View Full Version : Does anyone know how to distinguish digital from traditional?

07-10-2017, 11:35 AM

Digital art can be really hyper-realistic but also really traditional looking so I was wondering if some more experienced artists had any tips or tricks on how to spot what's digital and what's not without checking in with the artist? Like what if you can't find the source for a beautiful picture online?

Some of the art in the link above at times seems very much like traditional art.

07-11-2017, 02:44 PM
It's impossible in some cases to tell if it was created digitally or created with "natural material" and then photographed, scanned or otherwise digitized.

If you take a look at my website, I have watercolors mixed in with digital paintings, purposely to make the point, that it doesn't matter how it was produced, it's art and it is hand rendered regardless of whether it's oil, watercolor or pixels that create the colors and forms. It's also difficult to tell sometimes if something is just super realistically rendered, of if it was a manipulated photo or painted over a photo.

I've mixed things up by touching up digitally painting printed on canvas and recently, I had a friend ask me to touch up a photo she had printed on a canvas. She was disappointed by the quality of the printing, she felt the colors just weren't "right". we went in with a few highlights with some acrylic paint, and she loves it now.
If you are entering a show, it makes a difference, as many shows categorize work by the media, and many do not accept photography and mistakenly group digital work in with photography.

So I guess the bottom line is, yes, you really need to check with the artist to be sure how something was created. Much of the digital software will very closely emulate natural artists materials.

07-11-2017, 05:17 PM
Interesting question. My first response is what is the reason behind the question? Is it that you want to acquire a refined sensibility that allows you to see some subtle differences between various mediums or is it that you think that oil paintings are real Art and that digital Art is somehow fake and that you don't want to be fooled. Any Art that you see on line is digital even if it a photo of a painting on canvas because anything that we see on our computer screens has to be digitised in order to get there. So I would say that there is no difference. Oh and by the way I don't see anything that is even remotely traditional in any of the 3rd rate illustrations in the link that you posted.

07-12-2017, 11:37 AM
Well, I think there are some wonderful paintings on that page and some are not obviously digital. It can be hard to tell sometimes.

As an artist, I'm always curious about how a painting was done. When I would read children's books to my son I would always go back and look at the illustrations and try to figure out what it was done with. lol

07-12-2017, 07:05 PM
Obviously, we have different opinions on the quality of the work in the link, and that is ok, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.....
But looking at the link the second time, these are categorized as digital. But the question How can you tell when you are looking at a photo online? the answer is, IMHO, you can't.... and it doesn't really matter -again IMHO. (in my humble opinion)

07-12-2017, 08:58 PM
Aside from my opinion about the linked Art. I am stumped by your use of the term traditional. By traditional do you mean Artists who come out of the cultural history of Art or do you mean art that uses age old materials. If we mean cultural history than Artists who are aware of Rembrandt and Frans Halls, Kandinsky and Pollock are the traditionalists.
The Artists in the link seem to be blissfully unaware of the anything to do with the lessons of the past. The great Chuck Berry said "Roll over Beethoven" but at least he knew that there once was a Beethoven. If your an Artist and you don't know who Oskar Schlemmer was than you are not a traditionalist.
So what I'm saying is that it does't matter what materials an Artist uses. A traditional Artist is an Artist that is aware of Art History and follows or rebels against that history.

07-13-2017, 11:35 AM
Traditional is the word many have come to use to describe anything that isn't digital. Perhaps natural would be the better term.

07-13-2017, 05:26 PM
So Earth Artists like Robert Smithson or performance Artists like Vito Acconci would be traditionalists.

07-15-2017, 11:53 AM
Oh Harry. :rolleyes: I'm not going to continue this because words and I barely get along.

07-16-2017, 03:27 PM
I guess I'm just difficult. I once asked Vito Acconci if Ballet was performance Art.
I don't think he liked my question. I did not get a coherent answer.

I'm really not trying to be difficult I think that this is a very basic and important subject. What do we mean by traditional? We have the example of Duchamp who recognised sculptural beauty in a urinal (http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T07/T07573_10.jpg) so he turned it upside down to separate it from it's utilitarian side so that it could be seen aesthetically. I would say that Duchamp was a traditional Artist in that he was an accomplished painter (Nude Descending the Staircase) and he brought his refined sensibility into everything he did. On the other hand there is the example of Thomas Kinkade (https://thomaskinkade.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/prifro11.jpg). He used traditional art materials to create trashy crap without any sense of Art history or any sense of aesthetic awareness. I would say that he was neither a traditionalist nor a non traditionalist he was just a businessman who made and sold pretty baubles.

What I'm trying to say is that it might be OK to speak of traditional Art materials but that art made with traditional material is not necessarily traditional art while Art made out of non traditional materials or no material at all can be traditional Art.

07-21-2017, 10:56 AM
I just took the original poster's question to be, how to tell the difference between digital art and art using traditional materials, oil, acrylics, watercolour, etc. In some cases, it would be obvious but in others quite difficult to tell the difference.


07-21-2017, 04:42 PM
Jason Seiler's work is a great example. It is very "traditional" looking, he uses traditional techniques, but no paint- it's digital.
So he is an example of -you can't tell!
I guess I prefer the term "natural materials, when we are talking about paint, pastel etc, as opposed to digital. Then what happens when someone combines? There are those who scan paintings or drawings and then add digital elements?

