With advancements in digital technology and innovation growing, it isn’t any surprise that more and more artists are diving into the world of digital artwork. Whether you’re an aspiring artist looking to turn to a digital medium, or you’re someone with an interest in technology who wants to get creative, this resource will give you all the guidance you need to get your career started in the right direction.
Let’s get into it.
While younger generations have grown up with digital art easily accessible to them, relatively speaking, digital art is a new medium.
The term digital art was first used in the 1980s when computer engineers created the “paint” program developed specifically for the pioneering digital artist, Harold Cohen.
In the 1990s, digital art made the jump to computers, or more specifically, video games. In addition, artists could now manipulate film by downloading video onto computers, which is a technological jump that had never been seen before.
In modern times, digital art can even be interactive and take on a myriad of forms.
Bottom line: digital art has come a long way, and it encompasses various forms of technology that are constantly evolving.
Because digital art encompasses so many different avenues, it can be hard to break the definition down into something simple, but for our purposes, the definition of digital art is:
Art made using or facilitated by software, computers, or other electronic devices
This is a relatively simplistic view of a rather complicated medium, so let’s break it down a bit further.
Digital art is not just limited to graphic design, which is what you might initially think of when you hear the term. Instead, digital art can include animations, illustrations, videos, and digital paintings, virtual reality, digital experiences and so much more. It can move, or be static; it can be abstract or realistic; it can be used within a larger medium (i.e. special effects in a movie), or be created for the sake of art itself (i.e. digital art in an art gallery). In addition, as virtual reality becomes more and more popular, digital artists will also find themselves working in these fields.
While there tends to be a lot of debate over what constitutes digital art, and whether or not digital art is even art at all (spoiler alert: it is), there is no denying that digital art has opened up creative opportunities for individuals, while also expanding the world of art and creative expression.
So what does it take to be a digital artist? What skills and requirements should you have in your arsenal if you want to succeed in this industry? In order to answer these important questions, we’ll take a look at what it means to be a digital artist.
There is no major fundamental difference between a traditional artist and a digital artist. While there, of course, is a difference in terms of the medium being used, the actual ability to create beauty out of nothing is something that both traditional and digital artists alike need to have.
If you don’t have any interest in color, pattern, shapes, texture, and how all of these elements come together, you might struggle as a digital artist.
While not every type of digital artist will require this skill, for the most part, you’ll find that most digital artists have some skill when it comes to drawing traditionally with pencil and paper.
Remember: as a digital artist, your job description doesn’t change much just because we add the word “digital” in front of the word “artist.” There are many types of digital artists who should be able to draw just as well using computer technology—or better—than traditionally.
If you’ve ever spent any amount of time using digital artist software like Photoshop, for example, you’re well aware of the fact that softwares like this require attention to detail. While each type of digital art software is different, in general, you need to follow steps, use logic, understand how different tools work, and work with these various tools in unique ways in order to create artwork that feels attention-worthy.
Being comfortable on a computer will be a real benefit to those who want to become digital artists. Not only are you using your mouse, keyboard, or tablet to create art that can rival traditional art, but you also should have some experience troubleshooting technology. As technology evolves and new ways to create become available, it’s also important to be adaptable and stay up to date with advances.
Digital technology won’t always cooperate the way you want it to. Having patience and being intimately familiar with technology will help you.
With so many different types of creative pursuits being expressed digitally, it probably doesn’t shock you to discover that there are various types of digital artists.
Other artistic mediums tend to be rather similar if they land under the same umbrella of art. For example, a wildlife photographer and a portrait photographer have some differences in their job description, but their actual skills as a photographer are similar. On the other hand, as a digital artist, you’ll find that there is some overlap with skills, but you’ll also find that some types of digital artists are very different from one another. We’ll go over some of the more well-known types to help illustrate this.
Digital painting combines traditional 2D painting with digitized technology.
For example, when a traditional artist paints a piece they use watercolors, oils, and other forms of paint on a canvas to create shapes, textures, and color. With digital printing, all of the painting techniques employed by a traditional painter are also employed, but they are done so digitally, usually on a tablet.
