Just over a week ago, I read an interesting little post on Jen Pringle's blog about the Brushes app for the iphone, in which she expresses her reservations about the quality of images produced using this and similar programs (you can read the original post here.)
It got me thinking a lot, especially when she confessed to feeling like an 'aging technophobe'. It's certainly true that people who criticize technology often risk looking like backwards fogies who are perturbed by unfamiliar new developments. However, I think that Jen's post raises some valid (and important) concerns about artwork made using drawing programs. It got me thinking so much that what started out as a short reply suddenly turned into a small essay... and as the thing was practically typed already, I thought I would share it with you all and see what you thought!
Though I can certainly see the merit and convenience of having a digital sketchbook wherever you go, for me it will never have the same range of expression and mark-making as good old pencil and paper. It seems to me that digital drawing and painting eliminates the gesture and physicality of the artist or illustrator. For instance, the author of non-digital work can often be identified because the subtleties of their drawing style are recognised, ‘their hand’ is literally present in the piece. However, when you draw with (for example) the brush tool in illustrator, the quality of the line produced is the same for whoever is wielding it. That is not to say that such tools do not offer the artist choice, but that the choices that they represent are limited by the application's programming; a drawing made in real life presents literally limitless possibilities. Furthermore, over time, artists develop a relationship with their medium and thus have a unique way of using it. My concern is that this crucial relationship between artist and material may be lost if people resort to using these programs too much.
It would be easy for one to react by condemning all digital work as un-artistic, and eschew all but the purely handmade. But this would be a grave mistake, especially given that even ‘handmade’ images are often require digital manipulation at some point in their inception. Furthermore, there exist illustrators like Dave McKean, who seamlessly blends handmade drawings and digital imagery with stunning results. For me, this kind of work brings together the best of both worlds: beautiful hand drawn images with all the possibilities that software offers.
That does not mean that purely digital work is without merit, however, as the identity of the artist can be expressed through means other than medium. Certainly, other factors such as the content of the work and the ideas of the author are always important as expressions of identity. And as technology becomes more advanced and sensitive to human interaction, it seems only a matter of time until a drawing mat is developed that can respond in as many diverse manners as can paint and pencil. But one cannot deny that the traditional method of drawing is a useful and beneficial tool for all artists, even those that choose to make their work digitally. As for me, I will be sticking with my trusty sketchbook and pen for the time being.
If I've not totally bored you into giving up reading by this point then I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this post! I am really interested to see people's reactions and ideas about this, so let me know what you think. Take care folks and have a good night!