Understanding the Digital illustration Process – Part 1 – A Quick Primer

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Over the past decade digital illustration has evolved and improved in many ways with the introduction of computer peripherals, tablet PCs, and mobile touch devices. Gone are the days where artists and designers were bound by paper and pencil, but has the process really changed all that much? Sure, artists are no longer required to make use of, often times, messy traditional media (such as graphite, charcoal, pastels, and paints) and instead are able to access and utilize digital tools that produce similar results to their traditional counterparts. But, even with the availability of these tools, has the process of drawing changed significantly over time?

When creating illustrations of any kind, many artists begin with traditional media by sketching out rough concepts on physical sheets of paper, and then refine their drawings using computer software. It’s a common misconception that the use of a computer reduces the time it takes to create artwork, where in fact it simply redefines the process.

When working with traditional media, due to the physicality of the ‘real’ world, artists are forced to take a ‘bottom-up’ approach to illustrating in the way that the different elements of a drawing must be layered over top of one another in order to produce the finished work. With digital media on the other hand, illustration takes a much more ‘fluid’ approach. In the ‘digital’ world layers of artwork can be manipulated individually, and reorganized regardless of whether or not they were created before the previous layer. To put it simply, illustrating on a computer offers the opportunity to ‘paint’ under something that was painted previously (something that is nearly impossible due to the physical constraints of the non-digital world).

Although digital illustration has many benefits, sometimes the quality of the tools, and/or the specific styles physical media is capable of offering, can’t be matched. In many cases, artists tend to combine both traditional and digital effects in order to attain the desired result for a finished piece of work. So, in the end, digital illustration has certainly evolved the process of drawing, but it is highly unlikely that it will ever completely overtake an artist’s need to utilize traditional media.

-Kyle Dawney, Graphic + Web Designer / Illustrator