Combining Traditional And Digital Art – A Ramble

2017-artwork-mixing-digital-and-traditional-art-article-sketch

Although there are plenty of artists who only use digital tools, I thought that I’d talk about combining digital and traditional materials today. This is mostly because I’ve done this (to different extents) in virtually all of the art I’ve made since about 2010/2011.

The interesting thing is that virtually every artist has a totally different approach to doing this. For example, in this “making of” article by Winston Rowntree (the creator of an excellent webcomic called “Subnormality), he talks about how he uses traditional materials for the line art in his comics, but adds all of the colours digitally after scanning the line art. The interesting thing about this is that, before I read this, I thought that his comics were created entirely digitally.

Still, before I read that article, I didn’t entirely realise that it was actually possible to do this. But, after some experiments with two of the graphics programs I use (an ancient late 1990s version of Paint Shop Pro and a free open-source program called “GIMP), I found that it didn’t really work out that well for “proper” paintings/drawings, but that it could be used as a quicker and easier way to make the title pictures for many of these blog articles.

I guess that the main advantage of this approach is probably the fact that traditional drawing is a lot more responsive, quick and intuitive than using a graphics tablet can be. However, adding colour using editing programs often seems a lot more labourious in some ways – not to mention that most colours in art made like this have a very “flat” and obviously digital look to them.

But with the rest of my art, I usually try to use digital tools to enhance the traditional parts of my art, to correct mistakes and to add effects that I can’t easily create using traditional materials . In other words, I usually tend to try to use traditional materials as much as possible – and then I use digital tools to make my art look better. Like this old “before and after” example:

I've used this example before, but this is an unprocessed (except for cropping) scan of the picture. It's closer to the original painting, but slightly more faded due to the limitations of the scanner.

I’ve used this example before, but this is an unprocessed (except for cropping) scan of the picture. It’s closer to the original painting, but slightly more faded due to the limitations of the scanner.

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown (with a low-moderate amount of digital editing)

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown (with a low-moderate amount of digital editing)

The main advantages of doing things this way are the fact that I still get to enjoy the physical experience of making traditional art (and actually have a physical painting to show for it at the end), but I also get to use digital tools to give my paintings a distinctively vivid “look” and to reduce my worries about making mistakes.

On the other hand, this usually means that I have to spend at least 10-50 minutes editing my art after I scan it. Although this isn’t usually too much of a problem with paintings, it’s become increasingly time-consuming in any of the comics that I’ve made recently (mostly because I’ve learnt several new editing techniques, and because the backgrounds in my more recent comics are more detailed and require more detailed editing).

So, how can you tell how much of your art should be traditional and how much of it should be digital?

Well, it’s all to do with practicality, artistic taste and personal preference. If you find it easier to work with traditional or digital, then this should probably be the main medium you should use. Likewise, if you have more traditional tools available than digital ones (or vice versa), then it’s probably best to mostly use the tools you have.

Likewise, if you prefer the look of either traditional or digital art – then it’s pretty self-explanatory which one you should use more of in your art.

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Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

What Traditional Creative Mediums Can Teach Us About Modern Technology- A Ramble

2016 Artwork Traditional Art Mediums And Technology Article

Although this is an article about things like print books, traditional (non-digital) drawing and painting, handwriting etc… which will probably make me sound about two or three decades older than I actually am, I’m going to have to start by talking about the internet for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will hopefully become clear after a while.

Earlier this year, I had a couple of moments that gleefully confirmed some of my cynicism about technology from this decade. I’d opened up Google Chrome to look at a badly-designed Chrome-optimised site (that refused to load a video in my usual browser), when Google Chrome flashed up an ominous warning message claiming that it will soon stop updating itself for anyone who doesn’t use the absolute latest operating systems. Unless Google has since come to it’s senses, this will have already happened a couple of months before this article is posted here.

