My question is should I start with paper to learn to draw or learn to digitally draw with Photoshop or Illustrator or any image manipulation application.

I am thinking of using a book or some other accompanying material (if you have any recommendations). I am thinking of this book.

If I do learn to draw digitally (or do graphic design to be more precise) does that translate or least help in drawing in the real world?

Also if I learn to draw with pen and paper does that improve your Photoshop or Illustrator skills?

Lastly if you have learned Photoshop and then started to draw in paper did you notice or feel a difference in your designs?

I am interested in practicing graphic design and feel that I should learn to draw as well. Not just for graphic design but for pleasure as well.

  • What did you learn first: writing or typing? Or calligraphy? Feb 19, 2011 at 6:19

7 Answers 7


I'm going to disagree with everyone else and say that, if you're serious about graphic design or digital illustration, you should get a tablet ASAP.

If you're the creative type, then it's unlikely that your first experience drawing is going to be in a digital media, as you were probably exposed to analog media in art classes likely as early as kindergarten or grade school. And I do think you should take traditional art classes to build your foundations, as those courses generally aren't taught using digital media. But that's more to do with tradition and practicality than anything else. (It's easier to furnish a class with pencil/paper than it is to provide each student with a digitizing tablet. And not all students will have a tablet to practice on at home.)

Yes, analog media has a lot of qualities that can't be replicated by digital media, but the reverse is also true. And if you're going to spend most of your career drawing digitally, then getting accustomed to the feel of a tablet as soon as possible is going to be much more beneficial than learning the nuances of physical media. And it does take some time to get used to drawing with a digitizer tablet.

And while a high end tablet may be quite expensive, a cheap entry-level tablet like the Bamboo may actually save you money. Art materials aren't cheap, and if you're drawing/painting all the time, it quickly adds up. So digital media lets you get in more practice without spending as much money.

Digital media is also more beginner-friendly in some ways. The biggest reason is that there's no undo button for your physical canvas. Sure, you can erase a pencil sketch, but you can only do that so much before it starts to wear down the paper. There are no such problems with digital media. You also don't have to worry about making one mistake and ruining an entire piece, or smearing, or having your paint dry prematurely, or not being able to match a color you used in your last session, etc. There's also less cleanup if you're doing a digital painting versus analog.

All of the above reasons might make one inclined to practice more using digital than if they only had access to physical media (I know it did for me). That isn't to say you shouldn't bother with physical media, just that you should have both options available early on. The most important thing is that you set yourself up so that you can, and are motivated to, practice as much as possible. If you have both a tablet and a sketch pad, you can draw on the media of your choice whenever the urge strikes you.

  • 3
    As said, I'm a great friend of pencil and paper, but fair points and well put. +1
    – Pekka
    Jan 26, 2011 at 18:22
  • 1
    Dude that was a great answer
    – sebey
    Jan 26, 2011 at 18:30
  • 4
    I would have said the same. I'd also stress that tablet feels different than pen, because you're watching the screen and drawing at the tablet. Nothing more painful than having to learn the same thing twice. If you're aiming at drawing with the tablet, you should go for it. I didn't do cave paintings before I started to draw with pencils, no need for history. I've drawn with pencils over 20 years and I still think it's unnecessary process if you don't need it.
    – Ars Magika
    Jan 28, 2011 at 1:33

Absolutely, unequivocally, definitely start with pen and paper first. Art programs are great tools that can enhance skills by exponential orders, but nothing—nothing—beats the immediate results and response of working with pencil and paper. I have yet to meet a designer that didn't start with rough pencil sketches first. Being able to draw by hand is a skill that will pay off dividends over the course of your career and beyond.

  • 6
    +1 No electronic input method we use on the Computer provides the kind of direct control over the creating process that pen and paper give. Not even a graphics tablet, as they separate input (tablet) and response (the drawing on the screen). Additionally, pen and paper have none of the electronics's dependencies - no power, no electronics, no updates...
    – Pekka
    Jan 26, 2011 at 12:48
  • A Cintiq or tablet PC allows you to draw just like you were using pen and paper. Also, electronic dependencies aren't really relevant to which you should learn with first (unless you live somewhere where electricity is in short supply). Jan 26, 2011 at 13:38
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    I have to agree with Pekka here. There is a clear difference of using a tablet vs. the tactile response of pencil on paper; using a tablet is an abstracted experience. Also, using a tablet allows the user to bring in all sorts of options that can muddle and overwhelm the creative process (and given the quality of typical design these days, I'd say a significant portion of designers don't have the discipline to ignore those options). Using just pencil and paper obviates that issue and forces the designer to simply focus on the design. Jan 26, 2011 at 13:48
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    @Calvin I can't speak to the higher-end tablets with built-in displays, but all Tablet PCs I have worked with are still quite far away from providing the kind of feedback a sharpened pencil or brush can give you in all its nuances. Don't get me wrong, tablets are great tools. But pen and paper will never go away
    – Pekka
    Jan 26, 2011 at 15:17
  • I agree that pen and paper will never go away, and they have qualities that are superior to digital drawing (e.g. being cheap and portable), but I'm just not sure those factors are relevant to which you should learn first. I agree with the argument that digital drawing programs have too many options that can distract novices who need to build their fundamentals, but the other arguments so far aren't as strong. You may enjoy the feel of drawing on paper more, but that doesn't necessarily make it better for beginners. Plus, drawing digitally saves a lot of paper... Jan 26, 2011 at 15:41

