We noticed that a few of our members were trying out digital urban sketching using various tools and apps. Nicola , Mary, Serine and Huma share their insights and varied experiences.
Note: the featured image on this post is by Serine and is a selfie/urbansketch
Tell us a bit about yourself
Nicola My Name’s Nicola, I’m a long time urban sketcher, usually in pencil, ink and watercolour. In the last year I got into digital art & sketching, trying it out a little outdoors and also started to create digital illustrations as part of my job. I’m also a group admin of the Urban Sketchers Reading chapter.
Mary: Joined the art world by doing a foundation course at the age of 67yrs. Also did a 1 day Photoshop course at Southill Park! Always loved art though!
Social: @Law2072 on Instagram
Serine: I moved to Reading circa 1996, but have been here ever since apart from a couple of years early on when I was in London for a spell. I’m a stay at home dogmother, with a 19 year old stepson. I have always been artistic from an early age. My teacher at primary school begged me to copy a still life drawing of a chair with a vase of flowers on it. She was fascinated that I actually drew it in perspective. I was 7 or 8! I went to art college (also in the 90s) for a pre-foundation course, but didn’t take it any further. Apart from that I didn’t train to do anything else specifically, but I make corsets, clothes and costumes, do quilting with dress fabrics, I love Islamic geometric design because of my Lebanese roots, and favour watercolour as a medium for urban sketching and illustration. I am challenging myself this year to do 365 digital portraits to improve my digital skills so that I can publish a children’s book inspired by my niece.
Social: My Instagram handle is Silent moon Studios, also on Facebook. I might also have a Facebook page called Serine’s corsets if you’d like to see some old costume work!
Huma: I got into drawing and sketching again when SketchbookSkool started a few years ago, found out about Urban Sketching as a consequence and, took some time to discover the local urban sketching group thankfully through Jelly’s Open For Art events one year. I got involved in organising sketchmeets and collaborations with other folks/groups in Reading and when we became an official chapter, I became a group admin. I have dabbled with digital artwork from time and time through curiosity. I do like playing with other media as it’s a change from digital.
What software are you currently using to create digital art?
Nicola: Procreate on an iPad and Affinity Photo on a Waccom tablet.
Mary: A drawing app called PAPER and Zen Brush
Serine: Procreate on the first gen iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. I have never learned to use photoshop or Clip Art Paint, and that’s slightly worrying if I want to do anything further commercially! Haha! I feel very under-skilled in that respect!
Huma: Of interest at present are HeavyPoly, Artflow and Autodesk Sketchbook on Android phone – you definitely need a stylus otherwise, finger painting isn’t as much fun.
What other packages did you explore, if any? And why do you prefer the current one you are using?
Nicola: I tried Photoshop, ArtRage and a few other drawing / painting apps for the iPad. Procreate was very easy to use – there are lots of cool hidden features and things you can customise but you don’t have to know any of that to get started. Anyone can just pick it up and start drawing. It’s used by a lot of people so there’s a nice online community and lots of tutorials and tips/how-to videos if you’re stuck or just want inspiration. It’s a one time purchase (not subscription based like Photoshop) and very affordable. Affinity Photo is more powerful and can pretty much do anything Photoshop can but again, it’s a one time purchase and very affordable. I prefer Affinity for larger pieces and professional work. I prefer Procreate for small or personal projects and general sketching.
Mary: I have Photoshop but for quick sketches PAPER is my favourite!
Serine: I have very little patience learning things like Photoshop. I tried Gimp once (open source editing) but I just didn’t understand it. Procreate is more intuitive, and I believe even with no skills you can just start drawing as if on paper, just by selecting a couple of brushes. There are also lots of free tutorials on YouTube. I also follow lots of digital artists on Instagram and when watching their process videos catch a glimpse of what they do and then rush off to Google to try figure out the names and processes for things. It’s a steep learning curve so late on, but I’m sort of forcing myself to learn! Kicking and screaming!
Huma: I thought it would be handy to have drawing apps on commutes when you wanted to do a sneaky sketch. Also tried out Slate (iskn) in the past as that mixes paper with digital. Thanks to learning about photoshop and gimp I was familiar with some useful concepts especially layers.! I like watching HeavyPaint develop and seeing what can be possible there for mark-making.
What tips did you learn that work really well?
Nicola: Just like with regular painting & drawing, there is no magic brush or simple trick that will make your work super brilliant. It’s all just making marks on a surface. Digital is a different tool set but all the fundamentals of drawing & composition apply just the same. Having an undo button is very useful though!
