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How To Become A Digital Artist – From Beginner to Professional

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Becoming a digital artist is a journey. Something that I went through after seeing that traditional medium didn’t bring the artistic results I was after. In this article, I will share the steps to take to become a digital artist.

I consider the following steps crucial to becoming a professional digital artist. I’m self-taught, so getting formal education is not a must to become a professional digital artist.


Key Takeaways

  • There are two options to acquire essential knowledge and skills: formal education or online courses, ebooks, videos, and tutorials (self-taught).
  • Learning art fundamentals is essential to creating believable digital art and becoming better at digital art.
  • Invest in hardware, tools, and software to create digital art.
  • Digital artists can earn anything from $4,000 to $10,000+ per month.
  • Companies, studios, and businesses care about results more than your education. Invest in yourself (time, work, focus) to become a digital artist.

Educate Yourself (Formal vs. Informal)

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When it comes to acquiring the essential knowledge and skills to be a digital artist, you have two options that you can choose from.

The first option that you have is to educate yourself formally at some of the renowned educational institutions. Below are some of the best educational institutions you can get a degree in visual arts:

The second option is to get all the necessary skills and knowledge to be a digital artist by taking online courses that are provided online.

When it comes to online learning, you can choose to subscribe to paid courses, or you may also choose to learn by watching tutorials on YouTube.

Below are some of the best online paid education platforms for learning digital art:

While some of the platforms, like CG Master Academy, are a bit expensive, Skillshare is one I would recommend checking out. It’s affordable, and you can learn not just digital art but also other skills needed to become a professional digital artist.

I’ve personally used Skillshare to learn new skills. However, the offering can be a bit overwhelming at first.

What Education Do You Need to Be A Digital Artist?

To get better at digital art, you need to learn art fundamentals. Whether you learn them at educational institutions like universities or through online courses offered in Skillshare doesn’t matter.

Learning art fundamentals is crucial for creating believable digital art that is noticed online.

Studios, companies, and businesses care about results. When your art gets good enough online, companies will notice you, and that’s when you’ve hit that professional level. Businesses don’t care about your formal education as much as they care about your skills, talent, experience in the field, and the work you produce.

I don’t have a formal degree in visual arts, but it hasn’t stopped me from making money with my art and digital art skills.

Choose Hardware And Tools

Becoming a digital artist requires some investment into tools and hardware: hardware being either pc, laptop, or tablet: a tool being a drawing tablet (pen displays), a digital stylus, and such.

Pen Displays

There is a wide variety of pen displays that Wacom currently offers, but I personally and highly recommend getting the very best in the market. And Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 is just that.

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I do know it’s not the cheapest (it’s actually one of the most expensive ones), but it’s the best. I believe hardware and tools shouldn’t be the roadblock in the creative process, and thus I recommend Wacom Cintiq Po 24.

However, if that drawing tablet is too much for you, I suggest you check out products from XP-Pen, UGEE, Huion, etc. They offer amazing quality but with a cheaper price tag, while they might not give you the best of the best pen-to-paper feeling like Wacom does. 

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Early digital artwork from 2012, made with Adobe Photoshop.
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An artwork from 2020, created with Clip Studio Paint.

Pen Tablets

If you suffer from back pain and need to draw with a straight back, then Wacom pen tablets might be a better option for you.

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The Wacom Intuos Pro will surely help you to get that natural feeling of drawing on a piece of paper using a real pencil. This drawing tablet also features the Texture Sheets settings that you may use to change the desired texture of every piece of work that you choose to work on.

While you might not get the hand-eye coordination benefit you get with a pen display drawing tablet, Intuos Pro is still a valid drawing tablet for digital artists, and I know a lot of artists that use Intuos Pro and prefer the fact that the hand is not in front of the drawing.

Desktop, Laptop, Tablet

When it comes to the type of device that you should use to hone your skills to be a digital artist, it all depends on your personal preferences.

It all comes down to where and how you want to draw. Dragging a 10lbs pc to a coffee shop might not be the easiest route to take. So if you want to draw while on the road, a tablet like iPad Pro is an awesome option.

Pair the iPad Pro with Procreate or Clip Studio Paint, and you can get to paint in no time.

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I personally have Microsoft Surface Book 3, with 32GB of RAM (random access memory) and a 1TB SSD. I also have added two 5TB Lacie Rugged USB-C external drives to it and see this configuration working best for me.

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If you like to travel and draw as you go, I suggest either iPad Pro or the Surface Book 3 (which also acts as a drawing display). You wouldn’t need to buy a pen display or tablet with the mentioned configuration.

Choose Art Software

You can’t draw digital art without art software of some kind. There is free art software like Krita and Sketchbook, but I prefer to use a paid version like Clip Studio Paint Pro.

Below are some of the best art software available today.

Clip Studio Paint

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Currently, Clip Studio Paint is available on Mac as well as Windows (an app version is also available), and it’s specifically aimed at people drawing anime and manga art.

I have personally used Clip Studio Paint for over five years already. I mainly draw anime and manga art with it, but it’s honestly suitable for any type of art. I’ve also written a review of Clip Studio Paint if you want to know more about the software.

Procreate

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Procreate is the best art software/ app to use when on the go. It’s currently available for iPad, so if you want to get this app, you also need to buy iPad.

Procreate is a useful tool for any kind of digital artist that needs to work on almost any type of project. It is a cost-effective illustration app that anyone can use as it only costs around $10, with no in-app purchase required.

It’s highly recommended for anyone, regardless of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or professional digital artist, as anyone can easily learn the functions of each tool.

