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Getting creative online

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Now that I’ve settled into my own apartment, I have the luxury of using the other bedroom as a studio. I’ve loved drawing and painting ever since I was little, but could I just pick it up again after a few years of neglect? Nope! I could barely remember how to mix the shade of purple I wanted, so the first thing I did was Google what a colour wheel looks like.

If you’re learning or re-learning any form of art, the internet is a valuable tool. Reference material, tutorials and open-source software are more accessible than ever before and since you’re probably already sitting at a computer or tablet to get online, you might as well make use of it.

Practice without the mess

The colouring or “painting” in digital artwork is fundamentally different to traditional mediums and some artists have difficulty transitioning between the two, but even in terms of black-and-white drawing alone, there are considerable benefits to learning the digital way. You can create hundreds of drawings without using a single piece of paper, not mention you have unlimited erasing with no risk of smudging. Anyone who’s ever slipped with an ink pen after hours of perfecting a pencil figure is sure to appreciate the magic of an “undo” feature.

This first thing you’ll need to get into digital artwork is a graphics tablet and a stylus, which can move the cursor like a mouse but with all the precision of a pencil. Some of the larger or high-tech embedded LCD tablets may be well out of your price range, but all you really need is a small, basic tablet and you can still product great work. Once you consider the ongoing cost of traditional art supplies, it’s a comparable investment for an immersive pastime – you may even end up pursuing a career in design.

Getting software isn’t hard

There’s some really powerful open-source artistic software available these days across Windows, Mac OSX and Linux operating systems. Each one has a slightly different focus on features, so you may want to investigate a little bit based on the style of artwork you prefer.

  • Krita is a digital sketching and painting program that was created with illustrations in mind. If you’re fresh from the land of pens, pencils, paint and paper, it’s an ideal place to start. The interface is really user-friendly, even to beginners.
  • Inkscape, on the other hand, focuses more on vector graphics. Vector artwork involves the creation and manipulation of digital shapes to create images, which is something you can’t really do in traditional media unless you spend hours painstakingly creating a collage. Once you get your head around the use of a pen tool, you can create some pretty cool stuff.
  • GIMP is an open-source alternative to Adobe Photoshop, so it’s worth looking in to if you’d like to try your hand at photo manipulation. It’s definitely possible to use this software to create digital drawings, but beginners might find Krita’s interface a little more straightforward.

If you just feel like having a play in your browser, Sketch Toy is an interesting little application that lets you create a drawing that shivers slightly as if it were an old-timey cartoon. Once you’re done, you can share it and it will play back as it was drawn, step-by-step.

Learning and sharing online

While the internet makes it easy to learn autonomously, it makes it even easier to share content with your peers. While I was studying art and design, we’d often have to stick our finished work on the same wall and comment on each other’s work as a group. It’s an effective way to get constructive criticism on your progress and I encourage you to seek it out no matter which stage you’re at.

You might not have a physical classroom, but there’s a wide range of online communities who are more than happy to give you advice, critique, or just some friendly encouragement. The subreddits /r/LearntoDraw and /r/ArtFundamentals are good examples, with the latter being the official subreddit for a website called Drawabox.

Drawabox has 15 well-developed lessons available online for free, though if you’d like to support the creator of the website, you can pledge monthly donations via Patreon. The material on Drawabox starts from the basics and each lesson contains multiple parts with exercises plus recommendations for homework, so it’s probably one of the best places you can start if you’re serious about developing drawing skills.

If you just want a place to share some work, then WetCanvas is the website for you. It encompasses just about every artistic medium and subject matter imaginable, from digital art right through to pottery and sculpture. There are plenty of other flashier alternatives (someone my age is probably itching to bring up DeviantArt), but good old-fashioned forums like Reddit and WetCanvas are still solid options.

In my experience, this method of sharing content often results in a better sense of community than when images are posted to an online gallery without a message to prompt interaction with anyone who’s looking at it. You’d be surprised at the kinds of friendships you can strike up online.

Do you have some of your artwork online? Give us a link in the comments.

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