I have a google alert set to notify me of me newly posted 'digital art tutorials', and it routinely frustrates me. Every time I see a blog post with a title like '40 Amazing Digital Painting Tutorials' I want to pull my hair out. It's not clear when this trend started, but the results are obvious: beginners are being mislead. Art technique is hard, and takes years to learn. A simple look a DeviantArt or Youtube video comments reveals that beginners aren't satisfied with their painting skills and have no idea why they aren't improving. It's totally reasonable that they feel this way, in my opinion, because the internet presents digital painting as an easy skill to master. In reality, it's not! Art is hard work. More specifically, it's both technical and mechanically challenging. First, watch the short Ira Glass video to the right - it's a fantastic bit of advice. Now let's consider the process of learning to digital paint in two major parts, and where the internet tends to shortchange beginners.
The Technical Side
You might think that learning to digital paint is like learning to make other digital files - it's both technical and rule driven. So the web ought to do a great job at teaching this - after all, learning things like HTML, video editing, or making podcasts are very well documented by online tutorials. But it doesn't. This mode of thinking leads to project-based tutorials like "paint a flaming eyeball" and "create stunning concept art robots" (in case you're wondering, those are fake names) which lay out a series of steps to follow in order to make a specific final result. This teaches the software part, but it completely glosses over the most important piece: painting. Digital painting, after all, is essentially just.... painting. So if you're feeling frustrated about your results, ask yourself: how are your traditional skills? This leads me to the second half of the equation.
The Mechanical Side
Painting and drawing use finely-honed motor skills. Just like playing a sport, you can understand the rules in a half hour -- but that doesn't mean you can play professionally. The only way to improve is through repetition. Practice, and practice, and practice, and your technique will improve. This is the void left by the internet. When was the last time a Youtube speedpaint video talked about years and years of practice? Practice isn't sexy. But it's an undeniable truth, and you'll be a happier artist if you're prepared for a marathon, not a sprint. Even as a professional concept artist I am learning every day, and plan to hone my craft for generations to come. It's not a fast process. Like Ira Glass describes in the video (above), there's going to be a gap between your current skill and your current taste. The real challenge is coming to terms with this struggle, because you're going to feel if for a long time. You're going to feel it for years. Hopefully, you'll feel it (in some small way) forever -- because there's always more to learn.
Help Change the Conversation
The internet brought us all together. Even if much of the training content available glosses over the value of traditional drawing and dedicated practice, it brought a bunch of artists together from all over the world to start a conversation. That's extremely cool. We're all learning, and we're all in this together. Since you'll have opportunities to give feedback to artists with less experience than you, remember to encourage the value of 'foundation'. If you see someone struggling with their digital painting, ask them how often they practice drawing with a pencil. See a beginner overly concerned with the particulars of photoshop, or which tablet to buy? Remind them that drawing in correct perspective is far more important. Ultimately, the most important part of 'digital painting' is not 'digital'. So let's help change the conversation. Art is supposed to be hard work.