Digital Art: History, Types, Artists, Artwork

Digital art refers to any form of art that involves the use of digital technology in the creative process or presentation of artistic works. Digital art emerged in the early 1960’s when pioneers like John Whitney made the first computer-generated art, and when Ivan Sutherland invented the first computer-graphics interface known as Sketchpad.  This art form evolved incorporating and encompassing techniques such as digital drawing and painting, 3D modeling, Pixel art, Digital collages, and Augmented Reality (AR) art.

With the help of new digital software and new technology, artists like Mike Winkelmann (Beeple), Loish, Butcher Billy, and Lim Chuan Shin have shaped the field and made groundbreaking contributions to digital art, often combining traditional art practices with digital techniques to push the boundaries of visual expression.

What is Digital Art

In simple words, digital art is art that has been created with the help of computers and digital technology. If an artist uses digital tools for the most part of their process, then it’s considered digital art.

In order to make digital art you’re going to need digital software (also called computer software) specially made for art, such as Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, Krita, Illustrator, Blender, Autodesk, among others. Alongside that you’re also going to need a computer and a graphics tablet, or a mobile device with enough processing power to handle said software.

Digital artists use several techniques and tools to produce art, like layering, composition techniques, photobashing, and even traditional fine art techniques that can be reproduced on a digital canvas using a stylus and a drawing tablet.

Once the artwork is completed, it can be displayed on screens, shared on social media, printed onto materials like canvas or paper or sold online as digital files, like NFTs.

Types of Digital Art

Digital art blends art with technology, offering artists several ways to express their ideas, including different types of digital art such as digital painting, vector art, pixel art, digital collages, and 3D modeling. Each type of Digital art uses different techniques and tools, so even though they all start from the same digital canvas, the final products can be vastly different.

Digital Painting

Free cat cat painting lying down illustration

Digital painting is a form of digital art where artists use a paint program, a digital canvas, and traditional drawing and painting techniques to make paintings, some of which might look like traditional artworks but are made using digital tools.

Making digital paintings involves using a stylus with pressure sensitivity and a graphics tablet (or a tablet, or a pen display) to draw and paint on, this setup mimics the feeling of painting with a real brush but is made with digital strokes instead.

Software like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, CLip Studio Paint and Procreate are very popular choices due to their selection of digital brushes and tools that simulate the different painting mediums like oil paint, watercolors, gouache or charcoal.

You can make portraits, landscapes, character designs, and pretty much anything you’d do in your normal sketchbook or canvas, even abstract art. This versatility is what makes digital art the favorite of many artists as they can freely experiment without needing to buy new materials or deal with fumes and afterwards-cleaning that traditional mediums require.

Vector Art

Vector art girl illustration

Vector art is a type of digital art that uses mathematical equations to create graphics composed of points, lines and shapes which are called vectors. Unlike the “traditional” images which are made of pixels and called “raster” images, Vector graphics can be scaled to any size without losing quality or without pixelating. This makes them great for things like logos, illustrations and designs that need to be used in several sizes and formats.

To make vector art, a special computer software is needed. Software like Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Affinity Designer or Corel Draw translates the shapes you trace into mathematical data. This data dictates how the vectors behave when the image is scaled larger or smaller, so that the artwork remains sharp and clear at any size.

While you don’t need a graphics tablet or a stylus to make vector art and a mouse is more than enough, many artists prefer using them for their precision and the more natural drawing experience they offer.

Vector art is commonly used to make logos, icons or typography, however it can also be used to make beautiful illustrations, although they take more time and patience than when using painting programs.

Pixel Art

Pixel art retro illustration

Pixel art is a digital art form that uses pixels as the basic building blocks of images, these images look like the early video games graphics that were limited because of the technology of the time and were displayed in a visible grid-like structure. Pixel art embraces this aesthetic, and uses it to create images that are now used for games, or as a tribute to older games that were loved by the community.

Pixel art is created by setting up a grid like canvas on a special painting software (or a painting software that has that feature) that allows precise control over each pixel. The process consists of basically placing each pixel intentionally to create images, animations, backgrounds or game sprites. Pixel art’s unique charm lies in its simplicity and the creativity required to evoke complex scenes and emotions with a limited palette and resolution

Pixel art is widely used in the video game industry, especially in retro and indie games. It’s also used in animated web graphics, mobile apps and as a form of pop art in social media.

