I asked something in one of the discords I’m in the other day. It was putting my reference image under my artwork to check and see if I had the proper proportions down. I felt terrible for doing it. I felt like I was cheating somehow because I’m still in a stage of learning and growth where I am developing my visual measuring tools.

They told me: “You’re using digital art software. You’re not cheating; you’re using the program to the fullest.”

Not Cheating
I still feel so horrible doing this.

So why do we think like this? Why do we believe that using the program to the fullest is cheating?

The Stigma

We, as artists, live under a stigma that we absolutely must do everything the hard way. That if we trace something, if we use some form of shortcut, we’re cheating, and we will be punished. Or someone will catch us and call us out.

This stigma stems from so many, many people using the abilities of digital art software incorrectly. They want to run before they can walk, and so they rely upon the software to do everything for them. If you were to ask them to do it again without using half of their tricks, they wouldn’t be able to reproduce the effect or art.

Everyone who uses digital art software that is not using the abilities in the program that are built-in are just making things harder for themselves. Of course, this comes with a caveat.

Learn The Basics First

Again, you need to learn to walk before you can run. Say you’re trying to draw a head, for example. You’re new, you’ve watched a YouTube tutorial, and it says, “Draw a circle.” You immediately find the easiest way to draw a circle in your software, and that’s to use the shape or ellipsis tool. So you do it.

Did you learn anything doing that? Did you learn how to draw a circle, which is one of the most used organic forms? No. You used a shortcut. You did cheat, but you didn’t cheat your audience. You cheated yourself out of learning, and that’s worse than doing it to your audience.

Not Cheating:  Circles
If you’re curious, these are Loomis Heads.

Plus, going to give you a tip as someone who’s fallen back on that a couple of times – they look weird. Perfect circles not drawn by hand look odd, especially when paired with everything else that’s been drawn by hand.

So learn the basics before you start applying those digital art software tricks though I will put a catch on this. If you are using a method to help you learn faster, such as the shape tool to draw a circle over your circle – you’re still doing fine. It’s helping to train your eye. Always try to draw the circle first is all I’m asking.

After You’re Comfortable With The Basics

Once you’ve gotten comfortable being able to draw and paint things by hand, now you can start using those other tricks to speed up your work. Use that line tool to draw a straight line when you need it. Use a blur filter, adjust your colors using filters, use a gradient map or swatches to fill in the base colors of your painting. There are hundreds of ways to speed your work up with digital art that you cannot do with traditional art.

Go ahead and watch a professional digital artist paint. Or watch one of their tutorials. Sure, they know the basics – but maybe they used the transform tool to adjust that nose that was out of whack rather than redrawing it properly. They saved themselves time because they’re getting paid for their work. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Watch Marc Brunet’s Speedpaint above. Trust me, there’s a ton of tricks in here to speed things up.


We’re not cheating by using the abilities that come with our digital art software. We need to get that out of our heads because we’re only harming ourselves in the long run. It can not only slow us down once we’ve reached a professional level, but it can also harm us in our learning processes. As long as the digital art program’s tools are used properly so that you’re using them as aids to learning, you’re still doing okay.

Just don’t blindly follow some high-level tutorial that’s full of digital art software tricks without understanding the fundamentals. Once you know why it’s done that way, you will better grasp how to twist that trick to your own devices. And do your best to learn the basics first. When you become a professional, your work will shine so much more once you feel freer to use those tricks to speed up your workflow.

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