Achieving Realistic Digital Brushwork: Pro Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


If you're on a journey to enhance your digital brushwork skills, you've landed in the right place. This guide unfurls a roadmap to achieving realistic and painterly effects in digital art. Let's take a brush-stroke-by-brush-stroke approach to demystify the art of digital painting and render art that rivals the old masters.

Selecting the right brush

Imagine you're at an art store, standing before a wall covered in brushes. The choice can be as bewildering as it is in the digital realm, where no physical constraints limit the number of brushes available. But fear not, picking the right digital brush isn’t as daunting as it seems.

Consider your artwork's needs—every piece of art requires a unique touch. If you are going for a watercolor style, a soft and wet brush works wonders. But if you are aiming for an oil painting effect, a thick, stiff brush will do the trick. Remember, the brush should serve your artwork, not the other way around.

Remember the famous painting 'Starry Night' by Van Gogh? The swirls and twirls in that masterpiece were achieved with a simple, round, medium-stiff brush. So, don't be fooled into thinking you need a complex brush to create complex artwork.

Quality beats quantity. Having a hundred brushes in your arsenal won't help if you don't know how to use them. Instead, spend time getting comfortable with a few versatile brushes. A round, a flat, and a filbert brush can be a good starting point. These brushes can render a variety of strokes and are the Swiss army knives of the digital painting world.

Experiment and adjust. Just like in traditional painting, the key to mastering digital brushwork is practice. Experimenting with different brushes, adjusting their settings, and understanding how they interact with your digital canvas will go a long way. You'll soon find that your digital brush becomes an extension of your hand, helping you achieve realistic and painterly effects in digital art.

So, next time you open your digital art program, don't be overwhelmed by the endless brushes at your disposal. Instead, remember these pro tips, pick a brush that fits your style and the needs of your artwork, and start painting!

Using pressure sensitivity

Pressure sensitivity is one of the magic tricks in the hat of digital art. It can give your brushwork that added depth and dimension, making your art look more lifelike. Wondering how? Let's dive in!

Why pressure sensitivity matters. In traditional painting, applying more pressure with your brush gives you thicker and darker strokes, while less pressure results in thinner and lighter strokes. Digital art replicates this experience with pressure sensitivity. It's like having a superpower that allows you to control the thickness, opacity, and even the texture of your strokes just by changing the pressure you apply with your pen.

Remember, pressure sensitivity isn't about how hard you can press, but how well you can control your pressure levels. It's a bit like learning to play a musical instrument—you don't need to press the keys harder to play louder, you just need to control your touch.

How to use pressure sensitivity. Most digital art programs have pressure sensitivity settings you can tweak. You can adjust the pressure curve, which determines how your pen responds to different pressure levels. You might want a steeper curve if you like your strokes to change dramatically with pressure, or a flatter curve for more subtle changes.

Remember to consider the effect you want to achieve. If you're painting a delicate flower, you might want lighter, softer strokes. If you're painting a rugged mountain, harder, more pronounced strokes might be the way to go.

Practice makes perfect. Like any other skill, mastering pressure sensitivity takes practice. Try different pressure levels and observe how your strokes change. With time, you'll develop a feel for pressure sensitivity and will be able to use it to add depth and realism to your digital brushwork.

So, the next time you pick up your digital pen, remember: pressure sensitivity is your friend. It's the secret sauce that can take your digital brushwork to the next level and help you achieve realistic and painterly effects in digital art.

Varying brush strokes

Ever noticed how a symphony uses different instruments to create a rich, layered sound? The same principle applies to digital brushwork. Varying your brush strokes can make your digital art more dynamic and visually interesting. Wondering how? Let's get down to the details!

The Power of Variety. Variety is the spice of life, and the same goes for your brush strokes. Using the same type of stroke all over your canvas can make your art look flat and monotonous. By mixing it up, you can create more depth and visual interest. Think of your brush strokes as the words in a story—you need different words to make the story engaging.

How to Vary Brush Strokes. There are many ways to vary your brush strokes. You can change the size of your brush, the angle of your strokes, the pressure you apply, and even the brush itself. Different brushes can create different textures and effects, so don't be afraid to experiment!

Context Matters. Keep in mind that the type of strokes you use should match the subject matter. If you're painting a smooth surface, like a glass of water, you might want to use long, smooth strokes. If you're painting something textured, like a tree bark, shorter, irregular strokes might be more appropriate.

Practice Makes Perfect. Like any other skill, varying your brush strokes takes practice. Try different combinations of strokes and observe how they change the look and feel of your art. With time, you'll develop a better sense of which strokes work best for different situations.

So, remember: don't be a one-trick pony with your brush strokes. Mix it up, experiment, and see how varying your strokes can add depth and dynamism to your digital brushwork. It's a great tip for achieving realistic and painterly effects in digital art.

Employing texture

Texture in digital art? You bet! It's not just for traditional painting. Using texture in your digital brushwork can take your art to a whole new level. It can make your digital paintings feel more realistic and less like computer-generated images. So, how can you add texture to your digital art? Let's find out.

Brushes Are Your Best Friends. Many digital art programs come with a variety of textured brushes. These brushes can simulate the look of different traditional art materials. For example, a chalk brush can give your art a rough, grainy look, while a watercolor brush can create soft, fluid shapes. Use these brushes to add texture to your art.

Don't Forget the Details. Texture isn't just about the big picture; it's also about the small details. Adding small, textured details can make your art feel more realistic. For instance, adding the texture of fur to an animal or the texture of skin to a portrait can make your art come alive.

Use Layers. By using layers, you can add texture without affecting the underlying painting. This gives you more control and flexibility. You can adjust the opacity of the texture layer to control how visible it is. You can also use different blending modes to create different effects.

