4 Reasons Why Aspiring Character Designers NEED to Learn Digital Art

I love digital art, and if you’re reading this, chances are good that you love it, too. You might absolutely love the look of the digital art that you see online, or follow some digital artists who you admire.

In any case, if you’re new to the digital art world (and even if you’re not!) you may not be fully aware of the many benefits that digital art provides to you as an artist. It’s not just a medium — it’s an incredibly powerful tool that allows for virtually unlimited experimentation and versatility, if you take advantage of it properly.

Adding digital art to your skillset can open up doors for you as an artist that you may not have even realized you needed! In this post, I want to outline the many advantages that it provides, so that you can keep these in mind during your practice and hopefully improve your skills that much more :)

Obligatory disclaimer! I am not meaning to imply that digital art should replace traditional art entirely. Traditional drawing is an incredibly important skill, and I don’t mean to argue that. What I do mean to do is illustrate the vast benefits that digital art provides as a skill to add to your repertoire — not take over it completely :)

Without further introduction, let’s get into the reasons why digital art is freakin’ awesome.

1. Digital art allows for non-destructive changes.

First let me define the difference between ‘destructive’ and ‘non-destructive’ changes. A ‘destructive’ change is one that is very difficult, if not impossible, to undo — that is, it directly alters your work in some way.

For example, imagine working on a character design in your sketchbook using pencil, and you decide that you want to darken their hair. You pick up your trusty 6B pencil and start adding depth to those luscious locks — only to realize a few minutes later that you preferred the hair lighter.

...whoops. :/

As you can imagine, this is something that would be hard to undo. Sure, you can take your eraser, painstakingly shape the end of it into a teeny tiny point and try to lighten your strokes, and this may fix the problem well enough, but it would take awhile, and you’ll likely never be able to get it quite back to its previous state.

Cue the benefit of digital art, and the wonders of layers & the ‘undo’ button.

Digital art allows you to add new changes to your work on separate layers, which allow the original work to remain untouched. Don’t like what you just did? No problem! Just undo it (or delete that layer entirely) and in less than a second it’s like it never happened. I absolutely love the creative freedom this provides for experimentation without the worry of ‘ruining’ your piece. Have an idea? Go ahead and try it! Undoing it is only a keystroke away.

This benefit is actually closely tied to the next benefit I want to go over, which is…

2. Digital art allows for endless experimentation and versioning.

Picture this. You’ve got your character design, and you’re really liking how it looks. But you just can’t quite decide what hair & eye colour combination will look the best.

On paper, this puts you in a bit of a fix. Once you add colour to paper, you sort of have to be committed to it, because again, undoing it is next-to-impossible.

...enter the wonderful world of digital art. Not sure what colour combo to go with? No problem! Create a new layer, add your colour, see what you think, and then delete it if you don’t like it. Or, you can even duplicate your piece, and add different colour combinations to each one, and compare them to see which version you like best.

I. Love. This. Because one of my favourite things to do is try wild and wacky different hair & eye combinations to see which one looks the coolest. Even if you know it’s not the one you want to go with in the end, sometimes it’s fun just to try for the hell of it… and hey, you might discover it’s your absolute favourite! And this is something you never would have known if you were constraint to picking the ‘safest’ option on paper, in the interest of not ruining the sketch you spent ages creating.

See what I mean?

Digital art makes this process of experimenting and creating different versions of a piece so, so easy. This allows you to maximise your creative potential by being able to try all the ideas you have floating around in your head, instead of having to pick just one, and never knowing if you might have liked the others better. Unless, of course, you re-create an entirely new piece, which is of course an option, but a time-consuming one. And there’s only so much time in a day.

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3. Digital art is one tool to rule them all.

Okay, so this might a bit of an exaggeration... Obviously a digital painting and an oil painting are two very different things, among other examples.



Digital art does have a virtually endless supply of tools that mimic different artistic mediums, and this opens up a world of experimentation and creativity. Brush strokes, textures, colours, special effects… you name it and you can probably incorporate it into your digital art somehow.

Again, take painting for example. Like I said, traditional painting and digital painting are obviously different… but if you’re sort of interested in just trying a painterly piece, but don’t want to invest in paintbrushes, expensive paints, an easel, canvases, and so on, digital art allows you experiment with paint-mimicking tools without having to go through all the fuss of obtaining a bunch of sometimes-very-expensive art supplies.

Mixed media brushes, anyone?

Couple this versatility with the above two points, and you can see how digital art is a playground of artistic potential just waiting for you to jump in there and start creating. Not only can you find a ton of different tools to experiment with different styles, but there’s pretty much no pressure involved with trying them out. Does what you just tried look like… well... crap? Then who cares?! Delete it, start over, and you didn’t waste any supplies doing so (other than your time, I guess, but I don’t think any time spent experimenting with art is wasted — it’s how we learn, after all!).

4. Digital art makes a lot of steps faster.

This of course this depends on what you’re talking about, since pencil sketches can still be pretty fast, but when it comes to things like laying down colours, textures, and shading, the nature of digital art can definitely speed up this process.

Take a big soft brush and lay down a quick overlay on your piece to create a shadow off to the left, re-colour your character’s entire hair in a few clicks because you decided fuchsia suited them better than chartreuse… you get the idea. Digital art tools are designed in such a way that all of these things can be done in a few clicks and/or keystrokes, and make a really big difference in a short period of time.

If you compare this with hand-colouring something with markers or pencil crayons, or painstakingly shading in even-looking shadows, you can see how digital art can make these processes faster, more efficient, and less nerve-wracking (because, again, it’s easy to undo anything you mess up!).

Look at the big picture!

Now that I’ve gone over a few reasons why digital art is, frankly, awesome, I’d like to outline the positive implications they have. The fact that digital art allows for fast, quick, stress-free, non-destructive experimentation can increase the efficiency of your practice tenfold if you take advantage of it.

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Digital art allows you to make adjustments, un-colour, re-colour, undo, redo, and more, all with a few clicks. This means that the one sketch that you took a photo of (or scanned) & imported into Photoshop can turn into a ton of different pieces, all with different effects added. Then, you can go through them and decide what works, what didn’t, and go from there.

You don’t need to create a new base sketch every time you want to try a different style: just duplicate the original and try, try again.

Duplicate your piece at any point in time, in order to try whatever your next step is in several different styles. I do this all the time!

The result is that every piece I create has resulted in so much more improvement and experimentation than what is displayed in the final product. It’s like an iceburg! The final piece you see is 10% of the whole process — the other 90% involved lots of undoing, redoing, duplicating, experimenting, and deleting… all to achieve the final ‘look’ that I’m happy with.

Ultimately, this means that digital art allows me to improve a lot faster than I may be able to using other mediums. The speed, efficiency, and versatility is truly incomparable to anything else.

Nearly every artist needs to experiment and practice heavily in order to figure out their personal style, and digital art makes this so (SO!) much easier and faster. In a field like character design in particular, where an artist’s personal style is able to be so prevalent, this is so, so valuable.

If you're interested in learning more about using digital art for character design, opt in using one of the forms above to be the first to hear about my upcoming digital art courses!

I hope you found this post helpful — don't hesitate to leave any questions in the comments below :)

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