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Beginner's guide to digital painting with a mouse
Guide under construction

********** sick header thing u d really dig *************

It was a matter of time! Finally, I'm proud (not yet, not until I finish this) to present you, all aspiring artists of Toribash, some neat tips and tricks about digital painting using a mouse only. Whether you're already an artist or not, this may be really useful for you, who struggles to get on painting but for any reason can't get a graphics tablet or it's just broken. Either way, I'll be guiding you through some techniques I apply in almost each artwork I do to get them done using this gadget, which is a handy tool for most of my digital activities, except for painting.
After years of study and practice, I feel like I have enough content to start teaching about how I work. Of course I'm not a professional graphics artist. This way, I won't be teaching in details here how to actually paint, nor to draw, but rather, how to apply your knowledge and intentions on a canvas using a mouse. Concepts like value, color, lines, shading and others have a brief spot here. With this in mind, you must have at least some experience in traditional drawing or painting in order to move into digital painting. You should first learn to draw before stepping into painting. In order to replicate the traditional process of painting you have to learn the fundamentals, which I recommend looking over ahead on internet, or whatever platform you wish, since there are much better guides around. As a self-taught artist, I've been wandering around the web for years, seeking to and learning art by tutorials, guides and some step-to-steps. So, there's no such thing as best way to paint. You have to be responsible for your own progress. This means you also have to be self-disciplined through your journey.

****** introduction **********

First of all, I'd like to state that mastering your mouse won't be fast and easy. You'll need plenty of time, as well some patience. You'll also be limited, because all the constraints a mouse have won't allow you to further develop your skills, therefore not all the things a tablet can achieve you'll manage to do with a mouse. Well, at least I've never known someone who accomplished this achievement. With a graphics tablet or the traditional process, you have something called freehand precision. In the case of a mouse, there's no such thing. Instead, you must deal with either controlled precision or quick uncontrolled stroking. In a tablet, the general process of painting is the following: you draw a line, then look at it to see if it looks satisfying. That's done somehow unconsciousness. In controlled precision, you adjust the exact position of the line. In quick uncontrolled stroking, you quickly draw a organic imprecise lines. I'll show tips about both cases, which have their own useful subjects.
Here I'll be using three softwares to demonstrate what I'll be teaching: Adobe Photoshop CC, Paint Tool SAI and Blender 3D. Even though I use them, you don't really have to. Most of my tips will be useful for other softwares too, as long as they have similar tools I used. I'll try my best to avoid typing walls of texts in each category. I'll also be using many examples I've done before, because I couldn't manage to finish a new artwork just for this occasion the time this tutorial has been published.

****** summary ********
Click on any of these links to go right ahead the tip. If it doesn't have a link or the link throws at you a blank topic, it means it's not done yet.

  1. Know your software
  2. Hotkeys
  3. Switch among sofwares
  4. Big canvas
  5. Layers
  6. Using references
  7. From traditional to digital
  8. Full digital
  9. Value sketching
  10. Lineart
  11. Constrain your work
    Plain colors
  12. Stroke replication
    Blend if
  13. Using vectors/vexels
  14. Smudge tool
  15. Brushes
  16. Matte painting techniques
  17. Post-processing

  18. Useful links

******* tips & tricks ********

Know your sofware
Yeahh, this is the first tip I have to tell. These starting tricks will help you regardless if you use a tablet or a mouse. I just wanted to emphasize how really helpful they are, so there's not actually any new thing. Knowing your software is a must for most artists. Not only how it works, but how to use it efficiently. You'll already have slow workflow due to using a mouse, so one way to get things done quickly is to know exactly where things are and what them do. You'd not want to lose your precious time seeking for tools and features. One other tip is to have an organized layout. Look at mine, may not be the best for you but it suits well my desires.

some layouts I use

As you can see, most of them are minor modifications of the default layout. However, these different things help me achieve a faster outcome. Also, I know exactly where are most of the tools I use, so I'm able to pick them really fast. Still about being fast, take the following tip:

Ayy. I doubt you don't know this one. However, as already said, it's a friendly reminder. It's here to emphasize its importance to mouse painting, so be always aware of it!!
Using hotkeys not only makes you work faster but also prevents repetitive strain injury (RSI). I'm always with my left hand over the keyboard, this way I could *bang* and ohh I picked the smudge tool with the press of a button. Then again *tick* and voila, I have the handy eyedropper tool. I've set all my favorite tools to keys and combined keys close to my hand.
Here's how you change them in each software:

Switch among softwares
Some programs have features that's just better or easier to work than others. Some doesn't even have these features. Or it can be just personal preference. Switching among softwares can speed up your workflow because you'll have less pain to finish something when it's not possible or very difficult in a particular program.

