Digital art for kids: An introduction

I am a Dad and one thing I have always enjoyed doing is teaching digital art to my kids. When they learn it’s a satisfying experience and it’s a great way to teach a cool skill that becomes valuable later in life. I will be making this blog series “digital art for kids” and in it I will cover cool ideas and techniques I use to teach graphics and games art to my students. If you want to encourage your kids into using different tools and techniques then this will be the place for you. If you like what you read in this blog then let me know, comments from you help me!

What you will need:

Digital art is great fun, but you do need tools to do this and these can be expensive. However as I said before I know how tight money can be when you are a parent. I will introduce you to some of the more cost effective approaches you can use to get your family started learning digital art.

The hardware

A graphics tablet is a must when learning those digital art skills. The model I often refer students to is the Wacom A5 tablets. These models change every year very much like a mobile phone. These can be picked up for around £40.00 to £50.00 and they have a great lifecycle, my first tablet I bought for £400.00 and it lasted me eight years before eventually I had to replace it. There are lots of other brands out there but personally I can only advocate for Wacom as its the only one I have a large amount of experience with.

The software

Next you need to think about what software you can use. Adobe Photoshop is a commonly used industry practice software but it costs. If you don’t mind paying £9.98 a month you can get the photography package and download photoshop.

But what if you don’t have £9.98 to spend? Good news is there are loads of software’s you can use for free. If your kids learn they will also be able to use photoshop due to similarities. The software I am going to suggest is Krita. Krita is completely free but is similar to Photoshop. This is a good way to get your kids started without having to spend a monthly subscription fee.

Digital art for kids: Krita logo
This is the krita logo

Getting started teaching digital art for kids:

Now you have a graphics tablet and your software is installed these are some based activities and tips to get your kids started. More complex information will come up but first there are some key things you need to know.

  • Drawing with a graphics tablet is very different to drawing on paper. It will take time and practice for your child to get used to using it. Encourage them because they might find it frustrating to begin with.
  • Encourage them to explore the package. You can’t really break digital drawing software. Exploring what they can do before they start on an art piece is really useful. Get them to write down the things they discover as this will help them to retain this information.
  • Finally don’t be afraid to learn alongside your son or daughter. Children enjoy having someone to problem solve and learn with. This way you’re involved in the fun and frustrations too!

Now we have cleared that up, lets talk about some things you should do to get the ball rolling. The best way to get kids started when learning digital art is to remove expectation. Start by encouraging them to select the brush tool on a blank canvas. From there let them draw something they like. Depending on the age of your child they might have different interests. Drawing animals, cartoon characters or imagination based creatures is a great place to start.

What does letting a student draw aimlessly do?

It allows them to focus on one skill that is hardest to develop which is hand eye coordination. When they practice this combined with mark making they will find future tutorials easier to follow as they will be able to effectively copy shape, form and structure.

If you liked this and want more tutorials on next steps to teach digital art to your children then comment below and let me know! I look forward to seeing you all in future posts.

Livestream: When and what I do when I work on one

Fish like creature I created in a livestream.

Recently I have got back into my livestream. My current platforms are Youtube and Twitch and I stream digital art. I wanted to show off some of the projects I am working on, whilst talking a bit about when and why I do it. The details of the livestream at the bottom of this post. This is more to talk about what I do and why I choose to do it.

Livestream benefits for creative work:

When I draw I find that having a livestream helps to keep me on track and engaged on the project. When working to an audience with a specific timeframe in mind it helps to keep myself. Or if you are reading this to help yourself our then you. The creator in a position where you are engaging with the target audience for your work. I find that active flow of feedback from people watching, helps a lot when working. In all will help you produce better work with the audience in mind.

Working like this is really beneficial for lots of reasons. I work to two hour blocks, in this time I can create simple designs that I can later build on. At the same time there is the idea that by doing so you are giving yourself that time. When you work on projects by yourself and without a designated time it is easier to give up or get distracted (especially if you are like me and you have three children). If I didn’t livestream they would naturally take that time. This is not a bad thing. However at the same time it is important that you can work on your craft in order to get better. Blocking in this time becomes a nice way to save that time for your own development. which in turn’ will put you in a much better mood for thiers.

So why do I do it?

This is simple, it’s fun. Well not just fun but also a great way to get valuable feedback from peers. Look, I get for some people it’s about making a livelihood, getting viewers and having lots of followers. For me it’s all about having fun and enjoying the process of designing characters, creatures and environments. I do this whilst sharing that with whoever will listen .

