How To Become A Digital Artist – Professional Guide

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Written by Juha

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. I felt there was something missing, like the drawings just didn’t look the way I imagined them in my head.

Luckily I found digital art and now I’m able to create any vision I have in my head and bring it to the canvas confidently and with the vibrancy it sparked in my head.

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

Education (Formal vs. Informal)

To become a digital artist, it’s highly recommended for you to equip yourself with a natural artistic talent as well as a bachelor’s degree in commercial or visual art or any other fields that are similar to this.

Getting a bachelor’s degree is completely optional, but you should try your best to get it to compete with other candidates that might apply for the same position later on in the future.

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When it comes to acquiring the essential knowledge and skills to be a digital artist, you do 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, and you may find some examples of the best educational institutions to be a digital artist listed down below.

  • Harvard University
  • Columbia University
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Central Florida
  • Carnegie Melon University

Alternatively, you may also choose to get all the necessary skills and knowledge to be a digital artist by taking the online course that is provided on the internet.

When it comes to online learning, you can choose to subscribe for paid courses, or you may also choose to learn freely without having to spend anything by watching tutorial videos on Youtube.

Some of the best paid online learning platforms that you might want to take a look at to learn the fundamentals of becoming a digital artist are listed down below.

  • Paintable
  • Udemy
  • Class 101
  • Skillshare
  • Proko
  • Gnomon Workshop
  • New Masters Academy

What education do you need to be a digital artist?

In reality, it entirely depends on the type of your learning pace. Different people learn at a different rate; hence that explains why some people may choose to go for formal education that would urge the students to learn as quickly as they can.

Most of the educational institutions that are available today have a specific timeframe that they set for the students.

Students are expected to learn and fully understand all of the basic concepts and facts at certain topics in the syllabus.

For them to check the students’ developments, students will be made to take an examination to test the level of understandings of each student. 

Hence, if you are the type of person that can afford to learn at a fast rate, then you are most likely be able to succeed in becoming a digital artist by enrolling yourself informal training.

On the other hand, if you prefer to learn the basics of visual arts at a rather slow or according to your natural learning rate, then enrolling yourself in an informal education might be the best way for you to achieve your dreams.

Even though most people would choose formal learning instead of informal learning, some of the best figures in history can often be found involving themselves in informal learning as this allows them to get a one of a kind type of inspiration that provides them with the right mindset in life.

The type of mindset that is referred to here is the one that always thinks about the future of humanity as well as making a positive impact on society instead of thinking about simply getting a job to make a living. 

If you want to have the freedom to learn at your own pace and follow the footsteps of numerous historical figures in the past, then consider enrolling in informal learning as it might be just the perfect option for you.

Equipment and Tools

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

Drawing Tablet: Wacom Cintiq Pro 24

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Image source

There is a wide variety of pen displays that are currently offered by Wacom, but I personally and highly recommended 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 there is), but it’s the best there is. I believe equipment 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 a bit too much for you, then I suggest you check out XP-Pen or Huion line-up. 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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Those drawing tablets still deliver insane results.

Drawing Tablet: Wacom Intuos Pro

This is by far the most cost-effective drawing tablet that is offered at a reasonable price that you could find on the market currently.

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 display drawing tablet, Intuos Pro is still a valid drawing tablet for digital artists, and I personally know a lot of artists that use Intuos Pro and prefer the fact that the hand is not in front of the drawing.

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Pick Desktop, Laptop, or 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.

However, depending on multiple factors such as your budgets, skills, and comfort, you might want to use other types of devices such as a tablet, laptop, or even a desktop.

I think 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, then a tablet like iPad Pro is an awesome option for you.

Pair it with Procreate or Clip Studio Paint, and you can get to paint in no-time.

It’s not recommended for you to draw using your mouse cursor as it will give you a hard time drawing.

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Essential Art Software

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

Clip Studio Paint is my go-to art software now and forever, basically. It’s that good, but remember that if you choose a tablet as your drawing hardware, then you might not get the art software you want for it.

Luckily Clip Studio Paint does have an app for tablets, so you are nicely covered if you opt for Clip Studio Paint Pro.

Clip Studio Paint

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Currently, Clip Studio Paint is available on Mac as well as Windows (app version is also available), and it has been used by many people from around the world to make many kinds of illustrations, comic books, as well as anime characters (best software for that).

Clip Studio Paint Pro features G-Pen and Real Pencil, which gives you the feeling as if you are using the real pencil to draw your illustrations.

Apart from that, you also have the option to adjust the brightness of the application interface to prevent any eye strain that may result from prolonged use of the software.

On top of that, this software also utilizes the AI technology that helps you to automatically color your characters, and closing any gaps that you might have in your paintings.

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Artwork created with Clip Studio Paint Pro (my absolute choice for an art software)

Procreate

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 can be used by anyone as it only costs around $10 with no in-app purchase required.

Procreate offers a wide range of tools that you can use, such as the blend mode, quick shapes, alpha locks, layering, as well as clipping masks to help you produce the best quality of artworks.

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

If you are interested in learning the ins and outs of the Procreate app, I suggest you check this 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 arts from people around the world. It can be considered to be one of the most stable software applications for digital artists to constantly produce creative content.

It also has an iPad app that you may use to turn your sketches into a reality as you may draw your illustrations on iPad effectively and naturally by hand.

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

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer provides you with everything that you need to make your custom illustrations and designs.

By using Affinity Designer, you have accurate control over the advanced blend modes, curves, brush stabilization option, as well as the one million percent zoom feature, which is useful when you need to have a realistic illustration made.

On top of that, an upgrade from the previous year shows that they have added the support for Apple monitor, and they have also adjusted the program so that it runs very smoothly on new versions of Apple Mac.

You may choose to buy Affinity Designer instead as a cheaper alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

Skill, talent, and willpower

No one can deny the fact that for you to be successful in becoming a digital artist, you will need to have the natural talent required that can only be acquired by a natural flow of inspiration.

Most artists tend to look and observe the surroundings of their environment to get an idea of the next thing that they are going to be working on.

Examples of activities to get the necessary inspiration for your artworks includes traveling to other countries to learn more about their culture as well as taking images of the natural phenomenon around you.

In a case where you don’t have any artistic talent, then it’s highly recommended for you to work extremely hard as, just like the saying goes, hard to work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard enough.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Digital Artist?

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This may sound very common but trust me that 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. 

However, if we gather up all the data and take only the average, then we will find that the average time for people to completely become a digital artist starting from a complete beginner to a professional digital artist, 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 choose to take formal or informal education.

How Much Money Does Digital Artist Make Per Year?

As of 12 January 2021, the average annual pay for digital artists in the US is approximately $38,520 per year.

While we can see that there is a huge gap between the highest ($5,292) and lowest salary ($1,625), most of the digital artists in the US earn roughly between $2,292 to $3,875.

Since the average salary for digital artists varies significantly, we can conclude that the salary given to digital artists is affected by factors such as experience, current skill level, geographical location as well as academic qualifications.

Is Digital Art Difficult?

Many traditional artists that made their transition to digital arts find it’s very difficult for them to start making beautiful artwork like how they used to make on a piece of paper.

Digital art is very difficult because it requires a whole new skill set compared to that of traditional arts.

Most of the senior traditional artists realized that they need to start from the bottom again when it comes to digital art.

Producing high-quality digital artworks can be quite challenging at first, but with constant practice and research, anyone should be able to have a good time making digital art.

Just as soon as you have begun to get used to all of the functionalities available in a certain illustration software, then you should be having a lot of fun during the production process.

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