So what the hell makes people think this “digital art” is real? I mean – you can’t touch it! Okay – I guess you can hold it in your hands if you’ve got an iPad – or you could poke your finger at a Facebook gallery – but that isn’t the same as being able to feel the surface of real paper, or water color board, or impasto paint on Masonite or even canvas. Digital art just is not tangible!
I grew up reading comic books full of real art. All those comics were drawn with pencil on real paper by hand! And then real ink was laid down with pen and brush and the highlights added with white paint! Well, except for the photos of figures, buildings and repeated panels. But those were real photo stats! Except when they were just photo copies from a copy machine. But they were real! And so was the rubber cement that would be slowly digesting the paper, turning it brown and slimy.
And I also read a lot of illustrated books when I was a kid – still do! Those illustrations were painted for real! There’s only one of those originals for each of those illustrations. Well, except for the fact that often the color reproduction of the images was vastly different from what the original art looked like. Blue backgrounds were really green. And that girl actually shows a lot of cleavage on the original, but in the book it was all covered up. But wait – millions of people have seen that printed illustration and loved how it looks in the book. So, is the printed illustration that doesn’t look anything like the original, the real original? So one original for each illustration – hey – sometimes there is one original for 3 or 4 printed illustrations – because those old time illustrators couldn’t afford to buy new canvas. So they just painted over the old one.
When I was in art school, the print makers – stone litho and screen printers – made a big deal about how the final prints were the originals. And that made a lot of sense to me. Looking around the print shop you could find a grease pencil figure drawing and some Rubylith sheets cut in random shapes that kind of looked like bits and shapes that made up the image in the final prints and concert posters. But nothing really looked like the prints and posters, except the prints and posters.
Um. Er. I have a confession to make. I’m a digital artist. Oh – I still keep a sketch book (even though I’m starting to do sketches on my iPad). And I still enjoy inking on art board. But I started doing all my drawing in Photoshop years ago. In the mid-1990′s I was already using 3D programs to build my locations and sets for my comics. It allowed me to be far more creative with my backgrounds and camera angles and made my comics and my art better. These days I use a camera for most everything. And you can trace the camera as an artist’s tool going back for centuries! (I’m including the camera obscura.)
In addition to being a comics creator, I’m also an illustrator and painter. A decade ago I figured out that I had painted over 3000 originals to that point in my career. And since there is a Zen saying that every artist has 3000 bad drawings in them – and the sooner they get them out, the sooner they will start to do some good work – I figured I was ready to start doing some good work! But it was very hard to do color work for print. For comics, the color art never lined up with the line art. And the color seps rarely matched the original art. Trying to sell a color project was massively expensive and labor intensive – and ultimately unsatisfying for anyone.
So I gradually stopped doing full painted illustration work, just because it was so frustrating an experience. 3000 paintings done, ready to do good work, but stalled in the starting gate.
Until last year. Last year I took the step and started painting purely digital paintings. And instantly the reactions to my work turned up about 8 notches. People loved what I was doing. At first I made no effort to tell anyone that the work was digital. I just posted my illustrations to my Facebook gallery and enjoyed the ever increasing numbers of people liking and commenting on my new works. I managed to post 6 to 8 new paintings a month. I did abut 50 paintings in 10 months, all while keeping up with my other work assignments. I never could have managed that with real paint – if only due to the set-up time, drying time and clean-up for each piece that would have been required. But more than that, I have found my perfect medium.
Like any creative person, I have been on a long quest to find the perfect brush, the perfect paper, paint, and ink. And my Wacom Intuos, Photoshop and Painter have finally satisfied that quest for me. I absolutely love painting this way. Frankly. I wish I wasn’t so good with the Wacom Intuos – because I’d love to be able to justify buying a Wacom Cintiq!
But I do get a few people complaining that I have betrayed my ability to REALLY PAINT. There are a lot of reasons expressed. But the one that it always comes down to is:
With a digital painting, there is no original.
They are right about that. The closest I get to an original now is my large prints on art paper. But I do add an original sketch and signature to each one. Other than that – what people see on Facebook, or on the cover of a comic book or novel is as “real” as it gets.
Which for essentially everyone in the world, is how it has always been.
Except for a rare number of my originals that have made it into museums around the county, where the public has access to the works – any original art I’ve sold has found a home with one person or family. And that is the fate of most original art. One original. One owner. And that is indeed the charm. At least it is for the person who has the ability to afford the original. But for all the rest of us – we have to be satisfied with seeing the work in print or on some kind of digital display. Just like always. I certainly was not seeing the originals in those comics and books all through my lifetime!
So my switching to digital art has resulted in my creating some exciting and wonderful images. And when I see them on Facebook or in print, because I created them digitally and had complete control over the final product, they look exactly like they did when I painted them. They look exactly like the digital “original”. Beyond that, I like them. And thousands of people are telling me that they like them. Because of that, I’m perfectly okay with disappointing that 1 person who might have ended up owning the “real” original art. I’m an entertainer with my art. I’ve never been about the 1 person. I at least like to try for 2.
And I’m learning 2 try harder!
Mark Wheatley holds the Eisner, Inkpot, Mucker, Gem and Speakeasy awards and nominations for the Harvey award and the Ignatz award. His work has been repeatedly included in the annual Spectrum selection of fantastic art and has appeared in private gallery shows, The Norman Rockwell Museum, Toledo Museum of Art, Huntington Art Museum, James A. Michener Art Museum and the Library of Congress where several of his originals are in the LoC permanent collection. His comic book creations include Ez Street, Lone Justice, Mars, Breathtaker, Black Hood, Prince Nightmare, Hammer of the Gods, Blood of the Innocent, Frankenstein Mobster, Miles the Monster and Titanic Tales. His interpretations of established characters such as Tarzan the Warrior, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Jonny Quest, Dr. Strange, The Flash, Captain Action, Argus and The Spider have brought them to life for a new generation of readers. He has written for TV, illustrated books, designed cutting-edge role-playing games, hosts a weekly radio program, and was an early innovator of the on-line daily comic strip form.