What an interesting comment! (the above picture is produced on an old DS using homebrew software called colours.  Alas, pressure sensitive DS no longer exist)  The picture of Noah’s ark sparked off a little debate on facebook.  Someone make the comment that digital art devalued, in their opinion, real art.

Basically their points were:

  • True art is being faithful, honest and true to the medium employed.
  • Digital is an imitation of manual free flowing brush strokes using pigments (oil or water based) mediums and this for me disqualifies it as being considered a work of art (more painting by numbers perhaps)
  • True digital art should result in something that could not be produced by other means… precise and almost mechanical.
  • The skill and and quality of painting by hand as opposed to the digital approach is not just the time involved, but it starts with the concept, the mind, the creative, intuitive inherent talent of the artist.
  • The hand and technical ability of the artist is an extension of the creative mind and how the paint and the brush are ‘felt’ held and manipulated is part of the holistic approach.

Which, are all good points.  It does hark back a little to the days when oil painters looked down on watercolourists.

Anyway, I responded, I hope graciously.  Have a read, and see what you think!

I can use natural world media too.  The question has to be, then, why use digital when I can use naturals? It comes down to economics, purpose and time.

I still produce art for people on request, more for fun now than for an editor. Editors are somewhat fickle, and they like to change things. Having the space to be able to change things later in the game is important. Each piece I produce digitally takes just as long digitally as in natural media, but if a piece is completed having spent 10 or more hours on it, to have an editor want you to tweak the finally adding a small area is impossible in natural media. Digital keeps things editable, up to a point. Second purpose, much of my art has been used digitally world wide, as well as for print. One of the drawbacks of real world art is transferring it faithfully to a digital format for such purposes. This has two impacts.

The first is back on that editing process. When working with editors, you end up creating work in progress images WIPS. That means you have to send them updates at each stage of the process. Unless you have access to some quite expensive equipment, it’s very hard to get a good format and quality of image that helps the editor see where the image is going. You’ve also got to get responses pretty quick, which means it has to be digital.

You can’t just send a picture off by post, then wait a few days. We don’t all have the kudos of quentin Blake where the editor will wait for you. It’s often a 24 hour turn around. If you are working the the web, where people are viewing on a computer, its better to work on a computer in the first place because that is how it will be viewed. real world art is reflected light, but digitally viewed art is emitted light. but even if you are having the image printed, in a book for example, going back to reproduction its hard to get the photograph faithful to the origianl if you dont use high end equipment. for many illustrators they work for smaller publishers which means they are responsible for getting the image into the roght format.

The second point is that it’s cheaper to work digitally! Any natural media is expensive, and can be wasteful. When you have a family kids can knock things over, and you need lots of space, digital means you can actually pack up when the kids come home. It costs about £1000 to set up a digital workspace, which includes a graphics tablet and the right software. You correctly identify about a program that mimics natural brush strokes. However it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, you don’t use a mouse to point and click, and the computer does it for you. You have to learn how a real brush works first of all, then argue with the software and graphics tablet to make it do the same thing.

When you use a tablet, as I do, you still have to be able to draw, and to produce something that looks close to natural ( it’s never perfectly the same) know what happens in the real world. No tracing over, or copying allowed. Although the grand masters did use a clever reflecting device which enabled them to effectively trace onto their boards! Not dissimilar from taking a photograph then painting over it. I work hard at making those digital brush strokes look like they would in the real world, and to be honest it’s easier working with natural media!

As for feeling, you might find this strange but I can actually feel the brush change in my hand depending on which digital tool I’m using. If I select brush it’s softer, and just like in the real world, oil feels buttery and so on. It’s quite strange and I don’t know how many other artists who can do both disciplines feel the same. Brush and paint manipulation is exactly what you do in digital art too. I try to avoid the undo button unless I am push for time or made a canvas destroying blunder, in which case I would have thrown the canvas and started again. My approach is exactly the same working digitally or natually.

Today’s art software attempts to mimic how natural media behaves, even to the extent of building in random mistakes, artists often refer to them as happy mistakes. Much of the art you see in Print, and some of that which makes popular art prints in the high street, is produced digitally, it’s more economic. Many kids picture books which look natural media aren’t. I know some of those artists, and we all agree, digital is simply more practical for all the reasons above.

I partly agree with you, nothing beats real world art. But the digital benefits stack against all the problems you outline above. But I have real work art on my walls too! I suggest that to see just how those art program’s work and the skills you need, get Painter X3, then do as I do and start with a story, produce concept images, then work it up into a full blown image working entirely from your imagination. You’ll see it’s really hard to do, and in the end digital production is simply another tool to arrive at a destination, requiring a skill set that isn’t just one of artistic skill, training and years of experience to not just produce a picture but evoke an emotional response; but you need yet another skill set to make digital equipment reproduce something believable so that the digital gets out of the way and leaves the viewer the opportunity to interact with digitally produced art as well as you would with the real world