Traditional Art vs Digital Art – Finding the Best Path for You!

Traditional Art vs Digital ArtFeature

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So you’ve decided you want to start on your journey as an artist. But how do you choose between traditional and digital art? In this article we’ll walk you through this decision making and get you making art in no time.

Traditional Art vs Digital Art – What are the Differences?

Simply put, traditional art uses traditional mediums (think brushes, pencils etc.) to create art. These are mediums that have existed, and been used for ages. Digital art is reliant on technology. Artists use input devices such as tablet computers to create digital pieces.

Advantages and Disadvantages

As is always the case, these two categories of art have some very clear advantages and disadvantages to them. This is always a good place to start for those that are unsure about what path they would like to take, as often you will stumble upon a pro (or con) that pulls you in one direction over the other. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things that could be considered, but it should give you a good feel for general themes.

Advantages of Traditional Art

Here are some of the advantages of traditional art. These are the things that make traditional art a joy to make, and can’t quite be replicated by the digital equivalent. 

lady paint on a canvas outdoors
Photo by Jade Stephens

The “One of a kind” Factor

The thing that we are calling the “one of a kind” factor is the idea that every traditional piece of art that you create is 1/1 (one of one). A true original that can never be replaced or replicated perfectly, even by the original artist. This is a huge draw for many artists and fans of the craft. When you create with traditional mediums you are inherently creating priceless one of a kind pieces and that is a really powerful feeling.

This feeling transfers into the commercial value of pieces, where a single commissioned piece of traditional art will almost always go for more than a print of a digital piece. 

Getting Hands On

Creating traditional art is a more tactile experience often involving more of your senses. There is something to be said about being hands on. Feeling different textures, be it dry media like charcoal or pencil, or wet media like watercolor. Each also has their own smells and sounds, making the creation process more enjoyable. The digital creation process can feel quite cold in comparison.

Problem solving

This is more in reference to art as a craft. There are some who say being a professional is “knowing how to gracefully recover from your mistakes”. This is true in many areas but also crosses over into art. Traditional mediums have no undo button. They force you to problem solve and adapt the mistakes you make. And you will make mistakes. This is a valuable learning process for an artist and something that can easily be avoided in the digital world (to an artists detriment, in my opinion).

Mistakes are a part of life, and learning how to adapt or incorporate is an important skill for an artist to develop.

Disadvantages of Traditional Art

Traditional art does of course also have its shortcomings. Here are a few you may want to consider.

Limitations of the Medium

Just as every traditional medium is unique, they also each have their own limitations. Pencil marks will only blend so far. Charcoal can only be so dark. And paper can only be wet to a certain level before it becomes a problem when watercolouring.

While there are limitations in digital creation there is an everdelveloping suite of tools available to artists, which seeks to solve every problem. 

Permanence

Permencance is also a key consideration. Traditional art is often as fragile as it is unique. Once a piece is finished it is a losing battle versus sunlight, air and time. While there are techniques to preserve pieces, these are often costly and time consuming.

This is also just the expected degradation. The unexpected can also ruin a piece. An accidental coffee spill, a mischievous child with a crayon or even simply incorrect storage can also cause damage.

When your art is stored as 1s and 0s, none of this is really a worry. As long as you have a diligent backup routine and data security in place, you should have no problems.

Consistent Look

As we’ve said traditional art is filled with texture and nuance. This means that consistency in look can be difficult. Lighting in particular can be a big factor in how a piece will look. With the possibility of huge differences being presented when, for example, moving from the white light of a studio to the incandescents found in most homes.

Making a Mess

Just as the tactility of traditional art can be considered a positive, it can also be a negative. Art is messy, takes up space, and often requires a clean up after you are done. This is obviously more of a problem with wet media but applies to a certain level across the board.

Advantages of Digital Art

Now let’s take a look at some of the things that make digital art great.

Man using drawing tablet
Photo by CHARLI 

Convenience

Digital art, much like the technology it relies upon, is really convenient. There’s no mess, great options for making art on the go, and no real setup. You just have to start. 

