Searching for a Magic Pill
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the years relating to art and design are ; “what tools do you use?”, “what software do you use?” or “what equipment do I need?
There’s load of amazing tools, Apps and hardware out there which can improve your ability to create art. But before I discuss what I use, it’s worth noting that there is no one tool that’ll make your work look significantly better if you’re just starting out. I’m sure a lot of beginners think, “if I just had the correct piece of software I’d be creating art like my favourite artists!”. I certainly I used to believe this might be the case. I later realised that being a good artist requires knowing how to create something. Acquiring skills and knowledge about art and design are the first thing an artist must do in order to create a good looking artwork. No tool or particular piece of software will ever significantly improve your artwork.
I know; it’s annoying to have to devote hundreds if not thousands of hours to art before seeing significant improvements, but this is just something us artists must endure (but ideally enjoy!).
As a side note- software and Apps have come a long way over the decades. It is indeed possible to convert existing images or photos through a single-press digital filter to create something totally unique and somewhat artistic-looking. Whether or not these kind of derivative images could be considered ‘art’ is up for debate. Although it’s true to say chucking a filter over the top of a image taken from a Google search is at least lazy, uncreative and limited.
A bad workman always blames his tools?
Do you look at your work and think it sucks? Not satisfied with the software you use? Your problem might not be anything to do with the tools you use. It’s fair to to say that if you’re at a level whereby you feel somewhat clueless how to, for example; go about proportioning characters, drawing clothing, folds or choosing how to shade and colour your designs, then I’d recommend ditching the computer altogether. Instead start spending most of your time with a pencil and paper. Once you’re making progress with traditional media and able to create some decent work, sure- try going down the digital route.
To answer the question “what tools do I use?”: For digital work, I use a Laptop PC, Wacom Cintiq Graphic Tablet and Adobe Photoshop CC.
Is this what you need? Not at all- If you want to, for example, work on a Mac with a Huion tablet and Clip Studio Paint as your software of choice, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s possible to create virtually all the same content with most combinations of any modern hardware and dedicated art software available.
Stick with what you know
Part of the reason I use PC, Wacom and PS is due to habit and what I’m familiar with. You might ask the question, ‘why stick with what you know?’ and sure, I’m always open to the possibilities of new equipment being able to improve my workflow. But, the familiar can be your friend. I know how to diagnose and resolve potential computer crashes on a PC, I know where all the tools are in Photoshop and Wacom has always provided decent tablets which so far haven’t let me down.
When I was younger I wanted a job as a graphic designer. In the graphic design industry Macs are (or at least were) the norm, so I went to University, in part, to get to grips with the hardware and software which the industry was seemingly demanding. While it wasn’t a massive hardship to understand the differences and quirks between a Mac and PC, there was a still learning curve which I now feel wasn’t necessary to tackle. Particularly as a freelancer artist, my clients are only concerned with the finished results and files they can open and content they can view. So long as it looks good, no one cares what you use to create it and so my new-found Mac skills are kind of redundant.
Like I say, whatever you’re familiar with should be top priority. The more used to it you are, the quicker and smoother your experience of creating art and designs will be. Without wanting to go into a Mac vs PC debate, a PC (in my case, Laptop) has some definite advantages. The main one being the fact it’s cheaper so I can afford a higher spec machine or update and upgrade components more often. Also where I’m located we have 4 or 5 power cuts/ outages every year so having a laptop with battery avoids a sudden loss of work. The portability of my laptop means I can take it to and from a place of work.
Why I do I choose Photoshop? I discuss hardware and the advantages Photohop and the advantaged of digital in-depth in my book Digital Manga. If you’re a beginner to intermediate artist who’d like a good grasp of Photoshop in relation to character creation and colouring, I’d recommend buying a copy- I don’t know of a better resource.
Hardware Tech / Spec Summary:
To be more specific about what equipment I’m using as of 2019 (and for the tech nerds out there):
- Laptop: MSI Prestige PE70 7RD-221UK 17.3″ 1080p:
- CPU: i7-7700HQ @ 2.8GHz
- Memory (RAM): 32GB DDR4 @ 2666MHz (G-Skill Ripjaws)
- Graphics: Geforce GT 1050 Graphics 2GB (GDDR5)
- Hard Drive 1: (For OS) 250GB SSD: Samsung 960 EVO 250GB M.2-2280 (Increased speed over deafault 128GB by 4.7x)
- Hard Drive 2: (For Data) 2TB Seagate HD
- Hard Drive 3: An external 5TB back up and overflow drive.
- Operating system: Windows 10
- Graphics Tablet: Wacom Cintiq 27QHD Touch
- Tablet and Laptop Stand: Ergotron LX Arms x3
- Additional Monitor: (For reference images) LG IPS 21″
- Scanner: Plustek OpticPro A320 Flatbed A3 Scanner
- Printer: Epson Stylus 1500W A3+ Deskjet printer
- Mouse: Microsoft Wireless Mobile 5000
- Additional Keyboard: Microsoft Microsoft Comfort 5050
- Speakers: Logitech 2.1
- Additional Web Cam: Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 and mounted Microphone is a Samson C01U
- Chair: Steelcase Black Leather
- Screen Colour Calibrator: Spyder 5 Elite
- Extras: 90x40cm Custom Mouse Mat to rest tablet on + Gel wrist mouse mat to avoid RSI. Blue-light screen glasses from Prospek.
- Also, see my Post: My Work space / Desktop Area for my previous Tech / Spec List
Cost-wise, this is all reasonably expensive kit which I’ve accumulated over the years. As a beginner to digital art I definitely wouldn’t recommend spending thousands of pounds on a similar set up and instead look for entry-level equipment or whatever you can afford. If I really wanted to, I could upgrade a lot of my equipment but I couldn’t justify the expense. I’d likely need to spend 3-4x what I had paid to get for my current set-up to get, perhaps a 10-25% increase on performance. It’s just not worth it. I’ll likely stick with what I’ve got for the next few years. I’m pretty satisfied with it all for the most part.
If anyone wants a non-bias opinion on any aspect of the above tech or set-up, leave a message and I’ll add a follow-up comment 🙂