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What is Digital Art Quick Guide to Digital Painting featured image

I have noticed that a lot of people don’t understand what digital art is. Several customers have asked me to explain the differences between digital and traditional painting so I thought I would write a blog post about it, as I use both techniques and I enjoy both. What is digital art? Read on!

What is Digital Art Quick Guide to Digital Painting

Sometimes, I create art using traditional methods, sometimes, I use digital ones. Most of the paintings I sell printed on products in my Society shop and RedBubble shop are digital, although not all of them.

However, I’ve noticed that when someone is interested in one of my artworks and I explain that the particular piece is a digital painting, some people don’t really know what it means. So in this article, I’m going to explain what digital art is.

Definition of digital art

Digital art is a form of art that uses digital technology. Wikipedia defines a digital artist as someone who “makes use of digital technologies in the production of art.”

What this means is, the artwork is computerized. It is immaterial. It only exists as a series of binary digits in a computer until you have it printed.

Digital art has evolved a lot in the last decade or so with the constant development of graphics software and hardware. Companies – such as Adobe for instance, leader in the world of digital art – keep improving their software to provide artists with the means to create their vision using new technologies.

Digital painting does not provide physical texture or volume as the painting is created on a screen, but it can simulate it through filters and effects. For someone who has only used traditional methods before, digital painting can be a completely new creative experience. You can simulate the effect of a traditional artwork or create something totally different, such as fractal art for instance.

All the artworks in my Bright and Digital series are digital paintings, as opposed to the ones in my Bold and Traditional series.

Basically, a traditional painting is tangible. It’s created using paper, canvas, paint brushes, pens, or anything physical really. A digital painting is created on a computer. It does not exist in the physical world until you have it printed on something.

Here are some examples of digital paintings:

And here are some examples of traditional paintings:

What tools do you use to create digital paintings?

Now, since digital art is not tangible, the tools you need are different. Put away your easel and paintbrushes and get your tech products out!

Computer

First things first, in order to be a digital artist you need a computer. Or an iPad, or something similar. Have you ever doodled on your phone screen using a drawing app? Congrats, you did digital art! In my case, as a professional artist, I need a powerful computer capable of running demanding graphics software without slowing down.

Painting Software

Second thing you need is a painting software. You may have heard of Photoshop. It’s the best one in my opinion and my favorite painting software. The whole Adobe suite is great. Illustrator is great to create vector art (logos for instance, and graphic design in general) but Photoshop is my go-to for painting.

There are other great alternatives of course, such as PaintTool SAI, or Gimp or Krita for free options.

Graphics Tablet

The third thing you need to paint digitally is a graphics tablet. I mean, feel free to use your mouse but good luck with that! A graphics tablet is a tool you plug to your computer and you draw on it like you would on paper.

The first tablet I had was a very basic one: you draw on the tablet but look at your computer screen. It took some getting used to. I later upgraded to a proper tablet monitor which allows me to draw on it while looking directly at it instead of the computer screen. I absolutely love it.

Once you have these three things, the sky’s the limit! You can paint away and let your imagination run wild! Check out the speed painting video I recorded while creating my latest cow digital painting!

The advantages of digital painting

Now that I’ve answered the question “what is digital art?”, let’s see what the advantages and disadvantages are. I love both traditional and digital methods but there are some undeniable advantages to digital painting in my opinion.

  • You can create and modify at will
  • No additional cost once you have the above tools
  • It saves physical space
  • You can create from anywhere, provided you are using a laptop or tablet.

Besides, I like seeing my art printed on products and I think it looks best when the painting is digital. I can create ultra high definition paintings that can be printed on giant canvases without losing quality, which I could not do with one of my regular paintings. In order to print my traditional paintings on products, I have to either take a picture of them or scan them, and edit them on the computer. They still look great on most products, but sizing is more limited.

Get these cool products in my Society6 shop!

Another thing I love is that with digital painting, experimentation is endless. It’s very easy to alter the colors and correct lines, especially in Photoshop. I work with layers a lot: I will start on one layer, then add more details on another layer, and so on. If at anytime I don’t like what I just did, I can just delete the specific layer without touching the rest of the painting.

