Digital Drawing 211108

I actually meant to write this last November, but various things got in the way, some of which I might write about later. The blog isn’t seeing much update since the Nonsense Wars Youtube is doing pretty well, and I’m posting stuff there that I might have previously posted here. Art stuff doesn’t really have a good place yet so…

Way back in 2012 I wrote about learning to use ink, remarking that it might be a turning point. That did turn out to be the case, though not necessarily in the way I thought. While, I did do more with ink afterward, I also managed to streamline my pencil drawing process, which paid far more dividends in the end. Anyway, I started to get that feeling again!

More recently in Art Evolution Omnibus II, I talked about losing interest in digital after a burst in 2017. Once I bought the Canon scanner, I did a lot of traditional art with watercolor and colored pencil, but these come with their own trade offs. Furthermore, while I like the texture and the colors of a “painted” work – physical or digital – it’s perhaps fundamentally opposed to the way I draw: I think in outlines rather than in shapes.

I can only fix this with practice, but physical painting requires a discouraging amount of tooling and overhead, and I hate buying and storing supplies in general. With digital, I’m the only bottleneck: I’m bad because I don’t practice, and I don’t practice because I’m bad. Perhaps fundamentally, I’ve never been able to straight up draw on a tablet; I’ve always had to scan a rough sketch or a finished line art.

Just as I’d tried to start ink several times before 2012, I’ve tried to start digital drawing several times in the past, never with much success. The feeling of a stylus on a screen never gave me confidence and the results varied. Ironically I did some of my best strictly digital work during paint chats way back in 2007 and 2008; I couldn’t even finish many later attempts because they were taking more work and looking less good.

Paint chat from 2008
Aborted attempt from 2014

In 2013 I started doing digital work in the “free” Photoshop CS2 instead of the much older, more primitive Open Canvas 1.1; I still like the brushes in OC more, but I really wanted a few more quality of life features. I hadn’t considered switching software again, but last year a friend suggested that I try Krita, a modern open source drawing app with presumably better functionality than my venerable CS2. With plenty of at home time thanks to Covid and lock downs, I decided to give digital drawing another shot.

… and somehow, just like with ink drawing, it suddenly clicked!

Well, “suddenly” is perhaps an exaggeration, but with really just a little bit of practice, I felt like I could draw a lineart from scratch just as well as I could trace a lineart from a sketch. The drawing below is my first attempt, and the drawing below that is literally my fifth.

First digital drawing in years
Fifth(?) digital drawing in years

So what exactly happened? For the longest time, I thought that I simply couldn’t get used to the poor feedback between stylus and tablet: I would press very hard and still not have as much control as with a pencil. In hindsight, the poor control might actually have come from difficulty in rotating the canvas in CS2, something that Krita makes very easy. I’m generally better at drawing up and down rather than side to side, and a fixed canvas forces me to do the latter on a tablet, making it doubly bad.

Adding some color to a digital “sketch”

I haven’t tried to verify this theory, and I don’t know if I want to: for now I’m comfortable enough with my ability that I want to draw next year’s South Bay Comickers anthology purely digital.

Sadly, coloring is still its own can of worms: I’m just as wishy-washy and inconsistent as ever. Some paintings come out really good, but some come out just as bad, and I keep whipsawing between different coloring processes because I don’t like something in the current one. Better or worse lineart might also contribute something as could better or worse color choices.

Good painting
Bad painting

Still, I’m already reaping some benefits from drawing digitally: for one thing I can catch errors much earlier in the process due to the ease of mirroring and resizing a virtual canvas. Often in the past I wouldn’t catch mistakes until after scanning, at which point I would have to redraw significant parts of a sketch digitally. Case in point:I thought this Monarch from 2019 was pretty good, but I think my 2021 version is better mostly on the basis of lineart.

2019 on the left, 2021 on the right

Other aspects have a bit more trade off: I can back-draw and erase indefinitely, but that can encourage looking for too much perfection, especially when I sketch on a separate layer. Looking for too much perfection isn’t a good thing, by the way! Similarly, my digital lines turn out smoother for sure, but completed digital drawings also lose the texture of pen or pencil drawings.

A purely digital drawing
A purely ink drawing of the same vintage

Finally an unexpected aside: with digital I can record myself drawing, and from the footage, I can, among other things, estimate how long these things actually take. For example, the aforementioned Monarch painting took me six hours from nothing to finish: it’s a 12 minute video sped up 32 times. You can also get a feel for how often I rotated and mirrored the canvas!

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