3D Modeling

3D model of a Watermelon Slice

3D Modeling is a form of digital art where artists create three-dimensional objects, characters and environments on a computer. These models can be very simple like the example above or highly detailed and hyper-realistic depending on the artist’s intention. 3D modeling artists need to consider several factors besides the usual 2D artists use, plus sculpting skills are a must.

To make 3D art, artists use specialized and highly resource-demanding software to build models by shaping and connecting polygons or by sculpting them with virtual clay. In order to do this, a computer with strong processing power as well as an excellent graphics processing unit is needed, plus a graphic tablet for more control when sculpting or texturing models.

Additionally, software like Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max, Blender and ZBrush are used for digital sculpting. These programs also offer tools for texturing, rigging and rendering. You can create pretty much anything in 3D, from characters, props, and environments for video games and films to new digital products and virtual reality experiences.

Digital Collage

Digital Collage Illustration

Digital Collage is an art form that consists of combining multiple images or elements into a single composition, while it resembles a lot its traditional counterpart, it expands the horizons of collage, opening the possibility to adding interactive media and video to the compositions.

Artists use image editing software to cut, manipulate and layer photographs and other digital elements. The process often involves using layer modes, changing the transparency, size and color of the images, and some drawing and painting to harmonize the composition.

Digital Collages can be realistic montages that blend the images seamlessly for backgrounds or more abstract surrealist artworks where artists can unleash their creative expression. This form of digital art is popular in graphic design, advertising, book publishing and other editorial work.

History of Digital Art

Digital art was invented in the early 1960’s, when John Whitney and Ivan Sutherland dared to take a step towards innovation and developed the first computer generated art and the first computer graphics user interface.

Origins of Digital Art

George Nees and Frieder Nake were among the pioneers, producing “computational art”, which were algorithmic artwork based on mathematical models. As the 1960’s ended, computer art started becoming more and more popular, marking the real beginning of digital art history. The term digital art didn’t really come to be until the end of the 1960’s where the first digital art exhibitions were held, including the popular “Cybernetic Serendipity ” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.

AARON

In 1973, Harold Cohen created AARON, which was a complex software that could make art autonomously, and also was the first introduction of machine learning. AARON started with simple, abstract compositions and later advanced to producing more detailed figure works, including portraits and landscapes.

Mac Paint

In the 1980’s as technology became more accessible to the public, Mac Paint was launched. This innovative software revolutionized the way people interacted with digital art since it allowed users to create and manipulate digital images with an ease that has not been possible with earlier software. It’s user friendly interface and brushes that mimicked traditional brushes and pencils opened new possibilities for personal and professional use on the computer, giving more creative freedom to the public and definitively changing the way digital art was perceived

3D Computer Animation

In the 1990’s we all saw a significant advance in 3D animation, which transformed fields like television, animation, digital photography and the video game industry. Software like Autodesk 3D Studio and Photoshop revolutionized the day to day of digital at professionals, hardware became more powerful enabling computers to handle heavy software required to render 3D graphics opening new possibilities for artists and animators. Beyond commercial entertainment, the late 1990s saw artists experimenting with 3D animation to create artworks that explored virtual realities and digital landscapes. Artists like Char Davies developed immersive art installations using VR technologies, blurring the lines between virtual and physical spaces and challenging traditional notions of art and experience.

Digital Painting

The 2000’s saw what we could all a “boom” in digital painting, tools like Photshop and Corel Painter evolved significantl, offering more sohpisticted brushes and features for artists, this, paired with the development and popularization of graphics tablets and the introduction of the first Wacom Cintiq, the first graphics tablet with a screen, completely changed the game for digital artists, making the digital painting experience more intuitive and similar to paintign on a paper or canvas.

THe 2000’s also witnessed the rise of platforms such as DeviantArt, which alowed artists to share their digital works, receive feedback and conenct with other artists all over the world. Digital art techniques became increasingly integrated with motion graphics and web design, and continued advancements in 3D animation and visual effects software saw digital art techniques becoming more integral to the production processes in video games and films.

Artificial Intelligence Art, NFTs, AR and VR

One of the most siginifcatn trends we’ve seen is the use of AI to create art, tools like Open AI, DALL-E, DeppDream, etc allow artists and non-artists to procduce complex pieces based on a single prompt. While this has brought both joy and controversy to the artistic community, it highlights a moment of evolution in the way art is conceived and created.

The rise of blockchain technology has introduced NFTs, a method for certifying ownership and authenticity of digital assets. This has opened a new market for digital art, allowing digital artists to sell their work as unique assets and gain more control over their copyrights and earnings.

In the latest years, digital art has taken a turn, moving from the computer screen towards more immersive experiences like aumented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). AR allows digital elements to be superimposed over the real world, creating immersive experiences that can be accesed through smartphones and AR glasses. VR takes the concept of immesion to another level, by placing viewers inside the artwor itself, allowing artists to create detailed, large drawings and art pieces, even complete worlds that viewers can explore and interact with.

Digital Art Software

Digital art software refers to all the computer programs designed to help in the creation of digital art, from the planning to the making, editing and producing process.These software are made to help artists by bringing them tools tailored for specific purposes, for example, some programs might have tools for drawing and painting, others for vector art, others are made entirely for 3D modeling and others have features that help with animation, enabling artists to work in multiple mediums using a single or a couple programs.

The major difference between these software is the purpose they’re made for, some are very complete and cover several aspects of two or more digital art forms, some are specialized and made for a single art form, and some try to cover them all. Each software has a different learning curve, and while some have a steeper learning curve than the others, they’re also made for professional use so you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t master all their features. Another difference is the price, some programs like Gimp and Krista are free, some have a subscription-based model, like Photoshop and some are paid like Clip Studio Paint and Cinema 4D.

Photoshop

Photoshop is a photo editing software made by Adobe Inc. that is currently the industry standard for photo editing, photo manipulation, and digital drawing and painting. Photoshop is mostly used for photo editing, however it’s also the go-to software of many professional digital illustrators. It is a paid software, and it works under a subscription model, which means you have to pay a monthly fee to be able to use the software.

It has features like the use of different, customizable brushes, layer modes, correction modes, filters and effects and the recently added Generative Fill feature which uses artificial intelligence to change, remove or add elements from the photo or composition.

Krita

Krita is an open source digital painting and illustration software developed by the Krita Foundation and the community of volunteers that make up the Krita development team. Instead of image manipulation like Photoshop, Krita is primarily used for digital painting, comic and manga creation, concept art, and animation. Praised for its user-friendly interface and being highly customizable, it can be easily tailored to suit the workflow of any artist, additionally, since krita is open source and free it’s a popular choice among artists who have a tight budget or for those who are just starting in the digital art world.

Clip Studio Paint

Clip Studio Paint is one of the most complete and versatile drawing and painting software, developed by Celsys, a Japanese company that focuses on graphics software for digital content creation. Clip Studio Paint provides a powerful and very complete environment for illustration, comic and manga creation, and animation, including features like pane layouts, inking, speech bubbles and screentones.

Additionally they offer one of the biggest assets libraries with resources that go from textures and patterns to 3D models and 3D objects. Clip Studio also supports frame-by-frame animation, and has specialized toolsets and formats that support the creations of webtoons which have gained a lot of popularity globally.

Corel Painter

Corel Painter is a digital painting software developed by Corel Corporation which is well known by other products like Corel Draw and PaintShop Pro. Corel Painter offers an alternative for digital painters looking for a natural media emulation toolset that closely mimics the behavior of traditional mediums, like oil paint, watercolors, chalk, charcoal and more. It provides a wide range of brushes and textures and thanks to its RealBristle technology which simulates the movement of real paint brushes, is the favorite of many illustrators and professional artists all over the world.

Corel Painter is primarily used for creating digital paintings and for illustrations, many concept artists and character designers use it as well due to its blending tools and brush engine and is the go-to choice of many fine artists to create and edit their works for future printing.

Illustrator

Adobe illustrator is a design software and vector graphics editor developed by Adobe Inc., widely used in the graphic design field for creating illustrations, logos, typographies and other types of visual content that require to be scaled to different sizes, from tiny icons to giant billboards without losing quality.

Illustrator is primarily used for graphic design purposes, however it can also be used to create fonts and typography, can also be used for illustration, for web and mobile design, for product packaging and for fashion and textile design. Features like the multiple artboards per document facilitate the design of multi pages and multi-layouts in a single document, plus the advanced color handling makes it great to create and manage color palettes and maintain consistency and accuracy in branding and design projects.

Digital Art Hardware

Digital art Hardware is all equipment, devices and tools used to create digital art, these include a range of devices especially designed to translate hand drawings, brushstrokes and ideas into data that computers can process and then display in monitors and other viewing devices.

Among the most popular digital art hardware we have drawing tablets with and without screens, standalone tablets and laptops that have adapted to be used by artists and designers.

Tablets for Digital Art

Graphic Tablets

work, computer, tablet

Graphics tablets, also called pen tablets are the original drawing tablets, the ones that came out first. They don’t have a screen and use electromagnetic (EMR) technology to capture and translate the lines, pressure and tilt made with a special stylus on the tablet to the computer.

These tablets are the simplest, most affordable and the most common. They are like your mouse or keyboard, all you need is a cable to connect them to your computer (or Bluetooth if available) and the drivers for them to work and that’s it. While they’re not as intuitive as tablets with screens, they’re much more affordable and the perfect starting device for beginners and students. Brands like Wacom, Huion and XP make the best and most popular models like the Wacom Intuos, the Huion Inspiroy and the XP Pen Deco.

Pen Displays

Pen Displays are graphics tablets that have a screen integrated on them, so you can see what you draw just as if you were using paper or canvas. They also use EMR technology for the stylus to translate the traces, tilt and pressure applied from the tablet’s surface to the computer, however they need more than a single cable to be connected. Since they’re like another display, you’re going to need a DP or an HDMI cable to connect it to your computer or laptop besides a USB cable and a power adapter since these devices need more power to run. They’re less portable but the preferred option of many students and professional artists due to their ease of use, size and versatility.

Brands like Wacom, Huion and XP are the leads in the making of pen displays, with models like the Wacom Cintiq or the Hion Kamvas featuring touch sensitivity, large displays, ergonomic stands and shortcut keys.

All-in-One Tablets

All in one tablet are devices that not only have a screen you can draw on, but also have a computer integrated, and the operating software to run it. These tablets don’t need to be connected to a computer to work, they are also called standalone tableta because they can be used on their own. Here we find devices like the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tablets, the Microsoft Surface Tablet, the Huion Kamvas Studio and Wacom Mobile Studio, there are also newer tablets released by XP and Huion that are not as powerful but have excellent pressure sensitivity and accuracy for drawing.

These tablets have different operating systems, work with different styluses, and are much more expensive than pen tablets and pen displays. While they offer an unmatched portability and versatility factor, allowing you to draw from anywhere and do other tasks on them, they are still considered a serious investment given the limitations they represent when compared with a more traditional drawing tablet plus computer or laptop setup.

Laptops for Digital Art

 

Laptops for digital art are laptops especially made with artists or professionals that use creative software in mind. These laptops have a combination of features that make possible running software like Photoshop, Illustrator, Blender, Cinema 4D, Maya, etc., and doing creative work without limitations.

Not all laptops are made the same, some are better for office work, some are better for gaming and some are better for creatives. These laptops are optimized to perform well while running heavy creative software, they have a powerful processor and an even better graphics processing unit, they have enough RAM and storage to handle multiple projects at once and good battery life to work on the go, they are also optimized to display colors accurately, having good display quality and other features that help in the creative process.

Advanced models have pressure sensitive stylus compatibility, several viewing modes, or dual displays. Models like the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, the Acer Ezel D7 and the Samsung Galaxy Book are populars due to the features they offer, but they are also very expensive and not constantly updated which is a major downside.

How to Do Digital Art

Making digital art, especially if you’re just getting started, involves a mix of creativity, passion, the right software, hardware and communities to share your work and get feedback on it. Here is a basic guide on how to get started with digital art.

Step 1 – Choose Your Hardware

Depending on your situation, needs, and budget, take your pick between graphic tablets, pen displays and standalone tablets. An iPad can be a great starting point for any artist and a life-long friend, however if you’re looking to get into 3D art, it might not be the best choice. A Pen display is always a good choice, however if you’re constantly moving or traveling you’re going to need something more portable like a pen tablet or a small standalone tablet. Also consider what fits your budget, after all acquiring any device is always an investment and you should try to get the most out of your money.

Step 2 – Choose Your Software

While this might seem like a hard one, it’s actually simpler than you think, first, pick a software that suits the type of digital art you want to learn. For digital painting, Photoshop, Procreate and Clip Studio Paint are great choices, for Vector art, Illustrator and Affinity Designer are the way to go, for 3D modeling, Blender or Autodesk Maya are good options. Many of these programs offer trial versions so don’t be afraid to try them and see what you like and what you don’t like. Watch video tutorials on them and choose the one you like the most, but try to give the industry standards a chance even if you don’t like them since they’ll become a big part of your future career.

Step 3 – Learn the Basics

Familiarize yourself with the basic features of your chosen software, learn where everything is, how it works and what it is for. Watch online tutorials, visit the developer’s site for help, or maybe take a course. Learn about layers, brushes, color palettes, and other fundamental tools and techniques. And then practice. Start with small projects and don’t be afraid of experimenting. Regular practice will help you develop your unique style and improve your skills.

Step 4 – Build a Solid Workflow

Developing a workflow you’re comfortable with can not only enhance your productivity but also make the whole creative process much easier and enjoyable. Try customizing your workspace to fit your needs, organize your layers in a specific way or have a set of brushes you use regularly. A good workflow and an organized working environment helps in managing from simple to complex projects and also will help you learn how to work with your preferred software and learn more about its features and shortcuts.

Step 5 – Connect With Other Artists

Being part of a community can be incredibly supportive so make sure to share your work, ask for feedback and engage with other artists’ work on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Reddit or art forums. Meet other artists that like the same things you like and grow with them, not only you’ll benefit from learning from others, but you’ll also start a network that can be beneficial for future professional opportunities.

Step 6 – Build a Portfolio

A portfolio should represent the best of what you can do, and the earliest you start doing it, the better. Once you have mastered the fundamentals of art, work on pieces that showcase your technical skills but also demonstrate your creativity and style. Tailor your portfolio to your audience or the type of work you want to get, choosing themes and styles relevant to the industries you want to work on, like games, editorial, etc. Show your strong skills but also include various types of work, like illustrations, 3D work, vector work, animations, or anything you’ve managed to pick up over time that is relevant to your chosen industry. Make sure to present it professionally and to include descriptions of the concept, tools used and any relevant project insights that help understand the projects better.

Step 7 – Keep Learning and Keep Going

The digital art field is constantly evolving with new technologies and techniques. Keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and software updates is crucial. Follow blogs, watch tutorials, and participate in webinars or workshops. Continuous learning is key to staying inspired and innovative, and don’t give up. Not all day you’ll feel inspired or motivated but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad artist. Remember, every artist goes through ups and downs, perseverance is key.

Facts About Digital Art

Here are 8 fun and interesting facts about digital art:

  • The first use of a computer to make art dates back to 1962, by an engineer named A. Michael Noll at Bell Labs.
  • One of the earliest forms of digital art was made with mathematical fomulas and called algorithmic art.
  • Pixel art started as a method for developers to create graphics within the severe limitations of early computers in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Adobe Photoshop, launched in 1990 was the software that affected the landscape of digital art and photo editing the most.
  • In 1997, Titanic was one of the first fimls to use extensive digital effects that won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
  • Digital art is widely used in educational settings to teach various concepts from geometry to physics, using visua and interactive tools to engage students more efficiently.
  • NFTs have revolutionized digital art by allowing digital artworks to be bought and sold as unique, collectible items on the blockchain.
  • Artificial Intelligence is now used to create art, with programs like DeepDream and DALL-E generating pieces that have sparked debates about creativity and machine involvement.

