Photoshop vs. SketchBook: Comparisons, Contrasts, Complements

sketchbook vs. photoshop banner

Should you draw in SketchBook or Photoshop? Believe it or not, sometimes the answer is “both.” Recently, we showed you how brushes compare in Photoshop vs. SketchBook: Brushes. We know that some people use both apps — sometimes even switching as part of their regular everyday workflow. We’re fans of using as many apps as you need to create beautiful art, so we wanted to give our users another breakdown of the differences and similarities between the desktop versions of SketchBook and Photoshop. This time around, we’re tackling all the details beyond brushes. You can download our big Adobe Photoshop to Autodesk SketchBook PDF guide to use as a reference if you’re switching between apps, or just read on for a summary of the differences.

Compatibility between files

compatibility: PSD to SKB

Fear not. The most important detail of all — compatibility between files — is solid. SketchBook is able to read and save PSD files with all layers intact. This allows for flow between the two applications if changes need to be made in one or the other. It is important to note that since these applications do not have exactly the same tools/functions, some layers that were modified using adjustments or effects in one software may not directly transfer with the same editing capabilities. That’s probably common sense when you think about it, but it may not be common sense when you’re in the moment of flow and creation.

Layers and layer menus

Almost all layers-based apps work the same way. So you won’t have any trouble switching between these two. One thing that is strikingly different about SketchBook, though, is the appearance of a marking menu when you click and hold on the circle icon in the center of a layer. This ‘marking menu’ is something like a right-click option you might see in Photoshop, but it’s especially good for use with a stylus. It rings all the options as close as possible around your pen so you can quickly create a new layer, a new text layer, merge layers, etc.

Control: layers in photoshop and sketchbook

One thing that SketchBook doesn’t have that Photoshop does have is clipping masks. Clipping masks can be useful to graphic designers, especially if you’re creating designs that have a lot of geometry or rigidity to them to block out areas where you don’t want any details to appear. SketchBook focuses on drawing, which is usually about laying down successive layers of color and texture and blending them together. If you need clipping masks, you’ll need to do that in Photoshop.

Control: layers in photoshop and sketchbook

One other small but notable difference: SketchBook layers have an opacity slider on each layer instead of at the bottom of the menu like you find in Photoshop. SketchBook users are always needing to fiddle with opacity to get just the right look so we made sure that was always at hand.

Blending Modes

If you don’t use blending modes in either of these apps, you’re missing out on some of the most useful functionality for creating art. (If that’s the case, spend some time learning about blending modes in this video.) In essence, blending modes take the color and tone data in two different layers and perform some math on that data to get some cool-looking or especially useful results. Some blending modes will turn your two layers darker, some lighter; some options will knock out all the fully black or white pixels; some options will completely invert color to create something that looks like a heatmap.

blending modes in photoshop vs. sketchbook

There are a lot of options to choose from (a few more in Photoshop than in SketchBook, and a few in SketchBook that you won’t find in Photoshop), and the math behind how it works can get a little complicated, but don’t worry about learning all of the underlying details. Most people just eyeball it and find that blending modes can be as useful as special brushes in the effects they create. Experiment!

Color

Color is such a seemingly simple thing. But the subject runs deep. Really deep. We’re all familiar with three-color composition like RGB that we see on our computer screen, and perhaps some of us have dealt with 4-color CMYK processing in special print situations. But you might be surprised that RGB colors in combination can create over 16 million different colors on a decent computer screen. And we can only visibly see maybe 10 million of them!

color: copic markers, RGB, CMYK, HSL

In general, there are a few key things to know about color in these two apps:

  • Photoshop: Photoshop has lots of complex options for calibrating and embedding color profiles. If professional pre-processing and printing is a must for you, it has oodles of options. Of course, all those options are complicated. If you’re not familiar with the details of four-color processing and color matching, it can be a little overwhelming. Some people who need to match a very specific color (e.g., using a Pantone color to meet branding guidelines) will start their drawing in SketchBook and finish it in Photoshop to color correct. They strongly complement each other in this way.
  • SketchBook: SketchBook’s colors are more simplified. In the Color Editor you can choose color as RGB and HSL (hue, saturation, and lightness) and randomize color (if you really want to). The SketchBook Color Editor bundles swatches inside the same window, whereas Photoshop sets them in their own Palette window.
  • Copic Library: SketchBook is unique in that it contains the Copic Color library. Copic markers are a brand of markers that are well-loved by artists, so if you are one of those marker nerds you will love being able to choose them.

In short, it’s really about your own color needs, so use whichever app you need to get the color you want. Use both if you need to.

Accessing color tools

Where Photoshop focuses on an unparalleled breadth of color options, SketchBook focuses on making color picking fast. If you draw digitally, you are probably constantly tweaking and adjusting your tools to get just the right look and feel. To meet that need, SketchBook developed a “Color Puck” that you can click to pull up a Color Wheel. That Color Puck also lets you drag and quickly change the opacity (up/down) or saturation (left/right). Photoshop doesn’t have a Color Wheel, but it does have a Color Cube that works in a similar way for picking colors. Opacity changes take a few seconds more, but the difference isn’t that great.

