What is Digital Art? Understanding the new medium

To be successful as an artist, the general public must be able to value the craftsmanship of my work. The purpose of this Q&A article is to help people who are unfamiliar with digital art, understand how to accept and appreciate this new medium. The questions are based on dialog I have had with artists and art collectors.

Q: How do you create your digital artwork?

A: I illustrate by hand, using a digital pen and tablet. Software allows me to create a painting, using the computer screen as my canvas. The software simulates traditional mediums like chalk, oil, and watercolor. It gives me the freedom to mix mediums, and create elaborate compositions in my own unique style.

Q: Is digital a legitimate medium?

A: That's a silly question. -- There are a lot of people who fear what they don't yet understand. Is art produced with oil on canvas any more legitimate than art made with chalk on paper? Art is not defined by a medium, it is defined by the artist.

I may not be using a physical pigment while creating my work, but I am drawing on my lifetime of art education and talent for illustration. I'm using traditional painting techniques to develop my illustrations. I'm sketching, painting, smudging, erasing, blending, and tinting. I'm using color and value. I'm painting still-life, or just from my imagination.

Q: How long does it take you to finish a digital painting?

A: On average, I spend anywhere from 10 to 30 hours on a single painting, depending on how detailed the composition is.

Q: How is digital art viewed?

A: I believe that digital art is best viewed on a large digital LED screen. However, I also make high quality prints of my work on canvas and paper.

Much like the evolution of music, art is becoming more portable. With the Internet, I can sell and exhibit my art anywhere in the World. Collectors of my art can display my illustrations on their TV, phone, and computer.

Q: If your work can be replicated infinitely, does it lose value?

A: No, it does not lose value. I often sell my originals, including the copyrights to my paintings. Are the lithograph prints from Rembrandt's etchings any less valuable because they can be mass produced? It's great to be able to sell and print digital reproductions. I can even license my artwork for limited commercial use where my artwork gains additional exposure, more than if I were solely dependent on exhibiting and selling though a physical gallery.

Q: If making digital art is more convenient for you, does that make it cheating?

A: Not at all. We have evolved as a species to use technology to make things easier.

In this modern age, it's quite difficult to make a living as a traditional artist. I make a successful living as an illustrator because I can produce art in a shorter time frame, which results in more affordable pricing and consistent sales. There is a high demand for digital art and digital artists. I'm simply evolving along with the art form.

Because the medium is so new, I'm encouraged to pioneer my own techniques. It is an additional challenge to use a digital medium to produce illustrations which resemble traditional paintings.

Q: Do you ever create art without a computer?

A: Yes. I often draw with ink pens in my sketchbook.

I've spent my entire life illustrating. I prefer to create art on the computer because I enjoy the process more. Because I'm more comfortable, I'm more productive, and my work is more organized.

Now that you know how much time, talent, and passion I put into creating my art, I hope you can appreciate the unique qualities which make digital art special.

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4. Hiring me for your graphic design or illustration project. (Logos, commissioned artwork, portraits + more.)

Aaron Rutten, Seattle Illustrator & Graphic Designer | www.SurrealPixelStudio.com | aaronrutten@gmail.com

Photo credits: Aaron Rutten.

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July 16, 2010


Thanks for this great article! Enjoyed reading it... :)

July 16, 2010


Thanks for all the great feedback. I will add more tutorials to my blog, as well as some upcoming video tutorials, to help my fellow digital artists improve their skills.

If you have any questions about painting techniques, feel free to ask!

July 15, 2010


Thanks for the very useful blog about illustrations & digital art!

July 15, 2010


Thanks for the great blog Aaron. I'm glad you've written about digital illustrations and the time and effort it takes to make them. I know some people that think digital art isn't legitimate art and think that they take no time at all to make and so we are cheating somehow. I'd say for me it's the total opposite. I can paint a traditional painting way faster than a digital one. At the moment I'm trying to learn to use digital techniques in my own art. I like adding illustrations to photos and vice-versa. I love mixed media work. I have a long way to go before I'm as good at it as you, but it is a lot of fun learning. Good luck with your sales :)

July 15, 2010


your work is awesome

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