What is Digital Art?


Digital Art is not photography.

Digital Art is a new way of creating visual art in which traditional techniques such as pencil, ink, watercolor, oils, impasto, etc. are applied using digital tools by means of a computer (an Apple Mac or Microsoft Windows PC), specialized graphics software, and a device called a graphics tablet. With these tools, an artist can draw and paint an image that exists only in electronic form (i.e., it is “digital”) until the work is printed. Graphics tablets like the Wacom® Cintiq® shown here allow the artist to work directly on the screen — by hand — simulating the traditional way artists draw and paint.


Graphics tablets, because of their stylus-based interface and ability to detect pressure, tilt, and other movement of the stylus, offer a very natural way to create digital art. All of the leading graphics software packages (e.g. Corel Painter, Photoshop, Alias Sketchbook Pro) are able to make use of the pressure and stylus tilt information generated by the tablet: when the stylus pressure and tilt changes, the software brush size, opacity, and color change in response. Tablets are also gaining popularity as a replacement for the computer mouse; advocates cite relief from repetitive strain injury and greater intuitiveness. For example, Scott Adams began drawing the Dilbert® comic strip on a Wacom® Cintiq® graphics tablet after suffering from a repetitive stress condition called focal dystonia. New Apple iPads and the amazing Apple Pencil have further transformed the ability to create artwork digitally.

Other than the technology, the main difference between the creation of digital and traditional art is the non-linear process. That is, compared to a traditional artist who must apply paint on top of previous layers of paint, a digital artist can arrange their work in layers that can be edited independently — and repeatedly. The digital artist can also work at minute levels of detail, down to individual pixels. In addition, the ability to “undo” and “redo” strokes further frees the artist from a linear process. Even with these digital capabilities, however, a digital artist must still employ many of the techniques and study of a traditional artist, including composition, color, light and shadow, media, perspective, etc., especially when the digital artist combines their work with traditional mediums like acrylic paint and canvas. Digital art can be created in any traditional genre, including realism, impressionism, abstract, surrealism, etc.

The capability to create Digital Art has existed for more than 30 years. One early example is MacPaint, created for the Apple Macintosh in 1983. Media companies use a lot of digital art in television, advertisements, animation, video games, and in film to produce special effects. For example, “The Lord of the Rings” movies made extensive use of digital art tools. Likewise, technologies related to digital art have influenced “desktop publishing,” which has had a huge impact on the publishing world. Underlying this pervasive impact on mainstream media is the simple fact that technology tools provide greater creative control and greater productivity — at a lower cost.

Computer technology, however, is still more expensive than traditional media like paint and canvas. Compared to these traditional media, the cost advantages of digital art only emerge when traditional artwork is printed in limited editions. The process of accurately reproducing traditional art is expensive and laborious. By comparison, digital art is both easier and less expensive to reproduce accurately — so the digital artist can offer original, high quality work in various sizes at an affordable price. Indeed, since digital art must be printed to be sold, many digital artists consider the prints of their works to be “one-of-a-kind” originals. This is especially true when digital art is printed on traditional media like canvas, a material on which the artist can further apply traditional paint and varnish. The result is a work of original art that combines centuries-old traditional techniques with new technologies — all created by hand to fulfill the vision of the artist’s eye.

Sutton, Jeremy, Painter IX Creativity, ISBN 0-240-80669-7
Threinen-Pendarvis, Cher, The Photoshop And Painter Artist Tablet Book, ISBN 0-321-16891-7

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