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Are You Tablet-Ready? Start Creating with Your New Wacom Tablet in Photoshop and Painter

Modern tools for digital art can be intimidating to a traditional artist. How do you actually get started using them? Cher Threinen-Pendarvis, author of The Photoshop and Painter Artist Tablet Book: Creative Techniques in Digital Painting Using Wacom and the iPad, Second Edition and The Painter WOW! Book, advises on how to experiment with some of the features, so you can get past your first hesitation and start enjoying new ways to draw and paint.
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Are you a traditional artist with an interest in digital painting? The exercises in this article will help you get started painting with a Wacom tablet, Photoshop CC, and Painter 2015. Today you can become immersed in the painting process—into the line, form, and color of your composition, rather than focusing on the technology involved in painting on the computer. Think of your digital tools as new kinds of pencils, pastels, watercolors, and oil paint. You'll find the Wacom tablet, along with the programs Painter and Photoshop, very intuitive to use.

Using a Pressure-Sensitive Tablet for the First Time

Follow the manufacturer's directions for connecting the Wacom tablet to your computer and installing the tablet software. If this is your first experience with a Wacom tablet, you'll need a little practice before your hand/eye coordination and viewing your work onscreen will feel natural. You can position your tablet on your desk, or on a lower pull-out shelf for more comfortable drawing, as shown in Figure 1. For comfort when sketching, sometimes I place my tablet on my lap, as I would a sketchbook.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Photo of the artist's hand in a comfortable position for drawing.

Do you prefer to work directly onscreen? The Cintiq interactive pen displays offer that capability. The Cintiq can be used in a variety of positions to suit your working style—vertical, flat, or at an angle. For example, the beautiful Cintiq 24HD adjusts in a way similar to that of a drawing table, as demonstrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The Wacom Cintiq 24HD Touch can be adjusted for your comfort while painting, from vertical to flat. Here it's set up like a slightly angled drawing table.

The following instructions apply to using your new tablet with Painter and Photoshop:

  1. Hold your stylus comfortably in your hand, similarly to the way you would hold a conventional pen or pencil. (Hover the pen over the tablet to reposition the cursor, if necessary.)
  2. Touch your stylus to the tablet and press, keeping your pen in contact with the tablet as you complete the first brushstroke.
  3. Lift up to start another brushstroke.

Exploring Bushes in Photoshop CC

Begin by launching Photoshop. In this example using Photoshop CC, I chose a painting workspace (Window > Workspace > Painting). To draw in Photoshop, choose the Brush tool in the Tools panel. A brush will be chosen automatically. If you want to use a different brush, open the Brush Preset Picker on the Options bar and select a brush preset. (For this example, I chose the Hard Round.) In Figure 3, I chose the Brush tool in the Tools panel and a blue color in the Colors panel.

Figure 3

Figure 3

The Adobe Photoshop CC interface with the Painting workspace active.

In the following exercises, we'll explore a variety of brushes and painting tools in Photoshop CC.

Some standard Photoshop brushes have pressure sensitivity and other types of tablet sensitivity built in. (The Rough Round Bristle preset is an example). With basic brushes such as the Hard Round, you can easily add tablet sensitivity by clicking the Always Use Pressure for Size icon in the Options bar, as shown in Figure 4 (circled in red):

  1. If the Brush Presets panel isn't visible, open it by choosing Window > Brush Presets.
  2. In the Brush Presets panel, choose the Hard Round preset.
  3. In the Options bar, click Always Use Pressure for Size to enable the feature.
  4. Now enjoy making some practice strokes with your modified Hard Round brush. Figure 5 shows examples of some brushstrokes I painted with my pressure-sensitive Hard Round brush.
Figure 4

Figure 4

The Options bar with Always Use Pressure for Size enabled.

Figure 5

Figure 5

With Pressure for Size enabled, lighter pressure on the pen produces a thinner brushstroke, and heavier pressure on the pen paints a thicker brushstroke.

Some Photoshop brush presets incorporate pressure sensitivity; the Rough Round Bristle is one example (see Figure 6). To view the brush settings, open the Brush panel by choosing Window > Brush. Click the Shape Dynamics tab. The Size Jitter Control pop-up menu is set to Pen Pressure, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Varying pressure on the pen while painting with the Rough Round Bristle. Lighter pressure paints a thinner stroke.

