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The Problem with Digital Art

Digital art is the medium of our digital world, but it may not be for all artists. We get asked all the time, which should I learn first: digital or traditional art? Many aren’t sure which medium to start with, so here are 5 limitations to consider before you commit to creating art digitally. In this article, we’ll examine the drawbacks and limitations of digital art as an art medium, and how it compares with working in traditional mediums.

Here are 5 common beliefs around the challenges of digital art that we’ve heard (click to jump ahead):

We’ll go into each of these beliefs to see which ones are true, and which ones are myths to be busted!

#1 - If you learn Digital Art first, you won’t learn how to mix colours.

There is some truth to this because digital painting only involves choosing a colour from a wide palette that’s already perfectly mixed. It’s very easy to change an existing colour, like copying the layer and adjusting it using filters, and if you don’t like what you did, you can just CTRL-Z. Learning how to mix colours traditionally with paint is messy and frustrating at first, and more expensive. But mixing paint is an art form in itself!

But it IS possible to mix colour digitally – by adding layers of colours together. This technique is typically done using blending modes and experimenting with the transparency. It is the process of adding light together, which uses the additive colour wheel instead of subtractive with pigment. You could still learn the theory of colour mixing, just in RGB vs CMYK. The same argument could be made for traditional artists – we could say they don’t know how to mix additive colours!

#2 - Digital art doesn’t have an original, so it’s not worth as much as traditional art.

Technically, the digital art file is the original, but in the digital world that is very hard to protect as copies can be made in seconds, and shared around the world on the internet. Once an image is on social media, it’s very hard to protect it from being printed or stolen. Some artists record their process so it’s documented in a speedpaint. Other artists create limited edition prints of their digital art, like 10 copies before the original is destroyed. The first print in that series (1/10) could be seen as the original.

If you’re like me, you may use both digital and traditional art processes to create a piece. I like to sketch and plan traditionally, modify and experiment with my sketch digitally (like try different colour schemes), create the artwork using paint, and then tweak the image once it’s digitized. This is common practice among illustrators and contemporary artists.

NFTs are a minting technology that helps people convert their digital art into non-fungible tokens which ensures the original is preserved and protected on a blockchain. In 2021, a Jpeg file by artist Beeple sold for over $69 million at an NFT auction, so this myth that digital art is not worth as much is also busted!

#3 - Digital Art will be replaced by AI in the future.

AI image (Created with DALL·E, an AI system by OpenAI)

Just like digital photography has replaced traditional photography, in the near future artificial intelligence may replace a lot of digital media created by humans. It will definitely replace the role of some digital artists with its ability to generate limitless interesting images from prompts. Using dynamic algorithms that continue to learn and change, AI is already making creative image suggestions in seconds!

But will AI completely take over digital art? Just like TV didn’t replace radio, and radio didn’t replace books, there will always be room for digital art in our future. Art is a way of expressing our humanity, and telling our stories, so even though AI may be a big part of our lives in the future, it can’t take away our human desire to create, no matter what the medium. This one definitely falls somewhere between myth and fact!

#4 - I don’t want to rely on digital shortcuts.

I was in this camp of thinking before. It felt like cheating to upload a painting and then enhance it digitally with only a few clicks: boost the saturation to make the colours brighter, tilt and crop it slightly to make it more dynamic, and add a cool filter to harmonize the composition. These tweaks would take hours, even days, to do traditionally. If you find the traditional art process romantic, enjoyable, or fun, by all means do it! But if you prefer the speediness of digital art, then that might be your calling.

Digital art is the medium of choice for modern illustrators, designers, animators, and concept artists because of its ability to make changes almost instantly. It saves a lot of time, lowers the cost of materials, and is ultimately more efficient. But speed isn’t always a reason to use a medium. Sometimes the traditional process is what makes it fun, or even therapeutic. So whichever camp you’re in – yay for digital shortcuts, or keepin’ it old school, that choice is completely up to you.

#5 - The texture of digital art is flat.

Texture is an element of art that is definitely harder to create digitally than in its physical form. There is something to be appreciated when you look at the texture of paint strokes, drips, or thick impasto. You can walk around a sculpture and with every step you take, you’d get a different view of the form. Traditional art may be more playful and interesting to look at because it’s not limited to being viewed on a flat screen.

On the other hand, artists can recreate the illusion of texture digitally or render sculptures digitally and manifest them in a 3D print. They could also paint or add physical textures on top of a digital art print. Instead of thinking of art mediums as only traditional or digital, new media is likely to combine them both. Virtual reality (VR) painting allows an artist to paint in 3D digitally in a 360 degree space and Augmented Reality (AR) allows for artists to place digital objects on real-life surfaces. This means that, although there are some limitations in digital art when it comes to texture, there are also new and unique opportunities.

Many people choose digital for the ease, speed, and limited materials needed. You can even get started using free digital art programs. Others prefer the tactile nature and process of traditional art. So after knowing the limitations of digital, what medium would you choose to learn art with?

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