My initial reaction to this was “Ha! I’m glad that I don’t use Google Chrome regularly!” and then, a few seconds later, I was filled with a strange mixture of creeping horror and ridiculing laughter. My mind was filled with stylised images of “hip” people of my own age, constantly upgrading their technology and constantly changing every digital thing that they surround themselves with. Their lives a never ending flux of shiny new devices, trendy social media websites and incrementally crappier new operating systems.

Somehow, this part of their lives seemed both eerily and laughably superficial to me – like they could never find a digital “home” or a constant in their lives. Like they’d never get to really know the technology they use, before it’s replaced with the latest flashy new thing. Like nothing that they use would ever become truly familiar to them.

Then, a day or two later, I read a slightly old article that claimed that Twitter was in financial trouble. Given my long-running cynicism about that site, this initially filled me with more schadenfreude than is probably healthy. However, the more I thought about it, the creepier it seemed. Twitter, as much as I despise it, has had a major impact on the world. It’s a thing that, for good or ill, has become part of our culture.

And, yet, this extremely annoying – but important- part of our history probably won’t be preserved if it loses mainstream popularity. It’ll probably just disappear. Twenty or thirty years later, most people will have probably forgotten all about it. Just like how many modern computers apparently don’t include floppy drives as standard any more.

Now compare this to the invention of the printing press. Although the technology for mass-producing books has advanced significantly over the years, you can still theoretically use an old-fashioned printing press and, more importantly, you can still read the books that were made using it. The surrounding technology has advanced, but the products of that technology are still as functional, timeless and accessible as they have always been.

Compare it to the invention of the pen. Whilst we don’t use quills any more, a quill is still a perfectly functional writing implement that anyone with the proper training can make. Likewise, whilst fountain pens are less common, you can still buy them. Not only that, the skills needed to use a modern ballpoint or (even better) rollerball pen aren’t too different to those needed to use a quill or a fountain pen.

We have more reliable pens, we have pens that don’t leak and we have pens which don’t need to be refilled regularly. And, yet, they’re still pens. A time traveller from the 19th century could probably work out how to use a modern rollerball pen fairly quickly, for the simple reason that it’s still a pen. It’s functionality, method of use and basic principles are still the same, even if the technology has advanced.

Now look at something like drawing and/or painting. The technology may have advanced significantly (I mean, I make all of my paintings with a waterbrush and watercolour pencils), but the basic actions of using something to create images on paper or canvas hasn’t changed that much in centuries. We might have pre-made paints, paintbrushes with water reservoirs, mechanical pencils, pencils made out of pigment etc… but the basics are still the same.

Modern technology, unfortunately, doesn’t have any of this timelessness. Sure, it has a lot of “progress”, but this progress often comes at the cost of erasing it’s own history. If a time traveller from fifty years in the future appeared today, they probably wouldn’t know how to use a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. They’ll probably still know what the internet itself is, but they wouldn’t know how to access it using current technology.

However, they would probably still know how to use a pen, how to read a print book and, if they’re an artist, how to paint a picture.

So, in my opinion, these traditional mediums provide a good guide to what new mediums should strive towards. They should obviously keep advancing and upgrading, but they should do so in a way that both preserves their own history and remains accessible to everyone, regardless of their technology level.

However, it’s probably going to take everyone a long time to work this out. Why? Because, unlike pens, books etc.. There’s slightly more of a profit motive inherent in new technology. Whilst old printing press companies might have tried to sell the latest presses to publishers, the books that people read were still books that any literate person could read.

However, with new technology, these companies have the ability to sell both the technology for making stuff and the technology for accessing it. So, out of sheer short-sighted greed, they constantly change both the underlying technology itself and the things that ordinary people use to access it. In other words, they use planned obsolescence regularly.

To them, history doesn’t matter. To them, the sharing of information between the widest number of people isn’t an inherent good. To them, becoming familiar with a piece of technology (and getting to know and love it over the years) is something to be mocked, feared and scorned, because it doesn’t generate profit.

In the grand scheme of things, these are probably short term issues that will be resolved eventually. But, if modern technology wants to truly become part of both everyday life and modern history, the people who make it might want to take a look at everything that came before.

