10 tips painting wacom feature

10 things I wish someone told me about digital painting

August 30, 2022

Get comfortable with digital painting with these simple and helpful tips.

In this guest post (and in the below video), artist James Joyce gives beginning digital painters advice: what does he wish he’d known when he first started out on his digital painting journey?


In the early days of Microsoft Paint, there was little to worry about as a digital artist. You couldn’t use a drawing tablet, and the program itself was limited to basic functions. Craig Mullins, considered the father of digital painting, has said that even at its inception, Photoshop wasn’t even considered as potential software for illustrators. Now, it runs the industry with thousands of exception digital artists in tow.

Now, Photoshop is just one of many kinds of software artists can use to paint digitally. The options available in each are truly overwhelming. I’m trying to learn Clip Studio Paint myself, and I’m baffled by everything that you can do. It’s exciting, but it feels like there’s a steep learning curve. It can be helpful to have a couple of simple tips in your toolbelt to make the experience smoother and more enjoyable.

1. Paint inside a clean selection

I’m not sure where I learned to do this, but it’s my FAVORITE technique by far! On a clean layer, create a shape with any brush. Then create a new layer and alt+click between the new one and the previous layer you just made. That new layer will only allow marks to appear where you created the shape on the previous one. It masks the shape on the original layer so you can’t paint outside the lines of the shape you created.

This has so many benefits that it almost feels like cheating! You can make large sweeping brushstrokes knowing that it will retain the shape from the layer below. You can add shadow and light around the exact edge of the shape without worrying about straying marks. You can paint inside the silhouette of a character without making changes to the background. It’s an extremely clean way to paint and lets you do things you would never get away with working traditionally.

2. Your gear matters

Most people will tell you that gear doesn’t matter, but that’s not entirely true. While there is a larger selection of brands that sell drawing tablets than ever before, not all are created equal. And unfortunately, if you opt for a cheaper tablet, you can get so used to it that the better version you were waiting to save up for won’t ever feel comfortable – at least not without putting in a lot of work to make up for that discomfort.

My first tablet was a Medium sized Wacom Intuos 4. I bought a Wacom tablet because I was told they were the best in the market. While this article is written for Wacom, I still believe that they’re the best on the market today. I approached them specifically to sponsor my videos because I love their products. Not to mention, the people I’ve worked with at Wacom are incredible. My current tablet is their Intuos Pro, and I couldn’t imagine painting with anything else.

Digital painting can be done on any tablet, but it’s worth saving for a high-quality product for the best return on your investment. If you’re an artist, you’re a lifelong customer and it will make a difference in the long run.

3. Stop using your phone

I won’t lie, seeing people paint on their phone is pretty incredible. However, it’s going to limit your ability to learn the array of skills you need to become a professional artist. Don’t get me wrong, you could get really good drawing on a little screen and the skills will translate to a bigger device, but once you start painting bigger, that’s when you’ll run into problems.

Drawing in a variety of sizes helps you become accustomed to proportions and if you’re stuck on a very small screen, chances are your drawings are one size fits all. If you have to go with a phone-like screen, try getting a tablet like an iPad.

Get creative inspiration direct to your inbox

Sign up for the Wacom Creative Newsletter for tips, tricks, news, and offers that will excite your imagination.

4. Control your edges

Edge control is a big thing for painters. They can communicate form, focus, and guide the viewers eye across your composition. How well you control the edges of your painting will determine how much of an impact it has on the viewer. Beginners tend to overlook that there are tools dedicated to blending. I know when I first started, all I used was a soft brush to manually blend edges. There is a better way.

In Photoshop you have the mixer brush and in Clip Studio you have the blending tool. The mixer brush feels like it pulls the virtual paint on top of each other, and it feels extremely artificial. Some artists don’t even bother to use it and instead opt for what I did as a beginner, using the different types of brushes to achieve different kinds of edges.

Clip Studio’s blending tool, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. It feels like the colors are mixing in a soft and fluid manner. It feels elegant and natural, despite knowing I’m throwing around virtual paint.

Control of your edges is one of the fundamentals of painting. If Clip Studio can make that experience easy and smooth, I’m all for it (and you should be too).

5. You only need one tool to start

The brush tool is literally all you need when you try your hand at digital painting. These programs are immense and can be overwhelming for beginners. Just focus on the fact that all you need is one tool, the brush tool.

As you get comfortable using the brush, start to add things to your repertoire slowly. Adjust the settings on your brush for a different experience. Try using the eraser tool if you make a mistake. Adjust the levels to make a greater impact with the lighting and colors. There are dozens of tools, filters, brushes, and options available to you. You don’t have to use them all at once, but you should explore as you get more and more comfortable with each tool you use.