Color puck and color cube

Working with the canvas

If you’re used to holding down the spacebar to move your canvas around, both apps will do that for you. SketchBook pops up a navigation puck when you hit the spacebar (or manually choose it), and it has a few options to click on with either a mouse or a pen. The blue highlighted area on the wheel shows where the cursor currently is and will execute that function based on mouse movement or clicking and dragging to influence the values. Click on zoom, pull your mouse up, and you’ll zoom. Photoshop has always had a hand tool that lets you click on the spacebar and move your canvas around. It also has a rotate option, but zoom is a separate function. The differences between the apps here is not huge, but visually and even  mentally it’s quite different.

transform options

Layer transformation

This is an area where there is a pretty big difference. Photoshop transformation is usually accessed with Control T, which shows the bounding box of the layer. Once you do that, you can choose various transformation tools from the Edit menu (e.g., Scale, Rotate, Skew, etc.). SketchBook places these kinds of transformation tools inside a Transformation puck (V) that is similar to the Canvas Navigation menu. Again, it’s a more visual approach that ultimately comes down to the fact that SketchBook has a lot of users who use a stylus; having to dig into a lot of top-level menus can be a real pain with a stylus.

Layer transformations

Flipping your work around

That said, there are still some traditional menus to navigate, and you’re welcome to use those if you prefer it that way. One essential part of digital painting is having the option to flip your canvas back and forth. This way, you can get fresh eyes on your work. It will often bring out issues with perspective that make you see your painting in a different way. SketchBook has menu options to mirror the canvas or individual layers, and as with Photoshop they are buried inside menus. But — and this is probably the best tip you’ll get all day — you can customize your Lagoon and put all kinds of options in there, including mirroring functionality. Strongly recommended.

mirroring your drawing: flip it

Selection tools

Photoshop has a more extensive selection variety with more settings and influence on selection. This is due to the nature of having multiple uses for the software. For example, if you do a lot of photo manipulation having precise selection tools and options is beneficial. SketchBook doesn’t have quite so much, but it does have Rectangular, Oval, Lasso, Polyline, and a Magic Wand, with Add, Remove and Replace workflows. These selection tools function in a similar way to those in Photoshop. They are useful in painting/drawing because you can quickly change/resize parts of your image whether through rough selection or more precise ones depending on the tool.

Selection tools in photoshop and sketchbook

Tools unique to SketchBook

The above tools are some of the functions that are key to be familiar with when sketching. It allows for flow and to get your ideas down instead of focusing on where to find certain tools during your process. As I sketch, I’m constantly creating new brushes to get different textures, flipping my canvas, adding/deleting layers and using different colors. As an artist who has also uses Photoshop, It was an easy transition to be able to draw in Sketchbook. But, there are some tools in SketchBook that are specifically made for people who draw. If you already use these tools, they are probably deal breakers for you because they are so handy for sketching.

Create crisp straight lines in any direction

Create crisp straight lines in any direction. Essential.

 

Create elements with various radii

Create elements with various radii. Huge help with underpinning the human form.

 

3 types of French Curves. Can be uniformly scaled, rotated, translated and flipped. French Curves are used for drafting/sketching to create clean and crisp curves.

Three different types of French curves that can be uniformly scaled, rotated, translated, and flipped. French curves are used for drafting/sketching to create clean and crisp curves.

 

perspective guides

You have one, two, three, and five-point (fisheye) perspective guides if you need them. No guessing necessary; your drawings will always look like they fit the space they’re supposed to fit.

 

symmetry tool

This is invaluable for drawing geometric spaces, but it’s just as helpful when drawing faces.

 

This will help you control your line quality. A little help making beautiful lines never hurts.

This will help you control your line quality. A little help making beautiful lines never hurts.

 

Create shapes and lines with a single stroke on the canvas.

Create shapes and lines with a single stroke on the canvas. If nothing else, it’s great for making frames around your final drawing.

Verdict: It’s up to you

Not sure which one is right for you? Both offer a free trial, so there’s no reason not to try them both. Download Photoshop and give it a go here. Grab a copy of SketchBook and start a free trial at launch (no credit card required).

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Free Brush Set of the Week: Splatz!

splatz blog header

Welcome back! We know Mondays can be rough, which is why we’re bringing you another beautiful free brush set. This week you’ll be getting Splatz! It’s a handy set of brushes consisting of splatters and speckled textures to perfect your messy creations. We actually created these brushes using real ink splatters and SketchBook’s Scan Sketch feature. As an added bonus, we have a tutorial for using SketchBook’s Scan Sketch to create your own custom brushes. Download the Splatz Brush Set now and keep reading to take advantage of this amazing feature.