Because, it’s 2016 and I still write things with a pen, I still have a large collection of print books and I still make watercolour paintings – but I can’t update my copy of Google Chrome…..

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Handwriting

..And, yes, I wrote slightly more slowly (and legibly) in this drawing than I normally would.

..And, yes, I wrote slightly more slowly (and legibly) in this drawing than I normally would (except if I was writing in block capitals).

A few months ago, I was reading the news online when I happened to stumble across this fascinating BBC article about handwriting which begins with the alarming statistic that one in three people haven’t written anything by hand within the last six months.

I was absolutely floored by this fact. I can’t even imagine what kind of superficial and/or dreary life you would have to lead in order to avoid something as basic as writing. The idea of relying on a computer or a phone for even something as basic as a simple note to yourself just seems unnecessarily convoluted.

Morbidly fascinated, I decided to do some more online research about the state of (English language) handwriting in the modern world and, reading comments below American articles like this one from 2013, I was shocked to learn that many people over the pond don’t even use joined-up writing any more. Apparently, it isn’t even really taught in that many schools over there either.

And, before anyone says anything, the only reason why I use block capitals in a lot of the stuff I post here is because it is the type of writing that is traditionally used for cartoons and comics. It’s instantly legible and it’s also easy to edit too (either traditionally or digitally). However, when it comes to writing quickly, writing at length or writing spontaneously, you can’t beat traditional handwriting.

This is possibly because the schools I went to were vaguely strict about handwriting (I mean, my old secondary school actually insisted on everyone using fountain pens, rather than ballpoints, until sometime in the early-mid 2000s).

Not to mention that, when I started sixth form college, I discovered narrow-ruled paper 🙂 It used to wind up some of my tutors to no end, but I could cram more of my small handwriting onto each page – which was really useful when essays were usually limited to the meagre length of just one page of A4.

In fact, until my early twenties, I actually vastly preferred handwriting to typing (I only really got good at typing quickly in my early-mid twenties). When I wrote fiction back then (and I used to write a lot more of it back then), I always used to handwrite it first before typing it.

Although I unfortunately had to give this up when I started writing slightly longer stories, it’s probably one of the best ways to write fiction. Not only does the first draft flow onto the page spontaneously, but you can also edit the first draft whilst you’re typing up the original manuscript. Plus, you actually have a physical manuscript too. I mean, although I lost a fair amount of my old fiction due to a serious computer crash in 2010, I didn’t really lose it since I still have the handwritten manuscripts for quite a lot of it.

These days, I enjoy both handwriting and typing in equal measure. Handwriting is useful for day-to-day stuff and typing is useful for, well, writing these articles. But, the idea of a future without handwriting fills me with a kind of cold, empty dread.

One of the great things about handwriting is it’s individuality. Your handwriting looks like, well, your handwriting. Although you can add some uniqueness to typed texts through your writing style or font choice, it just isn’t really quite the same as having unique handwriting.

After all, this article was originally typed in size 10 Arial on Microsoft WordPad and is currently being displayed in whatever the default font and letter size on this site happens to be. It looks exactly like a typed article. This means that it’s more legible, but it also means that it doesn’t really look particularly distinctive or unique.

Another cool thing about handwriting is that -for me at least- it’s slightly illegible when I write quickly. Yes, this can sometimes be a bit annoying when I’m writing something for someone else, since I usually either have to slow down or go over my writing again and re-write several of the letters. However, if I’m writing something for myself, then writing it in an illegible scrawl means that it’s harder for other people to read. It’s a type of encryption.

Another interesting thing is that, in theory, I shouldn’t like traditional handwriting. After all, I read quite a few online comments pointing out that joined-up/ cursive handwriting is supposedly more difficult for left-handed writers, since we push the pen across the page instead of pulling it across the page. Personally, I’ve never really had that much of a problem with this, since all you have to do to write quickly left-handed is to turn the page sideways before you start writing (so that you write using a diagonal or vertical arm movement, rather than a horizontal one).