In my livestream at the moment. This still being early days I get a maximum of maybe 10 concurrent viewers. Maybe 30 views in my two hour schedule. Really I don’t think this is bad. In fact it’s enough people to provide me with feedback. If a design is bad then I find out about it fairly quick. I see it as a collaborative approach to concept art as I get live feedback whilst I work.

My current projects:

Currently I have completed two livestreams. Below are the wonderful creatures I created in this time.

This character is a basic idea for a game and in all would be quite interesting to see in a classic adventure game for livestream.
This character is a basic idea for a game and in all would be quite interesting to see in a classic adventure game.

The character above was inspired by an insect. The idea in the livestream was to create characters that might belong in a video game. How would these work and how to differentiate these from one another.

Fish like creature I created in a livestream.
Fish like creature I created in a livestream.

This creature above is a creature I designed after looking at pictures of a sturgeon, the idea of a prehistoric looking armored fish came across as pretty cool and it was well received throughout the livestream.

Each of these designs were completed within around one hour and forty minutes. My personal plan is to start getting these to a level where I am able to produce two or even three of these sorts of designs within the two hour space. I would love feedback and for more people to join so this is where I share the details.

I stream every Thursday evening from 21:00 – 23:00 UTC+1

Youtube

Abura Akago

I wanted to write about this piece as I felt it’s one of my more original ideas when looking at mythology creatures. This creature is from Japanese folklore and it’s referred too as the Abura-Akago.

How the legend goes:

In Japanese folklore a greedy merchant was caught stealing oil from villagers lamps. He would make his prophet by selling this oil back to the villagers at a higher price and it eventually led to many of these people being considerably worse off in the long run. So disgusted with this act the ancestors cursed the merchant to wonder the world as a spirit. A little fat creature that drank the oil from peoples lamps to survive. My rendition of the story is probably not very accurate and my drawing is maybe not what you would expect from the story I just told.

When I created this however I wanted to see what I could make different. Adaptations in the animal kingdom  allow creatures to drink their food (instead of consuming it via eating). I decided to cross between a spider monkey in body but with the head of a humming bird. This allowed the project to meet the set criteria.

This creature would be nocturnal. It has developed feline style eyes as this is often used to see effectively in the dark and will allow it to focus at night. This creature prowls in the shadows on dark nights. It waits to drain the oil from a perch at a distance when no one is present.

Technical aspects:

To build the base the best way to do this was to work using shapes. Using shapes allows for blocking and the creation of an overall anatomically sound creature.

The colour scheme I picked of reds and oranges was purely coincidental at the time. I liked the warm colours and felt these would work best with a creature found around oil lamps. The colours allow the creature to seem warm. I added green in the bamboo to work as part of a Colour wheel’s complimentary colours.

 

 

 

The Coralmancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is one I have done of the Coralmancers. These were an idea I had, the thought process behind these characters were that they lived under the ocean to flee from a faction occupying the mainland called the  geomantic order. This rebel faction were outcast for experimenting with both water and earth magics. They fled to the ocean using water magic to extract air from the water. They are still hunted by the geomantic order and therefore summoned coral golems, these golems although work with the Coralmancers gained sentience from their masters due to their two entity system of animal and plant.

This was a really fun one to draw and you can see a live stream of it on my Youtube channel. I haven’t linked this as I have decided that I will create a separate page for the channel. The  exciting fact for me was it was the first time in a which I have tackled a character in a complicated pose with full colour, I have had to really think about how to give the image depth through use of values and anatomical proportion for this character which I feel I did fairly well.

I would love to turn this into a comic so if you thought this was interesting then feel free to drop me a message and maybe I can give it a go.

My obsession with drawings ideas and thier origins

So where do I get my drawings ideas? why am I always drawing animals? What’s the obsession and why am I always trying to convert these animals into some kind of crazy creature? These are some of the questions I get when I started to teach concept art to teenagers. They don’t often ask questions but when they do I always seem to get these three big ones.

Why I do it and how it started:

I grew up watching a lot of nature documentaries and I loved to draw using my own drawings ideas as a way to relax. What I always struggled with when I first started out was combining the two.

When I started my art GCSE I found myself being asked to draw “natural forms and structures” although I now see the relevance in this to practice line-work and using various media. I didn’t when I was starting out and so I neglected my artwork becoming frustrated with the fact I had to draw yet another stick but this one was in ink where the one I drew before was in pencil. This focus on objects I didn’t find interesting prevented me from doing an A level in art and I actually didn’t pick up a pencil (or in this case a graphics tablet) again until I started university.

