Monday, May 15, 2006


For the last three years, I have been having a secret love affair. We first met in my art studio behind easels and freshly stretched canvases. Our tumultuous love affair was frustrating but always exciting. At a recent SCBWI conference, I decided it was time to stop hiding and go public with our affair. It was time to say the three little words that would forever change our relationship. So armed with the liquid courage of two vodka tonics, I blurted out the brave declaration of my undying love. "I work digitally".

As soon as I said it, I felt the scarlet D burning through my SCBWI nametag. Everyone would know my dirty secret now. No, the paintings were not created with a mixture of blood, sweat, tears and India ink. No, I didn't stay up late with the smell of turpentine burning my nostrils and destroying the logical side of my brain. Instead, I sat in an ergonomically correct office chair equipped with my pressure sensitive tablet and my most beloved of all...James my computer.

James the Butler is his full name. I christened James with this name because he cost so much that I truly believed he would do laundry, wash dishes, and on occasion split DNA.

We are a scorned pair. I heard many negative remarks about digital artists while at the conference. One very talented artist commented that the only tool he used to create his work was his "hand". Ouch. The implication was understood. It is true. Digital artists sprout tentacles when in contact with their computers. Their eyeballs pop out of their head along with some stale smelling slime that spawns what we call "digital art".

Why is digital art viewed as such a detached way to create art? James has yet to create a single piece of art without the help of my "hand". Maybe it is because there is a lot of bad digital art? But there are also some equally scary watercolors, oil painting, and pastels floating around. (Aunt Elma this is not directed at you...your watercolor lighthouses are beautiful) Maybe it is just that digital art is misunderstood? Maybe we just need some understanding of why so many artists mix a little computer into their oils. Here are some of the finer points that keep James and me together.

1. If I had to do it all over again...
Imagine having the power to go back in time and undo mistakes. Splash some red on that tree. Go can always undo it with two clicks. You now have the power of "control z" at your fingertips. Control Z that extra bunny. Control Z that mustache. Control Z that experimental use of black. Control Z your college boyfriend. Ok maybe not that.

2. No messy endings
I was always a messy painter. Half of my painting would end up on the white sofa. Not any more. Now, I clean up with just one click of a button. So in some ways, James does save on cleaning bills.

3. Love Hurts
It was my junior year in college, when I came home to my roommate cutting her boyfriend's head out of a picture. If she had owned Photoshop, she could have not only cut out his head, without the use of a sharp object, but also replaced it with her new boyfriend...Brad Pitt. Today's digital artists are doing something similar to my roommate's lobotomized memories. Composition is a large part of whether a painting works and the ability to easily rearrange, scale, rotate and even distort objects in space can only create a stronger composition.

These are just some of the top reasons why I use a computer. But it is not the tool that creates a great painting. It is the artist. So if you are a traditional artist, be kind to a digital artist's strange taste in partners. Our tentacles can reach far when angered.


Stacia said...

I saw your work on SCBWI's website and fell in love-love-LOVE with your style and wit! I love the circus style and the witty text. I agree with you about digital artists...I'm one too! My digital art has a lot of "hand" because it is digital collage...well, paper collage turned digital. So unfortunately, I still have lots of paper and clippings to clean up. Thanks for your art and your commentary. Both are enjoyed.

Lisa J. Michaels said...

What a fantastic sense of humor. Your writing is superb! As a digital artist, I feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of illustration. THANK GOD I've found you! Maybe we should start a club? "The Artisically Incorrect Prime-Time Illustrators!" Personally, I think those who complain about us are just jealous because they can't figure out how it's done so masterfully! Carry on, oh talented one!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey there! I love your work. My Mac's name is "Buttons". I went broke buying her, but like any good pet, she is worth it. I begin all of my illustrations by hand. Inevitabley, there are just things you can do digitally that "finish" a piece so nicely! And since my work is viewed and published digitally and also in print, it is most important to me what it ends up looking like both in digital format and in print.

Your work make me think of the movie Big Fish. If you have not seen it....DO!

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