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Breakthrough in digital painting workflow: Weekly Art Dispatch No. 25 🎨

19 July 2021 - Reading time: 5 minutes

Last weeks digital bird paintings were a watershed moment for my digital art. I spent this whole week doing more painting, building on what I discovered with those birds -- and I think I have a breakthrough.

Fun Art & Study Art, melding together

I finished Drawabox's 250 Cylinder challenge, so I'm taking a break from the course for the rest of July, and will resume in August.

I'm making leisurely progress on the 50 Bird challenge. Bird 36 is a crested grebe:

Crested grebe. Photo reference from Peter Bray.

I'm using these digital birds (and the 50 Bird challenge at large) experiment with different approaches to digital painting. In particular, I was still thinking about Drawfest and the professionals who demonstrated their digital painting methods, especially the technique of painting with shapes. (See Dispatch #23 for my retrospective on the event.)

I tested this method out with these birds... and somewhere along the line, I had a process breakthrough. Instead of starting with linework/construction and building up 3-D forms and values from there (as one does with pencil art), what if I turned the process upside down and started with shapes, then sculpted them into 3-D forms using lines and value differences? For pencil drawings, starting with linework is kind of integral to the medium, but it's not so necessary in digital art.

Furthermore, I've had this dichotomy of experience where drawing digital lineart is extremely frustrating, but painting pictures of birds and other things (from photo reference) has been great fun. If copying birds from reference photos is fun and easy, why can't my art be the same? What if sticking in my comfort zone of lineart is a comfort zone that's actually hindering my progress as a digital artist?

After all, I have very good spatial understanding, I'm very familiar with constructional drawing methods and breaking down complex structures (like human bodies and faces) into simpler primitive forms; and I've been studying values and shading for some time already. Humans are more complex subjects than birds, but maybe I could get away with painting instead of drawing them...

Turns out - I could. This was so much more enjoyable and smooth-sailing than starting with lineart.

Vega (my go-to face for practice; on left), and Nadine Shepard (right), fanart for the Mass Effect videogame trilogy.

A new character I designed for the Chroma Corps art event - a contest focused on concept art and illustration, hosted by Sinix Design.

Having done pencil art for a big part of my life, starting a sketch with shapes instead of lines is a huge paradigm shift. I've definitely heard other artists talk about "considering shape appeal" when painting and illustrating, but it didn't register as something I could implement as a workflow. If not for Drawfest, I probably would've spent a lot of time stuck in the weeds of trying to develop a lineart-centred workflow -- and, most likely, given up in the process.

This is progress, and I'm very glad that it was a workflow breakthrough that I can apply to the whole digital art medium. I plan to use the rest of this month to consolidate more of my digital drawing workflow.

Next week’s topics: digital art, 50 Bird challenge... and I think I'll follow along with this Chroma Corps art challenge.

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I'm Vega.

Welcome to my blog.

My Weekly Art Dispatch🎨 is posted every weekend (usually on Sunday) to this blog and email newsletter.

I may occasionally blog about writing other creative projects; book and video game reviews; and real life stuff.

Email me at: vega{at}