Custom Splatz tutorial using Scan Sketch

Before we begin, keep in mind that this tutorial doesn’t exclusively apply to creating splatter brushes. You can use Scan Sketch to create custom brushes of any kind from physical art that you believe could potentially be a useful brush. Materials we’re going to use:

  • Copic ink
  • Clear acrylic plastic
  • Watercolor paper
  • Scan Sketch

This tutorial is for SketchBook Pro power users. You’ll need both a mobile version (to capture images with your smartphone) and a desktop version of SketchBook (to create custom brushes). Scan Sketch is available on all versions of the mobile SketchBook app. If you’re not sure what Scan Sketch even is, here’s a short video to show you how handy it can be — especially when it comes to line art.

We’re going to start off by making ink splats on white paper. Using the Copic ink, drip the ink on different materials for different splats. As an example, the ink soaks into watercolor paper, but not on acrylic. The type of medium can make the overall shape change for the splat. Try holding the ink at different heights to get different effects, and try different motions of your hand as the ink falls.

brush tutorial materials

splatz making of

Now it’s time to scan. This is where the white background comes in handy. Open your gallery in mobile sketchbook and press the + to select Scan Sketch.

scan sketch 1

Simply hover over the splats and press the big round button to capture.

scan sketch 2

scan sketch 3

As you can see, Scan Sketch knocks out the white background, so the splat is transparent.

scan sketch 4

Export the PSD to your favorite cloud solution (you can use anything you like – iCloud, Dropbox, Box). Then open the file on desktop and create the brushes. If you already know how to create your own custom brushes on SketchBook Pro, feel free to stop reading at this point. If not, continue on.

Custom brush shape tutorial

For your convenience, we have recently uploaded a Custom Brush Shape Tutorial for SketchBook Pro to our YouTube channel. The tutorial below is a breakdown of that same video so you can learn from whichever medium you’re comfortable with.

custom brush select

Since there are drips all over, we might want to isolate just one for our brush with a little bit of spatter. Select a drip you like using the lasso tool. Once you have made your selection, hit CTRL+C to copy it, and CTRL+V (CMD on Mac) to paste it on a new layer. You can resize the drip immediately if you’d like while we are in the quick transform tool. If you like the drip the way it is, hit the “x” button to exit transform mode. In the layer panel, use the eye icon to hide the other splats so you can focus just on the one drip you want for your brush.

custom brush layers

In the Brush Library window, select ‘make a new brush’ from the menu. Feel free to choose any type you’d like.

add custom brush

select type of brush

Double click on the new brush you just made, and in the advanced tab scroll to the ’Texture’ section.
custom brush properties

Press the ‘Capture’ button to be in capture mode. Hover over your drip, with a brush big enough to circle the whole thing, and click to capture it.

custom brush capture

Once you’ve captured your drip, or whatever else you might have scanned, have fun editing the parameters of the brush to make it your own!

customize brush settings

Of course, you can use this method to create an infinite number of unique brushes and stamps for your artwork. The sky is the limit, enjoy!

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

Sumi-e Brush Set: Free Brush Mondays

sumi-e brush set header

This week’s free brush set was inspired by sumi-e (also known as ink-wash painting), a style of East Asian art. Sumi-e first appeared in China as far back as the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty, but it also has strong roots in countries such as Japan and Korea. This nine-piece brush set contains all you need to recreate this beautiful style of art (or make some killer calligraphy). There are also a number of brushes in this set that will come in handy for any type of painting you’ll be doing. Download the Sumi-e Brush Set and keep reading to get some tips as well as knowledge about the history of this amazing style of art.

About Sumi-e

There are two very important points to remember about sumi-e. The first is that the paintings are made to capture the feeling or “spirit” of the subject as opposed to making a perfect photographic copy. The second is to do more with less. Sumi-e artists studied for many years only practicing making brush strokes. In this style of art, every stroke must present the maximum amount of information possible, omitting all unnecessary details. One brush stroke could be used to create the entire head and body of a bird by adjusting pressure and twisting the brush in the perfect manner. This left absolutely no room for mistakes for traditional sumi-e artists. It was considered a highly prestigious form of art practised only by the highly educated and skillful members of society. Today we have the luxury of using programs such as SketchBook to quickly erase any mistakes or make adjustments, so you won’t be needing years of training to get the hang of it.

The Four Gentlemen

“The Four Gentlemen” refers to the four most painted subjects that sumi-e students are required to practice making during their years of training: the Orchid (Spring), Bamboo (Summer), Plum Blossom (Winter), and Chrysanthemum (Autumn). These four subjects represent the four seasons and include all of the basic strokes these artists must learn. While these four paintings are the first to be taught as a foundation for learning brush strokes, they are usually the last to be mastered.

sumi-e orchid

Orchid: represents spring. It is said to be most associated with feminine qualities and is the embodiment of love and beauty.  Orchid paintings are also meant to show happiness and celebration for the coming of spring.