Finally, there’s just something brilliantly physical about real writing. Although I enjoy the clacking keys on my traditional-style computer keyboard, even that doesn’t quite compare to the flowing spontaneity and sheer physicality of actually writing something. There’s nothing else quite like it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons To Make “Analogue” Art

2016 Artwork Advantages of traditional art article sketch

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with making digital art. Modern technology has worked wonders for art and, even though I tend to use old “analogue” methods of making art – I still edit my art fairly heavily on the computer after scanning it.

Here’s a comparison of an edited and unedited watercolour painting/ drawing to show you what I mean:

"And Thoughts Of Dreaming" By C. A. Brown

“And Thoughts Of Dreaming” By C. A. Brown

And here's what a scan of the same painting looks like without any digital editing (apart from cropping the picture to the right size). The original painting looks slightly less faded than this though.

And here’s what a scan of the same painting looks like without any digital editing (apart from cropping the picture to the right size). The original painting looks slightly less faded than this though.

But, even though there’s nothing wrong with using digital tools for making art, I thought that I’d list a few of the many reasons why I still use analogue materials (eg: watercolour pencils, waterproof ink pens, coloured pencils etc…) when I make most of my art.

1) Originals: Simply put, if you make art the old-fashioned way, then you’ll end up with an original copy afterwards. If you need to transfer it to a computer, you can scan or digitally photograph it (without too much of a loss in quality) and you’ll still have your original copy. If you lose the digital copies, then your original will also serve as an additional backup too (and vice versa).

With purely digital art, you don’t have a physical original copy of your artwork.

Not only that, there’s just something satisfying about actually creating a real physical thing that you can hold in your hands, that you don’t quite get if you make your entire drawing or painting digitally.

2) Multi-tasking, cost and portability: Although modern tablet computers have made this slightly less of an issue than it might have been in the past, if you’ve ever doodled on your notes during a lecture or a lesson, then you’ll know that some types of traditional art are absolutely perfect for multi-tasking.

This might just be me, but I often like to watch things on the computer whilst making art. Since I’m drawing and painting in a physical sketchbook, this is as simple as just resting the sketchbook on my knee and drawing or painting whilst I watch a DVD or Youtube video on my computer. If I was making digital art, then I’d have to devote the entire screen to whichever art / image editing program I was using.

In addition to this, some types of traditional art supplies are considerably more portable and reliable than high-quality digital art supplies are. Yes, you can make digital art on a tablet computer these days – but tablet computers are expensive, less reliable than traditional art supplies and have a limited battery life.

In addition to this, traditional art supplies can often have a greater degree of precision and accuracy than digital tools (eg: styluses, graphics tablets, mice etc…) do. Unless you’re willing to zoom in on one small part of your digital picture whilst you work on it, you probably won’t have quite the same level of accuracy as you would get with pens, pencils and paper.

3) Imperfections and individuality: Your opinion may vary about this, but one of the things that I love about traditional art is that it always contains a lot of subtle imperfections.

If you paint part of a picture orange, then there are probably going to be very slight variations in colour in that orange area (due to your brush strokes, how you’ve mixed the colours, the consistency of the paint, the surface you’re painting on etc..). These sorts of imperfections give traditional art, even digitally-edited traditional art, a very distinctive and unique look. Like this:

This is a zoomed-in detail from one of my digitally-edited paintings, to show the paint texture.

This is a zoomed-in detail from one of my digitally-edited paintings, to show the paint texture.

Digital art, on the other hand, doesn’t really contain many of these imperfections. Digital art has a certain “perfection” to it that also makes it recognisable at a glance. In some circumstances, this can be a good thing, but it also means that digital artworks don’t always have the same level of individuality as traditional artworks do.

4) The best of both worlds: Thanks to the fact that image editing software exists (if you don’t have any, then just download this freeware/ open source image editing program called “GIMP”), you can have the best of both worlds if you make your art traditionally and then edit a scan or digital photograph of it later.

