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Clearing the Air about Digital Art

March 27, 2011

There is somewhat a debate about what is acceptable digital art work in an art show this fall. I’ve been meaning to research and write about digital art. I haven’t quite finished my research into the history of digital art, but I do want to discuss misconceptions and explain how I create digital art. I will also talk about what might be questionable as an entry to an art show.

This is a subject that is near and dear to me. I am a “traditional artist” and a “digital artist.” At almost every event where my art is shown I get the question, “What are digital watercolors?” At art shows you list your medium on the label. When the viewer doesn’t see the label, but simply takes the work in I don’t get these questions. I used to hate answering the questions mainly because of the bias and misconceptions surrounding digital art to this day. I used to feel awkward about it, but I’ve come to peace with it. I see other digital artists like me and I readily advocate it now.

There are many pre-conceptions, myths,  and bias when it comes to digital art.

  • One of the main misconceptions is that digital art is easy.
  •  Others think digital artists manipulate images to create something.
  •  Many people think the art is made by clicking around with a mouse.
  • I hear, “Well, it easy to fix mistakes.”
  • There is also the myth that if you use digital software, the artist can’t paint with traditional paint.
  • Some might think digital art isn’t considered an original.

One of the main misconceptions is that digital art is easy.

In many ways, technology has made life more complicated. What would we do without out smart phones, broadband, etc.? But, have not any one of these devices wasted hours of our time for one reason or another? Well, nothing is easier than grabbing a pencil and paper and going to town. Going for paint, water, and a brush is not complicated either. But, it can get messy and expensive to purchase good supplies.

Painting digitally is not having to worry about making a mess, spilling paint, getting clothing dirty, or having a painting accidentally ruined. You also don’t have to wait for paint to dry. There is no need to keep spending money on expensive supplies that run out.

It gets tough when you need to choose your software. Not all do the same things; some have more intuitive interfaces than others. You also have to take into consideration the price of the software, a tablet, and stylus. The hardest part is getting the software’s tools to behave as you would have them behave had you used a traditional brush or pen.

There are lots of little adjustments to create endless possibilities for the types of marks that can be made. Options can be overwhelming and get an artist off focus.  A digital artist still needs real drawing and painting skills. They still need to be able plan a good composition keeping all the art elements in mind.

I will talk about the pros and cons of digital art in a future post.

 Others think digital artists manipulate images to create something.

Well some do. Some do the same thing with paper cut-outs and manipulate those images to create a new image and it is typically acceptable as collage or mixed media.

Yes, some people will take an image they found in a Google search, import it into some digital art software, and simply apply a filter that makes it look as if it was painted. That’s a sin in my book. There are others that may just apply some funky coloring to an image and call it a day.

There is already a lot of art and music that has been created by the manipulation of existing work. Paper collages, mixed media, pop art, and dance mixes, remixes, etc. are all based off of manipulating something that is out there already. The artist’s job is not to rip off the original and make it their own…. Not just change a few small parts and call it an original.

 Many people think the art is made by clicking around with a mouse.

Many older people are not familiar with how a lot of digital marks are made. In high school,  I think Photoshop was in version 3 and the only computer painting I knew was MS Painter and a mouse to make marks. There were no tablets or styluses. How horrible! 😉

By the time I reached high school, the art computer department was just getting going, but they had Wacom tablets and styluses for us to use instead of mice. One would drag the stylus across the tablet to simulate drawing with a brush or pen or moving a cursor.

There are different types of styluses and tablets. Some styluses are made specifically to mimic felt tip pens, markers, and pens. They can have thick or thin tips that are plastic, felt, or spring loaded. The tablets have changed since I first purchased my own. With a standard tablet you have to look at the screen while you are drawing on the tablet. The image and the tool making the mark are in different spots, but now if you have the budget or $2000+ to spare you can paint right on the computer screen/tablet. Now, with the iPhone and iPad you can use your finger or a stylus to paint right on either screen.  

I hear, “Well, it easy to fix mistakes.”

It can be easier, but if you’re painting as you would traditionally it isn’t as easy as one would think all the time. So it is a bit easier, so what… who cares?! Some people never paint traditional watercolor because they’re afraid of making mistakes. They paint acrylic instead. Imagine the possibilities when you’re free of the worry of making mistakes or going back years later and making major changes.

There is also the myth that if you use digital software, the artist can’t paint with traditional paint.

You could probably paint really easily with digital software without an art education. You can do the same with art supplies with no training. A painting software isn’t going to magically render you a painting… unless you apply a painting filter (which I already said was cheating). But with cheating this way, it is easy to see how cheap it looks. No one is fooled.

Some might think digital art isn’t considered an original.

Well, if one were to create art with software without ripping anyone off, it is an original as far many are concerned. You have a copyright on it. Some digital artists never print their work and it’s always left in a digital format.

There is much debate and I’m afraid I’m still confused about originals and editions when it comes to digital art because it is still gaining acceptance. Since I work in the traditional and also digital world, I do print my digital work as a giclee, a fine art printing method. Some pieces are one of a kind and no editions are made and others have a small print run with a low number of editions.

The thing about digital art is that it is many things to many people while the outcome is generally beautiful works.

 If no thought, care, technique or respect for the basic elements of art and composition you are probably going to get poor results.

I personally utilize a Wacom tablet and a stylus that I use as a pencil or a brush to create my digital art. I use software that simulates the process of creating with physical paints, water, and paper. I choose a color, a paint brush, a type of wetness, the roughness of the paper. Some people think it is easy to correct mistakes. I make sure to use my traditional art skills in my digital art (examples on my website). I have been doing digital art for 15+ years and I am amazed at how well software can recreate the experience of painting on the computer now.

I hope that the fact that part of a work’s process is electronic doesn’t hinder its acceptance. I think of electronic music having gone through this same struggle. Just because electronic music equipment can simulate real or new instruments doesn’t make the music less beautiful or “pure.”

 Digital art is an interesting subject and I’ll be posting more about it in the future.

Feel free to leave comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Do you have experience with digital art?

Did you have any misconceptions about digital art?

Do you have any other questions I can address in a future post? 

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