It’s time for artists to embrace digital

With the right tools, old traditions can be preserved and new possibilities envisioned

By Ashraf Ghori

Art AG wall

 

For artists world over, the canvas is changing. Even the most immovable traditionalists are grudgingly starting to accept that, just as the automobile superseded the horse and email supplanted snail mail, digital forms are assuming their rightful place in the realm of art.

But I firmly believe that, unlike horses and snail mail, we do not have to bridge a gap between conventional and digital media; rather, we should look to eliminate the gap altogether and create a smooth spectrum of harmony between the traditional and the technological.

This was my position when I spoke recently at World Art Dubai. I shared my own experiences as I had migrated from my comfort zone to a digital workspace, where I could create just as freely as I had done previously. My aim was to instruct and motivate, by making my fellow artists aware that digital tools do not need to be cold and cumbersome. As with waters and oils, practice can make one an expert and while concepts such as hardware and software might appear to lack the warmth and passion inherent in our craft, beauty, as always, comes from inside the artist.

So I believe it is entirely unnecessary to take sides on the issue of traditional vs digital. It should not be a battle; or even a debate. My experiences taught me that mastering digital techniques allows the artist to expand their comfort zone, as opposed to actually leaving it.

And the journey can be rewarding. Of course, just as conventional art requires careful selection of the right brush, the right pencil, the right canvas, so success in the digital world demands similar evaluation.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, I found, was ideal for what I wanted to achieve. I suppose many in my field look upon it as something you use in a business context, but as I evaluated it alongside alternative tools, I came to a different realisation. As with any tool, the practitioner needs to study how it is put together to know if it is up to the task at hand. With the Surface Pro 4, I noted that its screen resolution and size were optimal. You need a hefty size of screen if you want your work to breathe and 12.3 inches meets this demand. And the Pro 4’s pixel density is 267 ppi (pixels per inch), which, I discovered, is greater than any of its market rivals.

 

 

But perhaps the most significant aspect of the Pro 4 for artists, is the versatility of its pen. When we leap from traditional to digital techniques, our greatest concern is likely the loss of that tactile sensation we get when we apply our stylus to the canvas. Be it a pencil, chalk or brush, we feel a connection between our creativity and the surface we are laying it upon. It is encouraging then, that the Surface Pro 4’s pen recognises 1,024 levels of pressure and, even more significantly, that it is able to detect shifts in that pressure during a single stroke. I believe devices such as these are helping to dissolve the resistance and misconceptions surrounding digital art. Changing the minds of traditionalists in any field is never easy, but once doubters are exposed, first hand, to emerging tools, I expect they will start to get excited about the possibilities open to them. The reason our species moved on from snail mail and horses was not arbitrary – we did it to become faster and more efficient. And more effective.

But, just as in the traditional era, even after you select the right tools, you still have some practice ahead of you. Some of the most common pitfalls in digital art involve not only a poor choice of platform, but a lack of awareness of how your vision will look in its final version.

Experimentation is key, as it is all too easy to become confused, or even demoralised by the sheer number of menu options present in some graphics packages. At World Art Dubai 2016 I discussed the process I use in my own work, from conceptualisation to initial layout, and ultimately to the stages I follow in building the piece into a final compelling product. Digital artists enjoy so many advantages, not least in the pre-production phase of a project. When working with software canvases, it is considerably easier and faster to stage quick compositions using obscure references for shape, form, lighting and colour.

An exceptional artist is most commonly one who has knowingly thrown themselves into unknown abysses for the sheer joy of finding out what happens next. They are explorers, adventurers and pioneers. They do not fear embarrassment or ridicule. They challenge, they persist and they achieve. The flexibility and accessibility of digital art is perfect for such mavericks.

 

- AG