Wanting to Learn How to Make Digital Art (poorly worded, I know)
April 17, 2011 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I have good drawing skills (especially pen and ink) but am an amateur artist. I would like to get into working with digital art etc perhaps even to the point as a side job or making a living. The bumps are that I cannot afford to go back to school and am not super tech-savvy (yet). I have basic skills in Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator but that is it. Any ideas on where to go next? (I am so completely ignorant on the field taht I don't know what to call people who do this for a living.) Push come to shove, I could probably take a few classes a year, though after I save some money.
posted by snap_dragon to Technology (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"Digital art" is a broad term to describe a medium and can refer to a lot of very different things. Are you looking to do illustration with digital tools? If so, invest in a tablet and learn Photoshop and corel painter. Want to do vector illustration? Learn illustrator. Graphic design? Learn the fundamentals of grid systems and typography, and learn illustrator, indesign and Photoshop. Animation or video art? Learn flash, after effects and final cut pro.

Your question is very broad and it's up to you to narrow down what you're interested in. Find online communities and resources that reflect what you want to do and talk to artists that are making money doing what you're interested in doing. Beyond general drawing classes, there probably aren't going to be a ton of very useful classes for you to take to learn digital art; you kind of need to dive into it and learn through practice.
posted by girih knot at 2:14 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: +1 narrowing the question being helpful; We'll help you narrow it down if we can! What's your dream situation?

Until we can give more specific advice, I can recommend the "Real World" books published by Peachpit Press for learning Adobe and desktop publishing / digital media programs. Of those I have seen, they have been pretty desktop-publishing oriented, but they are very good sources of study. Here's the series at peachpit.com. I think you'll want to browse books until you find a few that speak to you, then dive in and study them deeply.
posted by krilli at 2:25 PM on April 17, 2011

Skip art classes and take a business class. If in the States, check with the small business adminitration, their classes are cheap and informative.

Learn the importance of contracts and dealing with clients.

Realize you're providing a service and don't get to choose what you draw.

Learn to market yourself.

Then take art classes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:27 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try looking on iTunes U for free "classes" and tutorials. I've found helpful things on there for all kinds of subjects; I'd be surprised if there wasn't anything on digital arts.
posted by wowbobwow at 2:27 PM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: What I would also suggest is that you find and follow some good tutorials on the programs you want to learn. You'll pick up related knowledge in the field in the process.

Then what I can emphatically recommend you do is to create tutorials of your own, teaching the skills you are competent in - i.e. drawing and painting. Both in natural media and in digital media. The process of forging a tutorial and teaching something is immensely valuable. You will both grow stronger in your already established fields, and as you are working on a specific project, you will grow by leaps and bounds in your knowledge of the tool you're using. E.g. do a video tutorial on how to draw something you're good at using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet.

I can also recommend getting into pixel art. It's technical, but the rules are very simple, and I have seen it tend to be a very good platform for people that are established in traditional media and want to get their foot in the door of digital media.

The best of luck to you - it's an exciting task you'll be taking on!
posted by krilli at 2:30 PM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: Get really, really good with Photoshop and other tools. There are lots of online tutorials. Start a graphic design blog, and do lots of work and post it. Submit some work to well - known sites, like Lifehacker or others that use user-submitted work. You may be able to find Adult Education or Community College courses to help you learn. Then start networking, finding people you know who will help you learn more about the field, and how to get into it.
posted by theora55 at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2011

In addition to learning the ins and outs of the Adobe Suite, I'd suggest pairing your newly acquired skills with a Wacom Tablet.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:27 PM on April 17, 2011

TLDR: if you really wanna be in it for the long run, you don't want to be a good *digital* artist, you just want to be a good artist. Boring advice, but true.

Hard to recommend a next step without seeing where your work's at right now. If you're considering illustration, your digital skills aren't nearly as important as your creativity, flexibility, and aesthetic. If you have those in abundance, quality clients will want to work with you whatever your technical proficience.
If you're thinking of something like concept art, your ability to work in colour will be more important and I think software skills would be more important.
If you're looking to get into animation design (character/background design), a trade program (animation school) can be very helpful, since there's a steep curve in terms of industry standards and conventions.
Nothing is more important than your foundational drawing skills though.
I'm writing this as a ten-year animation industry veteran and comic-book maker-person with a professional fluency in Photoshop etc. Feel free to hit me up if you want to chat about this further.
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:40 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't know if I was putting too much emphasis on the career pursuit. In my post above.

If you're just interested in plussing up your digital skills, I definitely recommend trying out the tuts and stuff people recommend above, but make sure you're not just following the tuts - set out to make something YOU want to make in the software of your choice (needless to say, you'll need to get your own copy of whatever software that is). You'll learn way more by struggling through than you will by following directions. And then, when you return to try another tutorial, you may appreciate different subtelties or interactions that you may have taken for granted before.
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:48 PM on April 17, 2011

Adding to krilli's excellent advice to "browse books until you find a few that speak to you, then dive in and study them deeply": use your library! Many libraries have several books on Photoshop and other software, as well as design principles and art skills. Some libraries even offer patrons online access to the Safari Technical Library, which includes the Peachpit Press Real World titles.

Adding to krilli's excellent advice to create tutorials of your own: as a bonus, once you've done that, you have work you can easily show to prospective clients.
posted by kristi at 8:42 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

First thing, find/join an artistic community. Surround yourself with artists who are doing what you want to do. There are a ton of artists on the web, on forums, blogs, and especially on twitter, facebook, and flickr. Every time you see an artist you like, bookmark, follow their new stuff. Also it's a good way of seeing what sort of trends, tools, and sites people use.

Start an art blog (like on tumblr or blogspot), Show it to other people and get feedback, Follow their blogs, and comment on their work too. Commit to some sort of creating schedule that works for you, and stick to it, even if you are sure what you make is terrible. Don't get discouraged too easily, and don't quit. It can take time for things to get established, to get going, and if things don't work out at first, it doesn't mean you are doing anything wrong. (This would be a good place for class artworks, projects, and sketches)

Start a sketchbook, (either paper or digital), and do warm ups, observational drawings, doodles. Anything you want. Make it a regular habit, but remember the sketchbook is a tool for moving your pencil or pen around, not necessarily to display or to upload onto the internet. (Although you certainly can if you like. Some find it encouraging. But if it gets in the way of drawing regularly, then stop). If you want to design ads or websites you might say, what do I need a sketchbook for? Well creativity is an oblique thing. Seeds you plant one place can grow elsewhere. Also it keeps your mind fresh.

Ask a lot of questions. Pros are usually glad to answer questions about the business, just be sure to ask good questions like "How do you manage your business vs creating time?" "How do you stay motivated?" "Is there anything a beginner should avoid?" and not the same old questions about what sort of tablet they have (use whatever you like) and how they get their ideas (same way everyone else does), or how they came up with their style (they created a lot). But always be sensitive of making demands of anyones time. Be courteous.

Lastly, avoid planning traps. It's easy to get lost in how you are going to do things the 'right' way. How you will draw one amazing thing every day, two weeks later you will make the perfect portfolio site, 5 weeks later you will have completely finished your first amazing project. Anything in which your plan is to progress from place 'A' to better place 'B' is a potential quagmire in which to get stuck in. Don't worry about goals (beyond bite-sized, concrete and achievable goals). Don't constantly pore over your work to see if you are getting better. Just keep on doing stuff, and make it your general goal to keep on doing more stuff.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 3:51 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

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