What is Digital Art? Understanding Digital Art 101

person drawing using digital tab

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Digital art is the practice of creating and presenting art using technology. It is also known as computer art or multi-media art. It’s dependent on computer-based digital encoding and the electronic storage and processing of information in different formats; images, sounds.

Computers today have become more powerful and portable, allowing more access to the digital world, enabling the industry to grow to a whole new level.

Everything we consume electronically today stands on the backbone of digital art. From the TV shows we watch, advertisements, software, applications, websites and billboards. The survival of all companies’ marketing is dependent on their use of visual art.

To get a deeper understanding, let’s have a look at how it all began.

The History of Digital Art

Who invented digital art? There are a few theories.

history of digital art future waves

The first ever digital artwork piece dates back to 1952, created by Ben Laposky using an oscilloscope to manipulate electronic waves which appeared on a small fluorescent screen.

The piece was known as Oscillon 40.

One of the many unknown digital art facts is that the 1960s is said to be the era in which digital art came to existence, owing to John Whitney’s creation of the world’s first ever piece of art on a computer.

Choreography and Computers

The term digital art was first used in 1980. This is the era when digital art became popular, thanks to the introduction of personal computers.

Computer engineers at the time came up with a paint program known as AARON, which was used by the pioneering digital artist, Harold Cohen, designed to make large drawings on paper sheets placed on the floor. This example of early computer art changed the industry forever.

To get a better understanding of the history and development of digital art, let’s explore its evolution.

The Evolution of Digital Art

Gradual advancements in technology have allowed for tremendous growth in the digital art field. Digital art is created by using a computer and the creation process was suddenly made a whole lot easier.

andy warhole digital art

What is a digital artist? Quite simply, they are the talented people who produce computer art definition images.

Artists have gone from the standard toolkit of brushes and acrylics to the use of light, sound and pixels in the creative process.

Some of the world’s top famous concept artists spanning across eras are Trent Kaniuga, Scott Robertson and Noah Bradley.

The table below examines the transitions in the evolution of digital art.

Contributing Artist



Frieder Nake


Combination of mathematics and art skills to create art

Leon Harmon & Kenneth Knowlton


Used photomosaics to create large images from small prints

Allan Kaprow


Created art based on telecommunication principles

Mona Hatoum & Rachel Whiteread


Use of painting programs

Craig Mullins & Jon Foster



Sarah Ludey

21st century

Use of pixels & animated gifs

The Digital Art Movement

You can’t define digital art without looking at the digital art movement. At the beginning of digital art, digital artists preferred to keep their work secret. This was not out of fear, rather they wanted to keep it exclusive.

Through the Internet, digital art is easily shared and displayed and duplicated multiple times for everyone to see. This digital art movement was a shift from the traditional mediums of oil, watercolours, and other mediums that are not reproducible without significant effort or expense.

3d artwork using wacom tablet
Source: www.wacom.com

The digital art movement is a shift in how people view digital work, especially digital paintings.

Photorealism (an important era in digital art history) was created by Ralph Goings in 1968 when he used an analogue computer to simulate paint application on a canvas.

Photorealism is considered digital painting but digital realism refers to digital paintings that are generated using photo manipulation software. There is debate over whether digital art or digital paintings should be called digital art, as many believe digital art excludes digital painting.

As digital artists have become exposed to new tools and digital channels of distribution, digital art has become more common than ever before. Digital art websites like Art Station allow digital art artists to showcase their digital art and digital showings are now occurring all over the world.

What Are the Role and Benefits of Digital Art?

Much like traditional art, digital art is also a form of expression. It’s more than just drawing art. It serves the role of merging art and technology.

People dancing on stage with blue lights

Let’s have a look at the benefits of digital art against traditional art.

  • Saves money. All you need to create a digital painting is a computer/laptop and software. Canvas painting requires a lot of tools and altogether are expensive.
  • Saves time. Oil paintings can take up to 4 months to dry when completed.
  • Saves on space. Canvas paintings take up a lot of physical space whilst a digital painting only needs hard drive space.
  • Ease of use. Correcting errors on a digital painting is a matter of clicking one button whilst with traditional painting, erasing tends to be messy and sometimes involves tearing up the whole paper for a fresh start.
  • Creating affordable outputs. Digital paintings are considerably cheaper than canvas paintings given the time and effort it takes to hand paint. There is a wide variety of digital paintings available in the market today. This has an impact on their price- demand vs supply.

What is the Role of Digital Artists? Career Opportunities in Digital Art

Digital artists use technology to bring their artwork to life. This involves sculpting, drawing and painting. Depending on your niche, it can become 3D, web designs, or visual art. Specialization is important for success in the digital art industry.

2 designers chatting

Is being a digital artist a worthwhile career?

Absolutely, yes!

Digital installations are in almost every building today. You can have a promising career in digital arts working in media film production, video and software design companies, and advertising, designing animated images and visual effects.

You can also work as a freelancer in web design or merchandise designer for manufacturing and production companies. Digital artists are currently the backbone of the entertainment industry and are making a killing for it. You can find a job on Jooble or art-specific communities like Artstation.

To jumpstart your career in digital art, you can sign up for a course on SkillShare (Get 40% off here) and get on your way to becoming a professional.

Tools and Skills Required to Become a Digital Artist

digital artwork tools

Skills digital artists should have:

  • Every art form requires high-level creativity and talent.
  • Sketching, drawing and character design skills
  • Know how to use the software.
  • Creating original concepts
  • Composition, colour usage, shading and lighting
  • Animation and typography
  • A Bachelor’s degree in digital art (optional) gives you an edge in the industry.

