One of the things I encountered when flipping from real life mediums to digital mediums, is the frustration I felt when I first used a graphics tablet.
That’s why I setup this graphics tablet tutorial, so I could train myself to use the tablet well.
I share this here in the hope that this will help others as it has helped me. 

I first used a graphics tablet when I was 24 years old. It was a cheap one I bought from a superstore and when I took it home I had high expectations about what I was going to achieve with it. As many first time users find, I was quickly frustrated.

It was almost like I had gone back to school and was drawing like a 6 year old. I tried to draw straight lines and they came out like squiggles. I tried to draw a circle and it came looking like a cartoon rock. I drew a square and it looked like a cardboard box that had been left out in the rain. With vast disappointment I put the pen down and gave up. I rather bitterly continued to draw with pencil and paper, though I still love this medium today.

Some weeks later I came across a review for the Wacom Intuos3 graphics tablet and I thought “Maybe it was the cheap graphics tablet that was the problem!”

So I pulled together the money to buy the A6 version of the Intous3 and waited in anticipation for it to arrive. When it finally arrived I excitedly plugged it into my system and with great excitement started to draw. My excitement was short lived however.

Although the tablet was more accurate then my budget version and had many better features (such as tilt and pitch), I was still not drawing much better! With bitter disappointment I walked away from the PC for a while.

It was 2 hours or so later before I decided to give it another go. This time though I thought about what I was actually trying to do.

For starters, I was not even looking at my hand while I was drawing. Where I was used to looking at the very tip of my pencil I was now looking at a pointer on the screen.

I was also not working on paper and the surface of the tablet was quite shiny so I had a lot of slipping happening.

My posture was also in question. Before I was leaning over my work, now I am looking almost straight ahead.

Then, the problem was made all the more clearer. While I was used to drawing on paper, my body used muscle memory and habit to do most of my art work. I had trained my entire posture, hand eye coordination, and skill to draw in this fashion. Now, I was trying to get the same results by changing nearly the entire way I was working.

I began to smile again.

What was the solution? Simple, retrain my body and mind to work with a tablet, to the same level as I have done on paper.

And so I went back to basics. Instead of diving straight into trying to draw a new sci-fi scene, portrait, fantasy monster or the like, I simply went back to the exercises I used when I first started to sketch properly in my early teens.

I rummaged around and found a series of exercises I had put together to help train my body and mind to draw. I had originally used these exercises to repeatedly draw shapes, lines, patterns and shades. In doing so, my mind and muscles slowly learnt to relax and over time I needed to think about the exercises less and less. Ultimately I developed some good habits and when it came to drawing I was thinking less about the technique and more about the sketch it’s self.

And so I started to use these exercises to re-learn and re-train my body and mind. With much glee I realised, not only could I start to draw using a graphics tablet, but I could end up becoming quite good at it!

And now? I use the tablet as often as I am able. When I am at home I rarely use pencil and paper any more. I find the computer a far more flexible medium that still requires a lot of skill to use. When I am out and about I still sketch the old fashioned way but am happy with to use either method.

So, here is a selection of exercises hints and tips for the aspiring digital artist. I hope you find them useful, and I wish you every success in your new venture!

Graphics Tablet Tutorial Starting Tips

  • Posture is very important to any computer work. You should never be slouched in front of a computer. You need to have your monitor at a comfortable distance from your head, a foot or more at least. You need good lighting in the workspace, so as not to strain your eyes. Your chair should be comfortable and set to a height that makes your elbows level with the desk. The tablet should also be in a comfortable position; you should not have to strain your arm or wrist to get to any point on the tablet with the pen. It is usually safest to have your elbow and forearm resting on the desk. Your back should be sitting in a good posture position, without having to curve your spine to look at the monitor.
  • When using a tablet, don’t grip the pen too tightly. “White knuckle” is a bad thing. To have that much tension in your hand is only going to strain your muscles and tendons. R.S.I comes from repeatedly taking an action with your muscles locked in a position. The more you relax your grip, wrist and forearm the less likely you are to get R.S.I., muscle strain, or cramping in the arm and hand. If after you have finished a session with a tablet, if your hand or arm aches then you are holding and using the graphics pen incorrectly. Reconsider what you might be doing to cause the strain and try to get into a better position. Don’t tuck your elbow right into your side when drawing awkward lines or fiddly bits. It’s a bad habit and again will strain your muscles. Move the tablet over to the same side as your drawing arm. If you are right handed move the tablet more to the right of your desk, especially if you use a smaller tablet.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It’s the best advice I can give you. The more you practice, the less you need to think about technique the more you can enjoy drawing and creating art.
  • RELAX! Remember, digital art is supposed to be fun! Even if you are working for someone else you don’t need to get uptight. The more relaxed you are the better and more creative your art will be. So chill, be cool and enjoy your work.

Natural Artistic Rhythm

The following exercise is to help you get into a good rhythm with your pen. The most common mistake people make when they first use a tablet is to get too tense. They literally scrape the pen across the tablet hoping to get that “perfect first line”. Some results will come from this.

  1. Maybe drawing too slowly and as a result get wobbly lines
  2. Not relaxing their arm or hand and as a result may strain themselves.
  3. Will normally find the pen is sliding around on the tablet too much from the excess pressure. As a result they’re not drawing as accurately as they would like.
  4. Getting frustrated and drawing too quickly and not getting accurate lines.

Here’s the trick, relax! Just take a deep breath, breath all the way out and then loosen up all your muscles and joints in your arm.

Imagine you are holding a delicate brush in your hand and treat each stroke confidently and fluidly.