Mary: To just experiment, doodle , I find when I’m in between jobs I doodle sketch and things happen!
Serine: I recently watched a beginners YouTube tutorial that showed the artist making an entire greyscale environment in the blink of an eye just by selecting shapes with the selection tool and using the colour dropper to fill it in, the transparency to adjust the opacity, airbrush to shade the selection. It was a tiny part of the overall tutorial, sped up so you could almost have missed it, but it has been the most invaluable for learning what you can actually do with it. Also, some artists have full tutorials on their Patreon, but they use photoshop and it wasn’t useful for me at this stage. Photoshop seems a bit more complex.
Huma: play, watch a few tutorials, play some more. Layers are your friend. Use a stylus/pen.
What do you find is a struggle?
Nicola: Trying to replicate the wonderful textures and effects you can get with real watercolour. It can be done to a certain extent but creating something that looks sketchy and quick in digital watercolour is actually very complicated, takes a long time, and needs you to know how real paint behaves! It’s not the calm, flowing experience you get from real painting! Letting go of trying to make digital work look ‘real’ is probably a better idea 🙂
Mary: I’m not really sure as it’s so easy to erase and start again and a clean piece of paper is always there!
Serine: The steep learning curve! I see all these amazing digital artists who seem to know how to negotiate the software. I can barely remember which sequence of buttons achieved which effect. I paid for an online course that goes over the basics, but I can’t get a handle on alpha lock and creating masks and selecting a reference to then shade. I find it so complicated I can barely get my head around it. I’m sure once I return to it several times I should get it. It requires you to keep working in layers, so you can easily edit bits. That’s quite a useful tip, so you don’t lose heart. I get really frustrated with my selection tools as well because I just don’t know how they function yet. I’m constantly cursing because they’re not doing what I expect them to, or they seem to do unexpected things that I can’t control. I guess it’s just a matter of practice!
Huma: The physical feeling when drawing on screen – though trying the Procreate with the pen is ok. Strangely, getting started on digital when you fancy just using paper is hard. Also, I like to draw directly without erasing so it’s hard when ‘undo’ is available. I think it’s better to think of it as a different medium altogether and playing accordingly.
How would/do you incorporate this into urban sketching?
Nicola: The iPad is portable so you can just take it along and sketch on location as you usually would. I don’t think I’d ever use digital full time for urban sketching – there’s something wonderful about getting real paints out – but it’s nice to change things up now and again.
Mary: It’s (iPad) so light and as long as it’s charge can be taken anywhere. Only problem I can think of is if it is really sunny!
Serine: I love Rob Sketcherman’s ability to capture people with a well drawn sketch, followed by hints of shading and light. I love the way he does storytelling, and compiles several scenes into one spread. I also love his colour palettes and how dynamic his sketches are. To be honest, I believe urban sketching digitally is wonderful because you need so little equipment! Your entire paint kit is there with you. On the same spread, you could have comic art next to oil painting next to watercolour line anc wash. I fully intend to use it more, it’s especially good for capturing dark and light tones and giving your art a sense if luminescence.
Huma: It’s available when you forget your sketchbook and pen. It’s also interesting to watch the ‘replay’ and learn how you make marks and see.
Where can we see more of what you do digitally? (could you link to an image/and share your tips about that particular image?)
Nicola: Generally posted to my social media. If you want to look at a specific image then this is my sketchy version of Bianca Maria Sforza, originally painted by Bernhard Strigel sometime between 1505-1510 (see below). This was done for a weekly portrait challenge on Twitter. It was drawn in Procreate on an iPad using ‘watercolour’ brushes.
Serine: My Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/silentmoonstudios/ I have plenty of digital art there. I intend to put some more urban sketching there too at some point!
This digital piece below was literally done on one layer with the pencil tool selected
And this one (below) was done using the selection tool to block shapes then fill with colour, I also airbrushed and blurred the background, and then overlaid loose sketching styles on top, changing the colour of the pen. And then coloured underneath the sketch lines with more colours. A very useful tip I learned for shading is to pick a new layer, use black, take the opacity of the layer to about 50% and then use that to shade on top of your colour but Uber the line art. That’s probably the skill I’m most pleased about discovering! You can even change the colour of the shading to create interesting effects.
Huma: Heavypaint (playing with all the mark making options and then watching the tutorials helped me try out different ways of looking at things – the one below is of the Blade.
Autodesk examples (of watching autodesk tutorials on a car design and one trying out finger painting before)
What are useful resources/links to where to start?