 

sumi-e plum bamboo

Bamboo: represents summer. The bamboo paintings also depict masculine qualities in East Asian society such as integrity and strength and are meant to show perfect balance. This is the most painted subject in East Asia.

 

sumi-e plum blossom

Plum Tree: represents winter. There is a beautiful contrast between the solid dark branches and the soft, delicate flowers. The plum/cherry blossom is meant to evoke feelings of purity and hope as it’s able to blossom during the cold winter months.

 

sumi-e chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum: represents autumn. There is a sense of strength within the chrysanthemum paintings as it is a plant that remains sturdy even with the changing of the seasons.

 

Tips for Sumi-e Painting

As mentioned above, less is more. Let the texture of the brushes do the work; don’t fight the natural feel and messiness of the brushes. Use the synthetic brushes in this set (Mixed Hair Brush, Taper Brush) to push the ink around as much as possible — don’t DRAW as much as SMEAR into place. If you really want to go in the route of traditional sumi-e, use the fewest number of strokes possible to get your message across. Remember that the image represents a feeling and doesn’t have to be realistically detailed.

When it comes to color, try sticking to black with maybe one accent color (blue or pink can be seen in a lot of traditional pieces). Don’t use color unless it serves a very necessary purpose. Use light and dark tones to convey contrast and create depth within the image.

Use a textured background. Sumi-e artists painted primarily on rice paper so find a rice paper texture to place as your background layer. You can also put the texture layer on top of your painting and play around with the blending modes to see what looks the most aesthetically pleasing.

If you’re in need of some inspiration, there are some amazing examples on Pinterest that you can check out. If you’re someone who is perhaps inspired by video games, Ōkami was completely modelled after the style of sumi-e. Wherever you get your inspiration from, remember to let your emotions flow through the image to make it your own. Happy painting!

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

Photoshop vs. SketchBook: Brushes

photoshop vs. sketchbook

Artists have their go-to software when it comes to digital painting and drawing, and some people even use multiple apps to get specific effects they like from one app that might not be available in another. We meet lots of people at events who tell us what they like about SketchBook and what they like about Photoshop, which isn’t an app that’s specifically made for drawing and painting but that is sometimes a mouse click away — especially for people who do graphic design or illustration for a living. We’re obviously biased toward using our own app, but we also know that some people actually prefer to use both apps, sometimes in conjunction. We wanted to put together a comprehensive tutorial that works for a few different kinds of people:

  • People making the switch to SketchBook from Photoshop. This tutorial can help you spot the differences and make a quicker transition.
  • People who use both apps: This tutorial is handy if you’re one of those people who prefer to start in one app and finish in the other, either because it’s been part of your workflow forever or because you like how one specific tool works in one of the apps.
  • People who have some familiarity with image editing tools in apps like Photoshop (or Corel or Pixelmator, etc.) and are ready to try something more creative with brushes and paint.

You can download the comprehensive Adobe Photoshop to Autodesk SketchBook PDF tutorial and dig into way more detail about these two apps if you want to compare closely, but I’m going through some of the major points on the blog in a series of posts to share my take on the essential tools and functions in SketchBook and how they compare in Photoshop. Getting familiar with these tools can allow for seamlessly painting without having technical distractions. Today, I just want to focus on the thing people ask about the most: brushes. (If you want to look closer at any of these images, click through to show the image at its largest size.)

Brush Sizing in SketchBook & Photoshop

Sizing is straightforward in both apps. For SketchBook, we built a puck that you can use with a pen to quickly drag to increase/decrease your brush size (moving up/down changes opacity). Photoshop is similar when it comes to resizing, only it’s part of its own submenu.

Adjusting brush size

Brush Library & Brush Presets

Photoshop has brush presets that are roughly similar to SketchBook, although they do look very different. SketchBook brushes have larger icons and a more visually rich menu, probably because SketchBook is geared specifically toward drawing while Photoshop has a lot of other uses besides drawing; Adobe has to squeeze a lot of functionality into smaller submenus so you might need to drill down a bit more. But functionally the brushes are not all that different. You can create, delete, and customize each brush. You can also import/export brush sets in both apps.

Brushes in SketchBook and Photoshop

In Photoshop you view one set at a time, although you can append other sets into one large selection of brushes if you like. SketchBook lets you optionally organize, name, and upload thumbnail images for your brushes, which is something art-supply lovers (people who connect with the idea of real-world tools) seem to enjoy. It also has a way to pin brush sets to a working palette. One big difference between these apps, though: Both have their own formats for brushes (.skb vs. .abr) so you can’t upload a brush set from one app into the other. That could change in the future, but for now each app sticks with its own proprietary format. (You can find lots of free Photoshop brushes around the Internet, and we release new free brush sets every week on this blog.)