Now, start out by drawing the following pattern. Repeat it over and over again. Try and keep the loops even and the lines as fluid and curved (not wobbly) as you can. Don’t go too slow, and don’t go too fast. Go at a comfortable flowing and confidant speed. Try to concentrate your eyes on the pointer rather than the whole drawing.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Spiral exercise

You’ll notice:

  • When you go too slowly, the lines on the loops may seem a bit wobbly. Just speed up your stroke a little and add more confidence to it.
  • When you go too fast you may notice the loops are less uniform or of varying sizes. Simply slow down a bit and try to concentrate on the pointer a bit more.
  • When your attention wonders off the pointer, you may notice your accuracy is not as good as when you looking at the pointer.

You’ll also notice:

  • When you are going at a perfect speed you’ll see the loops get gradually more uniform.
  • The better you become at looking at the pointer rather than the whole drawing, the more accurate you become.
  • The more confident you get the smoother the loops look. This is now your natural artistic rhythm.

Now try some of these other loops:

Try to incrementally increase and decrease the size of the loops. Do this a few times over.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Spiral exercise 2

Now try and draw loops with varying pressure, going from lighter to heaver lines. Again repeat this exercise a couple of times.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Spiral exercise 3

As you can see, you do not need to be a grand master at these exercises. My loops are by no means perfect, but they achieve what they set out to do. They are simply used to help you loosen up and get into your natural artistic rhythm.

I’d recommend doing these exercises before any work you do on a tablet. It is a great way to get warmed up and get into rhythm with the tablet. It also helps to relax your mind and muscles.

Improve your accuracy

This is the bit that most people get really frustrated with. The trick here is to make sure you always stay at your natural artistic rhythm (see last section), and practice, practice, practice! You cannot just pick up a pencil and expect to sketch like Leonardo da Vinci, you must practice first. Nor can you go from that and expect to do the same straight away on a tablet. Again you need to practice first.

Try the following exercises from an hour to two hours a day and you’ll see dramatic improvements in your skills with a tablet.

Before you begin, start with the “natural artistic rhythm” exercise from the last section. Once you feel relaxed and in rhythm begin with the next few exercises.

Draw a simple dot on the screen, then try, without deleting the last dot, to repeatedly draw a dot in exactly the same place. When you first start with this you may notice that the dot ends up looking a bit smeared, but the more you practice the less the smear happens.

Next try the following lines. Repeat them all at least eight times.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Line Practice

Now draw two dots and try to connect them. This will help to improve your line straightness and accuracy, and is a perfect technique if you wish to use your tablet for technical drawing. Try a few test strokes in the air just above the tablet first; this will train your arm to do the line before actually drawing it.

Repeat this exercise several times over. I personally try and practice this exercise as many times as I can. It is the best for getting good at free hand straight lines.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Line Practice 2

Now try to draw the following shapes, repeat each one at least four times. Try and get them the same size and as equal as you can.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Shape Practice 1

Next try and repeat a series of ovals.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Shape Practice 2

Now let’s see if we can improve your circles. Remember, very few artists (even famous ones) can draw a perfect circle. This exercise is simply to try and get your hand eye coordination to work in better harmony.

Draw a circle, and try and draw another one of the same size, try and get it to be rounder and smoother than the last one. Then move to the next circle. Try to draw ten in a row.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Shape Practice 3

See as you move along, if you are in a good rhythm the circles improve, if you’re not in a good rhythm, they may get worse. If you need to, repeat the natural rhythm exercise from the last section to help you get back into rhythm.

The next exercises will help you to get a steadier hand. If you need to, go back to the natural rhythm exercise again before attempting this. The more relaxed, confident and in rhythm you are, the better the lines and dots will be. Try to repeat these at least four times each.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Dot Practice 1 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Diagonal Practice 1 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Diagonal Practice 2

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Spiral Practice 1 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Spiral Practice 2

Now try and draw some interconnecting and crossing lines. No real pattern is needed here. Just try to cross over some lines and then draw another line threw the place they meet. This is a great exercise for getting good at drawing perspective lines.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Line Accuracy 1 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Line Accuracy 2

Now we’ll try to use your refined skills to draw some technical shapes.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - 3D Shape 1 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - 3D Shape 2 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - 3D Shape 3 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - 3D Shape 4

 Improving pressure levels

Ok, so by now you should be feeling a little more confident in your work. But there is one thing you must master if you wish to become a great digital artist, pressure!

By working on how hard and soft your strokes with the pen are, the better and more imaginative your drawings can be. Any good sketch is made whole by the shading the artist employs. It’s not just knowing were the light and shadow is falling in a drawing, it’s also having the ability to shade those areas properly.

The next exercises will help you improve this skill.

Before you begin go back and repeat the natural rhythm exercise a few times.

First of all, try the following shading patterns.

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Cross Hatch 1 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Cross Hatch 2 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Cross Hatch 3

Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Cross Hatch 4 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Cross Hatch 5 Graphics Tablet Tutorial - Shade 1

Now draw some random shapes and then shade them with any of the previous ways.

Now draw two vertical lines. Try and shade from your natural hardest pressure, right up to your lightest pressure from one line to another, then try and reverse it. Increase and decrease the distance between the lines. Have the lines go horizontal to each other and again have them vary in distance each time you draw them.

Remember to try and get a good steady rhythm going. Don’t press too hard on the pen just get it moving nicely and fluidly across the page.

Conclusion

I practised these exercises for at least an hour a day, though I would normally try and practice for two hours, if I had the time. I would always make sure to have a five min break every 20 mins or so to give my body and mind a rest and then go back to it afresh.

So there you have it! I hope you find this useful to your needs, and I wish you many happy hours of drawing and designing. You deserve the best of it and this should give you a good foundation to work from.

I’ll see your art in the galleries, websites and magazines of the world.

Mark. A.K.A Dusty @[^.^]@