Taking Your First Steps in Digital Art

First Steps in Digital Art

Getting started in digital art cover
Getting Started in Digital Art

This week, we take some of the myths surrounding digital art and discover some of the issues and challenges that artists face when starting out using the medium to create their work. It’s a medium as challenging as any traditional artistic medium and it’s one that can be frustrating to get completely to grips with, particularly in the early days, and probably forever more too thanks to the pure joy of Windows/Insert any other tech product manufacturer here, updates.

Yes, I know I have been missing for a couple of weeks and thank you to everyone who sent me messages to ask where I was, but as many of you will already know, I am preparing for my first solo show in more than a decade and life 1.0 seemed to take over for a little while too. I literally haven’t stopped for weeks, my sleep schedule is down to whatever nap time, I can squeeze in between the to-do list, but I know the end result will be worth it.

The location for the show is set, the only unknown at the moment is the date. New rules on gathering people together came into effect in the UK as we have taken a step backwards over the past few weeks, so we’re all in a little limbo working it out and trying to make sure everyone will be safe so we can have a show that’s also legal! There’s nothing like a challenge on top of a challenge is there!

The exhibition pieces are complete, now I can get back to my regular schedule of creating at least until a couple of weeks before the show finally goes ahead, and maybe I might squeeze in a little more sleep, if you think 18-hour days are excessive, try 21, they’re brutal but thankfully only temporary – I hope!

Cannock Chase Art by Mark Taylor
A sneak peek at some of the local themes I will be exhibiting!

Thinking about Digital Art…

If you have ever thought about giving digital art a try, it’s worth remembering that digital art is a broad church covering a myriad of artistic styles and it’s usually a lot more than you would initially think. Setting yourself up as a professional digital artist can be eye-wateringly expensive, often more so than setting up a more traditional art practice, but it doesn’t have to be, at least in the beginning.

My first foray into digital art was back in 1979, a good few years before even Andy Warhol showed the world his digital work. My jump to digital was maybe more to do with me being a bored teenager than it was about me creating artwork with the intention of building out a career from it. In 1979, digital art existed somewhere, it just wasn’t as accessible in the days before the internet, and it looked very different, it was mostly some alien concept that existed only in a Buck Rogers timeline.

I had an unhealthy interest/obsession in art and an unending love for video games, but neither of those passions alone would make my parents buy me a computer for Christmas. Instead, the computer would help me to learn educational stuff, stuff that would help me secure one of those future real jobs that my parents were so keen on me getting when I left school. They could see the future, it’s just that they couldn’t see me becoming a digital artist in it, neither could my teachers.

So digital has been my thing for a very long time, which essentially means that I have vast amounts of experience in getting stuff wrong. I would buy into technology as ‘the’ early adopter, the only person to buy something that bleeped just because the sales assistant convinced me, that yes indeed, this is the future.

It was an often expensive learning curve that taught me something that I have held onto ever since, and that is, never gamble on any technology actually delivering what it says it will on the tin. It also taught me that you are usually at your most creative when you’re flat out broke and hungry to find any kind of creative success. But how do you get into digital art if you haven’t contemplated a digital life before?

Sinclair ZX81 Keyboard
One of my earliest computers - The Sinclair ZX81 - notice the blocky graphics!

Taking the first steps…

If you are just starting out, my advice is to not spend the GDP of a minor nation on buying equipment, and instead, think very carefully about the style of art that you want to create before you commit to buying anything. The price of admission to the digital creative space varies depending on the style of art that you want to create right now, and what you might want to create in the future and we don’t all have a crystal ball.

One of the biggest pitfalls I have come across that seems to catch a lot of artists out when embarking on their first tentative digital art creating steps, is that they make too many costly assumptions about what digital really is, what the technology can and can’t do, and often, there is a disconnect between those assumptions that can lead to spending way too much money on shiny new technology mistakenly believing that it would serve their needs at least until they make the big time.

The simple thing to remember is that, the technology that exists today isn’t guaranteed to meet your needs tomorrow, and it won’t necessarily meet your needs by the end of today, no matter what the marketing department says.

Technology, you either love it, hate it, or you find that you have to use it out of some absolute necessity. We either think about it or we don’t, and when we do, we often take it for granted and never really notice the utility of it until it’s no longer there.

Over the past couple of years, more and more of my traditional artist friends have begun to make a transition to digital. It’s cleaner for a start, but ignore the tangled mess of cables under your work space, and it’s quicker, ignore the years of learning how to use more than twenty percent of the tools available in Photoshop, and it’s cheaper than buying art supplies but let’s ignore the next upgrade. There’s also a magic button that takes a visual image straight out of your imagination and turns it into a masterpiece that will hang on the walls of The National Gallery. If only I could afford that shiny new piece of tin, my work will be exponentially better, and by that, I mean there will be more of it and I will make any investment back within a week. Technology will turn me into an artist in no time at all and so the myths of digital art begin.

