types of digital art for beginners

Types of Digital Art: A Beginners Guide

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From cave painting to painting with light, the artistic evolution of the human race has been rapid, to say the least, with the new kid on the block Digital Art probably stirring up the most controversy and debate.

Is it real art? Isn’t it cheating? Anyone can do that, the computer does all the work for you. Are some of the questions and statements that crop up on a regular basis.

Without doubt, the digital age has revolutionised many artistic occupations, traditional printing methods quickly succumbed to their digital replacement, as has graphic design and the production of comic books, not to mention the new skill of digital photography which has made light-sensitive silver halide film almost obsolete.

However, the many forms of digital art out there are not intended to replace the traditional artist, far from it, a skilled artist knows the value of colour theory, composition, harmony and contrast whether sitting in front of a computer screen, a canvas or a piece of paper.

The world of digital art merely opens up new opportunities and techniques for both seasoned artists and beginners but in the same way as a traditional artist will find their creative niche, be it watercolours, oil painting, pastels etc … the computer artist must also recognise where their creative talent actually lies.

The theory behind how the human brain works is that you are either left-brained, analytical and technical in your approach to life, or right-brained, artistic and imaginative. With computer-generated art, however, there tends to be some overlap between the technical and the freely artistic approach to art.

If you are just starting out in digital art, I suggest you try out as many of the different disciplines available to you as possible and this doesn’t have to cost a fortune as there is a ton of inexpensive and free digital art software out there, whether you intend working on a PC, a Mac, an iPad or an Android tablet.

So, what are the different types of digital art and where should you begin?

Digital Painting

pixel based raster painting

Digital painting, or raster painting as it is often referred to, attempts to replicate the feeling of creating art with traditional tools such as brushes and paints.

A graphics pad and pen is pretty much essential for this type of digital art, as pressure sensitivity plays a major role as indeed it does with a paintbrush or pencil. So to mimic that feeling of actually painting, a pad and stylus are highly recommended, fortunately, even a cheap drawing tablet that you plug into your computer will suffice for the beginner.

Software required for digital painting includes Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Krita and Autodesk Sketchbook, with the latter two more accurately representing that drawing and painting feeling and with the added bonus of being completely free to download.

digital painting example girl and bird
cowgirl digital painting
digital painting mice on a branch

Structured Drawing

vector based art

Structured drawing is definitely suited to the more left-brained amongst us, as it uses mathematically described shapes and strokes known as vectors to produce artwork. The advantage of vectors is that they can be scaled to enormous sizes without any loss of detail, unlike raster art which will start to pixelate as you zoom in or scale.

A mouse and keyboard are perfectly capable of producing stunning results with vectors, although modern structured drawing software can mimic traditional line drawing tools, so again a pressure-sensitive tablet is recommended.

Structured drawing tends to lean more to a graphic design type of art style, rather than a more traditional, painterly look.

Software includes Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Draw, Inkscape and Gravit Designer.

vector tiger and dragon
vector art skull
vector robot

3D Modelling and Sculpting

photorealism and low poly

Adding another dimension to your artwork will also add an extra layer of difficulty to your artistic pursuits but the benefits of working in a 3D environment are well worth the extra effort. 3D artists are much in demand at the moment, especially in video game production, advertising agencies and movie/animation studios.

There are two distinct sides to 3D art, hard surface modelling, using primitive shapes such as cubes, spheres and cylinders as a base mesh and manipulating the points, vertices and faces to create new shapes and objects and 3D sculpting which mimics traditional clay modelling techniques, similar to how digital painting attempts to replicate the painting experience.

3D artwork varies in scope from photorealism to low poly artwork, both require a lot of practice to become proficient but the benefits, like most things in life, are definitely worth the initial struggle.

Software to consider, Maya the industry standard but frightfully expensive, Cinema 4D, Blender totally free and ZBrush for 3D sculpting. If you are a beginner thinking of taking up 3D modelling and sculpting then Blender is a no brainer, a complete 3D modelling and sculpting environment which is totally free to download and has an enthusiastic and knowledgeable user base who regularly share quality Blender courses and free tutorials.

3d space station
low poly david bowie
3d egg hatch monster

Pixel and Voxel Art

the basic building blocks

A pixel is the simplest form of computer-generated output, zoom into any image on the computer and you will eventually see the pixels, the individual building blocks that make up the entire image, hence the name picture element or pixel for short.

Pixel art has its roots set firmly in the old computer games of the ’80s and ’90s, when game artists had limited ram and resolutions to work with, using their creativity and resourcefulness to make blocky crude characters and landscapes look recognisable and infinitely playable.

Pixel art today is a graphics style that artists employ to tap into that fondness and nostalgia of early computer games, creating incredible illustrations using a limited colour palette and clearly visible pixels.

Voxel art takes this simplistic approach to create graphics but instead of using square pixels transforms them into cubes to create images in a 3D space, much like you would build something using LEGO bricks ( other building bricks are available ).

Pixel art can be created in practically any image editing program that allows individual pixels to be edited or in dedicated online apps such as PixilArt. For Voxel art Blender would be a good choice, as long as you don’t delete the default cube or a dedicated voxel editor such as the free to use editor and renderer MagicaVoxel.

voxel art example
3d egg hatch monster
voxel art dog

Isometric Art

putting art in perspective

Isometric art shares many similarities with Voxel art except that the isometric artist isn’t constrained so much by resolution but by a 30° viewing angle, which will give the impression of seeing 3 sides of an object simultaneously.

Originally used in technical illustrations created by engineers and architects, showing exploded views of machines, for example, isometric art has now been adopted by illustrators in many mediums and can be seen regularly adorning websites and various smartphone apps.

Known as isometric projection this art style can be used by the artist to give the illusion of 3 dimensions while working in a 2-dimensional workspace, although the effect can be replicated in 3D applications isometric artwork is usually created with the assistance of an isometric grid in structured drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer.

isometric art example
isometric illustration
isometric sample

Fine Art Photography

capturing images

Thanks to the introduction of capturing digital images with dedicated DSLR cameras, mobile phones or even tablets, the digital artist can now quickly mimic photographic techniques that were previously limited to painstaking and tedious darkroom effects. Opening up a whole new world of artistic manipulation and creativity to everyone who owns a camera.

Getting started with digital photography no longer requires a massive financial input, you can learn the basics using your smart-phone and then progress to more sophisticated equipment as and when required.

Fine Art photography has opened up a world of creative possibilities to professional and amateur photographers alike and indeed created a whole new art form.

digital photography example
digital photo
digital image


concept art and photo manipulation

What is photobashing? In a nutshell, photobashing is a way of combining several photographic images to create a new and original photo-realistic image. Mainly used in concept art and matte painting to provide a quick and easy way to portray a visual representation of a character, scenario or location idea before committing to building an actual film set or game environment.

Photobashing is a skill in itself, relying heavily on combining images in such a way as to give the illusion that they belong in the same shot, even though the originals will not usually share the same lighting, colour values or perspective.

Software capable of photobashing images includes Photoshop, Affinity Photo and Gimp the free image processor.

photo bash example
photo bashed elephant
photo bash boy and fox

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