Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is It Art or Is It Digital?

Is it Art or is it Digital?

Part II:  From Pixels to PIXAR

In my last post I discussed my late son Scott's pixel magic in creating art and animation for the 1992 computer game, "The Last Files of Sherlock Holmes".  Here I will show a progression of my own digital experimentation using the medium that has exploded from 256 colors and a 320 x 200 screen resolution to 16.8 million colors and the screen resolution I am currently using on my old 32-bit machine, 1024 x 768.  I am about to set up my new 64-bit computer and am ready for the next level!

While I was still working with 320 x 200 I perfected my abilities learned from son Scott for other projects, a scene from one pictured at the top of this post and others directly below.  I was lucky to have a deeper frame to work with for these illustrations.  The Sherlock Holmes game required about a third of the area below the scene to be reserved for game buttons. 

What we artists have today at our fingertips for digital expression is light years ahead of what we had in the early 90s.  And even now when we have arrived at this point, I continue to sense some hesitation when talking with traditional painters about digital artwork, or especially digital "painting".  I understand their loyalty to a medium that will always be in a very special class by itself, but for me, the digital world is more exciting because it has dramatically expanded the box of artistic tools available in the form of the scanner and  exquisite paint programs.  It also can be a liberation from the limits, expense and clutter of paint, brushes and canvas.  Before I had a scanner I simply drew right into the computer on an early version of a Wacom Tablet using a beautifully intuitive program called Fractal Design Painter.  I now own the newest incarnation of this program in Corel's Painter 10.  The original was much simpler and easier to use, but that's the way things are and I have to accept that.  *Sigh*.  Here are a couple of illustrations done with that earlier program at a 640 x 480 screen resolution.  The scene with children was for a book illustration and the one below that was for an animated computer storybook background.

At this point I am experimenting with all kinds of digital manipulation and painting programs to achieve various effects.  To begin, I either scan in my sketches or my own photographs to establish the basis for the new piece of artwork.  Digital illustration can look essentially the same as traditionally produced work, or, it can look quite different.  Examples below include a portrait that appears as if it been done at a conventional drawing board.  I used my own brushes created in PaintShop Pro to virtually sculpt and "paint" these portraits, about 30 of them done for book illustrations.  Compare the portrait to the kaleidoscopic horse which was done using special effect digital  brushes, and would not be easily concocted with ordinary paints or inks.  Using large and small program brushes along with special settings, I rolled over the contours of the horse until I had the colors and effect I wanted.

A few years ago I took a huge number of digital photos back East and lately have been turning them into digital "paintings".  The Harbormaster below captures a watercolor effect and more mood than the original photo.


While visiting Washington DC, I snapped quite a few interesting shots including the Little Street Cafe below.  Directly below the photo is my rendering of the scene as a colored drawing, looking a little like an etching.  Interesting textures and softer colors add charm to the image.

All of my experimentation has brought me to the point where I am ready to begin some very complex digital illustrations for an already published novel: Lee Hogan's "Belarus" which will be an online audio/visual presentation; a very new way to tell a story.  Other individuals and companys have explored and triumphed at other higher levels of this medium.  So in a journey of artistic digital evolution the computer world has come from lowly pixels to the heights of spectacular PIXAR Animation.  Is it Art? Some people may not readily embrace the new artform, but I think the many amazing examples from simple illustrations to animated masterpieces speak for themselves. 




  1. You've proven that digital can be as beautiful as oils!

  2. Note: Black and white portrait of Hippocrates (above) is copyright protected by Mastery Press, Phoenix, Arizona 2009.

  3. I am very impressed by your art there Elinor, it´s like an exibition!

  4. Marilyn Carlson SimonNovember 19, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    El, I find your exploration into digital art intriguing. You've come a long way since RISD!

  5. I think all your art is beautiful, Ellie. Not everyone can give their work a soul like you can.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments!

  7. hello Elinor. I enjoyed this post, especially the horse and digital environments. I believe digital art is just as relevant as any other art form and everything still comes down to artistic intent (the artist's hand and mind). Thanks for your invitation for a profile. I would love to be profiled on your blog and consider it an honor, dear.

  8. What an interesting article, Elinor! Your digital massage really changed the original images, adding mood, interest, charm etc. I'm really impressed! You write very well too, very clear and concise. Well done! I will look forward to reading more!

  9. Wonderful blog. Your work is very good. I started with fractal painter many moons ago. I now use Painter 11 and I love it but learning curve is steep!

  10. I am very glad to read your thoughts and view your artworks and your son's work. I transitioned from traditional watercolor landscapes and illustrations to ditigal 3D years ago, and even though drawing is still a part of my life, I'll argue in favor of digital all the way. Feel free to visit!

  11. I enjoy your manipulations probably because you are so open and truthful that they have crossed over from and are no longer simply photographs. Your honesty is certainly appreciated. I work hard to get my photos "right" in the camera so they require little if any post-production. Keep up the good work!

  12. Elinor,
    you are doing fantastic job; I mean both, your own art works as well as your writing about it. What you have shared with us in this post encourages me so much to work with greater confidence with digital manipulation than before. I have grew up as a traditional media artist and, well ..., yes, I must admit to feel sometimes some sort of unease at turning back to traditional techniques. But you are right that we can't deny technology advancement and it is better to make good use of what it offers us. I love your works shown above, the b&w portait and street cafe in particular.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections:)