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5 Reasons Why Classrooms Should Embrace Digital Art

An image of someone drawing on their IPad with an apple pencil.

Digital software as a medium has been a long-standing point of controversy within the art world. More traditional artists find it difficult to accept a medium that doesn’t work with physical pigment, and instead call it a shortcut or the “easy way out”.

While schools have begun to teach digital art as a medium, they still focus very heavily on traditional artwork as the primary “type” of drawn art. Digital artwork is the artist's medium of the future, and schools should embrace it as a tool that opens up far more possibilities for artists across the world!

1. Digital Art Creates Little To No Waste

The only time digital artwork may create a little waste is if it is printed, or if the hardware in question is broken. However, aside from that, digital is a completely waste-free art medium. There’s no need to buy new paint bottles every time one runs out, no paint goes down the drain, no need for new paper -- all you need is a device and a software. Your canvases and paper amount is limited only to how much storage you have access to!

With a future that needs to focus on zero waste, creating little to no waste in the classroom should also be a priority. Digital art creates that near zero-waste environment that is a leading problem for traditional artists.

2. With Digital Art, You’re Only Limited By Your Imagination

An art nouveau piece illustrated by Yeri Sa.
An art nouveau piece by Yeri Sa, our digital art and animation instructor!

A main downside to traditional artwork is the limitations of your physical mediums. Every traditional medium is finite -- you need to constantly replace paint, get new pencils, replace your sharpeners when they’re dull, and don’t get me started on losing your erasers. Not only does this create heaps of waste, it’s also very inefficient.

However, with digital artwork, all your tools and pigments are stored within a single software. You don’t have to worry about carrying around all your supplies within a hefty portfolio bag or backpack. If your bag can fit a tablet or a laptop with a plugin tablet, then that’s all the space you need. You have the entire rainbow and then some at your fingertips, and all the brushes and pencils you could dream of, with an infinite amount of canvasses and pages -- without posing any risk of smudging, creases or waste!

3. Digital Art Is Far More Cost-Effective In The Long Run

A digital piece illustrated by one of our students.
Illustrated by one of our talented students!

An art budget for a school needs to be planned carefully, and reserving most of the money for traditional supplies is not as cost-effective as it seems. A common complaint that sometimes gets tossed around is how expensive it is to be a digital artist. As an initial expense, I’d agree, but in the long run, digital art is far cheaper than traditional art.

Let’s say we’re buying supplies for a class of 30 students. If we’re thinking of digital mediums, we’ll want one drawing tablet per student. You don’t need to get a Wacom tablet or the most expensive model for students -- most of them are likely beginners, who don’t need professional quality hardware. If they’re not a beginner, then they most likely have their own equipment. A beginner, student-grade tablet, the Huion H420 goes for $29.99 (let’s round to $30), so for a class of 30 that’s ~$900.

A MediBang Paint Pro window. On the canvas is an illustration by instructor Jessie Chang.
MediBang works just as well as many professional level softwares!

There are plenty of free software like Krita or MediBang that work perfectly fine for beginners, and affordable digital art software like Clip Studio Paint that have a 6-month free trial. That means that the rest of your digital art supplies are completely free! Tablet devices such as androids and iPads (not to be confused with drawing tablets) only need an additional stylus pen, so schools already equipped with devices can save even more on hardware! Drawing tablets, when handled properly, tend to last a good 5 to 6 years at the bare minimum. With constant student use, let’s say that it lowers the lifespan by 2 years to 4 years. That’s $900 for 4 years of artwork for the entire school.

A painting done in acrylic paint by instructor Jessie Chang.
This was the assignment in question. It was a doozy!

Let’s compare that to traditional mediums. When I was in high school, we had a large painting assignment that lasted over the course of around 4 weeks. Here's the breakdown of all the materials we used up:

  • $13 x 9 large tubes of Liquitex' acrylic paint ($117)

  • $22 x 2 8ox jars of Golden's white gesso ($44)

  • $4 x Approx. 10 ruined brushes ($40)

  • Recycled artboards (free!)