In other words, you don’t simply scan an image and then manipulate it digitally. Instead, the piece is directly created with digital software and tools, but all done by the artist’s own hand.
Don’t get digital painting confused with graphic design. While digital painting requires the artist to create the piece directly on a “digital” canvas, a graphic designer is using renderings to create their designs.
Think of it this way: a graphic designer uses his/her mouse and keyboard to create the images/graphics digitally, while a digital artist generally uses some type of pen-like device to draw directly onto a digital canvas.
Additionally, graphic design tends to have functional uses, like website design, packaging, or marketing materials. On the other hand, digital art is usually more about art and creating something intriguing/creative for resale or for some other commercial design use.
Digital animation is a relatively complex form of digital artwork, but essentially we can sum it up as a type of digital artwork where figures are manipulated to appear as if they are moving. Think of any animated movie you’ve seen and that’s what we are referring to.
Having said that, the way in which animation is done now versus in the past is quite different.
In the past, animation was drawn or painted by hand, which was then photographed and made into a moving film. In modern times, almost all animation is done by Computer Generated Imagery (CGI).
CGI is also often used in the creation of video games and special effects, which are other avenues you can go into if you are interested in digital art.
While the above types of digital art are probably the most well known, here’s a brief overview of some of the other types of lesser-known-but-still-important types of digital artwork:
Integrated Digital Art: When multiple styles of art are integrated to create something unique (i.e. a traditional photograph being digitally manipulated for a new take on the piece)
Photo-painting: When an artist uses a traditional photograph as inspiration and then transforms it into a digital masterpiece using software
Vector drawing: Vector graphics use shapes, lines and curved points to create infinitely scaleable images. Vector images are not based on square pixels like digital photographs. Vector drawing is often used in logo design and graphic design.
Digital photography: While most photography is digital these days, it’s worth noting that when a photographer shoots an image digitally (i.e. not on film) and then uses photo editing software, this is a form of digital art
Digital installation art: Large-scale works that involve projections and live video capture.
With over 30 different sub-categories of digital art, we could go on with all the different various types, but rather than obsessing too much over what type of digital artist you want to be, don’t forget, if you’re creating art in a digital form, you are creating digital art. The exact type doesn’t matter as much as your skills as an artist do.
If you’re feeling a little lost about what exactly a digital artist does, one of the easiest ways to better understand what this job entails is to take a look at what professionals who are already in the field are producing.
Let’s take a look at the website portfolios of some of the best digital artists.
We want to start off with Marzena Wodziak because, right off the bat, her website illustrates an important point that we hope we made clear: digital artists generally have skills as traditional artists as well.
This isn’t always the case, and if you want to become a digital artist, you don’t have to pursue a traditional career on top of that, but taking a look at Marzena’s website, we quickly see that she has separate portfolios for sculpture, graphics, and painting.
To achieve a similar portfolio to Marzena, we recommend the Slate theme by Format.
Once again skilled with both 2D and 3D digital artwork, Jo Fulton’s website is a great example of developing your own aesthetic.
The moment you click on their website, you’re greeted with bright colors, playful shapes, and an aesthetic that feels very fun and child-like. Having your own aesthetic as a digital artist can help you find the right clients, build connections, and attract the right kind of attention to your work.
To achieve a similar portfolio to Joi, we recommend the Order theme by Format.
We had to include Jenny Jiyoung Han’s website as an example of a digital artist because, once again, she illustrates how digital artists generally have some other design-minded skills. We love this example in particular, because rather than starting out as a traditional artist, Jenny has a background in fashion design.
Bottom line: Different design requires different skills, but if you have skills with color, pattern, and texture, you will likely be able to translate these design skills into digital artwork.
To achieve a similar portfolio to Jenny, we highly recommend the Peak theme by Format.
If you want to get more insight into what type of work digital artists produce, check out some of these digital artist examples.
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.
