I Create Art Digitally and Traditionally

There are a few pet portrait sites out here on the internet. Some of them offer traditional media (oil paintings, acrylics, etc.) and proudly say so. Others seem reluctant to admit they work digitally.

That's crazy.

I love painting in oils. I started oil painting as a teenager. Later, I took courses in college and found I really loved the medium and methods of traditional oils.

my second oil painting

My second ever oil painting. I was a teenager.

But you know what I don’t like about oils? What it does to my health. Working day in and day out with smelly solvents is not only hard on my tools (I’m brutal on brushes), it’s hard on my body. It takes a good 2-3 hours afterwards for my nose and lungs to recover, and for food and (most importantly!) beer to taste like it should.

A few years ago I decided I wanted to paint all day, every day. But there was no way I was going to be able to work long hours in my medium of choice: oils. So I transitioned to new media which allowed me to transfer my techniques and skills from oils to digital art.

These days, I paint in a manner nearly identical to that of oils, but instead of brush, palette-knife, mineral spirits and linseed oil, I use a pressure-sensitive monitor and a stylus.

The method is the same: only the tools have changed.

digital painting

Benefits of digital art commissions

My skills as a traditional artist working digitally allow me to work faster and longer than I would otherwise. The benefits to you are:

  • Lower Cost
  • Easy Revisions/Changes
  • Quick turnaround (no waiting for oils to dry)
  • Easy Replacement (should your art be damaged in some way)

Is Digital Art Cheating?

It’s seldom said out loud, but many people think because a piece of art is created digitally, it’s somehow “cheating”. After all, they think, computers can accomplish so much there’s very little left for the artist to do except input a photo and push a button – the computer does the rest.

While it’s true the computer is a tool that is often used as a substitute for many artists’ lack of abilities and intentions, doing art that way is seldom very satisfying, nor does it provide the creative fulfillment or continued artistic growth for which every true artist yearns.

I paint on the computer just like I painted with oils. I use the same concepts and methods because that's how I've always done it. It's not the easiest way to work. I could let the computer do a larger share of the thinking. But that wouldn't be artistically fulfilling.

Look, if I didn't want to grow professionally, I’d pick a new career in a field that lets me do nothing worthwhile except be a jerk and ruin everything I touch. But politics isn't my style.

Learning to paint better and improving my skills is what keeps me doing this day after day. In other words, no, I don’t use computer filters. I don’t let the computer “process” my image. All the processing is done in my head as I’m painting.

But is it “painting”?

When we admire a painting on a wall, we aren’t just referring to our thrill at seeing a pile of Grumbacher or Windsor & Newton paint smears, we are admiring the artist’s skill in a particular medium to create an image we like. So when I refer to my works as “paintings” I’m not saying they are made of paint, I’m describing the process I used to create them.

While I use different tools than those of someone who works in oils, our approach to each image is the same.

There’s a word for this process of creating art: painting.

It's good to make a distinction between traditional paintings and digital paintings, however. Traditional paintings are physical, one-of-a-kind works, while digital paintings exist first as binary code and can be printed any number of times. This is why digital paintings generally cost less than traditional paintings. In the end, the value of any piece of art resides in the skill and reputation of the artist, the connection to the viewer, and whatever the market will bear.

Embracing new tools

I’m happy to say I have embraced new media and digital tools because it smooths my workflow and provides a healthier studio for me and my dogs.

I won’t lie to you: there are aspects of digital art that are easier to accomplish (fixing mistakes, for one!). But that doesn’t change the fact that with every pet portrait project, the pressure is on me to work my butt off to create a riveting image that honors the spirit of your pet and strikes an emotional chord not only in you, but in all who view the work.


Thanks for reading this far! I suppose I’ve blathered on long enough, so as a reward for sticking with me, please enjoy a cartoon that sums up the whole Digital vs. Traditional debate better than my pile of words.