Is digital art easier than traditional art?

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In this article, I will try to answer a common question amongst artist who are new to digital art. Is digital art easier than traditional art? I will try to debunk some myths regarding this topic and speak about which are the advantages and disadvantages of digital art compared to the more traditional media.

So, is digital art easier than traditional art?

Digital art isn’t easier compared to any other traditional media. Beginner artists think digital art is easier because you can press the undo button in case you messed up your artwork and revert the image to previous steps before the mistake. Like any other artistic form of expression, it has its pros and cons.

Probably like you, I started drawing in pen and paper and gradually I moved towards using acrylics and other traditional media. More than 12 years ago I decided to switch to digital mainly because I wanted to become a professional concept artist.

Having experience in both sides of the fence, gave me a good understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the digital medium compared to the traditional ones. Let’s analyze the pros and cons of digital art.

Pros:

  • The undo button, or the famous Ctrl+Z shortcut in Photoshop, is probably the most attractive feature in digital art for a newbie artist. The possibility of removing almost any mistake or wrong stroke right after you did it, leaving no trace of it ?s previous existence, it helps artists to gain confidence in their skills and learn without worrying too much in messing up the art piece they are working on. Digital is a lot more forgiving in that regard.
  • Digital art allows you to mix different media, that in traditional art you can ?t mix because of their base of the pigment you are using. For example, it will be very difficult for you to try to mix watercolors with oil painting, because watercolors use water as a base for the pigments and oil painting uses of course oil, and like everybody knows water and oil doesn’t mix well. On the other side, in the digital art realm, you have software like Corel Painter that mimics traditional media, and the good news is, you can mix them with no problem. You can get different traditional effects combined on the same painting.
  • If you wanna cover one particular area you don’t have to wait for the pigment to get dry, like in traditional media, so you can work on your painting non-stop.
  • Brush customization is another of those digital painting perks that can make your paintings look amazing, and most importantly will save you some hours of work if you know how to use them. I like to use different shaped custom brushes when painting environments. I use rock brushes, shape brushes, building structures brushes, signs, textures, etc… and I like to use them as a base so I can create mood and depth pretty fast.

Cons:

  • Like with traditional art, digital art requires you to know anatomy, perspective, and basically all the art fundamentals, in order to become a good digital artist. Is a misconception to think digital art allows you to ditch this part of your artistic learning path. For example, there is no button, shortcut or preset that will create perfect anatomy for you. You have tools like perspective grids that will help you establish the right perspective in your drawings, but you still need the knowledge and the understanding of perspective in order to know if you are positioning the grid properly. Digital painting software provides tools to make your work easier, but these tools can´t decide for you if something looks good or not. Like I said you need the knowledge.
  • With digital drawing, you have to worry about what equipment you have and what programs you need to use. This could be inconvenient because the level entry point regarding monetary investment is pretty high compared to traditional, as you only need a pen and paper for starters. In digital, you need at least an Android tablet or an Ipad, and a digital pen. If you have a decent computer you can use a digital tablet. Depending on your requirements this initial investment can be easy 900$ or more if you need to buy a computer and a tablet. If you go for the iPad or Android tablet option and the pen, expect over 700$ as the starting amount.
  • In both cases, you will probably need to purchase a painting software like Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint or Procreate. You have the possibility of using free software like Krita or Gimp. Those options are totally viable and lots of people use them on a constant basis. In my opinion, you don’t need to spend cash on software if you don’t want, but keep in mind the majority of resources and tutorials are created for paying software like Photoshop and Procreate.
  • Being able to draw and paint digitally requires also a technical knowledge associated with the program or programs you are using. The learning curve can increase due to this fact because for painting effectively you need to know how to work with scaling images, overlaying textures, modifying layer properties, and remembering to save your work often, in case of a software malfunction or an unexpected error.
  • One of the main complaints, especially from artist used to the traditional mediums is the disconnect they feel between the hand and the art. The tablet has a very different feeling when you used, compared to paper and canvas. Traditional mediums give you a more direct feeling of interaction. Digital tools maybe lack this type of feeling, but like with everything, the more you work with it, the more you get used to it. 
  • In digital painting, you have access to every color in the world, but it’s not always easy to pick them out. Like in traditional painting, you need to know color theory very well.
  • Digital software and glossy screens tend to enhance colors. This can be tricky because when printing your work you could find your contrast and color saturation, in reality, was way off. You need to do your due diligence and learn about how to calibrate your screens properly and which screens are more suited to digital painting and which are not before you purchase one.
Image by PowerProduction Software

Conclusion

Digital painting or any form of art isn’t something you wake up and become perfect at it overnight; it takes lots of practice, dedication, and patience for you to be the artist you are. Even well-known artists over the world constantly review their style and improve on it, changing and enhancing it as the case may be.

Author: Toni Justamante Jacobs. Senior Concept Artist and Illustrator

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