Research 5 – Art forms

Research 5 – Digital art vs non-digital illustration

Is there a clear distinction between digital and non-digital illustration?

Steven Hellers quote is from the year 2000.  He is an art critic and graphic designer, art director and author.  Based on his many years of experience with the New York Times, he may well have been considering the implications for digital art and his job.

Around this time, I was working in administration and found work in a small company that had a graphic designer.  He was very much into the age of digital art and photo manipulation and was happy to show off his work.  What I found interesting at this time was how astonishingly different it was from traditional art.  It felt ‘otherworldly’, and it was clear that this was light years ahead of what you could do with a paintbrush or pencil. 

Fast forward to 2021 and we can safely say that the digital age has simply made art more interesting, and illustration work much easier to create.  Each year there is a new app or software programme that just feels intuitive to work with and only helps to assist you with your creating the idea onto screen or paper. 

There were a number of years perhaps, where the obviousness of the art being made digitally was deemed a valuable feature and future thinking.  In the last decade however, I feel that there is a move towards more traditional forms of illustration expressed through digital tools.  It has to look like it has been made by hand.

This feels like the road taken for illustration, but there is a whole industry built on digital art and concept art that has made a variety of movies and worlds possible that simply wouldn’t exist without it.  Blade Runner 2059, Dune, Guardians of the Galaxy, any science-fiction world basically. 

There are traditional artists that have moved to digital because it allows them swifter turnaround times for producing work for publishing.  The world of Warhammer and Lord of the Rings boardgames and RPGs have a phenomenal amount of fantasy concept art in it and without it, the worlds would not be a visually stunning or engaging.

Illustration work can still be created by hand, but the fact is that there are so many great tools out there in digital forms that can assist you to create the vision or idea in your head, it would be a shame not to engage with it.

However, back in 2000, when we thought that a bug on the internet would grind everything to a halt, no doubt people were scared of change.  Everything changes so quickly now, we can create images on our smartphones and carry around an ipad as our canvas.  The world will no doubt look stranger again within the next ten years.  Technology and creativity will go hand in hand into the future, but traditional methods of creating illustrations will never fail to please.  There is a simple connection formed when creating something with your hands and there is an experience with paint or watercolours that isn’t the same on a tablet or desktop.

From a mental health perspective I think we’ll see more of a return to traditional forms of painting and drawing as a way to ensure we keep grounded and in contact with the real world as the future calls.  So, illustrations will continue to be made in traditional forms but the two can coexist together.

The distinction between the two can be blurred to the point where it really isn’t clear what method was used for creating the illustration.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the debate currently raging across social media platforms is the worthiness of whether to call digital forms of creativity ‘art’.  This is very divisive thinking, but there is merit in it.  Along with apps that can help you create your illustrations digitally and thus meet deadlines for commissions in a more reasonable manner, there are apps that can bypass the need to have skills.

Traditional art forces you to engage with the mediums used to create.  You learn how water reacts to colours and how salt on watercolour can give a specific effect.  You learn how quickly paint dries or how holding a pencil at different angles can alter the depth of your colour on the page.  You learn how different grades of paper are more suitable for different tools used.  Traditional art and methods are essential to your art education and the digital forms should only follow from that.  Illustrations created digitally require an eye for composition and detail, and sometimes there are apps that give the shorthand of this and thus the money is earned perhaps but the value in the skills aspect lost.

It is becoming more difficult to distinguish between digital and traditional illustration when the image is created in a certain style.  That is why, perhaps, it is more important to ensure you have established what your style is so that your signature is all over the work you create rather than becoming a generic form of digital conveyor belt art for commercial use.

At the moment there are a number of artists that opt to go for traditional methods of creating illustrations, using watercolours or gouache, and then use digital tools to clean it up and create a digital file of the image.  This seems to be the hybrid way of working with digital and traditional forms.  I know that most of my work follows this route as the colours are much more vivid in Procreate so I can create a handmade image or sketch and then take a picture and sketch over it as if I was using a lightbox.  There are a number of handmade textures and layers that I create using paint and pencils that then get used as a layer in my work.  For me this is the best way forward.  I can still engage with the traditional medium but then bring it somewhere else digitally. 

From a space perspective, I have a small room that I use to store my books and equipment.  It is pushed to the max for space so creating a beautiful painting on a huge canvas isn’t an option for me.  My space is more like an office and has a dual purpose.  So for me, traditional forms of creating work are enhanced with being able to work on the Ipad and on different apps.

There is definitely more enjoyment from traditional art and there is a meditative quality to it.  I will always favour it.  This is unlikely to change as the mess created using paint and watercolours will never be matched digitally.


Digital art vs traditional art (2019)

Digital Art vs Traditional Art: Which one Is Better?

[accessed 19.09.21]

Is digital art better than traditional art (2019)

[Accessed 19.09.21]