Digital vs. Traditional: Part 2

Oh, you thought that was all I had to say on the matter? Well, I have news for you!

Let's talk a bit more today about digital vs. traditional art and what it takes to create them. I'll be using my own, very early art, to illustrate my points. So buckle up, 'cause it's about to get ugly!

Here's one of my digital paintings from about six months after I'd switched to painting everything from scratch rather than digitally manipulating photographs. It clearly does not look anything like the image on the right, which is a painting by John William Waterhouse. These two pieces are in different mediums as well, mine is digital and Waterhouse's is oils.

Now, what do we take away from this comparison? I could delude myself into believing that the problem is digital media. Maybe digital painting is just inferior and that's why my painting looks bad compared to Waterhouse's painting.

Here's an acrylic painting I did around the same time:

Oh, guess what? It sucks, too! And I was really bad at stitching together my scans, as evidenced by the hard line and shadow where the painting was scanned in sections.

Perhaps then, the logical conclusion isn't that digital sucks, or that digital will make you any better. That "undo" button sure as hell didn't help that Dryad painting. I would almost say the Spring Fairy is easier to look at than that neon explosion of bad anatomy and wonky perspective.

Let's fast-forward to 2010. I had been working several hours a day as a painter at this point, using primarily digital tools, but sometimes still going back to traditional media. At this time I was using soft and pan pastels, as they felt, at least to me, as similar to digital painting as possible.

At this point, neither one of these paintings is atrocious. I've spent a lot more time digital painting, and the digital painting is much larger than the oil pastel painting, so the level of detail in "Join Us?" is much higher than in "Future Hidden" - however, it's not unbelievable that the artist on the right painted the image on the left without use of whatever mythical "cheats" people believe Photoshop possesses.

There are problems with "Future Hidden" for sure, but there are also errors in "Join Us?". These are errors that the artist has made, not the mediums the paintings were created in. My laziness on finishing the wizard's hand, paired with a poor understanding of the translucency of fingertips really holds that painting back. "Join Us?" suffers from some of that wonky perspective and poor value control. Those are my short-comings, and Photoshop could never fix them. I could hit "undo" 1,000 times but that painting would never fix itself.

We're going to stop in 2014, because after "Stellium" I didn't paint digitally very much and haven't since about May of 2014. This is the period during which I was transitioning to oils. I had purchased my oil paints in September of 2013 (yesterday's blog post) and it took me several months to work up the courage to make the leap. I felt like "Stellium" is where I hit the wall with digital painting. There was something about it that wasn't clicking in my brain anymore and I would say I was definitely artistically depressed at this time. I did not like working on the computer anymore. My eyesight is very poor, and the bright light of the computer screen was both straining my eyes and skewing my color perception. I also suffer from arthritis in most of my backbones, as well as my neck, shoulders, and sacrum, and sitting on the same chair in the same position day after day was taking a heavy toll on my body. With the necessity of my computer (a heavy, very much not portable Mac workstation) and my ergonomic tablet (a 70+ pound Wacom Cintiq 24HD) moving around, painting on the couch, or standing at an easel were not options. Pain and frustration had nearly convinced me I wanted out of art entirely, but oils were sort of my last ditch effort to save myself and my career.

And boy am I glad I did it.

The painting on the right is from my "Tumultuous Tea Party" show that my dear friend Alex of Eight and Sand Gallery graciously hosted. This was painted nearly a year after Stellium and shows progression that is, in my opinion, quick but within normal range for a young artist in one year. I would almost say this is a bit of a slow period of skill gain for me, but I'm an exceptionally fast learner and it wouldn't be fair to hold that against digital media.

Oils forced me to think about my art in a different way. I could still wipe away my mistakes, but they weren't going to magically paint themselves onto the canvas, just like they don't in Photoshop. However, I was on a very tight schedule. I had less than six months between switching to oils and hanging my show, and I had committed to providing ten to twelve paintings.

And I had no idea what I was doing.

I didn't have time for mistakes or to think about how precious the art was or to get too attached to it. I only had time to fill the frames I'd chosen for my show. I had to get out of my own way artistically and just let the art flow, and within that time I rapidly learned how to use oils and improved my overall skill set as an artist.

I think that, if I had been comfortable creating digital art, and I had a commitment like this, the same thing would have happened regardless of the medium I was working in. The skills that I gained from June of 2014 to November of 2014 are skills that are not exclusive to oil painting. They are skills that apply to all kinds of art, and Photoshop will obviously not make up for not having those skills in the first place. I used those skills I was picking up to paint this watercolor painting for the same show:

There are mistakes I would correct now, but that's besides the point because I don't have a time machine and we're talking about my art from 2014. But you know what, I made mistakes with this painting that I recognized at the time and I did repair them, even without the use of an "undo" button. Here's the thing: Watercolor gets a bad reputation for being "unforgiving", and I'm here to tell you "eff that noise".

Watercolor is easily fixable. There's newer products like watercolor ground and you can paint a thin layer of white watercolor ground over a boo-boo, let it dry, then paint over it like it was paper and no one will be any wiser. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, believe it or not, work great on some types of paper. Kneaded rubber erasers, q-tips, water, and a little scrubbing go a long way. And if it's really impossible to lift the unwanted paint away, you bust out your fluid acrylics and get creative. Anyone who tells you that watercolor is hard to fix is in over their head. Period.

That watercolor painting, by the way, was the first watercolor painting I had done in several months or a year. My previous experience with watercolors, paired with my improved knowledge of color theory and values, among other things, yielded the finished result of that painting.

In conclusion (oh praise Jebus, this chick is so long-winded), if digital painting was really a "cheat" or "easier", my oil paintings in 2014 and my oil pastels in 2010 would have looked like that acrylic "Spring Fairy" painting from 2006. They wouldn't have been comparable or better than my digital art. My watercolor attempts would have looked like a can of neon spray-paint exploded instead of an actually pretty tightly-controlled illustration. Every medium has an "undo" button, but if you can't fix the mistake you un-did, it really doesn't matter, does it?

The "undo" option is only as good as the artist using it.