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Let's Talk About Digital Art

20 January 2009

Well, it might turn into a bit of a rant rather than a talk! In addition to collages and Heart Boxes I also create commissioned children's portraits. I create them in Adobe Illustrator on my computer. I find it frustrating that often people's perception of digital art is that it's just a 'point and click' process that requires no skill or artistic talent and as a consequence it doesn't have the same intrinsic or monetary value as traditional art.

A digital artist must have all the 'traditional' creative skills, together with software competence. Becoming competent in a computer program may take years of practice - it's not a matter of pressing a button and 'presto' the art is made for you. Digital techniques need to be learnt - they are much less intuitive than say picking up a pencil and sketching.

To create digital art you must have the same knowledge of composition, colour, light, shape and form, and the same conceptual creative process, passion and ability as a traditional artist. The computer is just another medium for an artist to use, the same as pencil and paint are.

This is a commissioned portrait I completed last year. Just as a painter would have taken a long time to paint this portrait, it took me weeks to complete. I still have to 'mix' all the colours I want to use and save them on my digital palette. I blend colours and I create tones, highlights and shadows. I still have to manually draw each element of the face and colour each one individually... my creative output doesn't happen at the press of a button. (Except 'undo' which is one fantastic advantage my process has!)

When starting a portrait I scrutinise the child's face and features and decide which are the prominent features. I then slightly exaggerate those features to create a portrait which captures the essence of the child. The result is that my portraits are contemporary and graphic. I create them over a number of weeks, continually adding detail and refining shapes, colour and shading until I am happy with it. It's a very labour intensive process, just as it is for a traditional portrait painter.

I have separated out some of the elements of Oliver's face so you can see the level of detail that goes into creating a portrait. Remember each of these elements - including every eyebrow hair and strand of hair on his head - is hand drawn using my mouse.

(Unfortunately in resaving the above files and posting them here they have lost some skin tone and detail, put you get the idea.)

Lou from Art and Ghosts is a very talented digital artist. She creates her digital collages and illustrations in Adobe Photoshop (I would guess). This is an example of her beautiful work:

Like me, Karena of Magic Jelly works in Adobe Illustrator. She wrote a piece on her blog last year about the discussion on esty forums on digital art, you can read it here. The image below show's Karina's original sketch and a screen shot of how she worked on it in Illustrator. She described the process as "painstaking", which it is.

I have no shortage of enthusiastic enquiries about my portraits, and I often wonder if I would have a whole lot more commissions if I created the same images with paint and a brush. People seem to 'get' the value of that. Maybe I just have to wait for perceptions to catch up. In saying that, the commissions I get do keep me busy! I hope in writing this post I may have shed some more light on the digital process.

Update: Lesley has sent me the link to a time lapse recording of an amazing digital portrait of Thom Yorke being created in Photoshop. (A different program and technique to the one I use. Photoshop utilises 'brushes', like a traditional artist does, as opposed to the vector shapes that I draw.) The artist is Nicco Di Mattia. Check it out, it's fantastic. Thanks Lesley!