HomeNFTsGuide to Digital Painting | MakersPlace Editorial

Guide to Digital Painting | MakersPlace Editorial

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Digital painting blends the fluid spontaneity of traditional painting with the precision and possibilities of digital technology. This art form captures the essence of both worlds, offering artists a new medium to explore their creativity — not to mention a way to make work outside of a studio or away from a clutch of art supplies.

This discussion does not cover the early forms of computer art from the 1950s and 60s, which utilized photography, plotters, and other devices, although they are significant in digital art’s history. 

The first hint of digital art’s future happened in 1963 when Ivan Sutherland developed Sketchpad, a pioneering program allowing graphical manipulation, leading to significant developments like the Rand Tablet and subsequent graphical tablets, now essential tools for digital artists.

The journey of digital art, once skeptical within fine art circles (and still so to a dwindling extent), mirrors the historical resistance to new mediums among a class that applauds itself for innovation. Yet, it has gained undeniable momentum, transforming from a novelty to a recognized art form, partly thanks to the advent of user-friendly software like MacPaint, MS Paint, and KidPix in the 80s followed by the revolutionary capabilities of programs like Adobe Photoshop, which was released on February 19, 1990.

As digital painting has evolved — and it continues to do so — it became a mature, expressive medium, capable of replicating the nuances of traditional painting while also opening new frontiers of creativity by embracing the fact of its digital-ness.

Today, we’ll take a look at x-number of artists whose practice centers around digital painting. 

It would be silly and futile to try to cover the range of styles and practices under the rubric of digital painting. Instead, we’ll cover a handful of artists whose digital work could be mistaken for traditional painting followed by a range of artists and works that embrace the aesthetic luxuries that working digitally affords.


One of the most compelling reasons for digital painting’s existence is giving artists a full suite of image-making tools on the go. In Alexandria Neonakis’s many digital landscapes, she uses her full expressive powers as an artist in a traditional painterly way, which is to say that if you were to tell me this was, in fact, an oil painting, I’d likely not be surprised. 

South Iceland by Alexandria Neonakis

In a series of releases for MakersPlace, Spanish painter Antonio García Villarán painted multiple works juxtaposing the styles and subject matter of famous works of art, such as a black and white painting of San Sebastián by El Greco recreated with Yayoi Kusama’s red polka dots. These were first painted traditionally by García Villarán’s masterful hand and then reproduced digitally, again, by hand. 


The Pop Martyr by Antonio García Villarán

In an even more epic way, celebrated artist Sam Spratt uses digital painting to achieve a scale that would otherwise be, if not impossible, then truly daunting and onerous. 

His epic Bruegel the Elder-meets-the-apocalypse painting The Monument Game spans 20,000 pixels in width, which, if converted into inches on a sufficiently large display, could stretch to more than 22 feet without any dip in resolution. Working on this scale allowed Spratt the luxury to create detailed characters and narratives deep in the background, which enabled the first-of-its-kind interactive release. 


The Monument Game by Sam Spratt

Like most of the artists in this article, SpaceCase (AKA ADHD) paints both digitally and with traditional materials. While the above looks very much like a mixed-media painting — perhaps oil in the darker areas, maybe watercolor in the splotchy red zone in the upper half, and pastels for the line markings — this piece is entirely digital. 

For all of that, there are still certain lines — such as the big black squiggle there in the middle — that are unmistakably digital. Even the hesitancy in the line-making calls to mind the uncertain orientation of a confused person with an Etch-a-Sketch. 


100623 from Sleep Studies by SpaceCase (AKA ADHD)

Similarly, on-chain art world darling Jack Kaido revisits abstract expressionism with a digital gleam in his eye. The piece below, [nostalgia.zip], introduces digital precision (in the form of small grids) to a style that has eschewed anything but abandon. The mark-making on the piece floats between the traditional feel of a paintbrush or pastel, an abstracted version of the linework of lettering-focused street artists, and the impossible precision of digital. 


[nostalgia.zip] by Jack Kaido

It might be controversial to call XCOPY a digital painter if only because I’ve only ever seen him referred to as a glitch artist. But without splitting hairs about what makes something glitch art, XCOPY’s work has in fact been effeectively distilled into two components: image and motion. (The writer of the linked article defines it as “illustration” and “motion,” but I take issue with the specificity of the word illustration, which denotes something explained or clarified with helpful imagery.)

With an elegant balance between roughness and refined execution, a bold color palette almost always presented on a bed of black, and a simplified style that leaves room for the viewer’s imagination, a pre-computer XCOPY would’ve certainly made a fine neo-expressionist. His line work is more often analog-feeling than digital, but his work could not be made by any other means because of its animated elements.


This is clearly money laundering by XCOPY

You might be more convinced by the more obviously “painterly” work of Aditya, whose work evokes Edward Hopper, German Expressionism, and XCOPY’s manual glitchiness. Going one step further in the combination of digital painting and animation, Aditya’s recent four-panel works create a dizzying choreography of movement with multiple animated images, and the artist will also animate their figurative works to make the piece something of a rotoscopic hybrid of painting and cinema.  


a saturday afternoon by Aditya

Digital painting isn’t always 100% digital, though. Painter and musician Jake Andrew comes from a traditional painting background, creating large-scale abstract expressionist works with oil, acrylic, spray paint, et al. Likewise, he creates purely digital work using Procreate. But he will also scan his traditional paintings and manipulate them with digital tooling, as in FULL CIRCLE, in which he turned a traditional painting into a sound-reactive animation that responds a score composed by Andrew himself.  


FULL CIRCLE by Jake Andrew

Similarly, painter and muralist Victor Reyes translates his traditional and digital sensibilities in both directions. He might create a piece digitally, then either print and paint directly on the digital work or reproduce the digital “sketch” with real paint. Or he may use images of his physical work as a slice or layer to incorporate into a new digital work. Below, A PRERECORDED DAWN, uses the latter approach.


A PRERECORDED DAWN by Victor Reyes

Digital painting is the perfect bridge between traditional and digital techniques, familiar and intuitive to anyone who’s held a pencil or brush and far more portable and economical than an easel and canvas and bag of brushes and paints. From a collector’s perspective, the distinct appeal lies in the blend of a cutting-edge medium and an irreplaceable human touch.


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