Is Digital Art Cheating? (Spoiler Alert: It Aint)


Yes folks, it’s time for a bit of digital art vs traditional art discussion – the big ol’ point of contention in recent years. There are party poopers out there who think that digital art is way easier than traditional art. That it’s not painting if you’re on a Wacom. I’m here to put an end to such baloney. In this article, we’ll be answering the big question: is digital art cheating?

Digital art is definitely not cheating. Creating art digitally still requires fundamental skills such as drawing, color theory and perspective. Digital art is simply a new medium that has come about as a result of the digital age.

In this article, we will look at why some people think that it is cheating, and then I’ll bombard you with some nice hard facts around how digital artists are some of the most skilled mofos around.

Let’s go!

So Why do People Think That Creating Digital Art is Cheating?

People Think That Digital = Automation

A big issue is that the word ‘digital’ is synonymous with ‘automation’. I think a lot of people just think digital artists sit around all day shouting at their computer like they’re on CSI Miami.

“Computer! Zoom in Computer! Enhance the pixels! ENHANCE!!!”

Did you ever see the first Iron Man movie? Tony Stark is just sitting there, telling poor robot Paul Bettany to paint his Iron Man suit for him.

In reality, they probably had the whole of Weta digital doing all-nighters.

Did you paint that or is it digital?

Digital Art is Often Mass Produced

If you are creating digital art to be hung on a wall, then you will need to transfer it from the digital to the physical. To do this, you gotta print it. Now you can print one copy, or a bazillion. And I guess some traditional folk would see this as cheating, cos they’re over there painting one canvas at a time.

I wouldn’t call this cheating though, it’s just different. If painters had the option to clone one of their oil paintings 100 times at a low cost, I reckon they’d jump on that, too.

Personally, I love working in both traditional and digital art. Whenever I create and sell an oil painting, I have applied my layers of paint, I have installed some nice wire at the back of the canvas, I wait for it to dry and then drive it over to the gallery.

Guess what? Once my painting is sold, it’s gone (unless I was smart enough to take a high quality photo to sell prints of it – but I wasn’t).

The buyer now has a one-of-a-kind artwork, and now I need to go back and make another.

Would it be great to clone my painting, canvas weave, brushstrokes etc? Absolutely.

The thing people value about traditional art, is how physical it is. The canvas has to be stretched over a timber frame, every brushstroke has been made with real paint that you have applied with a real paintbrush.

We Don’t Apply the Actual Physical Pigments Ourselves

Even though digital art is all skilfully done on a computer, we aren’t physically putting on the paints or the inks ourselves. And when we go to print it, it’s automatic – it’s done on a machine.

But remember that you have already put in all the hard work at the beginning. Waiting a few minutes for a printer to spit it out is just the nature of the medium, and shouldn’t diminish your skills or effort put in to create it.

Creating Digital Art is Considered Risk Free

Some people think that there is no risk when creating digital art. I mean essentially we time travel: We can work in layers, we can save, and we can undo our mistakes. Whereas if you try to fix a mistake in watercolor, you’re done.

I love painting in watercolor – and I would looove me some layers and undo buttons if I had them! If these amazing time travelling tools were available in other media, they would use them too.

I know some digital artists choose not to use layers or undo, but for the rest of us: if it’s there, you might as well use it.

Digital Art is Not Cheating – But Why?

Alrighty, we’ve discussed why some people might see it as cheating, now let’s look at just some of the many reasons as to why it is not cheating.

Digital Art Requires the Same Skills that Traditional Artists Have.

The process to create the image on a computer may be different, but professional digital artists still have to know the fundamentals.

Color Theory

Do professional digital artists need to know about split complementary palletes? Warm and cool analogous colors? Yyyyup! They may not be squeezing out tubes of ultramarine and Prussian blue, but they still will still know the difference between a warm blue and a cool blue.

Composition

Take a look at some of your favorite digital artists. Their artworks will probably follow the rule of thirds (where you put the center of interest), rule of odds (where odd numbered subjects are better than even numbers) and rule of space (utilising white space to help emphasise the story or environment). These are all classic composition techniques that hold true across all mediums.

Sketching

It doesn’t matter if you’re using pencil or Photoshop. Being able to draw a believable image is something that you can’t bluff your way through. In fact, I would say that sketching on computer is actually often harder than sketching on paper.

Anatomy

If you don’t know how to draw a face, arm or foot, it will quickly show. Professional digital artists need to know human anatomy just as much as traditional artists do. Everyone knows what a human is supposed to look like, and if you see digital art that has convincing anatoy, then surpriiise! They learnt anatomy.

Perspective

What about creating the illusion of depth with a lil bit of two point…dare I say THREE POINT perspective? Digital artists still need to be able to visualise objects in 3D space in order to draw the image in that space.

Digital Art May Sometimes Be Easier, But it’s Also Sometimes Harder

When creating a digital painting, it’s actually hard to emulate brushstrokes and the illusion of paint. There are programs like Corel Painter that do it well, but ultimately, there is no physics in digital art. Therefore it’s harder to make spontaneous marks. For example, spatters, ink bleeds, paint drips, mixing of colors into each other and so on.

Digital Art is Not Cheating, it’s Just Efficient

People who create at digitally. Will use the tools that they have to speed things up a bit. This includes color picking, the transform tool, warping, moving, rotating the artwork.

These tools are handy for professionals to achieve quicker turnaround times on their deliverables.

Let’s take Jason Seiler for example. Seiler is an amazing painter and illustrator, who can paint in oils and watercolors – nooo problem. But most of his professional work emulates the effect of painting using Photoshop.

Why?

He chooses to do this because the dude often gets smashed with crazy deadlines. In order to make the deadlines, Seiler needs to create high quality artwork at ridiculous speed. And the most efficient way for him is to do it is with a lil bit of Wacom and Photoshop.

Digital Artists Still Have to Create Something from Nothing

Traditional artists start off having to stare at a blank canvas or sheet of paper. Similarly, digital artists have to stare at a blank screen. Laying down that first pixel is no different to that first stroke of paint.

The artwork still needs to start with its sketch, its composition and its color palette and put it all together into a cohesive artwork.

Conclusion!

In this article we have discussed why people may think digital art is cheating, and why I think it is not cheating.

Sure, the application of colors and lines are just dots on a screen, but the digital artist still needs to know where to put each line and each patch of color. The fundamental skills needed for digital art are the same as traditional art, it’s just a different type of canvas being used.

Personally, I work both traditionally and digitally, and I recommend you try both too! I have found that creating digital art often helps with my oil painting and watercolors – and vice versa.

Whether you are here because you are a digital artist or a traditional artist, I hope that you found this article helpful and that I have convinced you that digital art is not cheating… it’s just a bit different.

What are your thoughts on this? Is digital art cheating? Feel free to drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from ya.

All the best!

Malcolm

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