Category Archives: graphic art

digital drawing techniques

This lecture deals with the basics of 2D digital drawing. you may need to use it in conjunction with the image editing lecture.

Bitmap (raster) or vector?

When drawing digitally, your first choice is bitmap (raster) or vector? Vector drawing is clean, precise, and it can look somewhat inhuman (although clever artists can overcome this). Some simple examples. That’s because it is the result of algorithms working out how to join two points together. Bitmap drawing tools replicate the pressure of your mouse, stylus or finger by translating that pressure into a series of tiny dots (pixels). The result can be much more like a hand-drawing – but it can also seem very crude in the hands of an unskilled user. Digital photographs are, ultimately, bitmaps.

The aesthetics of your project should determine your choice (if your drawings are part of an animation, you are likely to be doing vector drawings). One thing to bear in mind is that vector images are more manipulable because they don’t lose quality at different resolution. However, vector drawing is a little less ‘natural’, and you might find the learning curve is steeper.

Some software allows you to do both bitmap and vector illustration. I will refer to Inkscape and Illustrator (vector illustration) and Gimp and Photoshop (bitmap). However, Gimp and Photoshop also have vector drawing capabilities.

Increasingly we will see the use of HTML 5 to create simple vector shapes on websites, however that is beyond the scope of this introduction.

From hand to tool: the cognitive challenge

Particularly for bitmap drawing, how you make the mark on your digital page is important. You could use a mouse or a trackpad, or a stylus or even your finger. Either way, how you make your mark is something you have to learn. Personally, I find drawing with a mouse or a trackpad rather difficult. I need the sensual contact of pressure and motor control. My preferred way is a stylus on my tablet, using drawing software (of which there is a wide, and very cheap, range).


In Gimp or Photoshop, choose the paintbrush or the pencil from the tools menu. Remember to use layers (see the image editing lecture). Note the options you have to change the style and weight of the brush. I usually find the paintbrush with the soft edge is what I want. I rarely use the pencil.

Another technique I really like is doing a fill (with paintbrush or the spraypaint tool) then selectively erasing. Consider setting up your image in this way:

  1. Do the rough in line art with a thin pencil.
  2. Create a new layer underneath the first layer.
  3. Do 1 colour of fill in the new layer, selectively erasing the fill to have it conform with the outline on your first layer.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 for the different colours.
  5. Hide the line art.


I will introduce a series of principles, with how-to instructions for Inkscape (free downloadable software) and Illustrator (the industry standard).

1. Open a file

In Inkscape, go file (top menu) – open and navigate to the file.

In Illustrator, go file (top menu) – open – then navigate to the file.

2. Create a file

Inkscape will open with a default A4 portrait file. Go file – new to choose other dimensions.

In Illustrator, go file (top menu) – new, then choose dimensions, etc.

3. Layers

It is very important to organise different aspects of your image into layers. Also, when you are experimenting with a part of an image, make a copy of that part so you can go back to the way it was.

In Inkscape, Layers (top menu) – add layer.

In Illustrator, go Window (top menu) – layers to display the layers window. Then click the top right corner of the Layers window to create a new layer.

4. Drawing a line

drawing in Illustrator
Drawing a line in Illustrator using the pencil tool

They may look like ordinary lines when you draw them, but they are vectors, as you’ll see when we come to edit them. Unlike a bitmap line, you can resize and distort them very easily (use the arrow tool).

In Inkscape, there are three tools in the lefthand toolbar; their icons are a pencil for freehand lines; a pen for Bezier curves and straightlines, and a fountain pen for calligraphy.

In Illustrator, use the fountain pen tool or the straight line tool in the lefthand side toolbox for straight lines, and the pencil or the paintbrush tool for curved lines.

5. Editing the line

In Inkscape, click on the second tool in the left-hard toolbar (the one with the blue line). It will reveal the nodes in your line. Click on a node and drag it.

Editing a vector image in Inkscape
Editing a vector image in Inkscape

In Illustrator, hold down the pen tool (the one that looks like a fountain pen) to see a variety of things you can do to edit the anchor points in your image. The anchor points control the line shape, and you need to experiment with them to see what they do.

6. Filling a shape

Filling a vector shape in Inkscape
Filling a vector shape in Inkscape

To fill a shape with a colour, you need to draw a shape which is entirely enclosed – the line must join up. After you have done this:

In Inkscape, highlight the shape using the arrow tool, then click on the colour at the bottom of the window.

In Illustrator, highlight the shape using the arrow tool. While highlighted, choose the colour in the colour chooser (which is near the bottom of the toolbox).

7. Saving / exporting the file

In Inkscape, file – save as – choose file type. If you want to keep the vector information, save the file as Inkscape SVG (it will open in illustrator and Inkscape with all its vectors; it will also open in Gimp, but not with the vector information). If you want to use it in Photoshop, choose eps.

In Illustrator, file – save as (for print, or to save the original) and file – save for Web & devices – then either gif or jpeg or png. If you want a transparent background, the gif is the easiest way to do that.