As we mentioned above, there are many types of digital artists with many of the types having different paths and skillsets required. Because of this, there is no one linear path to becoming a digital artist. Having said that, whether you want to be a digital painter or an animator, there is some overlap in the steps you should follow to find success.
You’ll want to customize these steps based on the type of digital art you hope to specialize in, but in general, these are the steps you’ll want to follow:
Digital art takes a lot of specialized skill and practice. Refining these skills can be quite time intensive. Not only that, but if you really want to have success as a digital artist, you’ll likely need to invest in some pricey tools and equipment (i.e. a powerful computer, a drawing tablet, software like Photoshop, etc.). In addition, many digital artists receive further education in their field of interest, which only adds more investment to the pursuit.
You likely don’t want to put the time and money into pursuing this career if you’re not sure that it is right for you. Take the time here to dive deep into the different types of digital art, see what interests you, and if possible, try experimenting with the forms to see what you like/what suits you.
Think of it this way: Is it likely that someone would go into video game design if they had never played a video game before? It’s possible but not likely. You need to become intimately familiar with digital art before deciding you wish to pursue it.
Don’t forget, while there is some overlap between the different types of digital art, they all tend to have different paths to success, so while we often suggest not being too hyper-focused on the type of art you want to pursue in the beginning, in this particular case, you likely will want to have a plan in mind.
As with almost all styles of art, you never absolutely need a formal education in order to pursue your passion. Art can be created by anyone, whether they have the education or not.
Having said that, in this case, with so many specialized skills required of a digital artist, you will likely find that most digital artists receive some type of formal training in their chosen field.
This is also why it’s so important to spend time on step one. You don’t want to go to school for animation and then find out you want to pursue graphic design, considering the schooling for both are very different from one another.
Whether you’re practicing your art with traditional pen and paper, or experimenting with Photoshop while you’re in school and have access to the program, it’s important to always keep practicing your skills as a digital artist.
This can be challenging in the beginning when you might not have access to the tools and equipment you need to practice your art, but don’t let this be an excuse. For example, if you want to be a digital painter, you should have some skills as a traditional painter that would allow you to practice on traditional canvas (this might not help you with your digital skills, but it will help you with understanding how textures, colors, and shapes work together in a scene).
In addition, if you’re serious about digital art, you can often find software and programs at discounted rates that will allow you to get some practice in these early stages.
It’s never too early to start building your portfolio. In fact, if you’re serious about this pursuit, the earlier you start compiling a portfolio the better.
To do so, you’ll want to set up a website where you can house your portfolio. It is particularly important to go the digital route for your portfolio, considering as a digital artist, your work will be displayed visually.
Even if you don’t think your work is good enough to be displayed yet, we still suggest setting up your portfolio ASAP. This gives you time to play with your website, figure out what you want to share, and continue refining it as you go.
No matter how skilled you are, your portfolio won’t be perfect right off the bat. In fact, you don’t want it to be. You want your portfolio to continue improving as your skills as a digital artist improve. In other words, if your portfolio isn’t improving, it means you’re not growing as an artist, which is something all artists want to avoid.
If you need help getting your portfolio set up, this in-depth guide will give you all the tools and guidance you need to set up a portfolio as a digital artist.
It might seem like a big step to go from portfolio to professional work, but if you’re serious about your pursuit as a digital artist, you need to start working in some professional capacity.
This is where deciding where you fit within the industry comes into play.
Do you want to be a freelance digital artist, working on projects as you go?
Do you want to create digital art and sell it on Etsy? Or perhaps you’re more interested in getting involved in the art world and sharing your work in art galleries?
Would you prefer to work within a company as a digital artist? For instance, as an animator for Disney.
It’s unlikely that you’ll land your dream job right off the bat, but knowing what you want to achieve as a digital artist and then working your way backward from there can give you a more direct path to help you reach all your digital art goals.
If these steps feel overwhelming or you’re looking for more guidance in your digital art career, this guide all about digital art will be helpful to check out.
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