In this article, we’re going to be covering the topic of whether digital art can be considered to be easier than traditional art, which strongly also relates to another piece we’ve written about whether digital art is cheating.
Digital art broadens your horizons as an artist, and puts a lot of tools at your disposal. Understandably, with so much power in the hands of an artist, some people will consider it a lot easier than traditional art.
In this article, we shall discuss just that. The spoiler is that we don’t think digital art is necessarily easier than traditional art, just more efficient. In fact, in many way digital art is harder than traditional art, which we’ll elaborate on in the course of the article.
Is traditional or digital art easier?
We’re going to say it right out the gate: digital art is not necessarily easier than any other medium of art. It comes with its own set of pros and cons. A beginner might be mesmerized by the undo button or the layer features and think that the fact that you can quickly and easily correct your mistakes makes digital art easier.
The truth is, being able to correct your mistakes quickly and easily does not stop you from making mistakes in the first place.
We started working with traditional art before we transitioned to digital. We started sketching on paper with a pencil, then slowly moved on to other traditional media, like acrylics and oils. Eventually, we got absorbed in the world of concept art, and decided to go into digital art to get better at it.
We have experience in both traditional and digital art, so we know a thing or two about both. In order to understand whether digital art is, indeed, easier than traditional art, we think it is important to evaluate its pros and cons relative to traditional art.
The pros of digital art:
The undo button – For starters, you have an undo button. This is probably the most attractive aspect of digital art for beginning artists. No matter what mistake you just made, you can remove it with the click of a button. There will be no trace, and no one will ever know you made that mistake. Pretty cool, right?
This tool helps new and experienced artists to be more confident about their work, and to really stretch themselves and try to achieve more, since they are no longer shackled by their mistakes. In that sense, digital art is a lot more forgiving than traditional art.
Different types of media – With digital art, you get the opportunity to mix many different kinds of media. You are limited in traditional art, since you can only mix colors with the same base. You won’t have much luck mixing oils with water colors. Oil and water don’t mix very well. In the world of digital art, however, you have software capable of mimicking various forms of traditional media and you can mix them without a problem.
This can lead to novel effects that you would not have been able to achieve with traditional art.
Flexible working – Digital media also enables you to work non-stop. When working on traditional media, once you cover a particular region, you have to wait for the paint to dry before you continue. With digital art, you don’t have to do that.
You can continue working for as long as you want. You also don’t have to worry about a messy painting, or smudging yourself and getting dirty with digital media.
Customization – Another major advantage of digital media is that you have endless opportunities for customization. You can, for example, customize your brushes to give your painting a great look. With traditional media, you would have to buy different brushes to achieve the look you want.
With digital media, however, the same stylus can act as any one of a seemingly endless array of brushes. With variety like that, creating depth and mood is much easier.
The cons of digital art:
Knowledge – Digital art requires the same amount of skills and theoretical knowledge as traditional art. You still need to know about perspective, anatomy, and other fundamentals in order to be a great digital artist, just as it is with traditional art. Many people harbor the misconception that if they pursue digital art they’ll be able to ditch the long and arduous learning path to becoming an artist.
Quite frankly, nothing could be farther from the truth. No matter how many tools a digital art platform has, it won’t create good anatomy for you. And even with platforms that have perspective grids to help you establish the right perspective, you still need to understand perspective in sufficient depth to know if the grid positioning is right.
Digital software streamlines your workflow and makes you more efficient than traditional art, but it doesn’t teach you to be a good artist. You still need to do that work on your own.
Cost – Even though digital art relieves you of the cost of buying multiple brushes and paint tubes, you will still have to think about your equipment and software. While the recurring cost of digital art is low, the initial cost is significantly higher than traditional art.
With traditional art, all you need is a pen or pencil and paper to start. That’s less than a dollar in most countries. With digital art, you need some kind of tablet and a stylus. With a decent computer, you can settle for a graphics tablet. However, for best results, you will need a drawing tablet with a display.
That initial investment could be anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand. No small feat for sure!
On top of the hardware, you also need to think about the software. Whether you want to use Photoshop or CorelDraw, software can make or break your work. The best quality software in the market is either paid or only available with certain hardware (think software that’s only compatible with an iPad or Wacom).