This low barrier to entry can be really useful, especially for beginners. Motivating yourself to turn on your ipad to practice is way easier than setting up your brushes, paper, paint and water to start painting. This alone means you are more likely to practice. Accelerating your development as an artist.

Shareable

This point comes in two parts. The first is the instant shareability of digital art. The file lives on your computer already. A couple of clicks and you can share it to the world with your social media of choice. 

While you can take a photo or scan a traditional piece, this is always lesser than the original. Which brings us to point two. With digital art you can share and even sell the “original” an infinite amount of times. This is a really powerful opportunity for artists to decouple their time from their earnings if they create for a living. 

Flexible

Digital creation tools are not only hugely flexible, but they are constantly developing. It’s true that the tools used in traditional art are also improving (i.e. the improvement seen in synthetic paint brushes). But the rate of improvement is nowhere near the rate of the digital.

Most software have an almost overwhelming portfolio of tools for you to use. Meaning an almost endless number of ways of creating and manipulating your art. The great thing is that this is true all across the cost spectrum. While there is almost always an industry standard software, there is also a healthy choice of open source  (free software) available to digital artists. This free software is getting really good, in many cases enabling artists to do “real work” without ever venturing to paid software.

Cheaper

When taking a long term view, digital art is almost always the cheaper option. Traditional art is a world of consumables, you’ll always need more paint, paper or canvas. At the higher end these consumables can get really pricey.

In digital art the cost is front loaded. Buying an art tablet, and a digital art software comes with a cost. But following this, the costs are very low. Barring upgrades in technology down the line, and possible softwares subscription costs, you will never need to buy “supplies” again.

Career Options

For better or worse, we now live in a digital world. That means a person armed with a laptop full of digital creation tools they can use effectively, such as the Adobe suite, will have some really great career opportunities.

There is a need for art for every website, podcast, blog, social media account. Not to mention the physical media like magazines. There is of course a huge amount of competition, but there is also a huge opportunity to carve your own little niche. Many digital artists work either in-house or make a living on a freelance basis.

While there are of course still opportunities in traditional art, such as commissioned pieces. These opportunities are not as commonplace. 

Disadvantages of Digital Art

As ever there are also a few downsides to digital art. Here are some of the things that come to mind.

Being Deliberate in the Craft

This is another of the more meta points. There are many things in art that are learnt by deliberate practice and repetition. With the everpresent undo button found in most software, it can be easy to become reliant on it. Which can be a problem down the line.  

The Look

Lets just say that some people don’t like the look of digital art. Often citing that it can feel cold. There are things that can be done to remedy this somewhat, but until you get to a very high level, your pieces will always look ‘digital’. If this is a turn off then digital art probably isn’t for you.

No Tangible end product

When you finish a piece of digital art, you are left looking at a screen. For some people this sort of intangible feeling isn’t as satisfying as finishing a “real” piece.If this is you then traditional art may be a better choice for you.

You do of course have the choice of printing your pieces. But getting things you’ve printed to look exactly the way you would like them to is an art in itself. This can also be quite a costly exercise. 

Are These Really Competing arts?

No, I don’t think so. There are very few cases where the two are in direct competition. There is plenty of room for both types of arts. There are plenty of artists in each camp, not to mention those that dabble in both. Art can be fulfilling, fun and beautiful no matter how you create it.   

In my opinion, doing traditional art and digital art are not mutually exclusive either. Things you learn about your craft, such as how to compose a piece, will transfer well to both it’s forms.

Where Should You Start?

Hopefully, our  pros and cons of traditional art vs digital art helped you in your decision making. 

If you still don’t have a strong preference, I think the best thing to do is just pick whatever is easiest to get started. Remember the decision is not final, and things you will learn as a beginner are really transferable. Take a look around the house. If you have some art supplies lying around. Then great, traditional art it is. Got a tablet with a decent stylus on hand? Digital art all the way.

I think the most important thing is just to get started, practice, and have fun! 

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