University:

I remember the first project we did we were encouraged drawing ideas to be unique and different in university, this was for games design. Designing my own creations for a game! I was ecstatic. I had no idea what I wanted to draw and I remember discussing it with lecturers at the time. They asked me what I was interested in and I said nature, wildlife and documentaries. So I was told to research and design and just enjoy drawing with a focus on this area. I came up with a flat, awful drawing but what I found was that everyone loved it. Not for the artistic skill (At this point there was none) but instead for its design!

I have been taking this on more and more, not just in my freelance work but when I teach, because I slowly realised at university and now in my career that fantasy, not just in video games but legends, folklore and myths far back in history comes from the natural world and its a great place to design what I call a mental gallery.

The idea behind it:

I can explain this theory best with my favourite example I use for my students. We all know the legend of the Cyclops. The cyclops were big, one eyed men with tusks. They were giant with a huge lidless eye in the centre of their skulls. Its hard to understand where the idea came from. I can’t imagine it being conjured from thin air virtually nothing is!

However if we consider the fact that the ancient Greeks probably didn’t know what the anatomy of an elephant was as an example and that travellers and merchants coming across an elephant corpse would see a large pile of huge bones and a skull with a huge circle area in the centre (The area where the trunk protrudes). The travelling merchants could invent wonderful stories about giant one eyed human without ever having to see one. The world was therefore gifted with the legend of the Cyclops. This is the same process artists use to come up with drawings ideas.

So with this wonderful story I began to investigate in my own work Myths, Legends and Folklore. After reading about them I tried to come up with a series of designs based on what we see in the areas they originate. This is why I draw animals, by knowing how they work anatomically, how they hunt, stand, sleep and move. We can better design fantasy creatures when we work on commissions. This blog post on my drawings ideas has been more of a story than a lesson. I felt it was important to explain why I draw, what I draw and when I produce work what do I aim to achieve. Everyone starts somewhere and It’s important to know that, whatever the level you begin at is.

A study a day keeps artsic block away.

assorted animals

Recently I watched an interesting video around the concept of “Just draw” this is from Feng Zhu’s design cinema, for those of you that haven’t watched any FZD I advise watching some of his tutorials on Youtube, it’s well worth your time and honestly the man knows what he is talking about. He has will always be a huge driving factor in what made me take my artwork seriously. The reason why I am mentioning him is simple, he has perfected a way to tackle artist block.

So back to my original point about “Just Draw”, I had completely forgotten that when I loved drawing as a kid it was me drawing various exciting objects and animals that I found in my wildlife books, in the garden or walking about town.

Having an idea:

Now when I design something I have a rough idea of what I want and I draw. For a while now I have felt my designs end up feeling lifeless and flat. This is probably due to all these experiences I did have are so long in my memory it has stagnated and now I am left with a minimal library of mental resources to attempt to construct massive and grand ideas .

Yet more proof of anti artist block.
More bird studies, focus being on the shoebill and cormorant.

So how am I addressing that? I am growing my visual library! I recently started an account on Pinterest and it is probably the best thing I have done in a while as it is allowing me to collect hundreds of reference images and it even recommends similar images.

Now when I want to “Just Draw” I go to my reference images. Click a section (Recently it’s been birds) and I pick an image and I draw. The results have been fantastic. From Tuesday this week to Friday today I have drawn 22 new images! 22! I haven’t even struggled picking ideas as they are all there in front of me and I don’t worry for hours about investing my time as the studies are quick and excellent practice.

What to draw:

So how does that relate to keeping artistic block away? Well I like drawing similar things, creatures from myth and legend. The hardest aspect of this is how can I create something original? I created a Cerberus with two heads based on a Hyena, that was original to me. But I realised it is quite common to see hyena, I could go even further by studying and drawing more different mammals.

I can look at bones from extinct mammals, birds and reptiles and bring these together to create something that no one would even expect. So far I need to put this part of keeping artistic block away into practice. But I will say this I have noticed that ideas don’t come by looking at reference images alone, the practical element of line work, drawing new architecture, flora and fauna release a torrent of ideas that your brain would have loved to do but in the end decided it didn’t have the resources.

I suppose the point of this blog post for me is, “Just Draw” feed your creativity with images you have never seen. Help your brain to help you.

How to tackle artist block, just draw
Various bird studies, birds of prey, toucans, ducks and small birds. Proof of artist block not holding back anyone.

Eagle rock on a red planet

Red planet with jutting rocks.
Environmental artwork

This post will be talking a bit about how I work through my environmental design process and how I designed the image above. This was created in around two hours, that is including the thumb nail process and adding values before the final splash of colour. This monochromatic scene I would usually use to demonstrate concepts of an environment I wanted to make 3D and import into a game.

Six quick line sketches depicting various environments.

