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Digital Art Vs Traditional Art...

Lee May Foster-Wilson / December 1, 2022

I have really been enjoying making my bird drawings in a mostly traditional way, with pens and paper recently. There is nothing quite like the sound of a marker on paper, or the smell of paint, or mixing a colour.

Lee Foster-Wilson DrawingSketchbooking...Image by Michelle Coxall/Curious Creatures Photography

I love working with my pens but I could also not be without my digital tools, my computer and Wacom pad for tidying drawings and also my trusty IPad. I was so against getting one years ago and then I finally took the plunge in 2018 and have not looked back. I heard lots of people who said they thought that digital drawing was somehow cheating but believe me, you still have to be able to draw and compose and know about colour and everything else to make a digital drawing look good and even though I had worked a lot with a Wacom pad and Photoshop, the iPad was still a steep learning curve to make anything look half decent and not flat and lifeless like so much digital work can be.

It turned out that for my illustration work it is invaluable. So many times I have worked on briefs and then little details need tweaking or a colour needs to be changed or sometimes a whole composition needs to be moved around and re-worked. If I had done the work in a traditional way it would involve either a lot of intricate Photoshop work or an entire re-draw, but with my layered files and easily moved objects I can make changes quickly without burning the midnight oil (too much anyway!) And get files to clients on time.

However, there is definitely something lost in the making of digital work. As I have been trying to loosen up my work when I make it traditionally, I have been trying to do the same with my digital work too. But the problem with digital is that there is an undo button and when ever a brush stroke doesn’t go quite to plan it’s there calling to me ‘we can easily remedy this, you know!’ And I use it. A lot. And then I find lines getting too neat and the whole concept of the happy accident is lost in amongst the perfect pixels.

Lee Foster-Wilson Digital DrawingWorking on a new piece on my IPad...

I have been trying to step away from that recently though in terms of both making more illustrative work on paper where personally I have to expect the unexpected to happen (I’m just not neat enough and I like that) but also in my digital work. To make things a little bit less neat and tidy I have a few favourite digital brushes and some of them I have tweaked in the settings so that they don’t behave exactly the same on every stroke, changing the angle jitter pressure, turning off stabilisation, messing around with the taper and also the wet mix of the colour…It all helps me to stop all of those little pixels lining up too neatly and looking too perfect for what I am trying to achieve.

However, on the flip side I still have a bit of a mental block when it comes to making more intricate scenes with my traditional materials. Even if I could make the sketch digitally and get al of the elements in just the right place before starting on the final piece I still get a massive fear that I will mess up completely and have to start all over again, wasting hours of work.

Somehow I have managed to overcome that with my little bird drawings, most likely because the structure of the drawings is quite simple but I also allowed myself time to play before I draw them, gathering all of my prior knowledge of drawing birds and flowers in practise pages in my sketchbooks and then the drawings could flow easily into finished pieces. However with my more scenic work I have yet to find this freedom. Maybe because I know that they will take longer perhaps I don’t give myself the time to play about and instead dive straight into digital sketching and that is mostly for layout and colour balance than anything else.

Bonbi Forest garden BirdsTwo of my garden birds (now available as prints!) drawn on paper with paint markers and not a digital pixel between them...

So flipping the sketch then final piece idea on it’s head, I decided to have a go at recreating in my sketchbook, elements of a scenic digital artwork I made last year. It was an interesting exercise!

It highlighted a few things, one being that I love certain elements about my work with traditional materials such as the first layers, where the colour goes down and working on ready made backgrounds. That sort of layering gets me going!

Bonbi Forest Sketch in ProgressI loved this stage of the drawing!

The second being that I need to expand my materials if I am going to be able to use the colour range I want to use. I LOVE my pens as you may well know, but finding just the right colour in the right opacity in the right sort of pen isn’t always easy. I am either going to have to mix more of my own colours (which I have do for certain colours already) or start using paint more.

Bonbi Forest SketchIt's OK at this stage but I was getting frustrated with my materials and annoyed with the deer's face!

The last thing is that if I want to create more work like this in traditional materials then I need to practise a lot more. The nice thing about digital is that undo button and the moveable layers, the hard thing about traditional is getting it right first time, especially where fine washes of colour are involved.

I used a lot of Tombow and Ecoline water based brush markers here and drew in details over them with heavier acrylic paint markers, you can’t just go in and add another layer of the water based pen over the acrylic here to ‘erase’ a mistake, you just have to get it right! And I don’t think I nailed it with the little deer’s face on this occasion.

Bonbi Forest SketchbookIt turned out alright in the end for a first attempt, especially after layering more orange wash on the little deer which softened the unsatisfactory features a little. I need more patience with the background and not to go straight in with foreground elements...

It was nice to do this though. While it’s not some of my best drawing it has made me realise where that gap in my work still lies and why I feel sometimes like some of my digital artwork isn’t entirely what I want to be and also why some of my analogue artwork also isn’t entirely what I want it to be. There is still a gap between them that I need to close so that together they feel more part of a whole.

How about you, if you make artwork and use both digital and traditional media, how do you bridge the gap? Let me know in the comments!


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