They're two completely different worlds. I'd go for the electronic stuff first, and do the pen&paper whenever the electronic stuff wasn't available. This is only because you propably do more with the computer skills than with the "traditional" cave painting methods.

I'll clarify I started drawing with the tablet after 12 years of experience in pen&paper, I still don't think it translates any better than doing cave paintings.

  • 2
    While I wouldn't necessarily equate traditional media to "cave painting" that is an interesting analogy. Traditional media came first and has more history, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to master traditional media before you learn digital. I believe Gabe/Mike from Penny-Arcade.com learned to "paint" digitally before he actually tried to paint using real media. And it certainly hasn't handicapped him in any way. Jan 28, 2011 at 1:50

Learning to draw is primarily about learning how to interpret things with your eye/mind and translate that to the medium you are working with.

A pencil and paper is cheap, readily available, and portable. It's likely the best medium to get in lots of practice to help build that mental and muscle memory.

Then there's learning the particular medium. That usually entails a certain set of tools that you will learn which you will then apply your previous learnings to.


Traditional and digital mediums are quite different. So, will your skills in traditional carry over to digital? No, not all of them. And will you digital skills carry over to traditional? Also, again, probably not.

Though, being talented in one will definitely help you out with the other.

Always starts with traditional, though, that's not what I personally did, it's what's advisable.

  • 2
    Conventional wisdom suggests that you should start with analog media, but is there a logical reason to do so? I learned to draw on paper first, but I would probably suggest anyone serious about digital illustration to get a tablet as soon as possible. IMO, there's no reason why you can't learn both simultaneously. Draw on paper when you're in the studio or out and about. Draw digitally when you have your tablet, want to save paper, or want to work on a digital piece. They each have their advantages, but there's no reason why you'd necessarily need to learn one before the other. Jan 26, 2011 at 15:46
  • I wouldn't disagree with you. I worded myself poorly, I apologize. I wouldn't claim that you can't do one without the other. But what is important is that you learn both skills. Often when communicating, you may just have a pen and paper, and in those situations having traditional skills is invaluable.
    – Hanna
    Jan 26, 2011 at 16:05

I would say both. If you're looking to become a "Digital Artist", you'll want to be able to work comfortably in that realm, which means knowing the software and hardware. But I haven't met too many designers who work in the strictly electronic world; I still use a sketch book to flesh out ideas (and occasionally reach for my roll of bum wipe to do overlays). A lot of the "Digital Art" I've seen has been scanned sketches that were then inked and colored digitally. Plus, there's nothing like a sketchbook and pencil for portability - the boot time of my sketch book is still better than the boot time for my Mac or my Windows machine.

  • "A lot of the "Digital Art" I've seen has been scanned sketches that were then inked and colored digitally" - True, and there are also people who do the opposite: they create physical paintings or pieces by starting digital, tweaking, adjusting, refining the idea, then shining it onto a canvas or wall with a projector and then applying the physical medium. There are also scultors who prototype in ZBrush or Mudbox before getting out the chisels. I'm sure there are people who go physical to digital and back again, and vica versa and every possible combination, depending on the needs of the task. May 8, 2012 at 22:08
  • ( oh and I can't resist saying that my samsung slate tablet PC boots from sleep in less time than it takes me to find the right page in my sketchbook ;P - I just wish that the darn pen had as few calibration issues as a real physical one... ) May 8, 2012 at 22:11

I am in the same situation. I like drawing and painting. In free time I can do sketches and pencil shading drawings, and very expert at that. want to learn digitally.

If u want to learn digital graphics design u should have basic knowledge of design principles or creativity. Before moving to digital practice you at least should go through rough paper practice. Then if u have more to explain in your artwork then try implementing it by softwares like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.

If you are good at softwares then you can work on paper, but to give those artistic effect you must practice on paper hardly. But, I am sure that if you have a very good knowledge in digital graphics you can put your creativity on paper by sure.

The best of two options is try first by paper. Because you must get knowledge of sketch drawing and other principles, then only you can do it on computer. some illustrations need to be drawn first on paper before moving to final digital graphics creation like **

usually done in comic books design


all the best. Actually I also need suggestion. I want to be design professional but have no time apart from office (working as IT professional). No knowledge in digital graphics. I know only painting and drawing.

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