Experiment. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to texture. What works for one piece of art may not work for another. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. After all, the journey is half the fun, right?

Texture can add a lot of depth and realism to your digital brushwork. By using textured brushes, paying attention to detail, using layers, and experimenting, you can achieve realistic and painterly effects in your digital art.

Mimicking traditional media

When it comes to digital brushwork, one of the coolest things you can do is to mimic traditional media. It's like having an entire art store at your fingertips, minus the mess! Let's get into how you can make your digital art look like it was made with traditional tools.

Understand Your Medium. Want your digital art to look like a watercolor painting? Or maybe a charcoal sketch? It's important to understand the characteristics of the medium you're trying to mimic. For example, watercolor is known for its transparency and soft edges, while charcoal is more about bold lines and high contrast.

Brush Up on Your Brushes. Digital art programs usually offer a variety of brushes that can simulate different traditional media. For example, you might find brushes that mimic the look of oil paint, chalk, pencil, and more. Use these brushes to your advantage!

Study the Masters. One of the best ways to understand how to mimic traditional media is to study the work of artists who excel in those media. Look at how they use their tools and try to replicate their techniques in your digital work.

Practice Makes Perfect. Like anything else in life, the more you practice, the better you'll get. Don't be discouraged if your first attempts don't look exactly like the real thing. Keep trying, keep experimenting, and keep having fun with it.

By understanding your medium, using the right brushes, studying the masters, and practicing, you can achieve the look of traditional media in your digital art. It's a fun and exciting way to experiment with different looks and techniques without having to buy a ton of art supplies. So why not give it a try?

Blending colors effectively

Blending colors—it's not just for oil painters. For those diving into digital brushwork, mastering color blending can revolutionize your artwork, taking it from flat to multi-dimensional. Let's discuss some pro tips for achieving realistic and painterly effects in digital art by blending colors effectively.

Understanding Color Theory: Before you even grab your digital brush, it's vital to have a solid grasp of color theory. Knowing how colors interact with each other can help you create more natural and appealing color blends. Remember, opposites on the color wheel can neutralize each other, creating a more muted color.

Getting the Right Tools: To effectively blend colors, you need to use the right tools — digital brushes designed for blending. These brushes often have a softer edge, allowing for smoother transitions between colors. Don’t be shy to experiment with different brushes and settings to see what works best for you.

Start Gradually: When blending colors, a common mistake is to go too harsh, too fast. Start with a light touch and gradually build up the color. This can help create a more natural and gradual transition, leading to a more realistic look.

Think About Light and Shadow: When blending colors, consider where the light source is coming from in your artwork. Colors will be lighter where the light hits and darker in the shadows. Use this knowledge to guide your blending and help create a more three-dimensional effect.

Blend with both purpose and creativity, and watch your digital artwork transform. By understanding color theory, using the right tools, starting gradually, and considering light and shadow, you can create stunning and realistic digital brushwork. Remember, practice makes perfect. So, keep experimenting and blending!

Layering brushwork

Layering—yes, it's a thing. Not just for fall fashion or decadent lasagnas, but in the realm of digital art, too. Layering brushwork can add depth and complexity to your work, offering a sense of realism that can be hard to beat. So, how does one layer brushwork effectively in digital art? Let's dive into some pro tips.

Start with a Base Layer: Your first layer sets the stage for everything else, so choose it wisely. A base layer of a neutral or muted tone can help other colors pop and provide a consistent backdrop for your piece.

Add Layers Gradually: Resist the temptation to go all in from the get-go. Add your layers gradually, allowing each one to dry (in the digital sense, of course) before adding another. This approach gives you more control over your piece and prevents colors from unintentionally blending into a muddy mess.

Use Transparency to Your Advantage: One of the great benefits of digital art is the ability to adjust the transparency of your brushes. Use this to your advantage when layering to create depth and volume. Lower transparency can let previous layers shine through, adding complexity to your work.

Experiment with Blend Modes: Different blend modes can drastically change how your layers interact. Don’t be afraid to play around with them. You might find that a blend mode you'd never considered before is perfect for achieving that painterly effect you're after.

Remember, layering isn't just about slapping one color on top of another. It's about thoughtfully building up your piece, one layer at a time, to create depth and complexity. With practice, patience, and these pro tips, you're well on your way to mastering the art of layering in digital brushwork.

Avoiding common mistakes

Now that we've discussed the art of layering, let's tackle the other side of the coin: common mistakes. Even the most seasoned digital artists can fall into certain traps. Fear not, dear reader, for we're here to help you avoid them.

Overdoing It: More isn't always better. Whether it's too many layers, excessive color, or overuse of effects, going overboard can leave your work looking cluttered and chaotic. Stick to your plan, use restraint, and remember: simplicity can be surprisingly powerful.

Misusing Pressure Sensitivity: Pressure sensitivity is a fantastic tool in digital brushwork, but it can backfire if not used correctly. Pressing too hard all the time can make your work look flat and lifeless. Try varying the pressure for more dynamic and realistic effects.

Ignoring Texture: Texture breathes life into your art. Ignoring it can result in flat, lifeless pieces. Employ texture in your work to create more realistic and painterly effects.

Not Experimenting Enough: Digital art offers endless possibilities, so don't limit yourself. Experiment with different brushes, techniques, and styles. Who knows? You might discover something truly extraordinary.

Think of these pitfalls as potholes on the road to mastering digital brushwork. By being aware of them, you can navigate your journey more smoothly. And remember, mistakes are not failures; they're just stepping stones on the path to success.

If you're looking to further improve your digital brushwork skills, be sure to check out the workshop 'How to Paint 3Dimensionally' by David Shepherd. This workshop will provide you with expert tips and techniques to achieve realistic and three-dimensional digital brushwork, enhancing your artwork to new heights.