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Beginners Guide to Digital Painting – Chapter 1

By Nykolai Aleksander
Web: Open Site
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Date Added: 30th September 2014
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Take the first steps to becoming an expert digital painter with this sample chapter from the Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting eBook for purchase in our shop.

I remember what it was like for me to see digital paintings for the first time: I was dumbstruck, possibly in awe as well. And of course wondering how the heck anyone could do that … With a mouse! Until someone told me they used a ‘graphics tablet’. More awe and wonder. And intrigue. So it was actually possible to use Adobe Photoshop (or PS for short) for painting. How was a mystery to me, but I was determined that it wouldn’t stay one for long. So I grabbed myself a wee-tablet â€" a Wacom Graphire, the first one that came out â€" and set to playing around in Photoshop. Thankfully, I’d used the program for a couple of years previously, as otherwise I would have probably despaired.

Since then, I’ve met many people who were and are just as dumbstruck as I once was, and annoyed that they cannot seem to get the hang of either Photoshop, a graphics tablet, painting with either one for that matter, or any tutorials that could help with starting out. So this is where this 6-part series of workshops comes in: To unravel the mysteries of Digital Painting in Photoshop, using a graphics tablet.

In these workshops, we will be going through setting up PS and a graphics tablet for optimum usage, learning about brushes, sketching, colors, composition, perspective, layers, textures, lighting, different tools and filters â€" you name it! Please bear in mind that this is a more technical series, and will not be dealing with how to paint one thing or another, although I will brush over things occasionally (excuse the pun).

This first installment, which seems awfully long but will only take you a maximum of 15-minutes to actually apply, will be dealing with the, let’s say “duller technical things”. However, you will need to know about these in order to get you started â€" and hopefully hooked!

In the Beginning...

Adobe created the perfect painting platform, and Wacom coined temptation in feature-packed graphics tablets. Put the two together and you get the Big Bang of digital art, or something along those lines.
But before I dig into the inner workings of both, let’s just check that we are on the same page:

• Photoshop Version
I have Photoshop CS. A few years old now, but that doesn’t really matter. For the tools I use on a regular basis I don’t need the newest version all the time. So don’t worry if you have an even older version (though anything older than Photoshop 7 might pose a problem for some of the things I’ll be explaining). If you have a newer version: lucky you â€" you’ve got a slightly more streamlined layout and additional tools that we won’t be using [Wink].

• Graphic Tablets
I am working with an almost 6-year-old Wacom Intuos 2. These things don’t break that easily, unless you happen to have a chew-happy rodent as a pet â€" the cables cannot be replaced. Whatever tablet you have, even if it’s not a Wacom, you’ll be able to work with it. Honestly. If you’re not really used to it just yet, plug in your mouse and navigate Photoshop as we go along.

So let’s open up Photoshop and see what we’ve got. This would be the default look of the program, more or less (Fig.01).


It’s called the Workspace. You have the tools palette to your left (hovering over each tool will give you a short description of what it is), some other palettes to your right, the main menu at the top, and a status bar at the bottom. All in all, a quite convenient layout!

The first thing we do before hitting the panic button and closing PS again is the most important thing we could do:

we will set up the Scratch Disks. â€" The what? â€" Scratch Disks. These have nothing to do with scratching, and are not real discs either. They are a bit like virtual memory, settings that allow PS to run smoothly, and at its best according to your computer’s RAM (Random Access Memory) and processor speed. Without setting these up, you will get quite a few program errors very soon, including one telling you that “the Scratch Disks are full” and whatever you wanted to do cannot be done.

Therefore, let’s go to the main menu and click on Edit. In the dropdown menu that appears go right to the bottom and click on Preferences, then in the next dropdown menu click on Plug-Ins & Scratch Disks… (Fig.02).


(I believe in higher Photoshop versions this will be “Performance”.) A box will appear that gives you four rows for the Scratch Disk usage. The first one will by default be set to Startup, while the other three are empty (Fig.03).


Now, to run PS properly you do not want the Scratch Disks set to Startup. It’s also recommended that they shouldn’t be set to a network drive or any kind of removable drive (USB sticks or external hard drives). So click on the arrow next to it and it will give you a choice, namely of the hard drive volumes you have on your computer (Fig.03a).


You can see for me it shows C:\ and K:\ â€" the latter being my external hard drive, and of absolutely no use in this case. C:\ usually is the drive or partitioned volume that your operating system and program are installed on, and that your operating system uses for its virtual memory or paging file. In many cases, especially on cheaper computers, it is also the only drive/volume you will have. If you have a partitioned hard drive, that means you have two volumes, and thus will also have something most likely called D:\, or if you have more than one installed hard drive these will show as well.

Let me stop being confusing for a second and spell it out plainly: For optimum performance of Photoshop, the primary Scratch Disk has to be set to a drive or volume that has sufficient space and is kept in good order at all times (defragmentation is your friend). If you have more than one volume, the primary Scratch Disk should be set to the bigger one of the two â€" you can check up the sizes of your volumes under My Computer â€" while the secondary to the smaller one. Those of us with only one volume are a bit out of luck right here ... we’ll still be able to work, but maybe not as fast as some others. Set your Scratch Disks (Fig.03b).


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