up the learning process.

Knowing how each brush works and setting up hotkeys and actions will greatly improve your drawing workflow. I’ve been using Clip Studio Paint for years, and what has surprisingly improved my drawings is the fact that I’ve used only one art software for the last five or so years.

Also, using professional equipment like Wacom Cintiq or equivalent can improve your drawings as you are not limited by the hardware you use.

I remember when I got myself a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet (no display), I felt disconnected from the drawing, and it did limit my learning of digital art. Though this is only a personal experience can vary from person to person.

Develop a Drawing Style

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Drawing style evolution over the years of 2012-2022. The character with the yellow coat was the point where I got into cel shading.

What probably helped me get better at drawing digital art the most is the development of my drawing style. It seems odd that a drawing style can improve your drawings, but that was the case for me.

In the very beginning, I was drawing digital anime art in a very different style, and what hold me back from improving was the feeling of “this isn’t precisely what I would like to draw, style-wise.”

It took many years before the anime art style finally clicked inside me. I didn’t improve as fast as I could because I was trying out different digital art styles, finally settling on line drawing and cel shading.

When I found/developed my art style, I was able to focus on different things, and that made me get better at art. The focus was no more on how to draw. It was on what to draw which enabled me to focus on techniques and art fundamentals.

Learn Basic Anatomy

One of the greatest beginners’ mistakes when it comes to drawing is having a wrong understanding of human anatomy (part of the art fundamentals).

We frequently see aspiring artists draw arms that are too long or too short or put the characters they draw in positions that are anatomically impossible.

People may not realize right away what’s wrong with your drawing. To improve your understanding of anatomy, it can be useful to consult beginners’ drawing books. These will usually have valuable rules and principles that you can follow to make sure your drawings make sense.

Something as simple as following some ratios for the size of shoulders, arms, and torsos can make a big difference and help you improve your drawings significantly.

Now, that is not to say that everything you draw needs to look like it’s just been taken out of an anatomy textbook.

Focus on getting a better understanding of anatomy first, and then you’ll be able to make your own modifications to the rules while still drawing characters and figures in a way that looks “professional.”

Do Drawing Studies

I’m not a fan of drawing studies, but whenever I do them, I do feel and, more importantly, understand how they improve my drawing skills. The way to do drawing studies effectively is to pick an object you are interested in learning to draw. The object could be hands, eyes, trees, water, etc.

The next thing is to gather a lot of reference images and watch a lot of tutorials online on how to draw the specific object you are interested in. The main goal is not to create anything to completion but to understand the object you are drawing.

Understanding the object develops your drawing skills as you can rotate the object in your mind, enabling you to draw the object in multiple ways and from multiple viewpoints.

Don’t Copy or Trace but Mix

Copying or tracing an artwork you admire won’t make you a better artist. What I tend to do with my reference images is that I “copy” a few parts here and there and then mix those elements into my artwork.

Let’s say I have gathered two reference images of a female character. Now, I could draw the eyes from one image and the hair from the other image.

However, at the same time, when I’m doing that, I modify the eyes and the hair to suit my own needs and art style.

When you are “copying” elements from artworks, twist, modify, and mix them to create something new. Only use a few parts from each artwork.

Learn From Professional Digital Artists

There are a lot of online courses on digital art, and a lot of digital artists share great YouTube videos on how they draw digital art. The first step is to look for an artist who has experience teaching and whose style you admire.

See if the artist you would like to learn from offer any classes, workshops, or educational material online.

Sometimes it’s hard to find any videos, classes, or anything from a specific artist. In these cases, it’s worth finding as high-quality illustrations as you can from the artist and studying the images themselves.

I’ve sometimes spent 15-30 minutes just watching a single image while studying how the artist uses line art, does cel shading, and why the artist chose a certain color palette, etc.

Make Drawing an Enjoyable Experience

Don’t let drawing become a chore: draw things you love, draw things you’re interested in, and let your creativity be completely free.

