Digital illustration was part of a revolution that changed almost any aspect of life. There was a shift from the manual to the automated, machine-driven labour. Many people look back with nostalgia to those days when everything, from a shoe to a building was constructed with that skilled dedication of real human beings. However poetic and nice were those days, there is nothing which seems that is going to drive this trend in reverse. One of the aspects of life that was caught in this revolution was the way art was done, in particular, illustration.
One of the most prolific use of digital illustrations
is for the creation of wallpapers
Are digital illustrations works of art? Certainly, there is wide range of quality and artistic value in digital illustration. Most well-distributed digital illustrations, such as those found in published books, advertisements, animated motion pictures, etc. are still created by fully-fletched artists, not just computer gurus. Such artists would have presumably started illustration using traditional tools like pencils and water-colours. One piece of evidence of this may be the touch of traditional / vintage character that is sometimes present in many digital illustrations. Such characteristics may be important for an illustration to be commercially successful, because traditional illustrations are closer to what most people consider pure art. Therefore such traditional strokes give digital illustrations that added value of being considered art work by most viewers.
Apart from being part of this digital revolution, digital illustration offers several advantages which accelerate such a trend. If one had to generalise the benefits of computer-aided illustration, one realises that such illustrations could be fast to produce, are easier to store and edit. They also provide that advantages of being easier to integrate in the medium for which they were created, such as a magazine or newspaper. Some just look sleek and modern, and for some people, these are desirable traits. Finally, after all, you can still create a traditional looking digital illustration with today’s software. In a few words, it’s convenience that seems to be driving this digitisation trend.
Front page of the catalogue for Zammit Tabona's exhibition Fearful Symmetries
On the other hand, traditional illustration may not be dead yet, because for the time being, they do offer some advantages. They portray better the artistic skill of the creator, can feature textures and brush strokes, and are less prone to copyright theft. One illustrator / artist who did not abandon traditional illustration is the renowned Kenneth Zammit Tabona. His most characteristic style is that of traditional watercolour and ink paintings. His work featured in many exhibitions, magazines, books as well as on the labelled of local wine bottles (Zammit Tabona, 2011).
Illustration for Sunday Times (Malta)
Property supplement from 2005.
On the other hand, when Maltese illustrator Steve Bonello commented on the issue of digital illustrations, he said that when illustration become his job, it was almost inevitable to avoid using digital applications to create his illustrations, even though he admits that this has its drawbacks. The efficiency of digital applications like Adobe Photoshop, have both a corrupting and magical aspects according to the local artist. The corrupting aspect of using digital applications is that using these tools makes the artist rusty with pen and paper techniques, such as traditional drawing. Even handwriting degrades. Also, when considering that with digital applications, one can undo, copy, paste, erase, etc. then drawing with ink becomes like a minefield, because a mistake, a drop of ink or a pen malfunction can ruin the work and would have to be created from scratch. When considering illustration as a job, rather than as art for art’s sake, such issues become important.
In any case, Bonello admits the love for traditional illustration is still strong: “a stroke or line on a pc screen can never quite compare to a stroke with a pen…doing cross-hatching with my lovely Faber-Castell technical pens and gradually building up a shaded gradient is not only fun but almost therapeutic” (Bonello, 2011).
Certainly, some illustrations which have been created using digital applications by fully-fletched artists are still authentic works of art. Maybe traditional drawings are more valuable, due to the fact that digital illustration may never quite reach the same degree of authenticity due to efficient distribution of digital files and the ease with which they seem to be made with. It is difficult not to compare and contrast the two, however, the current situation is that of a close relationship between traditional and digital illustration, a relationship that as long as pencils and papers exist, will also persist.
Bonello, S., 2011. Blog from a small island. [Online] (1) Available at: http://www.stevebonellocartoons.com/2/category/drawing/2.html [Accessed 28 March 2012].
Wallcoo, 2006. Cool Guys - FreeStlye Cool Character Illustrations :Freestyle Street Boy - Stylish Cool Peopel illustration Wallpaper. [Online] (1) Available at: http://www.wallcoo.net/cartoon/freestyle/html/wallpaper19.html [Accessed 28 March 2012].
Zammit Tabona, K., 2011. Kenneth. [Online] (1) Available at: https://www.google.com.mt/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=fearful+symmetries [Accessed 28 March 2012].