09-11-2017, 04:16 PM
Traditional is the word many have come to use to describe anything that isn't digital. Perhaps natural would be the better term.

In today's climate, when discussing mediums, the correct term to use is "Analog" which is the antonym of "Digital".

09-12-2017, 11:21 AM

12-04-2017, 11:35 AM
Questions like this is one of the reasons I put my tablet down and went back to canvas. After mentioning to a friend, good artist in my opinion, that I was painting in digital, he said; that doesn't count. I've had another mention how my digital painting was too good!! And I see his point.

In digital we tend to zoom in and get details that we probably wouldn't in paint. So, if you zoom in on a digital piece, you might see all the spokes on a little tiny wagon wheel where in analog, we would leave more for the imagination.

12-07-2017, 05:54 PM
Ooh, I was so sure I posted a response to this, but it seems to have disappeared.
I'm sorry that you were discouraged from painting on your tablet. I belong to an art association that is very supportive of digital. I've come across the naysayers, but in my experience, once they are exposed to digital art, and understand how it is done, they are much more accepting.
As far as zooming in to get details. I suppose that is true, but when I paint digitally, I tend to be much looser and freer than when I paint in watercolor. I don't zoom in and paint every detail.
As for analog..... I like that, but I'm not sure that "natural Material" artists would get that..... Might be fun though, to be out in a crowd, and when people start talking about oil painting, say..... "you mean analog oils as opposed to digital oils?";) ;)

12-08-2017, 11:05 AM
lol Yeah, I think natural materials or mediums just sounds more... natural.

Don't let anyone discourage you if you enjoy digital painting.

And yes, my digital paintings take way longer than acrylic.

12-08-2017, 05:27 PM
Questions like this is one of the reasons I put my tablet down and went back to canvas. After mentioning to a friend, good artist in my opinion, that I was painting in digital, he said; that doesn't count. I've had another mention how my digital painting was too good!! And I see his point.

In digital we tend to zoom in and get details that we probably wouldn't in paint. So, if you zoom in on a digital piece, you might see all the spokes on a little tiny wagon wheel where in analog, we would leave more for the imagination.

I see the ability to incorporate extreme detail in a "painting" as a benefit of the digital medium, not a disadvantage. Oil paints take longer to dry than acrylic paints do; should I forego painting with acrylics just because they dry faster than their oil based counterpart? Should I feel guilty that it's easier to achieve a smooth gradient with an airbrush when compared to a regular paint brush? Should I stop painting all together because my artist ancestors crafted their own pigments and mediums whereas I can just pick up a new tube at the local store? Each medium an artist uses has it's own set of unique pluses and minuses. The negatives of digital may or may not be the same as acrylic or graphite but rest assured, the digital medium has very real disadvantages that must be addressed before anything worthwhile can be produced.

For example, with digital I have to worry about pixel resolution because a low resolution file will look bad when printed. Resolution can be affected by processor power as well as onboard RAM so the quest for higher spec'ed hardware is never ending. Better hardware means bigger and faster performance.

Two, I have to worry about color calibration on my PC, on my tablet and how those two devices compare to each other. I invested in a professional quality light meter so I could create an accurate color profile to send to my printer. This is a very important step and EVERY digital artist that wants to go to print should own a light meter and know how to calibrate their display.

Third, file management is a big issue with the digital medium. If you're a smart digital artist then you have several back ups of your work in the event of a disaster. Remember, when it comes to digital, it's not necessarily the safety of the physical print we should hyper focus on but rather the digital file itself. If a physical print gets damaged I can always print another but if I lose the digital file then I'm screwed.

Fourth, digital files and their assets can be very large so over time they can fill up a decent sized hard drive. As a result, I spend a fair amount of time managing my external hard drives and their back ups. This is a very crucial stage if you're at all interested in archiving your work.

Fifth, a qualified digital artist needs to know and understand general computer processes. Copying/pasting files, zipping files, emailing files, collecting assets for printers, etc... An analog artist can get by with the most basic of these skills but a digital artist NEEDS to be highly proficient at them.

And sixth, the list of necessary skills required to create decent digital work is both long and difficult. From being comfortable with drawing "on glass" (iPad Pro) to knowing how to effectively use your software of choice, a digital artist is extremely skilled and should be given credit for those skills.

To summarize, I think you are doing yourself a disservice if you stop using a medium because other people don't understand it. Analog painters will never understand the digital process so generally speaking, they will always criticize it.

To the critics of the digital medium I say this... If you like digital use digital but if you like analog mediums then use analog mediums. Believe it or not, but there is enough room in the world for both mediums to exist.

Keep grinding!:thumbsup:

12-09-2017, 10:47 AM
Well said Vincent. Personally, after working in graphic design for so many years, I'm comfortable with the computer end of it, and even sitting at a computer - recently, an artist told me she's not. I've been drawing on a Wacom tablet for many years. The tablet to screen throws some people - I learned teaching- and many have gone to the iPad for the reason. Personally, I don't care for the iPad.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both analog and digital art. I love your statement, "there's enough room in the world for both". I have said to my local art group..... Windsor and Newton is not considering halting production.