Figure 7

Figure 7

The Brush panel and the Shape Dynamics pane, showing the Size Jitter set to Pen Pressure.

To experiment with another type of brush, choose the Square Charcoal preset. This exciting brush features an erodible tip that wears down as you draw. Press lightly on your stylus, and gradually increase pressure as you draw a wavy horizontal line. Then draw a vertical line that varies in thickness based on the pressure applied. Notice that the thickness of the stroke also changes based on the orientation of the stylus. igure 8 shows examples of brushstrokes drawn with this brush.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Expressive brushstrokes drawn with the Square Charcoal preset.

Continue trying out more of the brush presets. For a project that features drawing with the erodible tip brushes in Photoshop, see “Drawing a Hollow Rounded Form” in Chapter 6, “The Illusion of Volume,” in The Photoshop and Painter Artist Tablet Book: Creative Techniques in Digital Painting Using Wacom and the iPad.

Exploring Brushes in Painter 2015

To explore Painter 2015, begin by launching the program. To draw in Painter, choose the Brush tool in the Toolbox. A brush will automatically be available, but if you'd like to use another one, click the small triangle on the Brush Selector to open the Brush Library; then choose a brush category and a variant. Figure 9 shows the Corel Painter 2015 interface. In this example, I chose the Real 2B Pencil variant of the Pencils category in the Brush Selector (notice the selection listed at upper left).

Figure 9

Figure 9

The Corel Painter 2015 interface with the Real 2B Pencil chosen in the Brush selector.

In the following exercises, we'll explore realistic media, including the realistic pencils and oils.

Figure 10 shows brushstrokes drawn with the Real 2B Pencil and the Real 6B Soft Pencil. The thin strokes are made by holding the stylus more upright, and the broader strokes are made by holding the stylus at more of an angle. Enjoy practicing with the Real 2B Pencil and Real 6B Soft Pencil. The Real Pencils are remarkably realistic natural media. For detailed information about the Hard Media, see “A Painter Hard Media Primer” in Chapter 3, “Painting with Brushes,” in The Painter WOW! Book !.

Figure 10

Figure 1

Expressive pencil strokes drawn in Painter. The strokes on the left are drawn with the Real 2B Pencil, and the strokes on the right are drawn with the Real 6B Soft Pencil.

In addition to realistic pencils and textured dry media, Painter offers a variety of luscious oil paint media. The Real Oils Short and Real Oils Filbert are examples. Click the Brush Selector to open the Painter Brush Library; then choose the Oils category and the Real Oils Short variant. Practice painting short, dabbed strokes and longer curved brushstrokes with the Real Oils Short. Next, choose the Real Oils Filbert, and practice painting a variety of brushstrokes with this brush. Figure 11 shows examples of brushstrokes painted with the Real Oils Short (left) and the Real Oils Filbert (right).

Continue exploring more of the Oils brushes. For step-by-step creative projects using the oils in Painter, see “Painting with the Oils and Real Wet Oils” and “Painting with the Artists' Oils,” which are also covered in Chapter 3 of The Painter WOW! Book.

Figure 11

Figure 1

Luscious oily brushstrokes painted with the Real Oils Short (left) and the Real Oils Filbert (right.)

Good work! You have completed the project. I hope that you've enjoyed exploring using your tablet and some of the brushes and media in Photoshop and Painter. Happy painting!

Cher Pendarvis started with a child's fascination with art, and graduated from college with a BFA with Highest Honors and Distinction in Art, specializing in painting and printmaking. A pioneer of the electronic medium, Cher has worked alongside other notables from the early digital era, trailblazing the merging of traditional and digital art forms. Her digital illustrations have been published since 1987. Cher is widely recognized for her mastery of Painter and Photoshop. Her articles and art span nearly three decades of influential books and periodicals. She is principal of the consulting firm Cher Threinen Design, and authored all 10 editions of The Painter WOW! Book and both editions of The Photoshop and Painter Artist Tablet Book: Creative Techniques in Digital Painting Using Wacom and the iPad. To learn more about Cher, please visit her website at

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