May 27, 2021

Do You Need to Be Good at Drawing for Digital Art?

Surprisingly, the short answer to this question is no. You will find that there are many graphic designers out there that do not know how to draw traditionally. Because design is more about the rules of composition, elements of art, understanding aesthetics, and working with typography – many designs can be made without needing the skills of drawing. Will having these skills give you an advantage? Yes. If you’ve had training in traditional arts, you would have learned to see better as an artist, so you could spot and place more elements digitally. Such fundamentals include value, contrast, saturation, and hue. Understanding these elements will allow an artist to be versatile with their styles because these fundamentals can be applied to any style used in design. Maybe the better question then is, “What are some of the important things I should know about whether I am skilled in drawing or not in order to make successful digital art?” As mentioned, these elements/principles include an understanding of:

Drawing is just one of many abilities in an artist's toolkit.


Understanding how lines work to create a drawing will go a long way when creating your first round of sketches following through to the final designs. Lines can be used in multiple ways. There are vertical lines, horizontal lines, diagonal lines, curved lines, edged lines, and contour lines. There are also many ways to vary the stroke of these lines from how thick, thin, or a variation of both. For more ideas on how to use lines,


Since color plays a big part in influencing emotions, understanding the basics of color, how they relate to one another, and the feelings they evoke will add value to your work it comes to choosing a color palette or educating your client should they need some help in this department. There are also many different types of colors. In fact, colors come in families! Adding white to a hue gives you multiple tints, black multiple shades, and grays multiple tones! Knowledge of color is a completely separate skill from drawing ability.


Many designs can be made from using basic geometric shapes, eliminating the need for hand drawing. Whether it be in 2D or 3D form, designs ranging from logos, borders, and/or patterns can easily be made through repeating, symmetrical, or asymmetrical arrangements. Simple shapes can be combined to create more complex shapes.


Value is the darkness or lightness of an object. Understanding value alone can create many variations in your elements. This is both beneficial in traditional and digital media. This can also help with understanding how to see and use color—which is very important in design. Using values will give the illusion of form, which can make a design feel 3-dimensional. It can also upgrade a design that feels flat or dull.

Space + Alignment.

An understanding of spacing and alignment helps tremendously with composition. Sometimes if there is a slight glitch in the flow of a message, it revolves around these two elements. It makes a big difference on a design when these two are applied purposefully. In combination with shapes, many designs can be made. If there are no space between the shapes, new forms can emerge. This can apply to drawing, but also to manual placement of elements in a program like Photoshop.

Rhythm + Repetition.

Using these elements alone can create some astounding pieces of art. Because you can play with stroke colors and fill colors, repeating shapes can be turned into a composition. In combination with the other principles and elements, many pieces can be made without the need for drawing. For example, lines can be repeated in multiple ways to create different textures depending on how the lines there are and the distance between each.

Digital Tools.

Digital media programs will have tools that can create composition that include these elements and principles. Adobe’s Creative Cloud programs such as Illustrator has tools like pen, pencil, shape, fill color, stroke color, and much more to help the budding artist create artistic compositions—all without the skill of drawing. Should there be a need to trace photographs or sketches, these programs will also be useful.

You can make all kinds of art without drawing abilities, such as installation art.

These are only some of the ways art can be made without the traditional skills of drawing. An artist interested in making digital designs can do some research on these and apply them right away to a design. Different designs can then be combined to make new designs. The possibilities are endless.

For more information on the design basics, refer to “Design Basics” from David A. Lauer and Stephen Pentak. You can also visit Stephen’s website to see his pieces.

Curious about a career in graphic design? F.I.R.S.T. Institute’s Graphic Design and Web Development program allows students to launch their art careers in just 11 months — on campus, or online!

Article by Marianne Catangay, Graphic Design & Web Development Instructor at F.I.R.S.T. Institute.