Brush Customization

Customization in both apps is very robust. SketchBook has pressure control for each brush; but in Photoshop you have options for color/hue and brightness randomness. Just like in Photoshop, the eraser in SketchBook is a separate brush. One important thing to note: SketchBook does not have a dedicated Key press for the eraser (“E” in Photoshop). So if you’re used to that option, you might want to use the “S” key in SketchBook. It handily switches between the two last-used brushes (“S” is for “Switch”). If you need to erase a lot, you actually might like the way the S key toggles back and forth in this way as if you were using a pencil and flipping it to the eraser at the touch of a button.

customizing brushes photoshop sketchbook

Another thing to note: You can assign custom hotkeys in SketchBook. So if you’re used to having a keyboard shortcut for an erasing brush, here’s a quick hack that lets you have both of these options: In SketchBook there is a hotkey slot for “Toggle Transparent Color” that isn’t assigned a key by default. That effectively turns your active brush into an eraser. 

eraser in sketchbook

Synthetic Brush vs. Mixer Brush

The synthetic brush in SketchBook pushes/pulls and blends paint together as you create strokes on the canvas. The amount of blending, stamping of the texture, and other effects are based on values you can adjust in the brush properties. This can be compared to the Mixer Brush tool in Photoshop. Both act and simulate “wet” paint in which the flow and wetness can be changed. Both are useful for creating traditional looking paintings, although SketchBook offers a bit more customization in the details. As you can see in the screenshots, you can load up the wetness or define the details even further if you have a specific type of real-world paintbrush you’re trying to mimic.

Mixing colors with brushes

Those are the differences and similarities in brushes. Overall, there’s a lot more in common than there is different between these two apps, so you should have no trouble moving from one to the other. If you like to have this kind of information handy, download the full Photoshop to SketchBook PDF tutorial. It’s a thorough comparison of both apps that goes way beyond brushes for people who like to know all the details. It will help you plan a switch or just keep you on the same page if you’re a power user who likes to use both apps to create your art.

SketchBook 8.2 for Desktop: Custom Hotkeys

customize your hotkeys to match photoshop

Over time, we’ve had a lot of requests from people who use the desktop version of SketchBook who really like to customize their workspace. In particular, users wanted to be able to customize their keyboard shortcuts — aka “hotkeys.” So, we built that into the latest release of SketchBook 8.2, which we released a few days back. We have an updated help article that shows how you can start Creating Custom Hotkeys if you want to go step by step. But the process is pretty easy. Just head to the Preferences area, choose Hotkeys, select the key you want to change, and then simply type the new key into the Hotkey field.

custom hotkeys in SketchBook Pro

That’s it. It’s that easy. Now you can assign hotkeys, which is very handy. But before you do… consider this. You might want to stick with the default hotkeys, which will be the same no matter what computer you use. If you install SketchBook Pro on grandma’s computer or use a temporary one or buy a new computer — or whatever — the default hotkeys will, of course, always be the same.

Videos: How It Works

If you’re ready to give this new hotkey assignment process a go, our community manager Renee gave a quick tutorial on how to change and assign new hotkeys on our Twitch Channel the other day. Check it out if you want to visually see how this works:


It’s worth noting that SketchBook and Photoshop share some of the same default hotkeys, but some are different. The space bar in both pans/zooms, “L” is the Lasso in both. But some things are different. Bracket keys [] are for brushes in Photoshop, but B is for Brushes in SketchBook. If you prefer that SketchBook be exactly like Photoshop, you can now change it to be whatever you like. Renee talked about the differences between Photoshop and SketchBook hotkeys in a recent Twitch stream if you want a quick run-down of some of the most used hotkeys:

All the Default Hotkeys

Want a quick guide to all your hotkey options? We have a table at this URL that you can bookmark if you ever need a reference. It details all the hotkeys and shortcuts available in SketchBook for desktop.

Spotlight on Casey Robin Neal

fourth try

Casey Robin Neal — or just Casey Robin as her grandma used to call her — is a California-based artist who uses paints, pencils, crayons, coffee, and yes, even computers to make her whimsical and striking art. From looking at her art with its fairy tale aura, you can quickly see how she would fit in somewhere like Disney. She indulged us when we asked her to draw something for us in SketchBook and tell us more about the kind of art she likes to make.

When did you start to pursue art?

I came from a creative family. My mother was an author and painter; my father was a singer and dancer. My siblings and I would make movies, put on plays, and write stories together. In my spare time I made costumes, paper dolls, and miniature houses. With Mom being a writer, of course the house was full of books. Stories – especially fairy tales – were important to me from a young age.
For most of my growing up I was interested in every kind of art. Theater, music, drawing: I liked it all. I was lucky enough to attend a performing and fine arts charter school, where I was allowed to explore. It wasn’t until I discovered the “Art of Disney” books that I narrowed my focus to visual art. I was amazed by the way production designers broke down an art style into elements and then applied those elements to every aspect of a picture in a way that supported the story. I was particularly taken with character design. I suppose it appealed to the part of me that still wanted to be on stage.

How did you pursue art professionally?

