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What is Digital Painting?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Digital painting is the process of creating artwork that resembles traditional painting or illustrations using computer software. Programs designed for illustration or photograph manipulation are typically used to create such pieces, and the methods employed are not completely dissimilar to those used in traditional artistic creation. A digital painting can be printed and easily distributed through any method that could be used to transport or disseminate other digital media and computer files.

Some artists use digital painting to create something that beautifully resembles works created on a canvas by traditional artists. Others strive to create striking images that are immediately recognizable as works that were generated within a computer, sometimes with the assistance of a computer program. Images such as fractals are created through computer programs that translate mathematical data into an artistic visualization. These images, often richly organic or stark and sterile, often remind the viewer of how the visual world is an expression of math and science.

The benefits of digital painting can be many, from ease of correction and fewer supplies, to the ability to more readily control the movements of the “brush” on the “canvas.” A work of art created in a computer has all the same benefits that typing in a computer word processing program brings: the ability to cut and paste, undo, easily edit, and save the work for later completion, among others. This is coupled with easier control over visual input by being able to zoom in, zoom out, flip or manipulate the image at will.

While the muscle control and hand-eye coordination of using a mouse or stylus is fairly comparable to that needed in wielding a paintbrush, a computer allows the user to undo an errant stroke quite simply or recreate a saved image repeatedly. These benefits have made it so that digital artwork can be very similar to works created with a traditional brush and paint, or completely different in remarkable ways. Computers allow precise control for simple creation of geometric shapes, and such shapes can make an image more striking, or serve as contrast against an organic design element.

As in any other new application of technology, there are those critics who decry digital painting as being unworthy or too easy when compared to traditional paintings. Too often the human input required to create such beautiful works of art is obscured by the conveniences and tools offered by a computer program. Though the computer may make certain aspects of artistic creation easier or more controllable, the process still requires a human mind and artistic inspiration to create.

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