Only by enjoying the process of learning to draw can we make real progress. So don’t consider the pleasure you take while drawing as something frivolous: it is the very backbone of your progression as an anime artist!

I do know that sometimes drawing doesn’t feel enjoyable. In these cases, I tend to fall back to drawing something I always enjoy drawing (anime heads and faces). Just to get that good feeling back, so I can tackle harder topics to draw.

Learn How to Draw Basic Shapes

Learning to draw basic shapes is an important foundation for any artist. By starting with simple shapes, using references, focusing on proportions, practicing regularly, experimenting, and getting feedback, you can develop your drawing skills and become more confident in art.

Here are some tips on how to learn to draw basic shapes:

  • Begin by practicing drawing simple shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles. These shapes are the building blocks of more complex drawings.
  • Look at a reference image or object to help you draw basic shapes accurately.
  • Pay attention to the proportions of the shape. For example, a circle should be perfectly round, and a square should have equal sides.
  • Drawing is a skill that requires practice. Set aside time each day to practice drawing basic shapes until you feel comfortable with them.
  • Try drawing shapes from different angles, using different shading techniques, and combining them to create more complex shapes.

Don’t Get Discouraged

As a beginner digital artist, it’s normal to feel unconfident about your art and get easily discouraged by the end result you’ve created.

You might feel that your art is not really worth anything and that you still need years of practice before you can feel good about the things that you draw. Having this feeling is completely normal and acceptable.

Even professional digital artists have doubts about the quality of their art from time to time.

They feel that they may have stopped making progress or that their technique is still rudimentary compared to someone else’s.

The truth is, you’re always going to have doubts. You’re always going to feel a certain uncertainty about your art.

The very best artists are those who can feel that and still keep on practicing. To become a better digital artist, you don’t need to feel good about yourself every second you draw. You need to be able to ignore the little voice in your head that’s being overly critical and focus on your goals.

Accept Failure

Not every artwork will be a masterpiece. Not every line, shape, object, and element in your artwork is always correct, and that’s okay. Art is about failing and succeeding. Success can only be born from failure.

Accept that art is a journey and not a destination, and along the path, you will face obstacles that will make you fail. However, conquering those obstacles will make you succeed, and when you look back a few years, you can see that you’ve made progress, while it didn’t feel like so when you were failing.

Be Open to Criticism

As an aspiring digital artist, it can be very hard to take any criticism.

You might take helpful tips on how to improve your work as a personal attack, and when people say things like, “the drawing might look better like this,” all you probably hear is, “your art will never be good enough.”

Criticism can be discouraging if you let it be. Criticism can also be educational if you take it that way. It’s all about how you approach criticism and what kind of effect you will let it have on you.

All the very best artists have had to hear thousands of criticisms before hearing all the compliments they are now getting.

Criticism has helped them to pick out areas of improvement and make progress on their art year after year. I know it’s hard when your work is being criticized, especially when you’ve put so much effort into your art.

Whenever someone mentions a possible improvement to your drawing technique, consider it positive. Not only does this person see potential in you and wants to help you improve, but they can even suggest actionable strategies for you to do so.

Practice Constantly

Drawing once a month will delay your progress as an artist. Drawing daily while taking appropriate breaks will speed up your drawing skills significantly. The more you draw, the more you will improve your drawing skills and your understanding of different objects.

When you combine constant practice with studying art fundamentals, you will surely get better at drawing.

Consistency is sometimes hard to keep, but being consistent and having a daily drawing routine will surely improve your drawing skills.

Include a Story In Your Drawings

For many years I’ve drawn things that I think look beautiful. Things that look good and maybe even awesome but still lack that something. What I’ve noticed is that when you can include a story in a drawing, it will take the drawing to the next level and beyond.

Sometimes it’s not just about skills and techniques you need to learn to improve at drawing digital art. Sometimes it’s the things you draw and how you draw them that makes drawings lack professionalism.

By including a story in the drawing, you will evoke different emotions and feelings in the viewer, and that will make your drawings more interesting. Your drawings look more skilled and professional.

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Okuha

Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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