If you are interested in learning the ins and outs of the Procreate app, I suggest you check out this online course: Mastering Procreate App.

 Adobe Photoshop

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Without a shadow of a doubt, Adobe Photoshop has been the world standard for digital art. It is one of the most stable software for digital artists to produce creative content constantly.

However, one of the biggest disadvantages of using Adobe Photoshop is that it only offers a monthly subscription, so you may expect to keep spending your money every month to continue providing high-quality content.

I have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, and it’s a hefty bill every month, but in all honesty, I couldn’t do without it. I create a lot of visual content, and Photoshop is the tool I use when I’m not drawing anime art with Clip Studio Paint.

Understand And Develop Skill, Talent, And Willpower

No one can deny the fact that for you to be successful in digital art and as a digital artist, you will need to learn the skills, have that natural talent, and have a lot of willpower to overcome obstacles.

Art, drawing, and digital art are a lot about problem-solving.

I do believe anyone can be an artist, but the amount of work required to transform yourself from a beginner artist to a professional depends on the latent artistic talent you have inside you.

I started my digital art passion, career, journey, etc., with only my curiosity and want/need to create digital art. Everything else has been learned by doing, year over year.

Best ways to get better at digital art:

  • Learn the Fundamentals of Art
  • Know Your Tools and Equipment
  • Develop a Drawing Style
  • Learn Basic Anatomy
  • Do Drawing Studies
  • Don’t Copy or Trace but Mix
  • Learn From Professional Digital Artists
  • Make Drawing an Enjoyable Experience
  • Learn How to Draw Basic Shapes
  • Don’t Get Discouraged
  • Accept Failure
  • Be Open to Criticism
  • Practice Constantly
  • Include a Story In Your Drawings

Steps to Becoming Better at Digital Art

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Drawing style developed over the years. The earliest piece was from 2011.

This may sound obvious, but every person needs a different amount of time to be a proper digital artist. This is because the learning pace of each people differs from one individual to the other. 

If we gather all the data and take only the average, we will find that the average time for people to become digital artists starting from a complete beginner to a professional, would usually be around 3 to 5 years.

The learning time needed for an average person to be a digital artist is more or less the same regardless of whether they take formal or informal education.

You can shorten the time to become a digital artist with the following tips:

  • Draw constantly.
  • Study the subject constantly through different mediums (books, videos, courses, tutorials, etc.).
  • Practice and learn from the masters of digital art.
  • Learn art fundamentals and apply them to your work constantly.

Find Your Niche

The moment I found that cel shading was my thing, everything got easier and better. Drawing became easier as I could focus on what to draw, not how to draw. Also, my drawings, in general, got better as I was finally honing a specific skill (anime art and cel shading).

Find your niche (target audience), your topic of interest (what you most like to draw, for example, characters, landscapes, etc.), and your drawing style. Only then can you start to see some real progress.

Progress comes from focusing on “one” thing, and when you draw certain things in a certain way, you are slowly expanding your knowledge of it and starting to make better and better art. Also, slowly adding new things to your art, implementing new drawing techniques, and improving your knowledge of your “one” thing.

Apply For A Job Or Take Digital Art Commission Work

If you want to become better at digital art and are looking for a job to help you achieve your goals, here are some of the steps you can take:

  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses: Before applying for a job, you need to identify what you’re good at and where you need improvement. This will help you tailor your job search to roles that align with your skills and allow you to develop new ones.
  • Research companies and job openings: Look for companies that align with your interests and values, and search for digital art job openings that match your skill set. Make sure to read the job descriptions thoroughly and ensure that the requirements and responsibilities are a good match for your goals.
  • Create a strong art portfolio: Your portfolio is your chance to showcase your best work and demonstrate your skills. Ensure to include various pieces highlighting your versatility and ability to work with different styles and mediums.
    • Behance as a platform has worked great for me in getting those job and project opportunities. Behance and Artstation have a constant demand for new talent, so do check what they have on offer.
  • Customize your application: Tailor your application to the job you’re applying for, highlighting your relevant experience and skills. Be sure to emphasize how your skills and experience make you a good fit for the role.
  • Prepare for the interview: If you get invited to an interview, thoroughly research the company and the role. Practice answering common interview questions and be prepared to discuss your portfolio and previous work experience.
  • Keep learning: Even if you don’t get the job you applied for, don’t give up on your goals. Keep practicing and developing your skills, take courses (Skillshare), or attend workshops to continue learning and improving.

Some job offerings might have specific requirements (software knowledge, educational background, etc.). If you don’t have the needed requirements yet, search for how to get those and then apply for the position in the future again.

Remember to keep honing your skills, building your portfolio, and networking with other artists and professionals in the industry. When your skill level reaches a certain level, you will get noticed, and that’s when you start to get those commission requests if you are not applying for a job.

Understand Digital Artist’s Earnings

According to the Salary.com website, the average salary for digital artists in the United States is $70,908 as of March 28, 2023, but the salary range typically falls between $60,169 and $82,027.

This value does not include the money digital artists make online by selling online courses, ebooks, art tutorials, digital art brushes, through a YouTube channel, or through some other means dedicated to their craft.

You can make $10,000 per month with digital art. Still, it requires strategy, business knowledge, an understanding of the core target market, and a big enough following either on social media or on other channels.

Digital artists can make a lot of money online, but getting to six-figure income levels requires hard work, consistent content creation, networking, and sometimes a bit of luck (being in the right place at the right time).

The biggest income you can make with digital art is by having a business that sells digital art products.

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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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