What I do

Big canvas
Using a canvas bigger than the final outcome to draw usually is the best way to hide minor painting imperfections and at same time to achieve a finer level of details. It also allows more smooth movements along with your mouse, since big fast strokes doesn't look all shaken. Try starting with something twice as big as you'd want it to be, or that have any dimension at least greater than 1500 px.

This one is quite obvious. Everyone seems to be aware of the importance of layers in a matter of organization. There are some artists that use only a few or worse, just one layer, though. Well, all I can say is that they know what they are doing. They're just aware of what needs to be painted at sight. It's something very close to the traditional process of painting, but they don't have to wait until the paint drys, let alone have the power of the undo command. The thing is: such a skill can be developed regardless of what gadget you use, but a traditional approach won't happen.

This way, you should abuse the use of layers. This doesn't mean that you need a clusterfuck of layers (like most of my works), one for each tint or one for each part of a artwork. That's up to you, but generally speaking we separate each layer with these aspects:
  • Can this part be further adjusted to look better?
  • Is this part optional or I'm unsure if it's needed for the outcome?
  • Will I need to hide this part further ahead in order to facilitate my painting?
  • Is this part customizable?
Thinking in these questions while painting is a good way to have organized layers. Folders are important too, so if you software allows them, use it.
BIG HOWEVER, that's a matter of preference. To be honest, everything write in this guide is a matter of preference. In the end, it's you whom decides to follow this or not. I myself don't follow this warning, because I'm such an unorganized person. See yourself:

Using references
Last organization and workflow tip before we move to the actual painting, the practical part. Yay! To not take it out of our main subject, I'll show a great use of references for mouse artists. First, I really recommend you to have your own personal folder or somewhere to dump everything you think it's useful, be it now or in the future. The use of references is either inspirational or for learning (or both).

From traditional to digital
Now let's move to the fun part. I really suggest you to start your sketches in a traditional way for a greater result. Well, basically if you can't draw on paper you won't be able to draw on a computer. Dot. Hence the importance of knowing the fundamentals before moving into digital.
A fast sketch is okay, as long as its quality is good enough to be understandable, e.g. no doubts about detailed areas. A scan or a good photo is preferred to start drawing, when it doesn't care if you're doing lineart or not. Either case, take care to notice any distortions that might come up.
My usual process is seen below:

Sometimes the final outcome stays pretty faithful to the original sketch. If I don't see any majors errors, I don't see a reason to change it.

Full digital
You could easily start full digital as well, skipping the traditional process. Since you'll be abandoning the freehand precision, you have to shape your way to find the sketch on the canvas. That is done by painting from big brushes/strokes in the beginning to smaller ones as the work's end draws near, often done by value sketching or messy sketching.

Value sketching
Here will be shown how you can do it using mouse, achieving pretty satisfactory results.


Constrain your work

Stroke replication

Using vectors/vexel

Smudge tool


Matte painting techniques


Useful links

Create your first digital painting without a tablet

Last edited by cappuccino; Feb 26, 2018 at 11:09 AM.
I am waiting to see you continue.
I normally would do a tutorial entirely then post,
But this incomplete gives high hopes.
Originally Posted by Unrealistic View Post
Do you have any good beginner digital tablets?

I don't. There's a great chance of you being satisfied with some famous tablets like Intuos Draw or Intuos Art, though. These are most recommended for beginners, mainly due to its cheap price.

Originally Posted by dengue View Post
I am waiting to see you continue.
I normally would do a tutorial entirely then post,
But this incomplete gives high hopes.

That was the main idea, but I knew I would take so much time to finish it. I decided to publish it soon to give me a reason to continue. Seeing the feedback gives me motivation.
Hi, I've been following this guide a bit. Do you have any recommendations for hair brushes on Photoshop? I can't find one I like

CS6 btw
You can literally paint any kind of hair using only the default round brush, some textured brushes and the smudge tool. It's more about technique than tools. These are the brushes I suggest to paint:

The 3-dot brush is very good to add details, while the others are best for texturing and shading hair.

This guide shows how to use them better than me: