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Traditional vs Digital Art - my story

Examples of my paintings and drawings.

I'd like to tell you something about me and art. Not sure if I should be using the word art since the definition can be different for each of you. Since my work does not really fall under 'art' definition to me I can understand that very well. But for the remainder of this post art is 'result of creative activity'.

For years I've been trying to find out what could distinguish my work from others, I was looking for something that would show that what I do is 'mine' and express the way I feel or shows what I wanted others to see. When I looked at my gallery or collection of my works I couldn't really see that all of that was done by one person and I was looking for something that would show that all that is my creation. I stopped looking for that element/style about 6 years ago when I found out that I'd rather concentrate on being able to draw or paint and then I could possibly come back to finding my 'style' as I called it.

Since my childhood I tried to draw something. I guess that is pretty normal because as many people say all children draw. Many children stop that when they get older but for me it did not stop there. I spent the majority of school lessons drawing something (mostly characters) but since I had no guidance I never really got better at that. I was not admitted to school of art and I simply had no idea how to become better (I was told I would be a good singer or that I should pick up playing the piano). No one told me that being good at drawing (which was what I was doing at that time) is about learning, about observing reality and learning how things look like. So I just continued to doodle and I did not really get any better. Maybe I did a little. I was obsessed with a game named Mortal Kombat (a fighting game). So I was trying to draw characters from the game fighting each other. This taught me a bit about movement and how to possibly draw something like someone punching or kicking someone else...

[if I find some pics I will scan them and upload them, I think I have some but they are in my parents' house]

My first five years at school were just a waste of time because our class was full of outcasts - those that ended up on drugs later or became alcoholic, those that never finished school due to being too aggressive for society or psychopathic or those of simply not Czech origin (different race rather). I ended up in this class. So learning anything was quite difficult no one was capable of actually teaching us something (because we were a bunch of children that no force could keep in check).

I drew these when a book named Soulforge was published in 1998 (the pic on the left shows Raistlin Majere the principal character of the book, the other pic is original). I received it at my sister's birthday in January which was quite a surprise to me. I never asked why I got it at that time (but checking the publish date now on wikipedia I might start to understand why a bit - the book was published that month).

5 years later though I was to follow my sister to 8-year grammar school and that changed things a bit. I somehow managed to pass the entry exams even though my knowledge of things we were supposed to know was close to zero. I was good at maths and I had a personal interest in exact sciences and that is how I managed to score enough points to get to the top 33 or so people that were admitted to the school. At that time I did not care about being admitted or not because I couldn't understand what could possibly change.

When in the first grade of the grammar school I found out though that my classmates actually know something and finally realized that I spent 5 years doing nothing. They were taught many things that I had no idea about and I had to work hard to catch up. I did that kind of naturally so that wasn't a problem. One of the classes we had was a Fine Arts class. Here though I did not learn anything either. We were simply given a task and were supposed to complete it. There was nothing about learning even though we could try using different media. (Since the classes weren't really helping me in anything and I hated the teacher I switched to Music/Singing classes)

Maybe I was one of those people who thought that 'art' is something that would come naturally. Even though my interest was not in art but rather skill so I could convey art. But at that time I couldn't see that distinction.

Anyway there was something I found out during the classes. One revelation was about all the kinds of different media that could be used. When at elementary school I was forced by my parents to use water colors and some hard chalk (if it has a correct name, I'm unaware of it). I found out that this certainly is not what I can work with but even though I wanted to use something different it was supposedly 'waste of money'. I required something exact and something with what I can tone in a way (I simply needed to control it). But at that time I had no idea what it could possibly be. Certainly NOT water color. Few years later I got a chance to borrow someone's tempera paint and painted something with it...some elk in a grove during night (don't ask me why I painted that...). This medium was easier to work with for me and I managed to paint some kind of shading and it kind of looked 'cohesive'. I was praised for this since it was the only more or less realistic looking (that is looking 3d) painting with shading/highlights (by the teacher). After this I never had the chance to use this kind of paint nor any other and I guess I looked at it the same way as my parents thus being this 'waste of money' because I had no idea how to use that and I pretty much used all my free time to game anyway so I could hardly imagine myself painting during my free time which was obviously something my parents did not approve much (not that they would approve gaming).

The second revelation was a bit more strange. When we were supposed to draw something...for example a hand or a skull I did draw the thing in question but placed it on a sheet of paper in a way that it was centered. Others weren't really doing that. Also we were told to draw in real size (or what seemed to be a real size from our point of view and distance) but I also scaled the object so it would fit on that sheet...The teacher never told me that is wrong but was certainly surprised by this. Till today I'm not sure if what I was doing was good or bad. But I can see both being true.

At this point in my life I found out something about digital art. It was something new to me and I had no idea what that means and I found that out recently. I did not own a tablet at that time so my attempts at drawing or painting were rather limited. (I also did not know that I could possibly produce something in vectors.)

The Desolation Angel (on the left) is something I drew during Math classes because I was pretty bored with those. I scanned my drawing and tried to color it later on (that happened probably few years - 4 - later). I drew the the original drawing when Apocalypse was around (The Desolation Angel is a card from Magic: The Gathering card from Apocalypse set), the card says that it was printed in 2001 o_O.
The second drawing is Gwen from In the Groove 2 which was released in 2005 so that's probably how old it is as well.

During those few years when trying to come up with something digital I did not understand why everything looks so horrible but I tried and tried but no one ever pointed out what should I do. I tried working with textures, different colors, different techniques, photo manipulation but nothing worked for me and I did not know why. In the end I settled with more or less one way of coloring my drawings - applying all colors and shadows manually. It produced better results but I wasn't quite where I wanted to be. Everything seemed as one great mess. Unfortunately for me I spent few years trying to figure out what is wrong and never managed to find that out...

Both of these come from the same time (2007). Both are Soul Calibur (fighting game) fanarts. I started doing these to see if by spending more time on a 'painting/drawing' I can come up with something better looking. After these experiments I decided that time does not really play a role since there is certainly something I 'lack' and I need to find that because I always hit a wall somewhere in the process...

One part of the revelation what I was doing wrong was when I started to attend University. Since I couldn't use the computer to produce digital work during classes I had to go back to pencil and paper. It was a bit more difficult for me to doodle this time since I had to pay attention to particle velocities and figuring which integral is which and if by a chance that integral looking character is not in fact rho (volume charge density). Anyway it did not stop me from drawing during those classes (I use both hands so I was drawing with my left hand and writing with my right hand). When looking at my doodles I started wondering why they do not look that bad as my digitally produced ones. It bugged me. These drawings were done only with a pencil and thus being in shades of gray. They had way more detail and shading unlike their colored counterparts that were done digitally. So I thought about that a bit and tried reproducing the same effect in digital form once again.

I took something I drew during the classes, scanned it and this time tried using the shading as my reference for the colors. The image above might look very much the same to you as the Soul Calibur ones but it was rather 'progressive' in terms of technique. Since I was following my lines during the coloring process I achieved something way more coherent but I still wasn't quite there yet...Since this drawing/painting I decided that my goal would be a bit different (or totally?). I decided to achieve 'cohesiveness' in my work and come up with something completely colored. In my case it meant background (if I could come up with anything starting with a single color, gradient or impression of something that would be great) and colors all over the place. I tried...and failed over and over again...took me few years to figure out which way I should go. I could draw/paint my characters in more defined way and no matter what kind of background I tried painting it always ended up looking terrible. So in the end ... I realized that I actually have to go back with my 'details' and get better with backgrounds so the two 'skill levels' would meet...

This is from the time in which I really wanted my paintings to look the best as they could but I was just 'wasting' my time on those because what I really needed was to learn something new so everything could look cohesive. Just look at the Togashi Monk my incapability of drawing a mountain or fire makes it look bad.

Around 2009 or so I started altering Magic cards. At first it was just an attempt at a challenge my friend gave me. So I produced few alters that looked pretty bad, but it got way better later and fast. I posted some of my alters on mtgsalvation and I got a good feedback back then. People were telling me that my color matching is good. Quite strange right? I couldn't make my digital paintings look ok color-wise...so where was the problem?

When altering cards I learned many things subconsciously. I was primarily working with the illustration backgrounds but for that I still needed to learn how to paint some things in detail (a bush, a brick, a goblet..etc), in some cases I was repainting what was on the card - usually some kind of creature. To make the alter look good in overall I needed to choose the right colors and keep the same shading/highlights. In this case the less colors the better since this will keep the alter in the correct tones (something that never happened when I was drawing/painting something digitally)

At some point I decided to start producing Basic Land alters featuring original (or at least not Magic: The Gathering original) art. So I tried painting few classic possibly simple 'landscapes'. As you can expect it ended up as total failure^_^. But I got a bit better at it...Anyway it shows pretty clearly that I lack the skill and knowledge to paint landscapes. Since learning how to paint is a long process usually this is the reason why many artists specialize in something. Since I need to work on my backgrounds and I'd love to be able to draw/paint a landscape this will be one of the areas I'd like to explore in the future.

Since painting on something tiny like a Magic card is easier for me I used basic lands for that purpose. But when I will be confidant enough to paint something people will recognize as 'trees', 'clouds', 'water' and 'mountains' I'd like to switch to regular canvas.

I spent years playing Magic: The Gathering but I never looked at the cards' illustrations (with some exceptions - Desolation Angel). But after actually staring at those cards while altering I figured many things out somehow. After altering Jace, the Mind Sculptor I found out that I can draw that Jace from memory without actually doing that beforehand.. but I guess staring at it for 6 hours and more made me somehow memorize how it looks like. The same thing happened with other cards/illustrations as well. I made a playmat featuring Stoneforge Mystic, Swords, Jitte and Batterskull. After I did that once I had no problem doing the second time...but not only that. I can draw anything looking fairly similar to that way more easily...Ho I finally after all those years figured out that one needs to study something first (and if possible draw that as much as possible)

During this time I tried working with few different media and I can primarily thank my sister for that because she initiated it and provided me with the tools I need.

So well you already saw me draw something with a pencil. I also tried chalk but that did not really work for me. Water color I tried few times and it always ended up badly. Then I tried Tempera and that felt ok. So I tried that once again. I had no idea what to paint so I just tried to paint Force of Will by Matt Stewart because I soon had to alter Force of Wills to look like a judge promo (if you don't get this sentence because you have no idea what Magic Alter is click here ) with tempera paints. I found out that tempera after all won't be my preferred medium.^_^. It wasn't behaving the way I wanted it. What surprised me though was the clarity and brightness of the paints, I did not expect that at all.

On the left my attempt at painting with tempera paint. On the right is the same attempt with acrylic paint. No matter how good or bad it looks to you the version on the right actually looks the way I wanted it to look like unlike on the FoW on the left. (sure there is room for improvement but this is what my skill was capable of achieving)

Next I was experimenting little bit with Copic markers and Acrylics. For that I used either paper or playmat (the surface is textile). I found out that Copics is another medium that suits my needs. It blends nicely, has vivid colors and is precise. There are brush tips and hard tips so different effects can be achieved as well. Acrylics is similar in a way. Yeah, I know it is completely different medium. It is paint, dries fast, does not blend unless you really force that somehow etc. But it is the same in a way that I can have full control over it. My results with acrylics are varied though because painting on canvas is something completely different than on paper/metal. I still need to figure that out^_^.

Lately I've been staring at some custom Magic: The Gathering tokens (illustrations) and when looking at some of the really ugly looking ones I said to myself that I can probably produce better looking tokens myself even though I can't draw well nor paint. I opened Photoshop and tried painting some tokens. I did not spend much time on those but what I wanted to achieve was an overall cohesive look of something that would be recognized by the players as the 'creature' it was supposed to represent.

Seeing the tokens painted and printed I realized that there is something that changed - I produced something I can actually look at without having the urge to tear it in half. I somehow (unconsciously) managed to achieve my goal from ages ago - create something 'cohesive'. So I decided to go a bit further and try to paint myself and see if the painting would finally resemble me or not (I try this from time to time...it might be recognized as me but it hardly looks like me). I made a sketch of me that did not really look like me...(I never managed to draw a portrait that would look like someone using pencil only) and then I tried painting/coloring that sketch. After several hours of repainting my face I finally came up with something that I was more or less content (that is ... looked like me). My focus was on shading and highlights and it was all trial and error. I omitted details in general even though I tried drawing something like nails (which I wasn't doing for years even though when I was little...I used to draw stuff like nails, eyelashes etc...so I think it is time to start doing that once again). I couldn't figure out my right arm but screw that...(originally it was supposed to be my face only anyway). Finishing this I realized that I can actually improve and probably even fast but I need to learn actively.

It took me roughly 20 years to realize this one simple thing - learning is the key. It doesn't matter how often or how much one paints or draws if the learning process is not there it won't make anyone better. Drawing and painting is skill as any other but most people (that included me) do not look at it this way. I kind of inherited this notion from my parents - that art is something that comes naturally and cannot be learned - but it is a misconception of art.

No one really told me the difference between a drawing and painting. I always thought that drawing comes first and then a painting since that works with colors. But those are two different things. Drawing is about lines, painting is about blobs of color (paint). But in order to paint something one first needs to draw it kind of (roughly at least). I always counted myself as someone who can draw better than paint but in the end it is probably vice versa. I need to learn drawing first to achieve what I want in my works and if one day I will achieve it I will be able to convey what I feel and would like to show to the world.

And now finally after you read all this I can come to the conclusion and the reason why I wrote this whole article. It is Traditional Art vs Digital Art. I had a dispute with my father about the painting of me from above. He was trying to convince me that digital painting is easy and that it has nothing to do with 'real' (traditional) painting. I told him that my process of producing this painting was pretty much the same as I would do it with paints with the exception that I did not need to care with things like mixing colors or waiting till it dries but I couldn't explain why I think that both process are more or less the same.

The difference between painting something digitally vs painting something traditionally can be compared to even two different kinds of media that can be used for traditional art. The thing is both need to be learned. The way I paint in digital form may be different from how someone else works but both required a long learning process (I use the one I use while using acrylic paint). The software I use allows for shortcuts but to figure out that there can even be a shortcut one needs to understand how such a thing works. For example doing the shading and highlights. It is not something the computer or software would do for you (unless you work in 3d). It has to be the artist doing everything, from drawing lines, creating those colored 'blobs', to shading and details. The software can simplify the work but without the knowledge how to use it or produce the effect in traditional way it won't help the person using the software.

I'm way more proficient with a computer/tablet than with different kind of traditional tools but that is because I had way more time to learn that. If I would have spent the very same amount of time figuring out how to paint traditionally my paintings would be way better. So take this into account and note that my digital work started looking 'good' only after I spent few years painting with a brush and actual paint!

After reading this post I hope you will understand my struggle with 'art' and you will also realize (if you don't know that already) that drawing and painting can be learned. The level of skill we can reach will be different for each of us but many can reach similar levels. It needs a lot of hard work though and for some even more hard work and it does not matter if we work digitally or traditionally. The skill set for both is pretty much the same. Working digitally or traditionally has both its advantages and disadvantages.

Thanks for reading and understanding.

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