Is Digital Art Real Art..?

I often get asked about digital art… how it’s created? …what part does the computer play? …and even if it should be considered ‘real’ art at all!?

Even though art technologies have been around for decades now, they’re still not widely understood, and most people, including many artists, have never had the opportunity to use them.

Of course, there are very many ways of using technology to create art – and I only know a tiny bit really – enough to create the work I want to create…. So we can’t cover absolutely all digital techniques here!

But I do want to share with you how I use digital art technologies to create art – and why I’m certain that this art form should definitely be considered ‘real art’.

My own artworks all actually start well away from the computer, which isn't always the case for digital art, but is still quite common these days as artists look to take the best of traditional and digital techniques.

I sit down with pen and paper – I draw and add colour. I use a black fine-liner pen, and promarker inks. I find drawing in this traditional way allows me to draw naturally and in my own particular drawing style.

I love to draw so I make it the basis of my digital art style

I think using these ‘traditional’ drawing methods to create the artwork gets the hand-drawn feel into the final artwork, and creates a unique textural quality that can be hard to create in pieces created solely on the computer.

Drawing some forsythia flowers to put with my iris drawings

I draw each flower or bird separately, as this makes them much easier to work with once they are in the computer.

Sometimes more than 20 individual drawings are put together to create a single artwork

I scan each drawing into the computer, and import them into Adobe Illustrator using the ‘Image Trace’ command, which vectorises the scanned image. 

Importing the scanned drawings into the computer programme

This means that it translates the marks into a format that can be understood by the programme software. This means I can use the software to manipulate it, change scale, and even colours.

The settings I choose when vectorising control how the drawing will appear, so I usually play around with these a bit, to make sure it looks how I want.

The background white page needs removing once the drawings have been vectorised.

Once it’s scanned and vectorised, each drawing needs the white paper behind it separating from the artwork and deleting (see images above and below), so that we can use each drawing free of the background.

Luckily as it's on the computer screen we can zoom in to check for stray bits of white from the paper background that was scanned in along with the drawing.

I've put a coloured background in, so that I can see the motifs (drawings) clearly. Then I can start moving them around, and resizing them to create the layout. It’s easy to duplicate the motif, and it can be flipped or rotated to give variety, too.

My iris drawings are now ready to be moved about on the screen to create the layout

I usually work on the layout first, before turning my attention to the colours...

Motifs/drawings all cleaned up and ready to start the design

Creating an initial framework for the layout/composition

Although the drawings are scanned in ready coloured from my drawings on paper, the colours can seem washed-out from the scanning and vectorisation process

I usually start by making them more saturated, and most often I work to adjust each colour individually, selecting it and using the colour sliders to select a colour I like, to see the effect.

Changing the colours, making them stronger, and more textural

Sometimes I work with colour palettes I created at an earlier date, and change all or some of the colours I drew originally to colours from this palette. I like the colours in my artworks to have a bit of a ‘shimmer’ to them, so it can take many experiments to get the right effect.

Experimenting with colours - work in progress

I usually create the background towards the end, using my drawings as the basis to create coloured shapes that give a textural effect. I love to try out the opacities feature to make these shapes semi-transparent, and a bit more interesting.

Trying out a darker version - not sure!!

I also often make the coloured background semi-transparent, too, and put a scan of a piece of fabric I’ve hand-painted in inks, behind the background. This creates depth and texture in the background.

This calls for lots of color tweaks for the background layers as I work hard to get an overall effect that gives the feeling I’m aiming to create.

If I’m creating a repeating pattern I will need to make sure that each edge of my rectangular swatch matches exactly to the opposite edge, so that everything matches up when it’s repeated out.  I also need to try out the repeat, and tweak many times, to make sure there are no unattractive ‘lines’ or ‘holes’ appearing in the patterns. This stage can sometimes take very many hours.

Once I’m happy with the design, or art piece, it’s saved as a low-resolution, web-friendly image, and also exported as a high quality PNG or TIFF, suitable for print.

Saving a version of the file - this isn't the final version - still more tweaking!

Although the artwork is created digitally, it only exists to eventually be printed out in physical format – whether this is a high quality giclee print for framing, a greetings card, or even put onto wallpaper or fabric.

In this way, the digital component is just another tool that the human artist uses – the mouse is the equivalent of the paintbrush or palette knife, and the screen the canvas. The computer doesn’t create the artwork, it’s simply a medium that the artist can manipulate, to make the vision in his or her head into a physical reality that others can see too.

Digital art still uses the artist’s skill at composition, draughtsmanship and colour. The machine can’t create an artwork from nothing. The human artist makes decisions, and creates the piece from their personal vision.

You will be able to see the final version coming soon to my online store

I must admit, it is nice, though, to be able to tweak layouts until they look right – and to change colours easily. This is vital, too, for creating patterns and designs from my artwork – moving motifs precisely to create repeating patterns, and developing alternative colourways quickly and easily.

I think this is one of the main advantages of creating art digitally (at least in part) – it gives the utmost flexibility to the artist, which is a wonderful gift.

I love the hands-on, ‘traditional’ drawing I do with pens and paper most of all – it’s an intense experience, and I feel really involved, and very connected to my subject.

I really do love the digital bit that comes afterwards, too – with so much scope for experimental play, trial and error, to see just where I can push my art.

Take a look at the final print in my nature and birds collection.

Let me know how you like to create your art? Do you like using computers in your art? What part do they play in your art?

Do you think that digitally created art is ‘real art’? Let me know in the comments right below the post… 

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