Busting the digital art myths

11:58 AM

 

Myths busting about digital art

I've come across a lot of questions and myth about digital art in the past few months, most of which on Quora, where I spend a fair chunk of my time reading and answering questions about art, and selling art. 

There seems to be a lot of misconception, beliefs, and myth doing the round about digital art, which really need to be addressed once and for all. Which is what prompted me to put this little blog post together. 

What is digital art? 

Digital art is essentially a MEDIUM, just like watercolour art, acrylic paint art, pastel art, pencil art, and oil paint art. 
It is an art form that is done using a computer or tablet, and a drawing app. Some artists do complex hyper realist art digitally and others prefer cartoony illustration style, just like one would an any other mediums.
The end product is a digital file you can upload anywhere, and have printed in various sizes as many time as the artist want. 

Can one do digital art without any basic drawing knowledge? 

You can, but you should not expect to be good instantly, because the computer will NOT do the work for you. You will have to learn those drawing basics down the line like you would for any other mediums. With digital art, you still are the one holding the stylus and drawing the lines, the only thing different is that you don't use physical ink or pigments to do the work, but each and every stroke on the screen is still 100% your work. 

Digital art is not "real art" 

Ok let's get real on this one! What is "real art" because at one point or another in history the famous artists we know today were considered "not real artists". 
I remember having an art teacher in high school (in art school major no less) who disdained anything that wasn't Renaissance art. He absolutely despised commercial art above all forms not even really realising that the Renaissance Masters he held to such high esteem were in fact the first documented commercial artists in history. Michelangelo, Botticelli and company were at the head of artists workshops employing many artists, assistants and apprentice doing a lot of the work for them, in the same way a creative director does today at an art and graphic design firm. 
They were the brand name and CEO of their workshops and they all spent a significant amount of time networking and prospecting new clients. Ironically, if computers existed in their time, there is a solid chance they would have used them to create their projects. 

In a few hundred years, what is commercial art today will probably be featured in a fine art museum...think about it. 

Digital art is like cheating

Those who think that way are usually people who never tried digital art and probably think that all that is done by the artist is just type in a few command lines and POOF! the computer does the rest producing a complex image instantly.
As said above, the artist still need to draw those lines and think about composition, sketching, colouring and shading. Some digital art piece requires days if not weeks of very intricate work all done by hand (yes by hand). 
The main perk of digital art that might appear like a cheat to more traditional artists is the fact that you can erase mistakes made digitally which you can't do with a medium like acrylic or watercolor which are far more unforgiving, but then other mediums like pencil, or charcoal also share this distinction of being erasable, so it's not something totally new that should be condemned as cheating. 

Some people think that because one can trace images digitally it means the artist is taking a shortcut and therefore isn't doing all the work themselves. There is even that myth that "real artists" should never trace anything. 
Vermeer and other painters as early as the 17th century did use a technique called "Camera Obscura". The process used a lens that filtered light inside a small dark tent and projected to the canvas so the artist could trace the composition in a very precise way. It is highly speculated that Vermeer did take it to the next level and used the technique to shade his paintings to perfection as well. So much for the whole "real artists don't trace" huh? 

Digital art requires expensive material

Yes and no, you can do it with a basic computer, a free drawing program like MS Paint and a mouse. Back in 2003-ish there was a huge trend of "digital cartoon dolls" that were mainly created to be used as avatar and in signature on message boards. 
Back in those days, most of these cartoon dolls were in GIF format and drawn by most artists in MS Paint and Photoshop for those who could afford it. It was called pixel art and the drawing was done with a mouse, using shading palettes and a lot of time cleaning up stray pixels. 
I should know, I went on that trend, I even had a now fully defunct free website called "Cyn's graphic corner" where I displayed my work. Back then I was using Paint Shop Pro, our regular desktop computer and the basic mouse that came with it. 
I seriously wished I still had a backup of all those dolls to show you what they looked like. Some of the pixel artists of that time would spend HOURS getting every single tiny pixels to just look right and do a perfectly shaded illustration, click by click on their mouse. 

You can take it to the next level by replacing your mouse with a drawing tablet linked to your computer.  They are commonly known as "Wacom tablet" though Wacom is a brand, and is a tad expensive. In India, you can get a basic drawing tablet for about 3000 rupees from brands like HUION (affiliate link). These tablets pretty much work like a mouse would, except you have a lot more control over the stroke, you can use them with any drawing software, many of which are free or can be bought at a very nominal price.

Now of course, most professional illustrator like myself use significantly pricier gear and apps to do the work. I myself never worked with a Wacom type of drawing tablet. I skipped straight to Procreate on iPad. Procreate as an app isn't super costly it's a one time purchase of around 800 rupees, but buying an iPad and Apple Pencil will cost you, so this is definitely not an investment I would recommend for a newbie, unless you already have the iPad to begin with. 

All in all, digital art gear goes by the same principle that applies to all other art supplies. Watercolor, acrylic paint, markers, and pencils all come in different price range and quality ranging from student to professional grade. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post titled "When should you upgrade your art supplies for professional quality ones", the same rule applies to digital art gear. 

Start small, do with what you have on hand, and if you really like it, invest into better hardware over time. 

Digital art has no value because it can be reproduced indefinitely

Ha! The big money question! 

The value is still something the artist get to decide, they also get to decide how many prints they will release. When someone buys digital art, they usually don't get the master file, but a printed copy of it. If the artist decided to only print 10 copies, then those 10 copies will have a "limited edition" feel and will command a higher price. 

Some other artists, like myself, license their art to print on demand companies and get paid a royalty on each sales. 
Then there is commission work that comes with custom term and conditions that are inclusive of the final price (this include specs about distribution rights)

Ultimately, the artist usually retain the rights to the artwork and decide what it is worth, the customer is free to decide if they want to buy it or not. Belittling an artist and questioning their prices simply because it's digital art is NOT ok. After all, would one demand a discount if the artwork was done in watercolor instead of pastel so why should digital be sold on the cheap? 

Digital art can't reproduce watercolor/oil/acrylic effects, so it's inferior

If you think that way, ask yourself if you would blame watercolor for not giving the same effect as an oil pastel or a chunky acrylic painting. 

Digital is a medium in its own right. You can mimic another medium style with it, but there is zero rules that says it has to absolutely look the same as the paper and pigment medium in the first place. 
Digital has it's own personal flavour, can be used in ways other mediums can't be used, and that is what makes it awesome. 
Digital art is not there to replace more traditional mediums, it's just another mediums that comes to the long list of possibilities an artist has to create something.

Digital art = hyperrealism illustration style 

I've seen this one a million time, sometimes the hyperrealism is replaced by "anime style". Digital art is not a style, it's a MEDIUM. 

You can do different styles of art within a medium, any medium. Just like not all watercolor paintings are landscapes and florals, or oil paintings about chubby cherubs or formal portraits.




All in all, digital art is a fun medium to try, leave all judgement aside, and experiment. It can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be, you can do anything you want with it and find your own style just like you would with any other medium. Going digital is not going to make you a "sell out" or traitor to the artist "cause" (is that even a thing?) and you can just switch between mediums depending your mood just the same. Nobody is going to make you pledge your soul to the devil or demand complete allegiance to the digital overlord. Those who are going to condemn you for going digital are people who are either too afraid to try something new, or never did anything artistic in their life, so just give it a try. 

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