Learning to use new software can be tough!

A drawing of me drawing a drawing…

Maybe I’m a bit weird but I like software and I like showing people how to use it to make life easier. But I really do understand how frustrating technology can be, too.

Just lately I’ve had a taste of how that feels. I can normally pick up new software pretty quickly, but digital drawing has been very tricky for me. OK that’s an understatement, it’s been a total pain in the arse.

First, I didn’t know which tool to use. I didn’t really understand the difference between Photoshop-type tools and Illustrator-type software and as this started as a hobby I wanted to start out with the open-source equivalents anyway (GIMP and Inkscape). I’ve had a Wacom drawing tablet for a few years but compared to a pen it felt like writing on my name on a beach with a stick. Was the Wacom too old? Did I just need more practice? Had I even got it set up right?

It turned out that I hadn’t configured my Wacom drawing tablet properly. I only worked that out a couple of  weeks ago – doh! And I’m now trying out yet another piece of software – Autodesk Sketchbook.

Second, I didn’t realise how deep all this was. There’s such a of a lot to learn (layers, vectors, the implications of different file formats to name just a few).

All of this is alongside the natural tendency we all have to look at our own drawings and think they look terrible.  I just ignore this, it’s the only way forward.

Despite all the frustration, I’ve learned a lot, and not just about digital drawing, either. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) It’s good to put yourself in the shoes of someone who struggles with things you don’t every now and then. Even if it drives you nuts.

2) For business, be ready to move on from cheap/free tools as soon as you get an inkling it’s holding you back. This started out as hobby for me so I wasn’t wasting time and money, but it would have been a different story if it was for a business.

I’ve had a good response when I post my drawings on my blog, so it’s turning out to be a business activity even though it didn’t start out that way. And yes, there’s still a voice in my head telling me they’re terrible – I’m still ignoring it and carrying on!

3) Also for a business, consider getting someone who knows what they are doing to do it for you.

4) Know what your goals are. I was just experimenting with drawing and ended up learning a bit about graphic design, design tools, cartooning, illustration and loads more. Fun for a hobby but not very efficient if you’re trying to make an income from it (luckily I wasn’t).

5) We’re really impatient now and assume we can pick things up in a few hours. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t – it depends what it is. Be realistic and allow yourself enough time.

5) Thank the people who help you. This post started out as a Facebook post and I had tons of offers of advice and support from my creative Facebook friends. I’m going to give them a shout-out here as they either run creative businesses or have great resources to share. Or both. Here we go:

Kristen Palana makes the best digital graphics/drawing courses and is a digital artist
Berenice Smith is the owner of a graphic design agency
Caroline Jones makes graphic design tutorials and you can buy the cards & gifts she’s designed here.
Emma Paxton is a graphic recorder
Dan Flower writes content and is a web designer
Pandy Grenville-Evans owns a craft shop and the Posh Dog Clothing Company
Adam Fitch is a music video specialist
Kayleigh Pople is a web and graphic designer
James Mossop is a graphic designer
Rachel Extance is a business storyteller

Thanks also for your support to these folk : Hazera Forth, Ann Hawkins, Sarah Davies, Lucy Johnson Botta, Mavis Kerrigan, Frances Livesey and Colin Sharman.

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2 thoughts on “Learning to use new software can be tough!”

  1. Thanks for the shout out Helen. I think one of the important things I have learned from your brilliant training is that just because ‘everyone’ uses a particular kind of software, that doesn’t mean it is right for you. There are lots of different products out there for every business process and finding one you like is going to make it a lot easier to learn how to use it effectively.

    • Thanks very much Rachel! There are so many tools out there that there’s bound to be one that does almost* all of what you need. The challenge these days is finding the right one for you given that the ones that shout loudest aren’t necessarily the best.

      (*If you’re just getting started you’re pretty likely to find a tool that does 100% of what you need, if you have more specialised needs you might need to compromise a little or pay more to get exactly what you want.)


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