The Wonderful New World of Digital Portrait Art

I decided to buy a drawing tablet for my computer.   It was an excellent idea.  I got Wacom's inexpensive ($100) "Graphire" drawing tablet, which can be used on both Mac and PC.  The software I currently use is Corel Painter 8 and Photoshop CS.   They're both great for getting that "painterly" look with a digital tablet! (I have used Painter as far back as version 5, and Photoshop as far back as version 4. These older versions have a lot to offer as well!)

(Some of my digital drawings.)

Drawing with a computer isn't necessarily the most optimal way to hone your drawing skills. There is a certain adjustment required to be able to draw on the tablet, but see the results on the monitor screen.   It can be difficult, and needs some getting used to.  I do not think that all fledgling portrait artists should feel compelled to go digital right away.  However, if you want to try drawing with your computer, there is an advantage - no messy erasures! If you make a mistake, it is easy to fix, and does not put any wear and tear on the paper surface the way a rubber eraser does.  Also, when "painting" with the computer, it is easy to fix and tinker with complex rendered areas, without waiting for paint to dry.  Especially with Photoshop's "layers," which are a little like "virtual tracing paper." You can draw something on an overlaying "layer," and if you don't like it - no problem!   It is easy to reverse without affecting the basic drawing underneath.

Drawing with a digital tablet is for not for everyone, but if you are already a "computer geek," try it out!  Wacom's drawing tablet comes bundled with a "Lite" version of Photoshop, and some other excellent software.

Other recommended software:

If you cannot afford Photoshop, try Paint Shop Pro as an affordable alternative.  Paint Shop Pro is a fraction of the cost of Photoshop, and is a very powerful and versatile graphics program.  Also, I initially used a "Lite" version of Corel Painter, called "Painter Classic."  It is a very nice graphics program, and quite affordable.

Photoshop LE is also a good alternative to Photoshop. It has many of the features you'll need, and it is very affordable. (It comes bundled with some models of the Wacom tablet.)

The latest addition to the Photoshop "Family" is Photoshop Elements. This software is only $100, and has many features of the "full" version of Photoshop. Photoshop User Magazine gave this software glowing reviews.

Check out eBay for software deals.  That is how I was able to afford Photoshop and Painter for my PC and iMac.  You can get older versions of these programs, and save lots of money.  You don't need the latest and greatest versions to make good art.  AND... be sure to get some good books for these software programs!  (I never hesitate to recommend books!)  They'll help you get the most out of the software, and also, most of these type of books include sample illustrations of other artists' work.  I always find other digital artists' works very inspiring!

To see some more of my digital art (including a few more portraits) check out my domain site's Photoshop page.

Some details about how to use a graphics program to draw a portrait:

Cowboy - Digital Art  I did this drawing when I knew very little about Photoshop. I merely used my Wacom USB digital tablet to draw this face. I found that using multiple Photoshop "layers" really helped keep things from going crazy. I had one layer for the basic sketch of the head, another layer for shadows in the face, yet another for highlights in the face. Then, each other portion of the portrait had its own layer - a hat layer, shirt, background, bandana, etc. This way, if I screwed up the hat, the rest of the picture wasn't ruined because of it! I could just delete (or erase) the mistake on the hat without affecting the rest of the image. Or I could be drastic and delete the whole hat layer and start over! Layers were the only way to go. And I could also add different filters and effects to each layer, individually, which I found really helpful.

These portraits were done with Photoshop 5.5, but Photoshop back to at least version 3 have the "layers" feature as well. So does Photoshop LE, and PaintShop Pro. (I think layers were introduced with version 5 of PaintShop Pro.) With just the basic understanding of layers, you can do a lot with a digital tablet and a graphics program!

I have a Photoshop portrait tutorial, which gives step-by-step instructions on drawing a portrait with Photoshop on my domain site.


Copyright © J.R. Dunster 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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