What is Digital Painting?

Digital Painting is a Sub-Set of Digital Art

Digital Painting: Frida Khalo in Chapala
Digital Painting: “Frida Khalo in Chapala”

All Digital art is created through the use of a computer and software. Digital art can include tablet drawings, graphic images, animations and videos, Virtual Reality art, enhanced photographs, 3D sculptures, and digital paintings. It is important to realise that to be a true art form, it must be created by hand, by an artist — it must not be generated by an AI or an app. This latter is called digitally-generated art, and, while a technological marvel, is not true art because it lacks imagination, creativity, and soul.

Most digital art can only exist physically once printed on media (such as paper), or, in the case of 3D sculpture, printed by a 3D printer. Some digital art (such as animations, video, and VR) can never exist physically, and must be viewed on an electronic device. NFTs (art certified by a blockchain token) generally fall into this latter category.

Digital painting is a distinct branch of digital art that is specifically intended to emulate (and replace) traditional painting techniques like acrylic, oil, or watercolour. The artist uses special techniques (such as using digital brushes) to create a painting from their imagination (or reality) using a computer or tablet device. The process is quite similar to painting with traditional materials, and results in very painterly aesthetics that emulate brush strokes and other attributes of traditional painting. The result, once printed on canvas or watercolour paper, can be treated in the same way as any traditional painting.

Because digital paintings can only exist physically as prints (called giclées), there is no such thing as an “original.” The artist can produce one unique print, or a limited edition (5, 10, 15 or more prints), or an unlimited number. The fewer prints available for sale, the higher the cost. This is similar to silk-screening, photographs, block prints, lithography, and other art print mediums.

Common Myths About Digital Painting

1. The computer creates the art — the artist does almost nothing

It's important to understand that with true digital painting, the computer does not generate or create the art — Garr's art is not created by an AI or any other image generating process. The computer is a tool used by the digital painter in a similar way in which a canvas, tubes of paints, palette, and brush are tools used by a traditional painter.

The computer allows the artist to use digital brushes and other software tools to create a work of art in a very similar way to that in which traditional paintings are produced. The artist must still have creativity, imagination, a sense of composition and colour, etc. — in short, all of the skills and abilities that a traditional artist has.

2. Digital art can be cranked out quickly, and, therefore, has little value

While some digital art (including some art being sold as NFTs) is very basic and is not time-consuming to produce, this is not true of all digital art. Just as a blank canvas with an oil-painted red circle in the centre, or a block of wood painted blue glued onto another block painted white, are not representative of the time and effort that most traditional artists spend on more complex pieces.

Digital paintings can take as long to produce as traditional paintings (most of Garr's paintings take from several days to weeks to create).

3. These paintings are just processed photos

Not so!

Many of Garr's digital paintings are of imagery from his imagination that you simply cannot see in the real world, and could not possibly be photographed. Some digital paintings (landscapes and portraits are good examples) might be based on a reference photo, but traditional artists frequently do this too — especially for a location the artist has not visited.

If you think that all you have to do is import a photo into some software, and then just "paint over it," you should try doing this — it just doesn't work!

If you try to paint on top of a photo, you'll quickly discover that you're covering up the things you're trying to paint, and the wheels fall off very quickly. Your result will look like a very poor “paint-by-numbers” effort, and will not be on a par with the paintings in Garr's portfolio.

If you look closely at any of Garr's digital paintings, you'll see that the colour palette is very much reduced from that of a photo; that there are brush strokes and other painting artefacts; and that there are sketch lines drawn to highlight edges and shapes (a common technique used in acrylic and watercolour painting). The content of Garr's art is also very much what his mind's eye sees, with none of the the distractions that a camera picks up (overhead wires, distracting backgrounds, superfluous objects, etc.).


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