So you have never put digital ink to digital paper and you are wondering where to start. This digital painting tutorial will cover landscape painting specifically because I personally consider it less difficult than other subjects. Therefore I think it is a good place to start and experiment.
Creating a digital landscape painting might not be as difficult as you imagine. I would even say that being able to draw well isn’t that important. Though it certainly helps. I know of many artists that can draw one subject amazingly but completely fail at other things. I personally find any anatomical stuff extremely challenging.
My point is this: if you worry your drawing skills aren’t up to scratch don’t worry about it. Digital painting uses a unique set of skills which can be practiced by anyone.
The idea for this tutorial came from my years at college studying animation. We used to do a drawing exercise which was fantastic at improving our skills in a short space of time. We would take turns drawing each other in various positions and postures. The catch was we only had 30 seconds to draw the figure before moving on to the next.
As you might imagine this was very challenging at first as you really struggle to get the drawing right in only 30 seconds. But that is the point. The harsh time limit means you have to work really fast and capture the essence of the subject and not the fine details.
Working fast also seems to override the part of the brain which makes you overthink and worry about getting it right. What you end up with is a tonne of messy drawings but you will be surprised how quickly they start getting better and more accurate.
The fine details are added on top of a good foundation. It is about learning to crawl before you can walk. It’s kind of like learning the basic chords on a guitar before you learn how to solo.
As far as technique and practice is concerned it is much more beneficial to make 20 rough drawings than 2 or 3 detailed ones.
How does this apply to digital painting?
Well, 30 seconds is way too fast to get a digital painting together but 10-15 minutes is a great place to start. The concept is the same: try your best to recreate a photo via digital painting as quickly as possible.
This is a great way to practice because it is hands-on and fun. The colours and composition are already there and you all have to do is focus on the brush strokes.
Things like colour theory and composition can be learned anytime and sometimes the last thing you need to do is more reading and theory.
In my opinion the best way to build your confidence is to focus on one thing at a time, in this exercise we focus on the mechanical act of painting.
A digital painting exercise for beginners
So this is my speed painting, it took roughly 15 minutes to complete. You will notice it is very rough but I think I captured the general essence of the photo. If you want to see the time-lapse video of the painting you can watch it below- it’s at 3x speed:
I am working with Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 and a very old Intuos 4 Wacom Graphics Tablet. Any tablet would work with this technique and as we are doing very low detail work you don’t need to worry about using a low-end tablet.
Don’t have Photoshop? – I have remade this tutorial for the free painting and drawing program Krita.
So to begin, grab a fairly simple landscape photo you really like. I am using a photo I took when I was travelling the south island of New Zealand.
Create a new file with whatever dimension you want something like 1920 x 1080 pixels is a nice place to start.
Open or copy and paste the photo into photoshop and then minimize it into a small thumbnail. You can either place the photo and the painting on separate layers or do the whole thing on one layer it doesn’t really matter.
I used a basic hard round brush – all the settings were default except I set the size control to pen pressure. This means the harder I press on my graphics tablet the bigger the brush stroke will be.
With the brush tool selected hit F5 to bring up the brush options.
To change the Size Control select shape dynamics and then under size jitter you will find the option for pen pressure.
You will be surprised how many hugely successful digital artists rely on the basic brushes to do the majority of the work. You can, of course, play around with the brush settings but I think the simplicity of a basic brush with no fancy settings will help you get better quicker.
Useful keyboard shortcuts:
- F5 – a quick shortcut to access the brush options.
- Alt + Click – Sample colours without needing to change from the brush tool
- [ – reduce the brush size
- ] – increase the brush size
Make sure the Eyedropper tool is set to “Sample: All layers”
So all you need to do is sample the colours from the photograph and then paint them on to the canvas. I began by filling the canvas with the most dominant colour in the sky.
I recommend beginning with the sky and then try to work from the background to the foreground. Try to work quickly and aim to recreate the whole photograph not just one portion of it. I like to use big brush strokes at first I find this produces cleaner lines and shapes.
Once I feel like I have captured the general composition I then go back with a smaller brush to add detail.
Don’t worry about the fine details just try your best to capture the general look of the photograph. The purpose of this exercise is to get a feel for how colours blend together and how the graphics tablet behaves in Photoshop.
Eventually you will reach a point were you no longer need to sample the colours from the photo. Your painted canvas will contain all the colours you need. Scaling down a photo also reduces the number of colours in the photo.
You may be surprised by how few colours you actually need.
My advice would be, see it through to the end even if you feel like you have made a mistake. The purpose of this exercise is not to produce an amazing painting but to gain experience. You can often correct a lot of mistakes with digital painting especially in the early stages of the painting.
This technique is a bit tricky to explain with words so I strongly recommend watching the time-lapse video.
I hope you enjoy this technique I still find it very useful if I am a bit rusty and need to get familiar with digital painting again. If you like the painting you produce you can always continue to detail it.
Try to practice with as many different photos as possible. Try to vary the type of landscape and time of day as much as possible each photo is its own challenge. One day you might look back on your early attempts and appreciate how much you have developed.
Please be aware that I have my own personal taste/style so don’t worry about matching my technique perfectly – I like the sharpness of the hard brush, you may prefer a softer smoother look.
What’s next? If you feel like you want to break free from copying a photo you may want to learn about the importance of Atmospheric Haze for landscape painting.