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Traditional vs. Digital Artists

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Where to begin on this topic! Maybe it has already been discussed. I am a self-taught artist using traditional forms of media. How do I stand out and stack up against those who can create work more quickly and most importantly EDIT their work quickly and cheaply using digital tools? Do you think people can tell the difference? What forms do you think editors...and readers prefer?
#1 - January 06, 2015, 06:06 PM

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I don't think you need to be concerned, if your work measures up in terms of quality. It's not a "digital vs. traditional" situation at all, but more of a continuum, with respected, published, top-drawer illustrators working everywhere along it: some do their work entirely digital, some entirely traditional, but many are incorporating both digital and traditional methods into their work. In some areas, such as people working for mass market publishers or textbook publishers, you may find a predominance of digital, but in trade, you'll find the whole range.

It used to be fairly obvious when people worked digitally, but that's not true anymore, and in my experience, editors, art directors, librarians, teachers, and children don't care how the art was created. They just want good art.

So I wouldn't worry about not being digital. What you should focus on is continuing to develop your skills -- being self-taught, you do have a disadvantage against most (I would say all but there may be exceptions I don't know) illustrators in the children's book field, who have bachelor's or master's degrees in illustration. It's not that you need a degree as a piece of paper in order to get hired, but they benefited from the training they got while getting their degree. You might look into taking courses at a school like RISD or Pratt or CalArts, to help you level the playing field.

Good luck, and welcome to a wonderful if challenging industry...
#2 - January 06, 2015, 07:16 PM
Harold Underdown

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I took fine arts and graphic design in college,  but my fine arts diploma program was basically a joke, and aside from the life drawing and art history classes, was pretty useless. I came out of it not having any idea how to use any medium other than a pencil. I have to say I was really disappointed, there was so much I wanted to learn and they didn't teach it.

I now work in watercolor and ink, and am just starting to play with goauche as well. I learned by trial and error, library books, and google searches. I spent 4 or 5 years learning craft and industry before sending out a query. Got an agent, and a year after that landed a series as author/illustrator with Scholastic.

I am basically a self-taught writer and illustrator. So it does happen! Whether you attend school, or teach yourself, it does take a lot of time, though.

And welcome to the boards! :welcome

Oh, I've also been looking into the School of Visual Storytelling. I haven't taken any workshops yet but have my eye on a couple of them. I hear they are really good.

http://schoolofvisualstorytelling.bigcartel.com/products
#3 - January 06, 2015, 08:48 PM
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Well, Artemesia, thank you for gently pointing out that I was over-generalizing... though I do think that entirely self-taught illustrators are more the exception than the rule.

The best illustrators, like you have done, never stop learning.
#4 - January 06, 2015, 08:52 PM
Harold Underdown

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I do agree with you, Harold. But I wanted to add that even the self-taught illustrators need to spend many years learning their trade in lieu of formal training, so both paths take time. I definitely feel like I have so much more to learn!
#5 - January 06, 2015, 10:34 PM
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KUNG POW CHICKEN 1-4, Scholastic 2014 :chicken

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My son is an illustrator and I am constantly amazed at how many things he needs to know besides his skills in art - like image placement on the page, deciding on single or double spreads, how to handle picture and text together, what resolutions publishers want, how to tell a story with his art (not just draw a nice picture), and the list goes on.

He works in traditional forms of art, but also uses lots of digital. The really big advantage (as far as this non-illustrator can see) with digital is that you can change color palettes with a click of a button until you get what you want. You can lay your art over textures and change them with a click of a button. It's pretty dang amazing, but there's quite a learning curve involved with the software.

He has a group of illustrator friends from school who are a tremendous help to each other, technically and emotionally, and who have enjoyed a fair degree of success. Are there others you can join with for support?
#6 - January 07, 2015, 01:21 AM

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I, like Artemesia have a degree in art, however it is in Fashion and Graphic design, not illustration, and not children's illustration specifically. There are many artists who are of the belief that their art schooling degree is a joke. (I'm not one of them, I just didn't focus on illustration in college.)

What I tell my art students (I teach beginner watercolor classes to adults) and those new to children's illustration is to draw every day, especially from life. The best artists I know are always striving to improve their craft, and carry a sketch book with them every where, and more importantly USE it constantly.

Media is less important than the skill of story telling in your images.

I use both traditional and digital media, and at this point, I don't think I can separate my art into either process.

The best thing I ever did for my art skill was continue to take classes. Classes on painting, classes on storytelling, classes on illustration, life drawing classes, classes on lighting...well you get the picture. So even with formal training, the learning and striving to improve craft never ends.
#7 - January 07, 2015, 05:29 AM
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I was trained in traditional media through my college degree (in advertising design with a lot of illustration and art classes). My education was invaluable in learning composition, experimenting with many types of media and styles, studying masters, meeting deadlines for assignments, and probably one of the most important things I developed was a tough skin. My illustration instruction would pull assignments off the wall during critique sessions and stomp on them if they were that bad -- or if the student didn't put in enough effort or for various reasons. You've got to be able to take criticism and learn to apply that to make your work better. Those are only a very few things I learned in school. But that was only the beginning. Now I paint pretty much all digitally with traditional techniques. I am always learning, struggling with composition, lighting, textures, getting the right brush, and just the right color and value. I'm pretty much always unhappy with an illustration by the time I'm done with it because I learned more and could do better. I think if you don't feel that with your art, you're not improving and learning.

Through my career as a designer and illustrator, I've seen a huge shift in digital illustration. When I first started showing my portfolio to art directors, they were amazed to learn it was all done digitally since I paint with my own brushes, color palette, and textures. Now, there are so many digital styles and it has become much more acceptable. I do love have Undo and having the ease of making revisions, and I like that I don't have a mess of paint everywhere. When I'd paint with oils, somehow it ended up everywhere.

So, with all this rambling, I'm not sure if I've answered any questions. Be true to yourself and draw what you love and in a technique you love, and others will respond.
#8 - January 07, 2015, 06:14 AM
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My art education was limited to one semester at a Community College and all of my high school years. AND, I went to the School of Hard Knocks. It's a pretty good school if you clean up the spills, learn, and go on. I also went through a Mentor Program through our SCBWI Chapter with a highly respected art director as my mentor. Plus, some great critique groups. What's really important is studying recently published picture books, noting how the illustrator moves the story, moves the camera, acts out the scenes through characters and keeps the work consistent . . . then having polished work of your own and applying what you've observed that works for you.

I use both traditional and digital. I start with the drawing, paint with watercolors and gouache and finish out with digital. When it came to revisions, though my work is mainly traditional, the digital was a deadline savior. Truly. I found ways to do the revisions requested through Photoshop instead of starting all over again. Some scenes were very detailed and took time to complete. One of the most difficult scenes I did under contract had something that wasn't caught in the first go around with the sketch work. It was noticed after the piece was finished. Photoshop was my savior.

As long as it's seamless, it's perfectly acceptable.
#9 - January 07, 2015, 07:05 PM
« Last Edit: January 07, 2015, 07:09 PM by Cynthia Kremsner »
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