Lesson 1 Get Comfortable with Your Tablet & Pen

Lesson 1 Get Comfortable with Your Tablet & Pen In this lesson we explore your digital painting toolbox with tips and exercises for getting acquainted...
Author: Jason Booth
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Lesson 1 Get Comfortable with Your Tablet & Pen In this lesson we explore your digital painting toolbox with tips and exercises for getting acquainted with your tablet/pen.

Digital Painting 101: Painting on Your Computer

You’ve probably seen a lot of amazing digital art on the Internet. Whether you’re looking at an altered photo or a beautiful layered collage, it’s likely that a digital artist with a pen/stylus is responsible. The digital creation process is involved and it can be broken into two basic parts: design and execution. The first part, design, is the deeply creative act of imagination. How realistic do I want this portrait? What shape is the flower going to take? What colors will this landscape have? Creativity of this sort is hard to teach...but it comes more naturally the more often you practice. The second part, execution, is what this course focuses on through a series of exercises to get you comfortable with the tablet and pen. These may seem dry and simple, but you must master the basics in order to create masterfully. Lose the Mouse Traditional painters use brushes and pencils, and digital artists use USB tablets and pens. Other than the pen-like form factor, these digitizers differ from computer mouse in one key aspect: pressure sensitivity. While a mouse is only capable of a clicking action, the USB tablet outputs a gradation of intensity. Press hard with one of these pens and you get a dark line; ease up to lighten your mark. There are many versions of tablets and pens available today. The most common USB tablet brand is Wacom, and they offer an entry level “Bamboo” model which provides great value for the sub-$100 price-point. Graphite BT (Bluetooth), Cintiq and Intuos drawing tablets offer the closest digital experience to drawing with a pencil and paper. These are very pricey however. For this class I recommend a Bamboo tablet which is a good intro tablet to learn on and costs under $150. Since you are just learning how to use these tools, it is better not to make a huge investment initially. You may find that you prefer a mouse. You may find that the Bamboo is all you ever need. You may also find that you want to learn more and more and want to invest in a larger and more powerful tablet. That is what this class is about...learning enough to make decisions about how you will proceed with your art. Tablets & Pen/Stylus 101 Please note that using a tablet has a pretty big learning curve...so expect some bumps as you are learning a new tool. I will be offering you some pearls of wisdom I had to learn the hard way as I progressed. It is a bit intimidating but your comfort level will grow with time. The major difference between drawing with tablet and pen/stylus and drawing with a pencil and paper is that you are not looking at your hand while you are drawing, you are looking at the screen display. This takes some getting use to, but after several hours of retraining your eye-hand coordination, the Tablet/Pen experience will become very similar to actual drawing. Initially, the surface feels too slippery (the pen has no resistance) and it may be difficult for you to do the fine detail work until you have better control. Bet realistic and do not pressure yourself to master the pen quickly. Some people have found better control if they put a piece of paper over the tablet. It works just fine but the manufacturers warn it could wear your pen out faster.