8. Zoom

In Inkscape, the magnifying glass in the lefthand toolbar.

In Illustrator, the magnifying glass in the lefthand toolbar.

9. Paths

Paths are an important concept in vector drawing. In the following vid, malgalin shows what the term means, and incidentally uses Gimp to create a vector image (some of the details will differ from software to software, for example, how to close the shape. I suggest you choose one software and stick with it).

Some resources

Tracing a photo to create a vector.

Character design

Great techniques and tutorials listed here.

There are many video tutorials for Photoshop and Illustrator on (and a couple for Gimp but none for Inkscape). To access as an RMIT student for free, go to the RMIT library website and chose the databases tab. Choose in the database titles menu, then ‘go’. You need to create a different Lynda password.

More Illustrator exercises

Top 5 alternatives to illustrator

Interesting digital imagery

deep maps

[post written for Contemporary Media Work Practices, a course at RMIT University]

how to distribute online comics

According to Sean Edgar & Hillary Brown,

The biggest challenge for webcomics authors isn’t just providing captivating content, but letting the public know it exists. Every binary nook and cranny hides an amazing amount of talent that could very well be published by any major comic hub, which unsurprisingly, has been happening quite a bit lately.

In this post, I analyse various ways of distributing comics online with a view to my own possible project with colleague Christine Rogers.

Three Word Phrase by Ryan Pequin has its own blog and asks for donations via a Paypal Tip Jar.

Saturday morning breakfast cereal by Zach Weiner has an online shop attached to their site.

Cyanide & Happiness by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin, and Dave McElfatrick has advertising on its site, plus an online shop

Girl Genius by Kaja Foglio, Phil Foglio, and Cheyenne Wright has a Paypal donate button and a shop and online advertising. They also publish hardcopy versions.

Penny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have an online shop, mostly clothing based on their designs

Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto have their own shop, but also sell through Etsy, and their have onsite advertising.

Stop Paying Attention by Lucy Knisley has a shop and a paypal donate button.

The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman has an online shop.

These are all fantastic comics, but I’m thinking it must be pocket money only.

[thanks to Paste magazine]

from the archive: a surreal cartoon

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) is Ted Parmelee’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name. Wonderfully expressive noir x surreal x expressionistic imagery make for one of the most moody and evocative cartoons I’ve ever seen. Narrated rather than lip-synced, James Mason reads the originally with just the right mix of tension and horror. The images are actually mainly stills, panned and faded in and out, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

In the mood for more classic cartoons? Courtesy of Flavorwire, who list their favorites, here’s my cull:

Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) by Tex Avery

Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) by Marv Newland

Minnie the Moocher (1932) by Max Fliescher and starring Cab Calloway.

Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951) a United Productions of America and director Robert Cannon version of Dr. Seuss’s story.

The Skeleton Dance (1929) by Disney’s Silly Symphony

Yeah, so I like ‘em a little dark.

child’s play

But I’m not saying its easy! Gorgeous just-published children’s book by Katie Kirk. Amazon, this is in my cart.

Lego is trying to go digital – not sure it’ll work.

Nursery rhyme comics by Bob Flynn.

On a more serious note, apparently 21st century teens can’t talk on the phone, according to Lillian Li:

Let me g-chat, or text, or Facebook message, or e-mail and I am well-mannered, perhaps even witty. But over a telephone, I degenerate into a mumbling ball of non sequiturs. To compensate, I have been known to write a telephone script before I make a call to someone who is not family or a close friend (ie; anyone who is not bound by habit to love me).

“Hello,” I type out. “I was wondering if this Dominos Pizza has free delivery. Thank you. Good-bye.”

Something about the telephone makes it completely incongruous to the staccato flow of written communication I’ve grown accustomed to.

I’ve never been much of a phone talker. Much prefer email and text. Gets me into trouble sometimes. I think I just like asynch much better than sync. Like Lillian says, its having that thinking time. I don’t really think it’s about how old you are, it’s about the sort of human you are.

Despite my penchant for texting and all things asynch, I’m probably not about to start sexting. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, teens are doing it to fit in. Oh yes, good ole’ peer pressure! they sext as a response to the sexualised nature of contemporary culture, believing this is a way to make it with their peers.

I don’t think my peer-group needs pics of me semi-naked. I might be wrong…

new graphic art, plus some imposters

Ex-student Esther Werdiger is doing some lovely graphic art, posting it via Instagram.

If you’re in to iPhone photography, here’s some lovely beach pics.

Unseen shadows, a huge independent publishing initiative from Barry Nugent, and a good example of what an independent can achieve in the networked, transmedia environment. Great use of social media to publicise it, freebies to get you hooked, then stuff to buy.

The art of Laurie Lipton, apparently all pencil. [I like to think she doesn't have to actually erase much?]

And now for something slightly different.

It’s not graphic art, but sculpture: Dream – Spontaneous combustion (2008) by sculptor Olaf Brzeski.