The first part of my career path was marked by a singular goal: to become a Disney artist. The Disney pictures resonated deeply with me. They seemed to draw upon all that was noblest and loveliest in the world. I saw The Little Mermaid in theatres when I was five and thought it the most beautiful, most magical thing I had ever seen. It planted a seed in me that bloomed many years later. I learned to draw specifically so that I could one day be good enough to get into Disney and make movies like that. While in my final year of college, I was brought on as part of their Talent Development Program, working in Story and VisDev. While there, I co-directed a short with Justin Sklar. I learned a lot from my time at Disney, and I’m really grateful for the wonderful mentors and friends I found there.

In recent years, however, my vision has expanded beyond my initial Disney dream. One of the things that I discovered while working there was that I had a knack for story creation, for the “big idea.” I also discovered that I love to write. Currently, I’m working on some book projects that I’m very excited about. The one I’m most in love with is a trilogy of illustrated middle grade novels retelling the myth of Medusa. It’s been growing in me for more than five years, and I’m so excited to bring it to the world. I will be both writing and illustrating the series. While nothing can compare to the excitement of making films with a great team of artists, there is something so special about crafting a story from start to finish.

disney fairies

Casey’s wonderful LadyBugs series treats Tinkerbell like fairies like 1950s pin-up models.

As to the more practical question of what I do, it’s a little hard to define. I guess you could call me an illustrator these days. I draw and paint, mostly traditionally, though I like to keep up my digital skills. I pay the bills with a mix of private commissions, storybook illustration, convention sales, and gallery shows. I also run an Etsy shop selling prints of my art. My Etsy followers have been so wonderfully supportive of me through this whole journey. I love knowing that my art is going into peoples’ homes all across the world.

The things that I love to draw these days are the same things that I loved when I was five. Give me an assignment with mermaids or fairies or pretty dresses, and I’ll be a happy camper. I drew fantasy pictures all through high school and college. So many of my teachers hated that. There was one recruiter from CalArts who thumbed through two pages of my portfolio before sneering, “So, you’re one of those that draws mermaids and unicorns. That’s not art; it’s craft.” Well, if so, it’s a craft that I love and take great pride in. I’ve parlayed it into a pretty delightful career.

harry potter

A big fan of all things Harry Potter, Casey applies her style to the Potterverse.

In addition to my love of all things magical, I find great inspiration in nature. I love to study plants for their thoughtful design and simple elegance. Animals offer endless varieties of color, pattern, and construction. They are so full of personality, too. I particularly like drawing cats because they just do their own thing and don’t care what you think of them. Of course, the human figure has been a major source of inspiration throughout my career. It is so magnificently designed. I’m always discovering new marvels while drawing people.

What was your workflow for the Mermaid?

This was my first time working in SketchBook Pro, so I wanted to start in familiar territory. I began this picture exactly as if I was going to paint it by hand. I drew a quick value study, roughed out my design in pencil, then transferred it to illustration board and refined the drawing in a mix of red and blue Col-erase pencils. When I was happy with the drawing, I scanned it in and set it as the base layer in SketchBook. I knew that I wanted a blue and orange palette, so I threw down some turquoise tones on a separate layer and played with the blending modes. Then I blocked in some bright pops of orange with a textured brush, again on a separate layer. I took a very experimental approach with this piece, so my file was a mess of layers by the end. I pushed the darks and lights, and then began to tighten up the drawing with smaller brushes. In the final stages, I played around with glow brushes to bring some sparkle to the tail, as well as some atmospheric bubble brushes. I went back and forth so much, but in the end I found my way.

scan mermaid sketch

Casey’s process for this piece started on paper and ended up via scan in SketchBook. Try this with the Scan Sketch feature and see if this same process works for you.

What’s your favorite tools for this piece?

I chose a mermaid as my subject matter specifically because I wanted to see what fun effect brushes in SketchBook Pro had to offer. Tails, scales, and bubbles seemed like the perfect elements to give a little flourish. I loved the textural brushes that behaved like natural paint. I also had a lot of fun with glow brushes, though it was easy to overdo it on the glow effect. I played around a lot before I found an effect that looked right. For the hair, I wanted something almost calligraphic. I ended up using a mixture of ink and marker brushes for that. By the time I was done painting, I knew that I had only scratched the surface of what these brushes could do. There were deeper levels of brush customization and whole sets of brushes I hadn’t even touched. My picture was already pretty busy by that time, though, so I decided to leave further exploring to another day.

Inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, this series of fairy drawings has a spectacular Art Nouveau look.

Casey’s series of fairy drawings inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a spectacular Art Nouveau look.

Do you have advice for other artists?