Additional learning – Apart from technical drawing knowledge, you also need to have in-depth understanding of your tools. You need to learn to draw and paint, and then to use the specific software that you have chosen for your work. That combined learning curve can be pretty steep. You will never be able to produce great work without understanding overlaying, scaling, layering, and other qualities of your software.
You also have to get used to working with tablets. Whether it’s the hand-eye coordination of the graphics tablet or the weird feeling of drawing on glass, digital media come with their own quirks, and it might take some time to get used to them.
Too much choice – Sometimes you have to deal with overabundance. For example, with digital media, you have access to literally millions of colors. However, without understanding color theory well, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all those options and not know what to choose.
Calibration – You also need to calibrate your hardware to make it more accurate. Glossy screens enhance colors. What looks good on these screens may look horrendous once printed. That’s why it’s necessary to calibrate your drawing tablet before you start using it. It’s also necessary to be able to pick out the right screens for digital art before you go out and purchase a tablet.
How hard is it to learn digital art?
Believe it or not, there are a lot of factors that can make digital art harder than traditional art. While it certainly makes the life of an artist easier, there are quirks that you have to get used to when you first start working with digital art. You literally have to develop an entirely new skill set when working with digital art, as it’s a whole other world. Here are some of the things about digital art that might make it harder for beginners:
You’re working with different materials
With digital art, you won’t be using pencils, pens, brushes, or paper, at least not in the traditional sense. You will therefore need to understand this new set of tools and get good at it before you can use it to create art. One of the downsides is that you will have to fork out a lot of money for that initial investment, which can be daunting for a beginner.
Even if you pick something entry-level, like a Samsung tablet or an iPad, you will likely spend several hundred dollars at the start.
You might prefer instead to go for a graphics tablet, which can be significantly cheaper. However, you will have to connect this to a computer. Another thing about a graphics tablet is that you have to get used to looking at the computer screen, rather than the surface you’re drawing on. This requires you to learn some serious hand-eye coordination.
If you decide to go for a drawing tablet, you’ll get a better deal than either a graphics tablet or iPad. These devices have been specifically designed for drawing, so they are much better than an iPad at the job. You also get to see what you’re drawing on the very surface you’re drawing it on, so they are better than a graphics tablet in that respect. That said, the best ones can be quite expensive, and you need to be sure you want to do it before you make that kind of investment.
Heck, you can even draw with a computer! Microsoft has the Surface Pro, which allows you to make digital art with a laptop. The Surface Pro is a tablet-computer hybrid with a touch screen and a stylus: the Surface Pen. It’s still quite expensive, though.
You will be working with different techniques
When you’re working with traditional art, there are some basic techniques you will have to learn, such as cross hatching, stippling, and so on. Things work slightly differently in digital art. Shading works differently, colors are more often referred to using hex codes than names, and features like layers fundamentally change how you combine effects. You don’t just shade with a pencil the way you would in a traditional art setting.
Instead, you create layers with different colors and arrange them in a certain way in order to achieve the effect you are looking for. All of these techniques are par for the course for a professional, but they can take a while for a newbie to get used to.
That said, digital art is malleable. It can be whatever you want it to be. Depending on the software you use, you can work on your art the same way you would with traditional media.
Do you have to be good at drawing to do digital art?
You don’t have to be good at drawing in order to start out as a digital artist. However, you have to be good at drawing in order to stand out as one. Depending on the kind of digital art you do, drawing more or less occupies a central role in your workflow, and the fact that you have so many tools at your disposal does not excuse you from having to learn the fundamentals.
Like we mentioned above, tools like the undo tool and custom brushes do not automatically understand anatomy or perspective on your behalf. You will have to do the hard work of honing your technique on your own.
And that is why we have always advocated doing a bit of traditional art before you move on to digital art. Not only does it help you learn the fundamentals, but it also gives you the opportunity to find out whether you really like this art thing in the first place.
A digital artist is, first and foremost, an artist. Only then can he decide whether he works in the digital or physical realms.
And with that, we conclude this little piece. As you can see, digital art is definitely not easier than traditional art. For every tool it provides that makes hard things easier, it also presents a novel challenge that didn’t exist in traditional art. As such, it is its own field to master. Until next time, happy drawing!