Widen your skill set and add a small layer of complexity to your process as you get comfortable with the program you decide to use.

6. Check your monitor for nits

The first time I noticed a problem with my monitor was when I finished a winter-themed Calvin and Hobbes illustration. I noticed a discrepancy between the painting on my laptop vs my desktop monitor. The values and colors were noticeably different.

Nits are a unit of measurement that describe how bright a display is. On that day, I found out that the nits on my desktop monitor were significantly lower than the nits on my laptop, causing me to squish all my values. I was painting in a lower range of the value scale. Not only did it severely impact my learning (how to accurately spot and choose values/colors) it ruined the final impact of my illustration.

Thankfully, as a digital painting, a few adjustments to the levels and some minor color correction brought it back to normal. I am still shocked that my eyes had gotten so used to the squished values on my desktop monitor I thought I was seeing a full range of values from light to dark. When in fact, the range of values was limited.

Take great care in ensuring that when you choose a monitor it has a sufficient number of nits, preferably 500 or more, to see the full range of values/colors properly.

7. Composition is queen

Kings are overrated. Composition is queen in the world of art! It should be the first thing you think about when you’re making an illustration. Composition is what draws a viewer into the image and makes it compelling enough to stick around. There’s an emotional connection that happens because of the way it was designed.

A simple change in eye level can communicate vastly different moods and emotional responses. When something as small as that can change the impact of a painting so profoundly, you need to understand how to design it to your benefit. Many artists these days tend to make simple pinup poses that have little to no impact to the viewer. If all you want to do is draw pretty faces, straight on, with little to no emotion, that’s perfectly fine. But if you want to make an emotional impact in yourself and the viewer, you need a great composition.

shop wacom tablet stack 1
[dmpro_image_hotspot _builder_version=”4.17.4″ _module_preset=”default” global_colors_info=”{}”][/dmpro_image_hotspot]

Shop Wacom Products

Visit the Wacom eStore to find the perfect tools for your next project.

8. You don’t need to start traditionally

There seems to be a wild misconception from professional artists that you should be drawing traditionally before you switch to digital. If you want to be a digital artist and start painting, then do it. You don’t have to wait until you cross some imaginary skill threshold as a traditional artist before you switch to digital.

However, you might want to practice as if you’re working traditionally. The learning will be more impactful. For example, if all you’re used to is having the lasso or liquify tool to fix your work, your muscle memory will always remember how to do the mistake. It’ll start to create bad habits in your process. When you’re sitting down to learn, try to limit your use of special tools. When you’re creating illustrations for yourself, or work, then allow for more of those helpful shortcuts.

9. There’s more than one solution

The library of digital tools is massive. Programs like Photoshop and Clip Studio have so many features that there tends to be more than one way to do the same thing or something similar.

Not only that, but we all approach problems differently. Yes, we have fundamentals, but not everyone draws the head the same way. Yet we still have thousands of beautiful faces created by artists of varying methods. Some people like to add circles to outline the eye sockets and some people like to go straight in and paint a face starting from the right eye.

You don’t need to look for the perfect way to paint something, you just need to do it. If you want to learn a new way to paint something, and potentially learn something cool in the process, try it out. Enjoy your creative process by sampling the many different flavors of how to create!

10. Make your image look good from far away

If you can make your illustration look incredible as a thumbnail, you’re halfway to a masterpiece. In the time you spend creating an illustration or work of art, the details are generally where you spend most of your time. If the thumbnail looks terrible, no amount of detail is going to save it. Slow down in the beginning so you don’t add detail to a weak foundation.

There are times when I browse art and the thumbnail really draws me in. When I click on the thumbnail and see the painting, it’s a little jarring when the final piece has less impact. This isn’t a failure of the artist. They are close to a breakthrough. Solve the important half of the equation first – the composition – and you’ll soon figure out the rest.

Bonus: Take advantage of checkpoints

A final bonus tip that I love to take advantage of is non-destructive artwork. Having the ability to make art that’s non-destructive is what makes digital artwork so powerful.

If you work traditionally and create a character design, you only get that one figure to try out one design. You have to redraw the entire figure all over again to work through a new idea.

If you work digitally, you can copy the layer as many times as you want and try out as many designs as you wish. You can change the design on your figure entirely, alter the colors, or maybe reposition the right leg to try a new pose. You can do all this with the original figure still intact. It would take hours to do traditionally, what you can explore digitally.

Start your digital painting journey!