The images above here are the initial Thumbnails, I used no more than ten minutes to quickly sketch these. The initial design is really just a guideline to ensure that your perspective and compositional rules are good. A golden rule I have found is that if a Thumbnail looks wrong correct it there. It is easier to sort the foundations that the finished product. I ended up using two to take further. I found the slanted horizon an interesting concept.

This shows the process of how the enviornment was created.

This image shows the overall process, you can see how the thumbnail of to was enlarged, this was then given values. The values are important as its important no two grounds share the same values, this flattens the image. By this I mean the foreground will have a darker base value, a highlight and a shadow. The midground with have two base colours and a highlight and shadow. Finally the background will have its own set of three values. I find working in values gives you the right feel overall.

Finally as this was a quick concept I used an overlay layer, reds, yellows, purple and orange to finalise this dusty, hazy red planet. In all a really enjoyable two hour piece to create!

Costal work

This piece was really fun to create, it’s the first time I tried creating an image with any vibrancies in regards to colour whilst also thinking about the values. In the past when using colour I would often add too much value in the background and that flattened the image, now I work in values before working in colour.

The main challenge for this composition was balancing the different blues in the scene, I found that if I didn’t vary these enough I would bring the ocean and the sky onto the same level which would have flattened the image, this in turn would have completely ruined the depth of the image that I was attempting to create.I loved creating the small waves and thinking about everything that was going on in the scene, all the tiny details such as the archway, the seagulls flying overhead were all a fantastic challenge. How did I add these details without drawing too much focus from the overall scene.

Thinking about light in this scene is what really gives it depth and thinking about the ways the brush strokes should be to suggest texture was a real challenge. This being said I still think this is one of my favorite landscapes and I would defiantly work in this way again.

The Alicanto: Ore eating menace or majestic beast?

I start most of my drawings with a story in mind. For this drawing of an Alicanto the following passage was what inspired the creation of the work you see below.

The Alicanto hunt:

“The mines were dark and cold, but the miners came from cross country. Gold rush they called it. The first mine to be opened, that showed much promise, gold was being pulled out by the cart full. Only took a few nights. They thought maybe a few bad eggs were coming when they slept. Stealing peoples hard work. Mining all day, then later that night you were cleared out. Drives a man mad. It’s only when a few of the local boys decided to set a trap that they saw it. Bird as big as a house, golden and bright. But the shriek, that metallic shriek…none made it they say, rest their souls”.

Alicanto: A giant golden bird

What was the alicanto?

In short, an Alicanto is an ore eating bird that runs on two legs. The feathers and down that cover its body contain traces of the metals it consumes and as a result it is too heavy to fly. The bird itself is nocturnal. Whilst designing my own take on this mythical bird I thought to classify it within the griffin and hippogriff family but it is unclear on the scale of the animal. The gold and bronze colouration was initially to reflect its ore eating habits. After further research they also ate copper meaning they may have had shades of green which would have added variation to the colour palette.

Ideation: How did I change the idea?

You want to create your own Alicanto? Well here is how I made mine: a collection of different birds of prey, predominately the raptors. Key birds used to solidify the idea were the Harpy Eagle and Osprey. Replication of the sharp and angled face of these birds was needed to give a sense of menace and threat. If you want to apply that in your own work I advise looking at predatory animals. We are built to fear predators and hunt prey. As a result forward facing eyes, sharp beaks, talons, teeth and claws all give the impression of threat and are great to assimilate into our digital art ideas.

Think about the birds behaviour. When designing the creatures body I tried to create a powerful land based bird. This might be compared to an Ostridge or an Emu. I achieved this by using a larger jutting chest plate for the bird. This combined with its leg stance gave it a grounded and powerful look. The idea was an animal that would fight, not run.

Top Tip #1

You want to consider posture. Not only for human characters but also for animals. Posture tells a story. In this example the Alicanto has an elevated posture. This gives an impression of intimidation, power and superiority. Lowering this posture and the wings and turning the body slightly would indicate fear, weakness and made the creature seem weaker. Posture is important.

The Alicanto colour pallet was majority reds, yellows and oranges. Blues, purples and greens would emphasise the glossiness of metallic feathers. It is still important to remember that too much colour is just as detrimental as too little. Value painting(Painting in greys) is more important than colour to communication of ideas. In a future tutorial I will discuss colour and value to explain this point further.

Top Tip #2

Value is important. Practice painting in grey before you start to learn colour. This will help to develop your understanding of light, form and texture before moving onto incorporating colour. Remember the further away something is the less value it has.

This is one of my favorite pieces of work, let me know your own thoughts in the comments section below. If you want to see more like this let me know!