Digital Art is not cheating!

January 4, 2017
Black and White Killer Droid

A few days ago a friend and fellow artist was feeling down on himself and posted to Facebook about it. Trying to cheer him up, I realized he was in a nasty mood and he said some things about digital art that I was just beside myself to hear that people actually thought that way.

Specifically, when I showed him a well-established artist’s works, he said something along the lines of “oh, it’s anime and it’s digital – two things I hate”. When I then further asked about it, he said verbatim: “There is no undo button in life so there sure as shit shouldn’t be one in art.

As a primarily digital artist myself, I got a bit offended, I will admit. Though he was not targeting me directly (and I don’t hold his opinion against him at all), I shot back: “Well… You’re not using an eraser in your art, I hope?”

Anyway, after things started to get Not Nice™, I wrote a big long piece of my opinion for him, but ultimately decided not to stir shit-pot and deleted the string of comments.

It blew my mind to realize some people really do think this way about digital art. He also stated that people “abuse” it (which I couldn’t really wrap my head around). So I took it as a challenge.

I’m personally a digital artist for a lot of reasons:

  • I like digital art
  • I like the look and feel of digital art
  • I create a LOT of art and I like being able to create a lot of art quickly and compile it all in one space
  • I don’t have room for traditional art i.e. setting up canvas to paint like I want to or putting out my inks and not having my dog trample through it or setting up a still life that I can have out for a while. I don’t have room to store completed pictures, and it’s hard enough finding room to store my traditional sketches, even.
  • I like doing art with friends but ultimately can’t commit space to traditional art and like to screen share instead

Thinking about how “digital art is cheating” because it has a history and undo feature, I hopped on Facebook, went live for an hour, and ditched all of my digital “cheater” tricks… I committed to one paint brush in strictly black, did not zoom in or out, did not use the undo or history feature, and only allowed myself to use the eraser on the back of the tablet pen (which I used for a grand total of maybe 3 times)… Just like I was drawing on paper.

Things I was not able to do digitally that I would have been able to do on paper:

  • Rotate my page. OK, I could have done this using Photoshop’s rotate feature, but I didn’t really need to and I didn’t want it to LOOK like I was using some sort of digital cheatery effect
  • Smudge the graphite with my finger to create more depth. Again, I could have used the smudge tool but it isn’t quite the same and I didn’t want it to come off as a “digital trick”.

Black and White Killer Droid

Anyway, the above is what I made. In the end I added white bits on top because I usually use white acrylic or gesso over ink or pencil normally when I draw so there.
The lesson is, as I state at the end of my video:

You are only as good as your technical ability allows you to be.

It doesn’t matter what tools or medium you use. Your picture is only going to come out good looking if you know what you’re doing! If you can’t “see” (with your artist eye) or picture things properly, and you don’t know how lighting works or how anatomy should be or compositional basics, you will be unable to create a convincing photo manipulation or illustration or digital drawing or anything.

Digital art is not cheating! Just because it allows you more ability to do what you need to and in a quick manner doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse than say traditional pen and paper or oil painting or anything. People have been undoing for years – painting over, rubbing out, pasting over, cutting and manipulating, any variation thereof. I mean, why do you think we find things underneath paintings? Because they were painted over or UNDONE.

I mean, look at this painting by Jan Van Eyck in 1434:

Jan Van Eyck

Look at the feet of the man. Do you see it?

Jan Van Eyck Feet Close Up

That weird ghostly shadow? Well, he made the feet too big and painted over them! If that’s not the definition of an oil painting undo then I don’t know what is.

As for digital art “abuse”, I fail to see it. Many artist — especially digital concept artists — utilize photobashing or photo elements in their digital works. They’ll bring it in, manipulate it for size, color, or otherwise, then draw over it. How is this any different than cutting something out from a magazine, collaging it, and then drawing over that? How is any of this different from tracing on a light box, or even heavily referencing a photo? It’s just different means to and end, is how I see it, and if you can’t make it look convincing, then you haven’t done your part as an artist.

Aimee Cozza is a freelance illustrator out of Southern New Hampshire. She graduated from the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in illustration. Since then, she has been working in a variety of ways completing various illustrations for clients, friends, and for herself.

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