I am an intermediate graphic designer that uses Photoshop, I’ve created many pieces that I am very proud of and can stare at it all day long. Alright, let’s get to the points.
Many people that use Photoshop, regardless of their skills, always want to learn something new in the program. The most obvious and probably reliable is tutorials, on Tuts+ and sites like that.
Well, I have a question: should I actually do step by step in the tutorials or just reading it to know what they are doing? If I actually do it step by step, it would be time consuming, and if I read it, I can still learn the material and read more tutorials in a short period of time.
But, there’s that saying, if you do it, you will remember it more. I’m kind of in the middle right now, and when I read a tutorial and found a cool effect, I try to replicate that effect and that effect only in photoshop for future use.
You learn practical skills by doing them. There’s lots of hard evidence that procedural skills learnt from doing are different and deeper than theoretical knowledge from reading.
These then expand your creative possibilities through pushing these new skills, experimenting with them, and creating things with them.
So, if it’s an area you’re new to, do it, and also, don’t just follow it. At each step that’s new to you, think “What else can I use this for? How can I push it? How can I combine it with other things I already know?”. You’ll get ideas. Try them out (after finishing the tutorial!).
You don’t want to be an automaton who follows and remembers step-by-step instructions, you want to be a creative person who has ideas then a whole host of options for how to realise them. So, follow the tutorial, then take those new techniques off-road.
That’s if it’s an area that’s new to you. When you’re more experienced, 90% of a tutorial will be things you already knew, so you’ll find yourself skim-reading them then going “Hey, I like step six, that’s new!”. If you’re reading tutorials because you’re stuck doing a practical task, using that trick to get un-stuck is enough for it to be practical, procedural learning.
Even then, it’s worth pushing yourself, pushing that new trick, and trying new ways to use it and new things it’s capable of. It’s a good way to avoid getting stuck in a rut or a routine.
A person who has mastered 5 techniques and can create almost anything with them is a better designer than someone who has memorised 200 techniques but can’t do much more with them than follow what they’ve seen or read. The great designers of the pre-software era could create almost anything with ink, blade, guides and a steady hand: don’t hobble your core skills by getting obsessed with cool effects.