Famous Digital Artists

Digitala artists are creative professionals who use digital technology as their main medium to make art, this includes a wide variety of techniques and forms, like digital painting, 3D modeling, CGI and interactive art installations. Artists like Beeple, David Sosella, Butcher Billy and Kyle Lambert use software and hardware to bring to life ideas and projects that may not be possible with traditional materials. Here’s more about them:

Beeple

Mike Winkleman, also known as Beeple, is an American graphic designer, animator and digital artists and one of the most popular figures in the digital art world, known for his “Everyday” project, where he created a piece of digital art everyday capturing modern day societal themes using pop culture references and making socio-political commentary. His artwork exploded into mainstream recognition when one of his digital pieces, a collage of all his “Everydays” from the first 5000 days, sold at Christie’s auction for an astonishing $69 million, marking one of the highest sales ever for digital art.

Butcher Billy

Butcher Billy - Brazilian Pop Culture Illustrator and Visual Artist

Butcher Billy is a Brazilian graphic designer and Illustrator that combines pop culture and punk rock in his art along with a generous dose of black humor and contemporary critique. His style blends street art with a mix of pop culture and old comic books vibes, often with iconic characters from different universes or time periods in unexpected ways. Pieces like “The Post-Punk/New Wave Super Friends,” and “Tales from the Smith ” are the ones that have received the most attention from the public for their unique aesthetic and their ability to provoke nostalgia about the characters.

David Sossella

David Sossella :: Behance

David Sossella is a digital illustrator based in Italy, known for his vibrant and highly detailed illustrations, and his work is widely known in the industries of animation, book illustration and advertising. His creations are noted for their expressive color palettes and high amount of details, his work incorporates elements of nature mythology and magic. Works like “The Tiger and The Dragon ”, “Gusto Robusto ” and the multiple NFT collections he’s been part of prove the ability of Sossella to inject magic and vibrancy into his creations.

Kyle Lambert

Kyle Lambert :: Behance

Kyle Lambert is an artist based in the UK that specializes in digital painting and illustration, particularly known for his photo-realistic works and his award-winning commercial illustrations. Lambert uses digital brushes to mimic the precision of traditional painting, then adding blending modes for special effects which gives their work that realistic, yet digital style. He gained significant recognition for his iconic digital painting for the “Stranger Things” series, which were used in several billboards all around the world.

Alberto Seveso

Alberto Seveso is an Italian artist that became popular for his captivating high-speed photography art, which showcases the fluid dynamics of ink blending with water and other substances. Seveso’s work has been featured extensively in commercial advertising, product design, and exhibitions, and has evolved with time into abstract digital artwork that merges beautiful paintings with otherworldly landscapes and shapes.

Famous Digital Artwork

Digital art represents a wide variety of styles and forms that are visually impressive, innovative and often groundbreaking. Modern technology makes this all possible, pushing the boundaries as it evolves and grows. Here is a list of famous digital art pieces that highlight the diversity and creativity in the medium:

Everydays: The First 5000 Days by Beeple (Mike Winkelmann)

This is a collage of 5000 digital images made daily over more than thirteen years, which sold as an NFT for $69 million.

Quantum Memories by Refik Anadol

This work uses quantum computing and AI to create captivating visual displays of data sets that constantly change.

Intangible Forms by Shohei Fujimoto

An installation that employs laser light and fog to create striking geometric shapes in the air.

Digital Artwork vs. AI Artwork

Digital art refers to artistic work that uses technology as part of the creative process, this includes digital painting, 3D modeling, digital photography and more. On the other hand, AI art specifically involves the use of machine learning algorithms to create art based on patterns learned from a database of existing works. Digital art is created by human artists that use digital tools where the artist has complete control of the creative process, whereas AI art is made entirely by an algorithm and can be completely unpredictable.

Both forms rely heavily on technology and push boundaries of traditional artistic methods, however they differ significantly in the creative process and roles of the artist, while digital art can be considered an extension of traditional art, AI art represents a complete new approach of technology and creativity that needs to be regulated and shaped to help artists instead of negatively affect them.

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