Digital Illustration
Time 5.4 hrs

Difficulty Intermediate
Prerequisites Multimedia Basics
Departments Human Technologies
Authors Paula Statskey
Groupings Individual
Minimum Year Group None


So, you want to be a digital illustration master? Use your computer and drawing tablet to unlock your creative potential as a digital illustrator? This unit will talk you through the basics of getting setup and started in drawing digitally.


This work is shared under the following license: Creative Commons BY-SA-NC


What is needed to run this unit?
  • A drawing tablet, available for loan from C108.
Cross-Curricular Links
Do not try and force this. What areas of other subjects might this reflect and/discuss language. For IB, links with ToK.
  • Links to art.
Teacher Reflection
What was successful? What needs changing? Alternative Assessments and Lesson Ideas? What other Differentiation Ideas/Plans could be used?
  • This unit was designed by Paula Statskey, as an offshoot on her work setting up a digital illustration club. The content was added it Gibbon by Ross Parker.
Any CC attribution, thanks, credit, etc.

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5 mins
Getting Started
  • So, you want to be a digital illustration master? Use your computer and drawing tablet to unlock your creative potential as a digital illustrator?
  • This unit will talk you through the basics of getting setup and started in drawing digitally.
  • Some of the concepts, tools and skills here should be familiar from the Epic Wallpaper unit.
20 mins
Software Installation and Configuration
Getting Set
  • Mac Guide
  • Chromebook Guide
    • You will need to install Linux on your Chromebook in order to download GIMP
    • You can do this by activating Linux (Beta) from the Settings menu
    • Once you have access to the Linux terminal, run the command: sudo apt install gimp
    • Once the download process is finished, search for GIMP using the search button, and open it
    • Your Chromebook comes with a drawing pen and touch screen - no need for a tablet!
15 mins
Connect Drawing Tablet
  • Visit C108 to borrow one of our digital drawing tablets.
  • Once you open your box, you should have access to the following materials (adding in your own computer):

  • Connect and setup these items as shown below:

15 mins
More Software Configuration
Almost There Now
  • Open GIMP on your Mac.
  • Watch the video below and follow the instructions for setting up the tablet in GIMP:

60 mins
Personalizing Brush Settings
Final Configuration Step
  • This section is more based on you, and you should do a lot of playing around with how it feels when setting it up.
  • The instructions below will show you how you can start personalizing GIMP, and you can experiment from there.
  • First you’ll want to start by opening up a new canvas.
    • You can do this by going to File on your Mac’s menu bar and then clicking New.
    • It is recommended to set up your canvas as in the picture below. (it’s just easier with a bigger canvas)
    • For full digital paintings, it is prefer to have the resolution much higher.

  • Make sure you are on the “tool options” tab, then click the blue arrow icon with dots behind it, as shown below:

  • Then click the bottom right button thing, as shown below.
    • Before this, if you want you can try clicking all of the program’s configurations and test them out on a blank page.

  • Then click the page with the yellow star on it:

  • This will open up to a bunch of empty white tick boxes. A preferred option is to have these boxes ticked. However, you can mess around with it to see what you prefer:

  • Then, click the mapping matrix tab for more options. Click on the “Opacity options”:

  • Adjust your settings as shown below, clicking on the middle of the red line and dragging it.
    • You can mess around with where it gets dragged to and which direction. A preferred option is to have it completely against the edges, which makes the tablet super sensitive.
    • You can also give a title to the Paint Dynamics Editor, to make it easier to find in future.

  • YAY! You are now fully configured. Congratulations.
60 mins
Understanding GIMP
It's Complex
  • GIMP is a very powerful programme and it is usable by beginners and pros. That is why it looks really complicated :D
  • The main things you want to understand in starting with GIMP are the basic tools that you should use the most, as shown in the image below.
    • Many of these are self-explanatory, they are explained in the text under the image anyway.
    • You might want to change your keyboard shortcuts to make them more personalized too.

  • These tools can be described as follows:
    • Lasso tool: Helps you select certain areas of your piece
    • Move tool: Helps you move the stuff on the layer that you clicked, or the selection that you lassoed. Either way, it’s amazing and you should use it.
    • Cage Transform: Helps you take a selected area, and then you can adjust the shape of it by pulling on the dots (this one is hard to explain it, try Google if you still don’t get it).
    • Blur: It blurs things
    • Ink dropper: Helps you select certain colors on your canvas. You can import colors if you want, such as putting a photo on your canvas and then selecting certain colors (that’s cheating though, if you want to develop your artistic skill, then use your own colors).
    • Eraser tool: It keeps the same setting as your brush, except it does the opposite
    • Brush tool: Helps you draw.
    • Scale tools: Helps you adjust your work without having to redraw it. You can rotate it, resize it, pull the sides of it sideways, push the sides of it in a 3D way, etc.
    • Opacity: Adjusts how thickly your paint is applied to your canvas.
    • Size: Adjusts the size of your paintbrush
  • Moving on, we can see further tools within GIMP:

