Returning to Digital Art as a Traditional Artist & NFTs

Sometimes I do some digital art and think to myself, “Man, this is way easier. No paint to clean up, no brushes to scrub, not palette to scrap. I don’t have to go to the store to refill paint nor blow away in the wind carrying an awkward rectangle (a huge issue every time). I don’t have to spend half the time painting mixing colors,” ectera. But then, I get off my lazy butt and get a painting set-up.

Reddit Gets Drawn Portrait Painting by Karolina Szablewska 2022 Affinity Designer
A portrait study from a Reddit Gets Drawn photo. A painting I may not have done to save materials. Want a similar portrait? You can get one from my art commissions page.

Five minutes in, I remember why I keep doing traditional art as the joy of painting fills my brain with endorphins. There is something very satisfying in working with your hands, smelling the mediums you use, seeing and feeling the paint squish and slide under your brush. There is something very satisfying about mixing a color from scratch, or tweaking it to be just right on your own.

A lot of the time, I paint in silence, too. A rare luxury nowadays to completely disconnect.

Why I didn’t make digital art

The past year or so, I picked up digital art again because I have an iPad. Quite honestly, the software for painting is no longer painful garbage to use which used to be a major deterrent. So far, I prefer a mix of Affinity Designer & ProCreate.

I find it ironic that digital painting strives to return to the same feeling as traditional painting. Tablets and pens try imitate the feel of a pen or brush and the experience of drawing and painting directly on a canvas or paper. The most promising technology I spotted recently gets closer and closer to using e-ink screens (the sort you see on black & white e-readers) for digital art technology, which will truly create the feel of using something more “real” rather than virtual and likely give better color accuracy. It’s unbelievably frustrating to have your digital art look different on every screen and then print out very different.

Returning to Digital Art as a Traditional Artist & NFTs by Karolina Szablewska
Experimenting with using plenty of texture, bold colors, and quickly changing color ideas – a simple task in digital art, a tedious chore in traditional art.

It’s refreshing to compare the two on a more level playing field now. One of the original reasons I dropped digital art was that it actually took me longer to paint because the tools were so glitchy and inefficient, which shouldn’t be the case.

Two major downfalls of digital art in the early 2000s were: it took up too many computer resources to do a sufficiently large image for print and trying to draw smooth lines was close to impossible because stylus smoothing technology did not exist at all. Unless you had the fanciest Wacom tablet with the best pen and watched your RAM & CPU like your computer is on life support, you had a hard time. You would get jagged lines and programs crashing after 14 hours of work (true story). You’d find digital artists zooming into pixel level cleaning up and redrawing curves over and over for hours. What a waste of time.

Returning to Digital Art as a Traditional Artist & NFTs by Karolina Szablewska

In general, it used to be very tedious and technical to paint on the computer. Nowadays, there is definitely plenty of convenience and efficiency in picking digital art for creating no waste product or physical painting to store and easy experimenting and changes. The fact all I need fits and runs in a tablet that sits on my lap like a book I can bring anywhere and that can store an infinite amount of paintings is quite amazing. It’s liberating to do many painterly sketches and not have to feel like I waste a lot of materials.

Digital art can be extremely clean, graphical, and the many shorthand aids for technical skills like anatomy, perspective, and 3D form mean it can be incredibly rendered. Lastly, it can be true to the medium, like when embracing pixel art. It is definitely a superior medium for animation just for simple efficiency.

As a Traditional Artist doing Digital Art

As an interdisciplinary traditional artist, my perspective for any medium is the medium should do what it does best. I am not the sort of artist who will pick up watercolor and paint with it thickly like it’s supposed to be arcylic, or draw with graphite to be as dark as possible when it is not charcoal.

Returning to Digital Art as a Traditional Artist & NFTs by Karolina Szablewska
Bold colors in my lineart is something now part of my style. In digital, I can push these colors to intensity and vibrancy hard to achieve with traditional mediums.

Likewise with digital art, there is some degree of traditional art imitation it can do, but at the end of the day: It’s digital. I use brushes which mimic traditional brushes, however the imitation ends there. I don’t try recreate a real oil painting, pastel, or pencil look, although I am trying to stay within my art style. I collage textures, use very unnatural colors in my line art, use blending modes to bring out strange effects. This sort of digital painting is more alike to the mixed mediums approach of letting go what a medium should look like.

Personally, my biggest concern is it looking like my art style so it looks like I made it, which is more tradition.

Morning Glories and Angel Dragons digital art by karolina szablewska procreate
Angel dragons sitting on vines of Morning Glories, a type of purple flower. Painted in Procreate and Affinity Designer. ~2021

I am saving the lineart for these paintings to be part of an adult coloring book in the future. If you’re interested to get these downloadable and get a book in the future, consider becoming a patron.

Why NFTs?

Perhaps the biggest problem with digital art is that the fine art world has failed over and over to give it the same value as traditional paintings, like several million dollar Van Goghs. Besides the cost of services of producing an image (art commission), a digital painting just isn’t worth anything simply because it is digital despite the fact the amount of skill required to paint and create beautiful digital art is no different. It’s a file on a computer that can be copied and printed out willy-nilly. There’s no one-of-a-kind aspect to it that gives traditional paintings much of their value, even when an artist establishes a reputable career. This is a sad objective fact, not a criticism.

northern griffon fantasy digital painting by karolina szablewska affinity designer
8×10 proportions, digital painting in Affinity Designer. Mythical griffin inspired by Northern animal themes. ~2022

Frankly when talking about NFTs, this is where the technology could really shine because it will give each file uniqueness and authenticity. If you’ve been looking at NFTs, you probably feel like me where the current market feels like a gratuitous scam and money-grab. NFTs are a great direction for digital art, but the concept is so incredibly far away from maturing into what I think it will become, which will be partially an art market for professional digital artists. Right now at best, it is an invest market purely for trading ETH or bitcoin or a collectibles market (think Beanie Babies and old school trading cards), but nowhere near a digital art market.

It is a very controversial space because of environmental concerns and exploitation, which I’m calling necessary growing pains. It’s a space with the grace of a grungy teenager and a whiff of moonshine. I think, if you decide to buy anything — do your research into the artist just as you would with a traditional painting. Don’t just go buy an NFT because every NFT isn’t equally valuable (I’d argue, most aren’t at all).

Returning to Digital Art as a Traditional Artist & NFTs by Karolina Szablewska
8×10 proportions, digital painting in Affinity Designer. Mythical griffin inspired by Northern animal themes. ~2022

I decided to make NFTs anyway, because a real digital art market is the direction I see NFTs going, I think digital paintings should have value, and as a professional artist, I think my NFTs will have value in the future – be that 10, 20 years from now when the market has matured. Is this good or bad? I don’t know. I am observing and not passing judgement, although leave me a comment what you think. One judgement I placed so far: They’re not going away, just like silly bitcoin didn’t.

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