Getting my hands on a Wacom tablet for the first time was like a dream. I was too scared to do any real artwork of my own, so I colored pages of manga until I got used to the tablet enough to start my own artistic journey. I hope this article gives you the courage to dive right in and learn a few tricks right off the bat. Digital painting is a thrilling experience, and these tips will only be the building blocks to your rise as professional artist.

james joyce avatar

About the author:

James is an artist from Maine who resides in California. He’s been drawing for over 10 years, and knows that learning to draw feels like a long and hard journey. That’s why he created Zephyer – to give artists a healthy creative process that nurtures their growth. He aims to create a new educational framework designed to help artists discover the best ways to learn to draw. James uses traditional tools along with his Wacom Cintiq 16 and Wacom Intuos Pro to improve and create his designs.

Related posts:

Drawing confidently: Why Sam Yang always draws with references

Drawing confidently: Why Sam Yang always draws with references

How to draw a dragon, with Monika Zagrobelna

How to draw a dragon, with Monika Zagrobelna

Three ways to use your Wacom One pen tablet, with Joli Noelle David

Three ways to use your Wacom One pen tablet, with Joli Noelle David

Artist and animator Joshua Leonard on his career, why diversity matters, and advice for young artists

Artist and animator Joshua Leonard on his career, why diversity matters, and advice for young artists

Connect with Wacom on social media


Learn how to customize your pen and change the brush size in just two  steps ✍️

Discover all the amazing features about your Pen in the link in bio!

#WacomOne #WacomPen
249 0
For a creative professional team like @parasolisland , efficiency and productivity is key to deliver the best results to their clients 🚀

For years they were using pen tablets and pen displays in combination with high-end monitors, and today they can reduce all of that into one single device: the New Wacom Cintiq Pro.

Thanks to the excellent colour accuracy of the Cintiq Pro 27, this makes a big difference on their workflow.

Get in touch with our enterprise team in the link in bio.

#WacomCintiqPro #Animation
145 4
Exciting news for all creatives! 🚀

💫 Join Wacom at Playgrounds for a celebration of design, animation, and gaming craftsmanship! @tad.playgrounds @weareplaygrounds 

💡 Dive into artist talks, demos, screenings, and live sketching sessions.

✍️ Swing by our booth to test out our cutting-edge pen-displays and tablets, meet Wacom experts, and pick up some pro tips!

Meet us in:
📅 Eindhoven (April 18th-19th)
📅  Berlin, DE (May 25th-26th)

For more info visit @tad.playgrounds 💫

#Wacom #Playgrounds #CreativeCommunity
146 2
🌀 City Doodling: Amsterdam edition 🚲

This time creativity strikes us directly from the Amsterdam canals in the hands of @fragileart 💫

#Doodling #Creativeinspiration #MadeWitjwacom
446 0
Two ways of scrolling in the same display ✍️👀

Which one is your favourite move? 👇

Customize your Wacom One and see where it takes you!

#WacomOne #WacomPen #CreativeInspiration
457 3
We chat with @adansilvart, illustrator and artist who has been working in branding & illustration projects for different brands. 🚀

Join us while Adan shares insights into his creative journey and the vital role Wacom products has played in his career. ❤️

#ArtistInterview #illustration #DigitalArt
335 40
Today, we celebrate World Pencil Day 🎉

Wacom has been at the forefront of innovation, creating a digital pen that allows you to bring all your creations to life and have thousands of colors and textures in a single pen. ✍️

One of the features we love most about our Wacom One is that you can use any Wacom pen or any compatible pen with it.

Have you tried any of these? Let us know in the comments. 👇

Check out our special offers in the link in bio!

#WorldPencilDay #WacomOne
573 15
Friday with F like Finished work 💫

We want to see your finished pieces, feel fry to join our artwork chain using the hashtag #MadewithWacom 🚀

How are you ending the week?

#MadewithWacom #CreativeInspiration
321 1
Bedtime stories by @nlanzillo 📚😴⁣
It’s so cool to see all you can do in 3D and animation using the #CintiqPro27 🚀⁣
#MadebyWacom in a #CintiqPro27
193 4
At @parasolisland , where innovation is key to provide professional excellence as a high end studio, the Cintiq Pro family stands out for its design & ergonomic excellence. 🚀

The Cintiq Pro’s adjustable design optimizes workspace, offering a productive workspace where professional creatives can improve their workflow . 🌟
Invest in the best tools for your team. 

Go to the link in bio to connect with our enterprise team.

#WacomCintiqPro #EfficientDesign #CreativeWorkspace
154 0
It’s not often that we find a poet making visual art. 

Enjoy this beautiful piece by the talented @mackboross

“Kids at Play”

We dance.
because we’re happy.
We dance because we’re free.
But when.
We dance together.
We are as happy.
As can be.

Follow @mackboross on Instagram to see more of this beautiful series and the rest of their work. 

#addictivescribbles #ArtistsOfInstagram #madewithwacom #WacomCintiq #madeinaffinity #Blender
180 9