Nicola: https://procreate.art/handbook/5.1/introduction// But also just search for Procreate tutorials in YouTube and lots will come up.
Serine: Google the drawing app sites and there is nearly always a video showing how to get going!
Huma: HeavyPaint quick tutorial (but check their channel for latest), Procreate resources (free). Also iskn (which captures your on paper drawing and you can branch off a digital version/animation plus a paper one e.g. https//twitter.com/humajehan/status/975055514181791746
Are there any artists you admire/recommend who use digital?
Nicola: It’s often very hard to tell what is digital and what’s not, or perhaps a hybrid. Generally I think you should just look at the work that inspires you no matter what was used to create it but a lot of concept artists (for films etc.) and illustrators do work mostly digitally and lots of them are on social media so you can see what they’re up to. On Twitter I follow (among many other brilliant people): @ianmcque @maxulichney @dc_litchfieldDavid Hockney is brilliant with his digital art and he was a late starter!
Serine: Rob Sketcherman, obviously. I also admire an illustrator by the Instagram handle Schmoe Draws, as she combines traditional comic illustration but has a very natural way of digitally colouring her illustrations. In the same artist circle, with a different style, I like Asurocks, her art is a little more funky and edgy, still quite comic based. I believe she was an artist fit the gaming industry before going freelance. I am also fascinated with artists who do conceptual environments, they are so simple yet so detailed. I fail to know any by name! Also a great Disney artist to follow would be Aaron blaise, he is an expert on animals and has many tutorials available to buy, in either a comic or natural style. or Tom Bancroft, he is also a great cartoonist.
What are you keen to develop/learn more about next?
Nicola: I’d like to do more expressive drawing, less about the details, more about the place & feeling & atmosphere.
Mary: Afraid not. I really just love drawing/sketching!
Serine: How better to create depth, use light and dark, how to mask and just more techniques and shortcuts to use to make things a bit faster.
Huma: Start playing with the apps again.
What’s a surprising thing you learned and wished you knew at the beginning?
Nicola: The brilliant digital work you see other people produce often takes many many hours to create. Watching speedpaint videos of your favourite artists is eye opening as to how much time and effort is needed for even very simple looking images.
Mary: What fun and how satisfying it is!
Serine:Generally I wish I had learned digital art 20 years ago, but alas I never did. I think what surprises me most is that you can still produce effective storytelling with just a few brushes and colours, no need to use all the techniques and layers and bells and whistles unless you want to. The best tool by far is the selection tool, as you can draw around an object you want and literally move it, resize it, stretch it and put it somewhere else! (Only on that layer though)! It’s brilliant, and I feel so happy every time I learn something new!
Huma: Watching Nicola at the sketchmeet Reading Farmers’ Market zoom in and add patterns made me much more curious about Procreate than any online person raving about it.
What would you tell a complete starter?
Nicola: Just jump in and give it a go. Don’t expect it to feel like your usual process, go with the flow, experiment, and just see what emerges.
Mary: Don’t panic and enjoy yourself!
Serine: Obviously keep it simple, experiment a lot with the brush widths, and pressure. Watch a lot of tutorials and follow artists whose style you admire, and see if you can find process videos. Also, you can ‘cheat’ by tracing reference photos, but then after that, don’t just copy a photo, make it your own and do learn to colour and edit the scene differently. Sometimes don’t put too much detail in, but work more loosely to convey a mood rather than a literal translation of a scene. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find your own style, even within the digital space.
Huma: Play a bit, learn a bit, play a bit more. Enjoy.
What are the questions you were hoping you would be asked (and what would you have answered?)
Maybe the pros & cons of digital for urban sketching.
*Less kit to carry around
*Quick and easy to get started if you have 5 minutes waiting for a bus
*Can stop and start at any time (no paint that has to dry, etc)
*Can easily post images directly to social media
*People may be less aware that you’re drawing them
*Hard to include your work in group photos
*Would need to print images to be included in displays, etc.
*Having to get out lots of kit and set up forces you to slow down and take in your surroundings. Potentially giving you a better connection to the scene & a more enjoyable sketching experience.
*Can only sketch as long as you have battery power.
*You’re limited to your screen size.
Mary: How much I enjoy digital art and wish I had found out about it earlier in my life!
Serine: I would have answered anything! You caught me on a talkative day! Anything else I would add is just that using Procreate is the most fun I’ve had in a while. I’ve even made comic portraits of my dogs and I’m using my plotter to turn them into stickers! It’s very versatile, and you can pretty much create anything digitally! I’ve even done house plans using it.