Once you’re used to it it’s incredibly intuitive.

I’m also all about colors in my art and working on a computer is magical. I try a color and if I don’t like it I can just use the undo button and try something else. In traditional painting you can’t do that. Depending on the medium you use you can correct or alter the color to some extent but you can’t just undo something.

With digital painting you can try and try again, endlessly.

The downsides of digital painting

The biggest downside to digital painting I can think of is that the tactile feeling is gone. There’s no touch, no pen on paper, no smell. It’s kind of like reading a book on a Kindle instead of a printed volume. The physical feeling is not there.

Another downside is that it actually takes me longer. You’d think it’d be faster but no, quite the opposite. Drawing on paper takes me less time than doing it on the computer. Despite all the great technology, nothing can beat a good ol’ pen on paper for efficiency. Using a stylus pen and a screen makes it a bit harder to get a sharp line.

Traditional vs digital: which is best?

Ah, the age-old question.

Some people don’t consider digital art “real art”. This is of course absolutely wrong and the people frowning on it usually don’t know what digital art really entails. There’s a big misconception that digital art is any faster or easier than traditional art.

It’s not faster.

It’s not easier.

It’s just different.

Digital art uses techniques and tools that are fairly new and this may scare some people away. Fear of change and the unknown is as old as time.

Now, as explained above, there are both advantages and inconveniences to digital painting. Sometimes, you cannot beat the feeling of having something tangible between your hands. Sometimes, you want to create something without limitations. It all depends on what your goals are for your artwork.

No technique is better than another. Digital art is actually an extension of traditional art that uses a computer as a tool. It’s more forgiving and possibilities for experimentation are unlimited. However, a traditional art piece is often considered to be worth more than a digital file due to its uniqueness and authenticness.

Cat Portrait in progress Acrylic
Cat portrait in progress, acrylic and ink markers on canvas.

Conclusion

Digital art is just another way for visual storytelling. It uses emerging technologies and techniques. It’s no better than traditional art but it sure is no less either. In the end, it all depends on everyone’s personal preferences.

I hope this article makes it clear for you what digital art is and I hope you now have a better understanding of what it entails.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

What is Digital Art featuring Parrot Painting

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8 Comments

  1. Great post! I love digital art, mainly the fact I can make it look like something and the undo button. It is easier for me, probably just because that it what I prefer… I love your art traditional and digital.

    1. Thank you! I absolutely love that undo button! So great to experiment with art! Can’t say I have a preference between traditional and digital though, I really like using both techniques.

  2. I have tried both digital and traditional art, and I would like to say that digital art is what has worked for me. I can draw and paint without worrying about making a mistake, giving me space for experimentation. Also, I think digital art is better because it’s cheaper — sure, you might have to buy a Wacom drawing tablet at first, but then you could use a simple free program like Autodesk Sketchbook or Krita (though I recommend the first) and that’s it. With traditional art, though, you always have to stock up on your canvases and colors and art tools. Ah, but it does feel more rewarding when you’ve drawn a good ol’ portrait by hand. However, as I said, I prefer digital art because it’s simpler. Ah, not easier; simpler. Even though people might contradict me, it is. You choose a brush, you blend, you paint (and you definitely hit that undo button a thousand times). With traditional art, there are fewer options for erasing what you did, and it’s quite a process to remove a sketch under a painting. The main reason I choose digital art is actually obvious: Layers!
    Anyway, great blog post. I already knew what’s digital art and traditional art, but this was kind of soothing to read, hearing the differences from a professional, not just a passer-by.

  3. Hi,Very well written! It will surely help beginners update their knowledge.
    I have done abit of digital drawing however i am stil beginner, and i got a normal XP-Pen Deco 01 V2 drawing tablet and adobe photoshop.

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  5. […] someone like me who’s a big digital art fan as well, it’s kind of similar to using layers in Photoshop, in a way, which I really […]

  6. I am so glad you shared this information. It is very helpful for me.

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