Should I learn how to draw traditionally before drawing digitally?
Hey there, and welcome to Anatomy of a Sketch!
Have you ever asked yourself the question “Should I learn traditional art before digital art?”
It’s a very good question, and I am going to do my best to give you a good answer.
I myself practiced traditional art, and realism, for many years before diving into digital art and animation.
So today we will be learning the difference between digital and traditional art, as well as answering the question: Is it a good idea to learn how to draw traditionally before drawing digitally?
I started practicing digital art in 2015, and honestly, it took me a while to get on board.
Before that, and for many many years, all of my artwork was done on paper.
I studied realism and became very proficient in it.
When my dad introduced me to digital art, I wasn’t sure that I liked it.
I had this weird (and incorrect) idea that digital art was less-than traditional art because you could “undo” brush strokes as well as whole layers.
Traditional art just seemed harder, and I guess therefore better.
But digital art is just as amazing as traditional, and there is so much you can learn and create with it.
That being said, there are some amazing benefits to learning traditional art first, and that is what we are going to talk about in this lesson.
Digital Art vs. Traditional Art
What is the difference between digital art and traditional art?
Let’s look at traditional art first!
Traditional media drawing of Medusa, done with pencil and ink.
Traditional art is created with some form of a physical medium.
This could be paper, cardboard, canvas, what have you.
You can use pencils, charcoal, paint, pens, markers…
There are so many fun options!
You can do some really amazing things with digital art.
My digital illustration fanart of the Scarlet Witch from Marvel’s Multiverse of Madness
Digital art is done digitally on a tablet or monitor.
While traditional art has a lot of creative options to choose from, digital art has really come a long way to give you the closest experience to traditional drawing options possible.
I use Procreate on the iPad pro for my digital art.
Procreate has a TON of awesome brushes, and you can even make your own if you want to!
I really like the “pencil” brushes for sketching, because the marks really look like they were done with a pencil.
Is it important to learn traditional art first?
I have a few reasons for believing that it is important to study traditional art first,
preferably from the time someone is a child.
But anyone can learn art at any age!
Reason #1. There’s no undo button
The reason that I believe learning traditional art first is important is to acquire the basic skills for drawing,
in a setting where you can’t easily undo your work.
My art teacher in college would always say,
“No erasing till the drawing is finished.”
This was because often times when drawing, we will make a brushstroke that we don’t like, and erase it.
We do this over and over until we lose the original vision we had for our art.
It’s just like writing,
You write your first draft of a book before you edit and revise it, otherwise, you might never finish it.
Editing art of any form should be done once the first draft is finished.
Sloppy lines are good!
This is a skill I still use in my digital art today.
But I’m glad I learned it traditionally first.
Reason #2. You get better at shading
One of the things I DEFINITELY earned from my time doing traditional art was how well I learned to shade,
and how to shade faces really well.
The illustrations I did below were done with 100% graphite and charcoal pencils.
My pencil illustrations of Lagertha and Ragnar from Vikings.
Shading within digital art is very fun, but it is VERY different.
When you shade on paper, it feels like you have more control over where the graphite is going, and I feel like you learn more about how to properly spread the tone you are working with.
This next image is a very realistic digital version of Carol from the Walking Dead that I did a few months after the images above.
There is still shading,
And the skin looks great,
but I don’t think if I had jumped into digital art before traditional art, this would have turned out nearly as well.
I needed that practice on paper first.
Shading is something that takes a lot of time and practice,
and studying shading on paper, I believe, will make it much easier to learn how to shade digitally after.
Reason #3: Studying figure drawing in person makes a difference
One of the best classes I took in college was Drawing 101.
This is not only because it was super fun, but because we studied figure drawing.
Figure drawing is when you draw a live model in lots of different poses.
You could study figure and form drawing online, but when you study in person, you can actually see the way the light hits the body,
and the shadows, as well as the musculature of the model.
It’s not the same drawing from a photograph.
Reason #4: It’s harder to go the other way
Probably the most important reason to start out learning to draw traditionally before drawing digitally is that it is harder to go backward.
I think more people struggle when they start learning art digitally and then try to draw traditionally later.
This is because you get used to the way you draw on your tablet.
When I first got my iPad pro, I was SO excited.
And I still love it!
It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever purchased.
But after drawing with it for a few months straight, I tried to go back to drawing on paper, and I caught myself trying to zoom in with my fingers out of habit.
I know this sounds silly, and it felt like it when it happened, but muscle memory is a real thing.
The importance of learning traditionally first is that you develop the habit of not being able to erase everything and to be more thoughtful with your choices.
You want to have both skills because traditional art will always be timeless.
Drawing traditionally also gives you the satisfaction of drawing without being forced to look at another screen.
And sometimes, it’s great to turn the screens off for a while.
The Benefits of learning Digital Art
So all of that to say, traditional art is a great thing to learn before learning digital art.
But I highly recommend learning digital art as well.
There is something exciting about digital art that cannot be replicated traditionally.
Digital art is amazing for creating spectacular backgrounds, working fast, and creating sharp, clean lines.
It’s also so fun to be able to paint in a different way than ever before, with endless colors at your fingertips.
The possibilities of things you can do with digital art is crazy,
and I adore it so much.
Is Digital Art Easier than Traditional Art?
I don’t think digital art is easier than traditional.
Both take so much time and practice.
This will feel a bit cringy for me, but here is an example of a past work of mine, vs one that I did this year.
The picture of Katara from ATLA was one I did in early 2015, and one of my first attempts at digital art.
You can see that I didn’t know a lot about anatomy (her arms are so long!) and that I was just learning how to shade.
The bottom picture of Starfire from Titans was one of my first drawings on my iPad prop this year, 2022,
and you can tell I’ve learned A LOT more about drawing.
Starfire’s arms are in the proper proportion, the shading is much better, as well as the added background.
Any art form takes time and practice, and digital is not easier than traditional.
I hope this answered your questions about digital vs traditional art!
If you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comment section below.
Want to learn how to illustrate in full color?
Sketching is so much fun and I LOVE linework!
But one of my favorite parts of being an illustrator is rendering my illustrations in full color.
If you want to learn EXACTLY how I illustrate my character’s hair, make it super shiny, and add texture and shading to my character’s skin, consider joining my Patreon community.
On Patreon, I post monthly FULL-COLOR tutorials for my Champion and Hero tiers!
These are so much fun, and Patrons are able to comment and ask questions as well as “like” posts and answer polls.
My Hero tier also receives a monthly vinyl sticker from me via snail mail!
These are such a big hit. Some of the ones we have done so far are Harley Quinn, Princess Leia, Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn), and Jane Foster as the Mighty Thor.
And if you are a Patron, we do take polls so you can help pick which stickers I send each month.
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Thank you for being here today and learning about learning to draw traditionally vs drawing digitally with me!
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Hi there! My name is Leah, and I am going to help you learn how to draw, and take your pictures to the next level. I have college-level experience with form drawing and multiple art classes under my belt that have helped me create these tutorials. Let's learn how to draw together!