The best learning resources for digital artists

Abstract digital painting

One of the best ways to keep your illustration skills up-to-date is through continuing education. Not too long ago, that meant attending an expensive, sometimes exclusive, art school. And while that's certainly still an option (there are even some great online art schools to consider, too), there are other ways that not only inspire and teach, but also won't break your wallet in the process.

In this top 10 list for digital artists, I pull together some of my favourite sites for learning – and more importantly, keeping up with – how to draw and paint digitally.

01. Ctrl+Paint

  • Price: From free

Ctrl+Paint library homescreen

There are plenty of free resources to enjoy on Ctrl+Paint

Ctrl+Paint, which is operated by Matt Kohr, is a plain and simple online resource for digital artists. Kohr, who attended the Savannah College of Art and Design and majored in Comic Books, provides free and paid art school-style training. His free video library starts off with the 'foundation studies' of drawing and composition. Once you've got that down, you can move on to the digital tools. If you're looking for more in-depth topics, check out the CTRL+PAINT Store.

02. Paintable

  • Price: $35/month

Paintable homescreen

Pick up digital painting tips in the time it takes to drink a cuppa

David Belliveau, co-founder of Paintable, has been illustrating since he was a child. In 2011, he fell in love with digital drawing and painting. Since then, he's been teaching the community what he knows.

Paintable offers a lot of quick, five-minute speed drawing and digital painting tip videos, but the real heart of the site is The Academy. When you join The Academy, you gain access to monthly live training, premium resources, and a supportive community. Not sure if you're ready to commit? Sign up for a 14-day trial for just $1.

03. Ram Studio Comics

  • Price: From free

Ram Studios Comics homescreen

Marzullo's tips can be used on any app

Robert A. Marzullo, of Ram Studio Comics, is a professional storyboard and comicbook artist, and he's sharing what he knows on YouTube, Udemy, and Skillshare.

Marzullo's tutorials often show how things are done in Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint, but the way in which he teaches means you can easily use whatever app you like best. You can even skip the app altogether, and go traditional.

04. CartoonSmart

  • Price: From free

Cartoon Smart homescreens

Pick up illustration tips with this extensive library

CartoonSmart has a huge library of free and paid content. Most of the courses are taught by Justin Dike, the founder of CartoonSmart, however, there are additional instructors as well. Primarily an Adobe shop teaching illustration and vector art, CartoonSmart has tutorials for Adobe Animate, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop.

As an added bonus, Dike is also a developer and has a sweet collection of game design courses. If you want to find out more about Dike and CartoonSmart, you can listen to this interview.

05. Rayce Bird on Lynda.com

  • Price: $25/month

Rayce Bird homescreen

Explore rendering tips with these courses

Rayce Bird is a creature creator, teacher, and season 2 winner of Face Off, a special effects competition/elimination series on SyFy. He also has six courses on Lynda.com that are well worth the price of admission.

In his most recent one, Photoshop: Texturing and Shading Techniques, Rayce takes you from artboard setup to final rendering. Along the way, you'll explore colours and texture flats, value balance, and material shaders.

06. Ben Bishop on Lynda.com

  • Price: $25/month

Illustration of a woman looking at an archaic symbol

These courses work well alone or blended together

Since you're already going to sign up for Lynda.com because of Rayce, you might as well check out Ben Bishop while you're there, especially if you want to learn how to make graphic novels and comic books.

Ben has six courses available, and although they're stand-alone courses, they seem to blend nicely together. For instance, you can watch Penciling a Comic Book Page first, and then head over to Photoshop: Coloring Comic Book Characters to round things out.

07. Sinix Design

  • Price: Free

The Sinix Design YouTube Channel has been up since 2006, and it's crazy knowing that I only found it recently.

What I like about this channel is its variety. It has tutorials, reviews, inspirational videos, and something called Paintsploration? Well, whatever that is, it's cool, and it helps get you into the creative mindset. Of particular interest is the Self Portrait Video (above).

08. Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book

  • Price: $35

Trio of Adobe Classroom books

Take an old-school approach to learning with these books

Not too keen on video learning? No worries! The Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book is a great alternative. Stuffed with about 400 pages, you'll get 15 step-by-step, project-based lessons showing you how to do key things in Photoshop, like masking, working with brush presets and artboards.

There's also online companion files that include everything you need to complete the projects. Plus, you get full access to the Web Edition, which includes enhanced videos and quizzes. You can also get a Classroom book for Illustrator and InDesign.

09. Fantasy Genesis

  • Price: $22.99

Fantasy Genesis cover and interior shots

Gamefication meets art in these innovative books

OK! Here's the deal, I don't have this yet, but I did just order it, and I can't wait to try it out! Fantasy Genesis is a game-based idea generator. With three game variations, you'll be tossed into the dark corners of your mind, armed only with dice, word lists, and an opportunity to meld together some interesting fantasy creatures.

10. The Oatley Academy ArtCast

  • Price: Free

Oatley Academy homescreen

Plug in and unwind with this podcast

When you're done watching videos, reading books, and playing games, come back here, fire up the drawing tablet, and put Chris Oatley's podcast on in the background while you create your next digital masterpiece. 

Chris Oatley is a former Disney Character Designer, and through his podcast and blog, he's ready to answer your questions about making a living from your imagination. Oatley's podcast offers insights and career advice for people in animation, games, illustration, comics, and children's books.

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