Improving your tablet drawing skills – part one

Posted on April 9, 2011


As a  relatively new tablet user, I know how tough it can be to get accustomed to working your way on a tablet that is not a Wacom® Cintiq® or other pen display tablet, but the basics can apply to a pen display too. There are many things that are tough to overcome when drawing on tablet, and require time to master, because the feeling is very different than drawing on paper, with a regular pencil/chalk/pen. In this series of articles I’m writing, I will try to give some, hopefully helpful, advices to beginning tablet users on how to improve their skills through some very basic things, even some “games” I came up with for myself.

I must note that this series of articles will be for beginners, the people who just got their tablets.

For starters, I guess I can say I don’t guarantee any success, because everything about drawing is very subjective, but I will do my best to share my experience, because I am in the process of learning and improving my tablet skills myself, still, after about a year of owning one. Also, tablet drawing experience can vary with different sizes, different models and makes, pencil shapes. My tablet of the moment is Genius® G Pen M609, which has a small-to-medium size drawing area – 9” by 5.5”. It’s a good beginner’s tablet, with an affordable price.

Feeling comfortable

This is a very mundane, but very important thing when preparing for a drawing session, especially if you draw/sketch full-time. This can apply for all drawing situations, tools, and I can’t stress enough the importance of feeling comfortable while drawing. If you sit on a chair, make sure you are in a position that is well balanced, so your tablet does not move while you draw, only your hand. If you’re, like me, sometimes sitting on the bed with your notebook pc on front of you on a chair, a low table(don’t know how it’s called in English), make sure you put something, a few pillows or so, behind your back, so you can rest your back comfortably in an upward position. Believe me, it makes a difference when you have to draw for 6 hours or more. Pillows are your friends in this area! The best thing of course is having a good, as I call it – CEO Chair – that is comfortable and has enough space not to constrict your drawing hand.

Positioning the tablet

Another very important thing to consider when drawing, is where you put your tablet.  Some people have in in their laps, some slant the tablet on one leg, some put it near, some far, it depends on the style of drawing and tablet size, the bigger the tablet, the more space it requires. This aspect is very subjective, but one thing I can recommend is to put your tablet in a position so it moves as little as possible. As you get accustomed to it, you’ll manage to tilt it a little bit here and there, but for starters, it’s best to keep it in a position so it does not move. Another thins is the angle of your tablet. It’s best to adjust the horizontal position by the position of your screen, and keep your tablet in line with your screen, so your kinetic/visual coordination is on the spot. The need for that diminishes as you progress and get accustomed, I find myself really twisted sometimes. I remember a year back, I actually had to put something under the tablet, an old t-shirt, some random rag, just to get it to be still.

Settings, people, settings

First, let’s talk hardware. Of course, the main rule seems to be – the more expensive the tablet is, the better it is, but anyways, I’ll drop a few lines. Be sure you install the proper drivers, check your tablet driver settings, sensitivity, assigned keys. If you have Windows Vista or 7, search the web for ways to turn off the annoying flicks, effects, tablet PC stuff you don’t really need. There is good advice, I managed to get everything working great very fast with the help of several articles online. Good hardware setting often really helps.

Secondly – there is no way to put it more bluntly – play with your brush and pressure setting in your “weapon of choice” application. I tried a lot of software, and I can say that it really matters. For example, Painter’s brush sensitivity setting can be really annoying and it took ages until I got it right like I wanted. The objective of this is to get your tablet to react more naturally so you can relax while you paint. Not to mention the benefit of not having to press the stylus like a jock to get a nice stroke. I actually broke one stylus. Yeah, and I am definitely not a jock.

Eye on the screen!

Another very important thing. I can’t stress enough that you try to forget looking at the tablet, unless you use it’s buttons. Look at the screen, look at your starting point, make a few ghost strokes from the starting point to the endpoint to prepare for a specific stroke, and make the stroke, all the way without looking at the tablet. In the beginning that is very important. I even made a little game for myself to practice this. I will write about it in one of the next articles.

I hope you’ll follow me on this one, since this part is really, really mundane, and most of you already passed that stage where you need to figure out things mentioned here. I promise, it will be more interesting as the iteration continues! I will review several painting software’s brush settings probably in one of the next articles, so subscribe to get notified.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re interested in more stuff by me, check out the blogroll on the left, you can follow me on twitter, etc. Hopefully work will let me get back to you soon with another article about this.

EDIT – Here’s the link to Part Two – – have fun!