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In my experience, the Tablet and pen have helped me to improve painting and drawing. What it does for me is give me so much more control because using a pen is so much more intuitive than using a mouse. NOTE: Although you can accomplish some of the work in this class using a mouse, to follow along easily with this course you should have a tablet of some sort. Many PSE dialog boxes (mainly the brushes) have options for Tablet support. That is, the more pressure you apply, the bigger or darker or more colorful your painting will be. When selecting the paintbrush, you will also be able to make good use of the Airbrush abilities (by clicking on the icon in the options bar). Adobe PhotoShop is specifically designed to be used with a Wacom pen tablet. Pen pressure, pen tilt, and even the airbrush’s finger-wheel can control attributes like opacity, size, color, and exposure. With a Wacom pen (stylus), you have the power to dynamically control PhotoShop’s tools in the most natural and intuitive way possible. PhotoShop has more than 20 customizable tools that perform at their best with a Wacom pen. PhotoShop elements has fewer capabilities, but will serve as a great learning ground for you. Simply press a little harder or softer with your pen for more or less effect. PS feels every slight adjustment that you make with your Wacom pen. Photographers, designers, and artists choose to work with Wacom pen tablets mainly because of the Wacom pressure-sensitive pen. Color temperature, exposure, blur, and any other PS effect can be applied with pressure-sensitive pen control. To selectively undo the effect, simply turn your pen over and use the pressure-sensitive eraser. As for the eraser, that is on the certain pens and there are pen differences. However, even though one, theoretically, is supposed to be able to turn the pen over and erase just the same as with a pencil, it doesn’t always work correctly, and you are left to using/selecting the software eraser tool anyway...which I most often do. Whether making selections, retouching, or applying effects, working with a Wacom pen is clearly the fastest way to work to achieve a smoother, more natural look. I have also heard that some people have encountered strange behavior with PSE when not using the latest Wacom drivers. So save yourself the trouble and get the latest drivers. I found it very helpful to check the “Click Sound” option in the Control Panel/Pen Tablet Properties. I found times when I was not sure if the pen was working and/or I was pressing hard enough. So that “click as you go” helped me avoid “digging a hole” in the tablet because I thought that I was not getting the desired effect and had to press harder to get it. I found out much later that those pen tips do need to be replaced with time and use. I have found that if I don’t use the tablet very often, I end up forgetting what I have the buttons programmed to do. Right now I have the left and right bracket (brush size), option/alt (subtract selection), and spacebar (hand tool) programmed. You might want to have other things that you use often programmed. It is a personal choice and all about ease of use. You might want the Undo button programmed at first!!! LOL If you’re left handed you might have to disable the scroll bar function, as it gets in the way! Using the pressure sensitivity settings you can dynamically control things like brush size and opacity but I prefer to control these settings manually through the Photoshop “opacity” settings. During this tutorial we will learn how to set the pen angle, colors and other settings. We will work with different brush tips and become familiar with the pressure sensitivity of your pen. We will work with the Default brushes that come with PSE because these will be your most often used brushes. We can make hundreds of other brushes from these as you will see. REP PSD5 - Lesson1:10

Directions Open a new, blank document. Mine is 2000 X 2000 pixels with a white background. Tool Properties Whenever you have a tool selected, the information shown in the top options bar will change. This is called the Tool Properties. In this case, there are three different properties which modify the brush tool. If your Tool Properties bar looks different than mine, you might have a different tool active. Color Picker Near the bottom of the tool palette, you’ll see two squares of color – black and white. These are called the foreground and background color. The color on your brush is always known as the foreground color. If you want to change this color, click on the foreground square and it opens up the color picker. Getting Set Up The necessary palettes to have displayed are the Layers and Tools. Keyboard Shortcuts for Getting Around Sometimes operating software feels like digging through a dense instruction manual. You’re attempting to do a creative act, but getting bogged down by an endless sea of menus and pulldowns. What better way to speed up your painting than with keyboard shortcuts? These shortcuts (Page 6) are worth learning before you progress any further. NOTE: I’m a MAC user, so if you use Windows replace each instance of Command with Control (Ctrl). Zoom (Z): To quickly zoom in and out, press Ctrl+ + and Ctrl+ Pan: If you’re zoomed in to a portion of your canvas, hold down Spacebar to temporarily switch to the Hand tool, and click drag to move your canvas around. Knowing the shortcuts is especially useful with your pen. Take It Slowly If this is your first experience with PhotoShop you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. If this is your first experience with your pen, you may feel lost and frustrated. Don’t worry, everyone feels this way when they dive into new things.

Exercise 1: Basic Navigation 1. Create a new layer.