Tools required to create digital painting:

  • Drawing tablet
  • Drawing software/program
  • Colour-accurate monitor
  • Powerful computer
  • Good keyboard and mouse

How to Create Digital Art

The first thing to note about creating an artistic digital painting is to visualize it. To stay clear in your vision you have to sketch. This is the backbone of your creation.

Person using android tablet

For beginners, it’s advisable to sketch on paper then scan it and save it in your preferred format.

Next, open the scanned file in an art program like Adobe PhotoShop then build on it and edit to your satisfaction. You can sketch directly into the art program by plugging your tablet to the computer to create your digital painting.

To bring your digital painting to life,  the entire process involves outlining and drawing the sketch, adding basic colours in, then texturizing.

To add more details to your drawing, fill in with some shading and when complete, merge the layers. Once you’re satisfied with the image, export the file and you’re good to go!

Types of Digital Art

Digital art is a growing field and it’s no surprise that there are several mediums of creation, including mixed media and for different purposes. Let’s have a look at a few of them.

We’ll do a quick overview of the definition, purpose and a simplified creation method to get an understanding of what each of them entails.

Digital Painting and Its Different Dimensional Forms

Digital painting is an art form where traditional techniques such as oils, watercolour and blocking and the like are applied in a digital environment using digital tools through a digital medium such as a computer, tablet and other software.

digital painting and its different dimensional forms

Artists use painting techniques to paint directly on the computer, to create a digital painting.

Digital painting has two forms:

Two-Dimensional Painting (2D)

2D digital painting is a type of painting that involves two dimensions, x and y making the imaging apparatus though it’s painted on a flat surface, much like painting or drawing on a piece of paper or canvas.

Original portrait painting

Three Dimensional Painting (3D)

3D digital painting is an enhanced version of 2D painting where extra effects are incorporated in the illustration.

Digital technologies are imposed on 2D images as the base upon which the artist builds to create new media art. This also involves adding texture directly onto a 3D model.

Optical illusions painting

The Art of Digital Photography

The introduction of cameras that contain rays of photodetectors, capturing images focused by a lens, coupled with advancement in technology gave birth to the digital camera concept.

Digital photography is basically the use of cameras to capture real-time subjects and editing the photographs using software such as Photoshop.

Style guy photography

These cameras use ISO, aperture and shutter speed to create exposure that is similar to film photography. The camera gives artists more control over their environment or subject by allowing room to control exposure.

Thanks to digital technology, Artists can also shoot mixed media in a given set since the images are saved on a card. Another pro- in digital art and photography, the images are available to be viewed immediately, providing instant gratification.

To get started you’ll need a camera, different lenses, a memory card with a large storage capacity, a camera stand and a few skills which you can easily learn here.

Once you’re ready to sell, you can list your artwork and sell them on Redbubble.

Animation Through 2D and 3D Art

Animation is the type of digital art used in animated movies, cartoons and commercials. Animation artists require knowledge of 2D and 3D art.

Established ways of utilizing

The process involves turning a still image into a moving image by displaying it on a new medium. Animation drawing is one of the most lucrative fields in the digital art world.

Cartoon girl dancing

Traditionally, animations were created by drawing or painting several images of the same character in motion which were then presented at an accelerated speed to create the illusion of a moving image.

Today, they are created digitally but in the same way to manipulate moving images using computer-generated imagery/CGI.

There are five types of animation:

  • 2D animation
  • 3D animation
  • Traditional animation
  • Motion graphics
  • Stop motion

To learn more about what each type entails and decide on which one is best suited for you, get started with flexible online classes and animation courses.

Dynamic Painting Through Digital Imagery

This is making art without doing anything creative as the artist. Computer digital art systems use pre-existing knowledge to find patterns and use them to create new art. The artist does skilful work with the computer to bring all the elements together.

This works for both paintings and drawings.

Thick strokes of painting create

Dynamic paintings are also termed generative art.

To create a dynamic painting, the artist first conceives of the idea, using digital imagery already available in the computer, then starts by selecting prime colours and shapes and slowly building up to the image till completion.

This is one of the easiest mediums for creating software art. Many digital artists thrive by reaching clients and potential customers by selling their modern art on Etsy.

Digital Collage With Virtual Images

Digital art is a form of art that is created by putting together different virtual images from a variety of sources and imposing them onto a background to create a brand new image.

Pin ups maria rivans

Through the internet, artists have vast opportunities to create, owing to the tons of materials at their disposal. Digital collage is widely used in marketing departments, given the compelling and attractive nature of digital images.

The most popular tools for creating digital collages are Photoshop and Procreate.

Sign up with Skillshare for 40% off and get access to in-depth courses on how to create artworks with collage.

Data-Moshing With Media Files

Data-moshing involves arranging media files to get specific visual output. This is done by decoding and enhancing the video quality or adding effects to get a more pleasing aesthetic.

wired uk colorful

Data-moshing is more commonly used in videos than photos because videos have more manipulation space.

Data-moshing files is a time-consuming process. Using automation software can ease the workload by carrying out repetitive tasks.

This weighs more on the technical side and so for a beginner, you’ll not only need to be skilled in coding but have knowledge on how to use heavy software.

What is the Future of Digital Art?

Art means different things to different people. Expression can take other forms but art stands as the truest form of expression. It goes far beyond human perception. It is meant to be experienced- evoke a reaction or emotion from the viewer.

Art is a tool of connectivity. Billions around the world today are connected through the internet, making digital art the most consumed form of art, fostering more creativity and immersive experiences for consumers.

Artworks have incredible power to influence multitudes and serve as a trendsetter. Movements have been engineered through digital art and social media is currently ruled by digital art which makes for the perfect conduit for societal influence and change.

Sound good? Learn digital art and join the movement.

As digital technology is growing, so is the future of digital art. It only gets better from here!

Featured Image from: Pxhere

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