I’m still very much finding my own way in the art world, but here are some principles that have been important to me:

  • Practice and work hard, but don’t lose the love. When I was in school, I worked myself to a frazzle. At one point I was going to school full time, working ten hours a week at the library, and another thirty to forty at a game studio, while also creating an original short and a separate portfolio for Disney. I worked from 7 a.m. to midnight every day of the week, with an all-nighter at least once a week. This kind of thing can work in short bursts, but it isn’t sustainable in the long run. Art-making demands downtime and reflection. If you work, work, work just for the sake of looking busy or “getting ahead,” you may find that your art becomes sluggish, labored, and uninspired. More importantly, if you find yourself falling out of love with your work, you may need a break, some fresh inspiration, or a change of direction. Burnout is a very real threat in this industry. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you take the time to rest and feed your muse, your work will soar.
  • Know your worth. While in school, get to know what you’re good at. Find out what it is that you have to offer to the industry. It should be more than just “I want to make stuff” or “I can do everything.” It should fill a need. That may be the need for appealing characters or delightful stories, but your work should give something to someone other than you. Once you know what you have to offer, be sure to charge an appropriate amount for your work. The Graphic Artists Guild publishes a handbook of pricing to help you in drawing up quotes for clients. This may seem scary at first, but if you want to be a professional artist, you have to be able to make a living. By charging fair rates for your work, you are not only helping yourself, but also the art community as a whole. What we do has value, and if we all uphold that, we are all able to keep creating.
  • Put your work out there. Take a risk on art fairs, conventions, and online shops. You’ll make a lot of new contacts and you may find out about work you never knew was out there. It can be scary to stand there with your art on display, but exhibiting at conventions has really helped me define my audience, find my niche, and gain exposure.
  • Build a genuine network. I used to hate the idea of “networking.” It seemed so slimy and disingenuous. After a few years in L.A., though, I’ve begun to look at networking in a new light. I like to make genuine connections with people, and to help them when I can. I use my network to help connect people to one another. I may have one friend who is looking for good story artists and another who does amazing story work — they should know each other! Doing good for others boosts your confidence and your standing in the community. Then, when you need a hand, people will be more likely to want to help you. Industry folks can tell immediately if you’re just sucking up to them to get something for yourself. So don’t be that person. Be the one who is interested in others, who makes connections in an honest way. Then, when the time comes, share what you have to offer and see what opportunities open up.
  • Be true, be kind, be courageous. It may sound corny, but the lessons we learn as children can be helpful in guiding us through the perils of the industry. Be true to your calling because that is where your best work lies. Be kind to others because we are all connected, and your reputation is so very important to your career. Be courageous because creating takes courage, and you must risk failure before you find success.

These are just some of the things that I have learned in my career so far. Each of us is has our own path to walk, and your way may differ from mine. But I do hope that you keep going, keep creating, because the world will be richer for it.

More Casey Robin Neal

If you see something you like in this post, check out Casey’s Etsy store. You can purchase prints — including some of the ones we feature here.

Messy Brushes: Free Brush Set of the Week

messy brushes banner

Welcome back! If you follow this blog you know that every Monday we have a new free brush set. We’ve got quite a treat for you this week. A brush set everyone should have in their library, our Messy Brushes are essential tools to get that perfect messily painted look — messy on purpose, of course. If this is a style you’ve admired from afar but haven’t had the guts to try, today’s the day! If you’re a beginner and want to learn a bit about messy techniques, keep reading. If you’re already familiar with this style, then you can get some great inspiration below.

Painting with Messy Brushes

Being able to paint with these messy brushes and with a messy technique is a great skill to have. The more you do it, the better you’ll get, and the faster you’ll begin to turn your ideas into physical manifestations. This style of painting is great if you want to quickly get some inspiration down without spending hours and hours trying to perfect every aspect of your drawings. Plus, it looks really, really cool.

With anything in life, practice makes perfect (or close enough). Go with your gut feeling and keep building up textures and colors wherever you think appropriate. If you’re new to this style, try painting an object from real life or even recreate work from others you admire. It may be frustrating at first to try to create something from your imagination so this is a good place to start. Your technique will eventually improve and you’ll be able to create amazing visuals such as the one shown below. What’s great about messy painting is you don’t have to think about including every single detail, you can get your message across using only a few strokes. Who needs to paint every single leaf on a tree when you can quickly paint the entire tree with the illusion of there being thousands of leaves?

princess mononoke messy painting

Princess Mononoke digital painting by Muju

Making a great mess with brush strokes

Notice the brush strokes if we zoom in to the painting below. Take a look at the hand holding onto the fur. It doesn’t quite look like a hand close up, does it? But when you zoom out to view the image as a whole (above), it makes perfect sense. Use neater detail where necessary, but sparingly. The cleanest part of the painting is the face, and it stands out beautifully against the more chaotic surroundings. Be loose with your strokes. Don’t try to make everything perfect. You want there to be raw emotion and a sense of movement within your paintings, something that is uniquely achievable with messy brushes and strokes. When it comes to blending, don’t make anything smooth. Use the strokes to create color gradients, but don’t go in afterward to fix things with a blending brush. For this type of painting you want rough textures. For the backdrop, the Messy Airbrush and Messy Watercolor brushes in the set are perfect for creating rough textures.

princess mononoke messy brushes zoom

If seeing this painting rekindled your love affair with Princess Mononoke, take a look at some of Muju’s other work on his DeviantArt page. Also be sure to check out his gorgeous selection of available prints for purchase.

