Digital Drawing Techniques – Improve Your Drawings

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Feature_image go beyond drawing techniques

Written by Juha

The world offers various techniques and various styles, but you have to study and think through by yourself what makes your art look like yours. What is the crucial thing that makes you different than the rest of us? It could be some small thing like using red color regularly, something that the others are not doing.

If you think famous digital artists like Ilya Kuvshinov or Ross Tran for example, they both have a unique style and way to create art. If you were to mimic them and not to bring anything new, you wouldn’t differ from them, and I think it is wasted talent there.


I searched my artistic voice for a few years after finding that cel shade is the style I genuinely like the most. It is always interesting to feel the conflict inside me when I watch for example Stanley Lau’s art. That guy can draw, and every piece looks like a treasure.

I’m always comparing myself to the best in the industry, and I feel you should too. For some reason, I am not comparing my art against other cel shade artists.

There is a compelling logic behind it, and it could be that I can’t explain it enough but when I reach the stage when my art looks in my eyes as good as Stanleys, e.g. I have accomplished something, and I feel I am on the right track.

Always compare yourself to the best only then you can improve your skills.

The tutorials I am writing is all about improving the mind to create art and see regardless of style and techniques.

Hope you have a good time, let’s begin!

Reference images create inspiration for the drawing

I always search for inspiration and reference from multiple sources. This time I got inspiration from the following book: Art of Asura (click the link for more information). I have read the book many times it always gives me new ideas. This book is one of the treasures I have in my bookshelf (which by the way is full of awesome artbooks :D).

Enhancing the artistic voice not the drawing technique

At the beginning of 2014, I created a drawing with a completely different style but I liked the concept of the drawing, and thus I wanted to draw it again. Drawing old artworks again is fun from a few different perspectives.

Mainly you can see how much you have improved, what your current style can bring to the work and also how you can improve the drawing from the previous. With this particular piece, the first and the latest version does not have too much resemblance, and that is only a beautiful thing.

The first phase is, of course, drawing the piece again but this time try to bring something new to it. Alter elements and also change the parts you don’t like in the old drawing.

Try to find a flow for your drawings

As for the sketching phase, I usually try to mimic pencil-like strokes, light, hard, grey lines and not too definitive. Trying to get the flow running and trying to nail the main elements in place. I didn’t alter the drawing too much, only the decollete area and little bit of hairstyle and such.

Nothing much as I knew my cel shading style would change the look of the drawing so much already.

In Clip Studio Paint program I use the standard Rough Pencil brush and in Adobe Photoshop I use the standard round brush with the pen pressure activated.

You can also add some texture to the brush if needed. Clip Studio Paint has this already and is also a superior program for cel shading in my opinion. If by now you aren’t using a drawing tablet I urge you to buy one.

I’m using Cintiq 12WX model as I haven’t found a better yet (yes, seriously).

Related: Drawing tablet and tools for drawing digital illustrations

Related: Cintiq 12WX Review


Starting to draw the line art

Skipping the old image and version I change to the newer vision of the same image. The old drawing was boring, and it was enough reason to skip it. I decided to draw the whole thing again and this time with added dynamism to the image.

Changing perspective (in Adobe Photoshop: Edit – Transform – Perspective) a little and getting new elements to the drawing and the eyes closer to the viewer was a good call as it added that dynamic look I was missing. At this point, I was also struggling with the art style.

I went with loose line art as I knew the coloring style would correct line art mistakes and so on.

Fast forward to the future and to the time when I realized the coloring style wasn’t truly meant for me. I yet again had to draw the whole piece again.

This time with a drawing style I indeed owned and loved. The line art was created with slightly modified G-pen, 8px brush size. Notice that the canvas I used here was around 16 000 x 12 000px in size and 600PPI.

How the line art looks on the canvas is in connection with the resolution you are drawing in.

Clip Studio Paint has many benefits compared to Adobe Photoshop as in CSP you can use the stabilization setting which gives you these nice straight lines, correcting the possible ‘handshaking’ effect.

Photoshop doesn’t have this, and it was the sole purpose I moved away from Photoshop and currently do my art now entirely or almost entirely in CSP.


Tip for the line art!

If you are drawing or coloring in some other way than with cel shade in your mind, I believe your line art can be looser because you can correct the shapes and lines when you are coloring the piece.

In cel shading, the line art is usually very definitive and thus letting it loose might not be beneficial but then again that is a matter of style and preference.

Base coloring

When the line art phase is complete, and you see that the shapes are readable for the viewer and the drawing looks nice; you can start the coloring phase. I usually fill the picture with one color to see the silhouette and see if there is something that doesn’t work. There are various ways to do this, but the PSD file shows the way I used it.

For the coloring, I use the bucket tool (Fill) as it is the fastest way to color different areas and sections in your art. Just make sure every line is connected. If there are gaps it could be that paint will overflow and fill your canvas. If that’s the case, you need to find the disconnection and fill the gap.

I usually don’t pay too much attention to the colors at this phase as I can easily modify them later on.


As with many things, there are various ways of shading. I start the process by filling the object with a single color because adding shadows that way becomes more comfortable. The color is irrelevant, but I usually use quite light colors. Adding shadows is easier when you only see the line art as you can then focus on the shapes and volume, instead of color.

I use more than often cold shadow colors as the objects base colors are usually warm.

The Shadow layer is switched to multiply layer mode. I have sometimes used normal layer mode also as that is extremely useful when you want to nail down some specific color for the shadows. So that is also one way to shade and not a bad one at all.

Shading Tip!

The benefit of using multiply layer mode for shadows is that you can more easily experiment base color changes. Cons of using multiply layer mode are that you might not get the exact shadow color you are looking for. It can be achieved but not so easy as you could by color picking the shadow on normal layer mode.



Drawing the lighting is something I leave as a last step before the final refinement. Placing the lights needs a bit more thought as they can easily distort the drawings flow and shapes. I also use light only lightly (pun intended), but I do feel that they should be added only here and there. The light spots add that extra feeling and depth to the image. It is also an excellent way to bring different colors to the image.

Lighting also gives away the object’s material, e.g., if you have rubber as a material, it would be good to place almost white like light speckles to it and lots of them, but if you think about the stone, you won’t put so many speckles in it.


I tend to use ‘screen’ as the layer mode for the lighting. Experiment with different layer modes and find the correct one for your taste or then use the normal layer mode as it is also extremely useful for this phase. I reduced the opacity to 79% to let the color beneath come through a little bit more.

Find the correct colors and finalize the drawing

It could very well be the most enjoyable part of the drawing as I get to experiment with different color schemes and shadow colors. Create a color palette by making the main image as small as needed. Then copy and paste them next to each other. Just change the base color to whatever and see what works and whatnot.

The green moss-like color wasn’t the one I had in mind when I started the painting however that was the one that pleased my eyes. So by experimenting, you can get to places you didn’t first understand to go.

The end process is just refining the shadows and making sure the colors are just the way you like it.

Tweak the shadow colors if necessary and make sure the lighting is correctly thought out. Leave it for a couple of days and come back to it and see if there is anything to fix and if not, the drawing is complete.

There is a fine line on whether to tweak the drawing more or not. I recommend accepting the fact that perfection is not something you should pursue, more like let go of. I know it won’t be easy, but it is something that gave me more space and more creativity.

So from that viewpoint, I can recommend the ‘letting go of’ approach.


Are you experiencing difficulties finding your style? Have you found your style or how do you define an art style?

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