With that added up, we used up $201 bucks worth of materials within that single 4 week period. If we do that assignment once every semester, or twice a year, let’s multiply that initial number by 8 for the approximate equivalent to our digital lifespan-- that’s $1,608 over a 4- year span for only 24 students.

Keep in mind that that was for a single 4-week project -- we also went through dozens of kneaded erasers, conté sticks, graphite sticks, oil pastels, and so much more over the course of that entire semester. However, the cost is almost double that of digital hardware with just a single assignment!

4. Digital Art Is Better Integrated With Our Online World

A photo of a man animating on a screen tablet. "VFS Classical Animation: Digital Ink & Paint" provided by Vancouver Film School.
Many professional workspaces have entire rooms filled with digital art tablets!

Within the classroom, students find it far more convenient to hand in schoolwork via Google Classroom or a cloud storage share system rather than physically handing in an assignment. The same can be said for artwork. Traditionally, students would lug around large portfolio bags to safely carry their artwork from point A to point B. However, as mentioned previously, digital artwork doesn’t require any heavy lifting, and can be accessed from almost anywhere.

Within creative workplaces, digital artwork reigns superior. With the rise of the entertainment design and video game industry, it’s rare that concept art and asset creation are done traditionally anymore. Digital artists are able to work so much faster and more efficiently that traditional mediums are quickly becoming obsolete in many creative industries. Working digitally also allows for easier ways to work and collaborate remotely and globally. Many game and animation studios have teams of artists who have never met in person!

5. Digital Art Is The Future

A photo of a computer lab. One monitor is in focus, which shows character concept artwork. "Digital Character Animation Campus at VFS" provided by Vancouver Film School.
Computer labs are often present in classrooms and entertainment art studios

As technology continues to advance day by day, our world quickly becomes more and more dependent on digital devices. Just as the vast majority of music production has switched from physically played instruments to synthesized sound, the vast majority of commercial illustration and animation have switched from a brush and pigments to a tablet and software.

Even outside of the arts, our society is becoming more digitally dependent. Online banking, online learning, online working and streaming are only a few of ways our society is becoming more and more integrated with digital technology. Even though the stigma surrounding digital art not being “real art” still exists, it’s quickly becoming the default illustrative medium. Our entertainment industry is proof enough of this fact!

School is meant to prepare us for our future in the working world, providing us with the tools and knowledge we need moving forward. Considering how digital art has become far more affordable, accessible, and marketable in comparison to traditional art, it’s baffling that it isn’t taught more frequently within our elementary and high schools. As the world around us continues to evolve, the school system must also evolve with it to better prepare its future generations for our digitally adapted world.

“But I’m too inexperienced to teach digital art!”

In 2021, most teens who are into art have already dabbled in digital mediums -- whether in games, finger painting on their phone for fun, or as a hobby. With a large rise in free online resources to learn from, artists find gaining tips, practice and references easier than ever.

If your students can learn on their own from online tutorials, you can too! Downloading and learning how to use Medibang Paint Pro, a free digital art software, is easier than you think, and risk-free because it doesn’t cost anything. You can even start with mouse drawing, pick up a used drawing tablet, or order a stylus for your existing tablet! You may even be surprised to find a student in your class who is excited and willing to show you the basics!

Free Digital Art Resources

Not sure which hardware to buy or recommend? Check out our blog about the best digital art tablets for beginners!

Not sure where to start?

Watch our step-by-step tutorial for How to Use MediBang Paint Pro, a free digital art software we recommend for beginners!

Looking for more digital tutorials?

See our digital art tutorials playlist, where you can access a growing library of free video resources!

Prefer to learn from a live teacher? Check out our digital art classes, digital art camp for teens or book a workshop for your school!

Art Resources for Teachers:

Check out our Teachers Pay Teachers store for more art worksheets, handouts and lesson plans.

Any teacher now can facilitate world-class visual art lessons — even with no art experience! Get our art courses designed for classrooms, complete with step by step video lessons, assessment tools and handouts you can use every year.

If you're an educator, you're eligible for special pricing — 50% off our regular course price! Art Projects for Your Classroom

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