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

Flipbook Animation Tutorial: Fun With Shapes

It is officially time for part three of our SketchBook Pro Flipbook tutorial for the desktop app. If this is your first introduction to FlipBook, be sure to check out Part 1: Bouncing Balls and Part 2: How Things Drop to get caught up. All of these tutorials are based on techniques by illustrator Andre Quijano, This tutorial focuses on the active movement and shape-shifting of basic shapes. There are four topics we will be covering in this tutorial: easing in and out, smearing and multiples, stuttering, and morphing. As always, download the PDF file of the Fun with Shapes Flipbook Tutorial for detailed step-by-step instructions. If you want the express crash course, keep reading! Make sure you’ve already read through at least the very first tutorial to know the basics of Flipbook before you get started.

Exercise 1: Ease Out, Ease In

This technique will enable your animations to have smooth motions that accelerate and decelerate at the appropriate (and realistic) pace. Simply increase the number of frames when you get near the end point (or at the beginning if you’re easing in) and continuously make the distance between the circles closer and closer. You will likely be using ease out much more often than the alternative but it’s basically the same concept for either movement.

ease in out example

Exercise 2: Multiples and Smearing

You can always use multiples of the same shape to demonstrate speed, but at times that may not be enough. This is where smearing comes in. Instead of using multiples and having to draw several extra frames, you can include a single or fewer number of smearing frames to show speed. As shown in the examples below, you can throw in some action lines to show the path of the motion. Use your judgment to figure out which method will work best with the movement you’re trying to convey.

flipbook tutorial action example

multiples example

smearing example

Exercise 3: Stuttering

If you’re looking to animate an object that skids as it comes to a halt, you can use the following technique to create a “stuttering” effect. As you can see from the first gif, the square looks like it’s sliding to a frictionless stop. To add the stuttering effect, duplicate the frames so that there’s a repeat of each one when it’s slowing down — it will give the impression of strain.

stuttering example 1

stuttering example 2

Exercise 4: Morphing

This one is quite simple to figure out. Once you have the frame with the shape you’re starting with as well as the frame for the shape that will be the end result, you can fill in the frames in between gradually moulding it from one to the other. You can get creative and try three or more shapes to start with and fill in the frames in between to morph into each one.

morphing example 1

morphing example 2

Once you get the hang of morphing, you can play around with different shapes as well as combining 2D and 3D shapes (as demonstrated below).

morphing 2d and 3d

Not a SketchBook Pro Member?

If you want to give Flipbook a try but you’re not a SketchBook Pro member, you can try a free 15-day trial (no need to provide your credit card information). Download the SketchBook Pro Desktop version if you haven’t done so already and unlock your Pro membership from within the app.

Free Brush Set: Dashes & Lines

dashes and lines brush banner

For this week’s free brush set, we thought we’d bring you something a little bit different. I’m sure most of us sketch lines and dashes manually within our works of art and haven’t thought twice about trying a different or easier method. But today’s the day that all changes! Download our Dashes and Lines Brush Set now, and if you’re still confused as to how you can benefit from these brushes, keep reading.

hash marks

These brushes can be of great use when creating an interesting look for a background or banner (such as the one used at the top of this post). You can easily create textures and patterns using the two “Diagonals” brushes in the set (Diagonals and Diagonals Thick), as well as add texture with the hatching-based line forms like Waveform Hash and Fat Hatching. These brushes are really handy when creating shading. You can also use these brushes to emulate textures such as cloth or burlap, as you can see in this drawing of a treasure map:

lines brush map

Of course, you don’t have to use these brushes to make any sort of complex painting. These tools are great to achieve simple tasks and give you a highly polished and professional finished product. As the GIF below shows, you can use it to make a path on a map. You can also create simple cutting marks on a project. It’s a handy tool to have at your reach if the need ever comes up and it can save a lot of time from having to do it manually.

lines brush map gif

If you’re someone who thrives in the comfort of low-opacity, feathered-brush painting, let this be the week you get out of that comfort zone. The dashes and lines brush set will help you create art with solid and blunt lines. After you’ve completed your sketch, you can stylize it by playing around with the colors. You can lock the layer on which you made your sketch and paint over all of the line work with whatever colors you want. Make a gradient like the example shown in the banner. Overlay a texture or pattern. Go nuts! This method looks amazing with the absence of feathered strokes and you’ll get a bold and striking end result. Best part is, the varying colors can hide any problem areas or mistakes you may have made.

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

SketchBook Summer Sale: 30% Off

summer sale
Time for some summer savings. Starting today, we’re offering 30% off an annual subscription. It’s easy to take advantage of this offer. Just visit the SketchBook home page and click on the “30% Off” button. No special coupon or code needed. But hurry. This offer will only stick around through July 15th.