    • Mode: Basically filters, except you draw on them… the main recommended modes are:
      • Multiply - to help you get the right colors for shading/darkening
      • Dodge - helps you get the right colors for lighting
      • But you can should play around with them to learn more
    • Opacity: Adjusts how visible your layer is.
    • Layers: Layers are the greatest things. They help you draw without messing up other things. They help you draw under things without messing it up.
      • If you want you can watch this video explaining how to use layers, or keep reading the text below: 

      • The eye: Makes layers disappear temporarily. Just click it again and it will reappear. You can’t draw on hidden layers.
      • Lock: If you click the tiny checkered box icon, it locks the opacity of that layer. Then you can draw only on the places where you’ve drawn already on that layer. This is used a lot when shading so that strokes don’t go out of the desired area. It can also be used for changing the color of things without the actual piece being affected.
        • You can watch this helpful video on how to use it (PhotoShop is similar to Acorn in this regard). Recommended viewing speed is 1.25:

        • He starts talking about the lock tool at around 3:22, but he also shows some interesting ways to use layers that are worth checking out. He’s using Photoshop, so it looks a bit different. Don’t worry, the lock tool still works the same way on GIMP.
      • New layer: Definitely make new layers. But don’t get carried away or you’ll lose track of them.
      • Group layers: Very handy if you have a bunch of layers, such as different parts of a shirt on a person. If you have a layer for the eyes, the hair, the base color, the lineart, the shading, the base color for the clothes, the shirt details and the shirt shading, then you might start getting a bit overwhelmed by all the layers. Groups, helps put all the “shirt” layers in one folder that you can open and keep track of.
      • Moving layers up/down: Reorganizing layers can come in handy.
      • Duplicating layers: Have a really good layer that you’re proud of but want to work on it a bit more to test something out? Duplicate it and then make it invisible so that it’s saved, then you have something like a first draft saved. You can also use it to create shadows and reflections. By duplicating the layer and then moving it. To create a shadow, just duplicate, lock and then fill in with black, then lower the opacity! YAY SHADOWS!
      • Shred: Sometimes, layers just gotta go. Maybe it’s a sketch that you don’t need anymore, well whatever it is, you can remove it by clicking the shredder icon.
      • Background layer: NEVER DRAW ON THIS EVER! BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU WILL EVER MAKE. EVER. It is simply to give you a white backdrop. You can fill it with a shade of grey, such as brownish grey or blueish grey. This makes it easier on the eyes and also more natural.
    • Undo: This is your lifesaver. Literally the best thing about digital art is the undo button.
    • You can set up your GIMP page to look however you want. Mess around with your preferences, tool options, add tabs (the little grey arrows facing left).
  • Now you have everything you need to become a digital artist. Dive into it, start messing around with things, try drawing. Watch speedpaints and art tutorials:

    30 mins
    How To Art
    Growth Mindset
    • Art is a skill, no one is “naturally talented” at it. Like any skill, it must be trained. Your artistic eye takes time to develop, it requires practice and studying. Look at the world around you, see how the things around you can be simplified into main shapes, see how the things around you are affected by light, temperature and perspective.
    • Just keep training and you will get there. A fun way to motivate you while trying to develop your skills is through challenges. Such as inktober (
    • Get reference photos from google/pinterest/facebook/anything and try to copy them. Find the basic shapes in them. Then once you’ve developed a good understanding, you can move on to not using a reference.
    • Read this:
    • Want to learn how to draw landscapes? :
    • Every single tutorial out there will tell you to start with the basic shapes, then do a sketch and then just keep adding detail!
    • This is very useful:
    • Lately (although it varies often) my process of painting a portrait goes like this:
      1. Make background gray
      2. Big blobs where main stuff is
      3. Really rough sketch on a new layer
      4. Clean up the rough sketch
      5. Add base colors on a layer below the sketch
      6. Put the sketch layer to multiply
      7. Lock the sketch layer
      8. Fill it with the base color
      9. Make a new layer over that
      10. Start shading, using the colors from the sketch layer and the base layer
      11. Add light
      12. Final touches
    • Another very useful tactic is to take the whole canvas and flip it. You should do this whenever you make any dramatic changes, this helps you see whether or not your painting is lopsided.
    • Here’s a face tutorial:
    • Good luck young artist!
    120 mins
    Your Work
    • As evidence of your work, record a screen recording of yourself working in GIMP with your tablet.
    • Use iMovie to speed the video up and add commentary of what you are doing.
    • Aim to make your video less than 1 minute in length (keep it short, do a good job)
    • Don't worry if you are still at the beginning of your journey, and don't feel confident...just do your best.
    • Submit this video to this unit as evidence of your learning.
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    Unit Students

    Shared on 05/11/2018
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