1. Draw a red triangle in the upper left hand portion of your canvas.  2. Change your color to blue, and draw a rectangle in the lower right quadrant. 3. Change your color to green and draw a squiggle connecting the two shapes. 4. Zoom into your canvas with Command/Ctrl+ + + so only the red triangle is visible. 5. Pan your visible canvas while holding the SPACEBAR to follow the squiggle path toward the blue rectangle. 6. Once the blue rectangle is visible, zoom out to show your entire canvas with Ctrl - - Repeat this sequence until you feel comfortable with basic navigation! REP PSD5 - Lesson1:11

Okay. Now that you can navigate around your drawing pretty well, we will do some basic drawing. I know you are chomping at the bit to draw something. Remember practice, practice, practice is the main teaching tool here. Any good digital artist will tell you that it takes time and practice to master control of the brushes. It is all about control and finesse. And you gain control and finesse with practice.

Exercise 2: Basic Drawing with #13 hard round 1. Create a new layer.

2. Draw a line with your brush. 3. Hold the Command/Ctrl key and draw a straight line. 4. Draw a squiggly line. 5. Draw a thin to thick line by adjusting pressure as you draw. 6. Repeat step 5. This one is pretty tricky. 7. Draw a thin to thick to thin line by adjusting pressure as you draw. 8. Repeat step 7. 9. Repeat step 7 holding the Command/Ctrl key. How did you do? It takes practice to get the coordination and control.

Exercise 3: Basic Drawing with #13 soft round





1. Create a new layer.

2. Follow steps 2-9 in Exercise 2.

Exercise 4: Basic Drawing with #200 airbrush 1. Create a new layer.

2. Follow steps 2-9 in Exercise 2.

Exercise 5: Basic Drawing with #59 spatter 1. Create a new layer.

2. Follow steps 2-9 in Exercise 2.

Exercise 6: Basic Drawing with #63 watercolor 1. Create a new layer.

2. Follow steps 2-9 in Exercise 2. Is this becoming easier? I would recommend drawing more lines with different size brushes until you are very comfortable with the pressure sensitivity of the pen. Pay attention to where the lines go on the screen. Are they where you intended them to be? Now let’s practice drawing some simple shapes and painting them.

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Exercise 7: Basic Drawing - A Pink Rose 1. Create a new layer.

2. Select a medium shade of pink for your foreground color. 3. With the #63 watercolor brush still selected, paint a rounded shape that will be the rose. Notice how you need to adjust the pressure to fill in wide swaths of color. 4. Select a darker shade of red for the foreground color. 5. With the same #63 watercolor brush draw the petal shapes adjusting pressure as you go from light to hard. How did this feel to you? You can do this exercise as many times as you need to until you feel comfortable with the pressure and your ability to adjust the pressure to draw thin to thick lines to make the rose look good. Remember it is not about drawing the perfect rose at this time. It is about getting the feel of your brush and developing the hand eye coordination of drawing on a screen. It is also about becoming familiar with the pen and the tablet.

Exercise 8: Basic Drawing - Red Lips

1. Create a new layer. Turn previous drawing layer off. 2. With a #13 hard round draw lips with red. 3. Fill in the lips with red adjusting your brush size with the Command/Ctrl open ( [ ) and close ( ] ) bracket keys to the right of the P on your keyboard. Take your time and fill it in as best you can. 4. Zoom in to areas as needed. 5. Use the eraser tool (E) if necessary. 6. Draw and shade the part of the lips with a #13 hard round.

Keep practicing these until you are comfortable with the pen pressure, navigation and changing tools. Try drawing other shapes using other brushes. This lesson is kind of like learning to play the piano. You must play scales over and over and over again before you get to play even the most basic of melodies. The reason is to get your fingers familiar with the feel and pressure and placement of the keys. That is the same idea here. In order to do even the most basic of digital paintings you need to be able to move fluidly between the brushes, the areas of the painting and the colors and layers. It is a kind of choreographed dance of your hands, eyes and mind. Practice makes this dance fluid and that fluidity brings fun eventually. REP PSD5 - Lesson1:13