You can cover up mistakes, change the colours of various parts of the picture etc… And yet your picture will still have a fairly “traditional” look to it too. It’ll look old and modern at the same time. You get the best of both worlds if you include at least some “analogue” elements in your artwork.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of…. Notebooks

(I like to imagine that the tablet is making the death sound from "Commander Keen IV")

(I like to imagine that the tablet is making the death sound from “Commander Keen IV”)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about notebooks. No, not the electronic kind – the good old fashioned paper kind.

This is mainly because I’m one of those young fogeys (well, a twentysomething, at least) who still uses notebooks to jot down ideas, sketch out random things and record some of my thoughts.

I’m guessing that, these days, most people use smartphones and tablets for most of these things. And, in a way, this is a form of progress. After all, back in the 1980s and 90s, tablet computers were quite literally the stuff of science fiction.

The electronic notepads in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” were extremely futuristic when they first appeared on TV in the late 1980s – but, these days, we have tablet computers that are better than the ones from Star Trek. Just let that sink in for a second.

Yet, I still use paper notebooks most of the time. In fact, I don’t even own a smartphone or a tablet (I’m writing this on a mid-2000s desktop computer, if you hadn’t already guessed). Hell, my parents have better technology than I do. And I don’t mind in the least, because paper notebooks are awesome.

Seriously, there are so many reasons why traditional paper notebooks are way better than their more modern electronic counterparts.

For starters, you can be a lot more spontaneous in a notebook than you can be in a tablet. You can doodle in the margins of a real notebook, but you can’t do this easily in a typed document on a tablet. You can write upside-down or at a 45 degree angle in a notebook, you can’t do this easily on a tablet.

Spontaneity is one of the most essential parts of creativity. After all, most forms of creativity come from linking seemingly unrelated ideas together in new and interesting ways. This is a lot easier to do with hastily scribbled notes (that are in a beautiful state of chaos), than it is to do with precisely-ordered lines of text on a screen.

Likewise, in a real notebook, you can switch from writing to drawing in an instant. Whereas, with a tablet, you’d have to close the word processing program you’re using and open a drawing program of some kind. Usually, this probably isn’t an issue – but if you’re feeling extremely inspired, then you don’t want anything to break up your flow. Even for a few seconds.

Likewise, notebooks lend themselves to multi-tasking in a way that tablets and computers really don’t. You can watch a DVD on your computer, whilst also writing in your notebook. You can’t really watch a DVD and type something on the same screen at the same time…

Notebooks are also a lot more reliable and durable than tablets are. Yes, unless you scan the pages of your notebook, you won’t have a backup. But, notebooks are still a lot hardier than tablets are. For example – if you spill water on your notebook, then the ink might get smudged, but it will probably be at least slightly readable.

When was the last time you opened up a paper notebook and saw an error message? And, when was the last time you had to stop writing in your notebook because the battery was running low and you needed to charge it for several hours?

Plus, there’s also the subject of privacy. Thanks to years of practice, my cursive handwriting is almost illegible.

Unless I deliberately make it legible or write slightly more slowly- it’s often a tiny, barely discernable scribble that only I can usually decipher. This is one of the best forms of encryption known to humanity.

Notebooks also have no social distractions whatsoever. Unlike a smartphone, your notebook suddenly won’t start ringing in the middle of a sentence and, if you want to procrastinate and surf the internet whilst using a notebook – you actually have to put the notebook down and start typing things into a computer.

Yes, notebooks might have far less storage space than the average tablet or smartphone does (eg: they can probably only store a few hundred kilobytes of text or a few megabytes of images), but they also make up for this by the fact that they cost a lot less.

If you want to get a new tablet or phone, then you’re probably going to have to pay tens or hundreds of pounds (or dollars). But, you can buy lots of notebooks very cheaply. Hell, even high-quality notebooks are still several orders of magnitude cheaper than high-quality smartphones or tablets are.

So, yes, don’t overlook the humble notebook. It’s cheap, extremely reliable and much better suited to creative thinking than even the fanciest smartphone or tablet is.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