In the past few decades, many of our industries have shifted towards a more technological focus. Since emerging in the 1980s, digital art has gone from a hobbyist practice to one of the most popular art forms we know today.
Whether you’re a budding or seasoned digital artist, you might have some important questions — such as what a digital artist does, how their skill set compares to that of a traditional artist, and which things you’ll need to get started on your next digital art project or gig. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common questions regarding digital art.
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Digital art is a term used to describe the practice of creating artwork through the use of technology.
Digital art has had an indelible impact on our understanding of art as it is today. Not only has it revolutionized the processes of painting and drawing, but it has also paved the way for nearly every type of modern-day artistic expression we know (including video, music production, website design, logo design, 3D design, animation, illustration, digital advertising and more). Our world as we know it is practically a digital canvas.
While there are varying levels as to how much technology is used to create various types of art, most artwork we encounter nowadays has been digitally enhanced in some way or another. Even artists that create images through traditional mediums will usually create digital copies or captures of their work and feature them in a digital portfolio.
Digital artists create works of art using a computer or device as their primary tool.
While many people wonder if a digital artist is the same as a graphic designer, their career paths are not necessarily the same. Graphic artists focus primarily on communicating ideas, while digital artists can cover a wide variety of functions. Common creative career choices for digital artists include video games, mobile apps, digital photography, 3D modeling, animated motion pictures, and more.
Similar to graphic artists, a large percentage of digital artists also work as freelancers. This means that instead of working in a traditional in-house setting, several digital artists serve as independent contractors and build their client base by working on individual projects.
The question of what should or shouldn’t be defined as art has spanned across centuries. Over time, art continues to subvert our expectations and encourage us to redefine our understanding of creative expression.
In the latter portion of the last century, a controversial topic that is frequently raised in art communities is whether digital art should be defined as “real” art. In its earlier days, digital art was mostly just used in professional design. However, when it gained traction amongst individual artists and hobbyists, it was met with scrutiny from traditional artists who argued that using a computer to draw does not require the same level of skill as drawing or painting with traditional mediums.
The invention of drawing tablets has further called the legitimacy of digital art into question, as many artists believe that these devices, combined with digital art software, make it easy for someone to make a great piece on their first try.
One of the biggest misconceptions about digital art is that elements of the process are simply automated by a computer or device, as opposed to being done manually. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Any type of visual artist will know that mastering various mediums to create a visual piece can be tough work. Between pencils, different brush sizes, pastels, charcoal, mixing color hues, and getting pigment right, it can take significant practice to get things right. Of course, we can’t forget that with traditional art, there simply isn’t an “undo” button to select when a mistake is made on a canvas or sketchbook. Many people might think of this as “cheating”.
In short, digital art is most definitely not a form of “cheating”. Rather, it is just a new medium of art, formed in light of our technological advancements. Let’s dive deeper into why mastering digital art is not necessarily easier than becoming skilled in other forms of art.
While it may seem like a computer or a device makes a creation process much easier, this isn’t always the case. Sure, computers may host digital media applications with some helpful features (such as perspective grids and the famous Ctrl+Z option) — but that doesn’t mean that said applications aren’t equipped with their own sets of tools that, like traditional mediums, come with their learning curves.
Just like traditional art, being a skilled digital artist means having proper knowledge of all necessary art fundamentals — including perspective, anatomy, color theory, proper shading techniques, and more. These things cannot simply be configured with a preset — they’ll need a keen eye for detail and a thorough understanding of how to get a composition right.
Also, to master a particular digital application, digital artists are required to obtain the right level of technical knowledge associated with each program. Specific techniques in each application need to be explicitly learned and applied. With the wide range of programs available today, this means that like mastering a traditional art medium, becoming an experienced digital artist can come with a steep learning curve.
To keep up with competition and demand in today’s industries, many digital artists increase their skill set by learning how to use multiple applications and digital tools across various platforms. To achieve this, artists are often required to spend hours, weeks, or months to acquire certifications or gain more knowledge.
For starters, digital art is generally produced on a computer or another type of digital device. However, simply just having a computer at home won’t be enough to fully define your path as a digital artist. You’ll need specialized tools and software that have been designed to ensure precision and the right workflow when producing digital art.
To get started as a digital artist, you’ll need access to the most up-to-date hardware options available. Popular hardware options include specialized graphics (such as the Wacom Intuos), the iPad Pro, or the Microsoft Surface Pro. These devices are common tools of choice by many digital artists, due to their sensitivity to touch and clean interfaces.
To command your digital paintbrush when creating digital art, you’ll need an additional tool to tell your device which part of its canvas you want to manipulate. A regular mouse is effective for creating vector art (as it allows you to click, drag and drop items), but it doesn’t offer the level of precision that’s needed to create accurate lines or provide
Tablets with drawing functions also either come equipped with a special stylus or have the capability to work with one sold separately (such as the Apple Pencil). A stylus can transfer precise motions and degrees of pressure to your device’s processor, allowing it to interpret your movements into a visual picture.
Some of the most widely used apps in the digital art industry include:
Adobe Photoshop CC
While receiving an education in digital art isn’t required, your studies are a great way to help you develop your skills, learn from qualified instructors and make valuable connections in the design industry. Popular fields of study for digital artists include Graphic Design, Interactive Design, Marketing, and Digital Communications.
An online portfolio is an essential component of any digital artist’s career. Your portfolio will help you build your client base, allow you to promote your work, and help you curate your artistic journey. Having a solid digital art portfolio will not only serve as a platform to showcase your best work, but it’ll also function as a platform for you to connect with other digital artists on a professional level.
If you’re a digital artist, your portfolio should be modified to the specific needs around the type of work that you do. That means featuring your best work, tailoring the size of your images so that they complement your pieces, and including art that best caters to your target client base.
A solid online portfolio will not only highlight your skills and abilities to potential clients — but will also chronicle your digital art journey, giving them greater insight into the different projects you’ve worked on, how you’ve improved your skills, and more.
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