• Atiqah Nadiah Zailani

Getting Started with Digital Paintings

Tools and tips to get you started on creating art without the high cost of canvas and tubes of paint.

For those who are also itching to bring out the artists from within them, here's a recommendation on what you need to get started. You might just find yourself with a new hobby or a creative outlet - and for so little cost! (not including your time, which may or may not be expensive, depending on how you value it).

Physical vs Digital Paintings

People often confuse the paintings I do for physical, canvas paintings that I’ve got stacked up in my room, but they’re not – they are digital paintings, existing only within the kilobytes and megabytes of my hard drive.

Similarly, I am not perched on a stool by an easel, dabbing on paint with brushes on a blank canvas while squinting at a bowl of fruit (or a naked bust) that is the subject of my muse.

Instead, I am sprawled on my bed, often very inelegantly, dragging one fat finger across the tablet screen to activate the digital brush ‘filled’ with digital colours.

As with everything else, there are pros and cons to this:


  1. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on art supplies, so it is ideal for practicing and building up your skills

  2. You don’t have to carry around art supplies – you can paint whenever and wherever as long as you have your tablet with you

  3. You can easily store and share your artwork

  4. You can mix an endless variety of colours without causing a mess

  5. You can ‘undo’ mistakes (thank God for the ‘undo’ button!)

  6. You can delete awful artwork with a press of button without wasting a perfectly good canvas

  7. You can reproduce multiple copies easily


  1. Digital painting is not, and will never be, the same as physical painting (though this is neither a good thing or bad thing; it just is). The skills and techniques you pick up will not necessarily apply to physical paintings – what you are able to produce on your tablet, you may not be able to reproduce with a canvas and paint, and vice versa

  2. You have less control over the ‘brush’, and cannot regulate the pressure you apply as well as you can with a physical brush – it takes a different set of tricks to manipulate the digital brush to your liking

  3. Your artwork can only exist as a print, either on paper or canvas, and it will lack the texture and the brushstrokes present on a physical painting

That being said, I find that the pros outweigh the cons, so am pretty happy to stick with digital paintings.

The Tools

To make the digital paintings, I only use two tools:

  1. a drawing app on my tablet

  2. one of my fingers

Tool 1: App

There are various drawing apps available online that vary in sophistication, but the one I use is called Paper 53 (it’s only available for Apple devices – sorry Android users).

It’s free (woohooo!) and comes packed with tools like a fountain pen, a marker pen, a brush, a pencil, an eraser and a colour mixer. They also recently added more tools like a ruler, scissors, a paint roller and a more intuitive ‘undo’ button.

Look at the sexy array of digital tools

Paper 53 is versatile, and can be used to take notes, make lists, draw diagrams, and take photos. In fact, I mentioned before that I initially downloaded the app for the purpose of note-taking and other geekery, like making timelines (woohooo!).

Here’s a video of the app that gives you an idea of all the things you can do with it:

The app is not perfect, naturally. Some of the things that I do wish Paper 53 would offer include:

  1. layers, ala Photoshop

  2. notebooks – back in the day, the app categorised your notes and drawings by putting them in a ‘notebook’ that looked like a digital Moleskin. You were able to flip through it like a normal book. The recent update however now has your notes and drawings piled together in a heap, and then arranged in a grid. Not a fan.

The Before, when all was good and orderly

The After. Why fix something that's not broken, whyyyyy?

Nevertheless, I still prefer Paper 53 over the other apps, and have been pretty happy with it thus far.

Tool 2: Your finger, preferably the least dirty one

No explanation needed.

Optional tool: Stylus Pen

If you’re too cool to use your stubby finger, you can opt for the gazillion of stylus pens on the market.

There’s the cheapo stylus that you can get at the Dollar Store or Daiso, which I found works well enough until the rubber tears away. There’s the ultra expensive Apple Pen. And whaddayaknow, Paper 53 also produces their own stylus called the Pencil:


(Confession, I lusted after the Pencil so badly for a period of time, but then found out it doesn’t work with my ‘vintage’ iPad 2) (on a side note, I recently tried to send my Macbook 2010 for repair, only to be told it’s an 'antique'; man, life cycles these days get shorter and shorter...)

I have tried using a stylus before, but found that my finger worked just as well, if not better, and it meant one less thing to carry around with me. So I suggest you try doing it the finger-way first, and if you don’t like it, only then invest in a stylus. I do admit that while my finger excels at drawing, it fails miserably at writing legibly, so perhaps a stylus is needed, at least for note-taking purposes.

And that’s it!

Pretty cool, huh? With a free app and your finger, you are already set to produce interesting artwork that only you can. Almost zero up-front cost, but endless possibilities! Happy digital painting!

[Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The products mentioned here are those I genuinely like using, or that I genuinely would use if I had the moolah. Also, all Paper 53 related photos come from their website, fifty three.com]

Also, hey, you can now buy a print of my paintings! If you've ever thought: "Ooh, that's gonna look good on my wall", then here's your chance to actually hang it on your wall! Or even better, commission a unique one for yourself!

#art #ideas #painting

Like what you are reading and want more? Subscribe!
Like what you are reading and want more? Subscribe!

© 2018 by Atiqah Nadiah Zailani                                                                                                                                             Contact    Subscribe     Back to Homepage