Is Digital Art “Real?”

On Facebook, someone asked a great question: “I’ve never used an electronic device to draw before. I know it can’t be like a pencil and paper but how well can you draw on it? Is it difficult to sketch on them like the credit card machines that ask for signatures?”

Which begs a second question: how much of digital art is, well…art? Are you actually, like actually drawing this stuff, or does a digital setup provide shortcuts? Am I just cutting and pasting, here? What’s going on?

The short answer is: the process is exactly the same. Whatever you can do with physical materials you can do in a digital environment…and whatever you can’t do, too. Your limits will always be the same, and they’re a combination of your a) current skill level and b) willingness to push the envelope. The more you challenge yourself, the more you’ll grow.

The long answer is: for good results, you need good materials. You don’t need a tablet to make good art but you also don’t need ultra expensive imported paper. For years, the only supplies I had were typing paper, Q-tips, toilet paper, and a #2 pencil. And I like the relationship with my art that creates. Without it, I wouldn’t feel satisfied. I wouldn’t feel like I was making art. So to me, there’s no point in switching to digital unless and until you can afford a tablet that’ll replicate that authentic, emotional experience.

For my big projects, I use a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24″ (with my iMac 21.5). You don’t need a Mac, or any computer of any particular brand, but you do need something powerful. The entire purpose of my computer, here, is to power Photoshop on my tablet. I don’t look at my computer or even really think about it while I’m working. My tablet is, in essence, my canvas. My focus is on my canvas.

My “sketchbook” is an iPad Pro. Before that my sketchbook was…a sketchbook. A napkin is fine, too. I draw on whatever’s available. I love it, because it provides an extremely natural experience. A good tablet has an etched screen, so it feels like paper under your stylus.

The second component to a realistic experience, of course, is software. The right hardware is nothing without the right software. So if the tablet is the canvas, the software is everything else. I use Photoshop, of course; on my iPad Pro I use Procreate. Both are fantastic programs; both provide an incredibly realistic experience. Photoshop can be harder to access, though. There’s a lot to learn–and the brushes that come with it aren’t so great, so you’ll need to buy professional brushes or download some from DeviantArt or etc. I personally use GrutBrushes with Photoshop.

Procreate, meanwhile, actually does come with excellent brushes. I use those “out of the box,” as it were. I’m still learning Procreate, myself, but I’m already impressed with its functionality. For my money, it’s the next best program after Photoshop–and it’s free.

What do you think?

What are your go-to art supplies?