It’s easy to get caught up in the many myths that come bundled with the subject of technology let alone the myths of just how easy it is to create digital art. There are myths that any computer will do anything, after all, the storage available within my smartphone is about a million times more than the storage that the guidance computer had that took us to the moon in 1969. Yes, your smartphone is significantly more powerful, even a calculator from the 1980s had more processing power than the technology available on the Apollo missions but it too couldn’t be used to produce digital art. They’re all very different technologies that are created to do very different things and nothing has changed today.

Last week, a friend phoned me to ask about getting started in digital art. He had been struggling to find a new medium to work in. He wanted to push his artistic limits into other areas, and he wanted something that would be inexpensive to create and negate the need for a constant stream of expensive art supplies. My immediate answer was that he maybe ought to think about using parchment and a quill if it was stability and cost-effectiveness that he was after because neither of those traits springs immediately to mind when you are creating digital art.

It was a challenging question to answer, there are so many entry points into creating digital art that it becomes difficult to say something as simple as, buy a good PC, grab yourself a graphics tablet, read a good book and download this. For some people, that’s maybe exactly what they need to do but without knowing exactly what kind of art you want to create it is almost impossible to guide anyone towards the right kind of technology that will allow the creation of more than the obvious. 

Cornish Cream Tea retro sign
Cornish Cream Tea anyone? Available in my Pixels store now!

There’s often a disconnect between the expectations of what any given technology can do and what you want it to do, not just today, but tomorrow as well. The problem is that, in tech, there is no golden panacea that will do anything and everything that you want and need it to do off the shelf, so the result is growing frustration with the technology and a need to upgrade it and turn it into some kind of Frankenstein’s Monster as your needs evolve. Even the new Mac Pro would struggle in certain situations without resorting to a seemingly tiny, yet abundantly expensive upgrade.

Technology is never as good as the marketing campaign that accompanies it. We have all seen the whizzy TV adverts of smartphones making superfast transitions between apps while hardly noticing the small print on the ad that reads, application switching has been speeded up for editorial purposes, or the phrase ‘not actual gameplay’. What we see with technology isn’t always what we are shown and most certainly, it’s rarely what we really get.

Selecting the wrong technology leads to frustration, couple this with the expectation that digital art is really easy because that is the myth that has been sold over and over again, and you can begin to see why a lot of artists who test out the waters of digital quickly revert back to traditional canvas and brush. The learning curve in digital art often falls somewhere between horizontal and dang near vertical with a further requirement to scale Mount Everest at least twice in the winter.

The art of digital art is very simple, it’s about setting some realistic expectations from the outset. Those expectations are usually around what you can firstly afford, and then around what you can actually do with what you can afford. Another expectation to have is that, just like painting with a traditional brush, you will need to invest some serious time in learning to produce what you might once have thought you could produce by clicking on some magic button. There are no magic buttons and if there are, they’re only the on switch for smoke and mirrors or at best, some pre-determined filter.

When it comes to the price of admission into the digital art space, there is an entry point for most budgets. What you already have in terms of technology might suffice at least to give it a try, but it is your choice of artistic style that should drive the choices around the tech, yet so often it is the tech that drives the artistic style.  Just as a traditional painter would select the correct brush for a certain part of the painting, with technology, we tend to see that the brush is selected long before the canvas is prepped or we even begin to know what we want to paint.

I mentioned Frankenstein’s Monster earlier, the need to often upgrade technology with a myriad of components to bring it closer to being able to do what you want, it’s the same with the software too. There are no golden panaceas here either and this is where things become a little more expensive again, a little more complicated, and this is also the point where you realise that the technology might even need to be changed once again. If you go into digital with an eye on the style of art you want to create, you are less likely to run into the problem of finding out that the software requires some very different hardware.

There are no one-stop shops with art and design software, there is nothing available that can cover every digital art base. Vectors are very different from raster’s, each having their own software applications available and each requiring a very different skill set to use. Add into the mix that broad church we spoke of at the beginning of this article and you might find that your style of digital art is neither vector nor raster but something else entirely, or it might be a combination of all of the above. Right now, a combination of vectors and raster’s are producing the look that more and more art buyers are currently looking for, although you can bet they will be looking for something else tomorrow.

We still can’t quite answer the question of what any single artist will need during their first tentative steps into digital art but we can get a little closer if we make the right decisions in the right order. Firstly decide your artistic style, secondly decide on the software, and lastly, decide on the technology that will bring those things together, the outcomes from each will determine the next step and they will ultimately determine any budget you need.

Visit Cornwall retro sign by Mark Taylor
Visit Cornwall - A retro sign available in my store now!

The myth that digital art is cheap…

Digital art can be inexpensive, at least on paper, but only until it’s not. There is a huge difference between creating digital art for fun and creating digital art professionally, which I have to say is still fun, it just costs quite a bit more. I often work with both traditional and digital artists and there is always one thing that stands out to me, and that’s how professional traditional artists seem to be more switched on to the costs of producing traditional art than digital artists are switched on to the costs of producing digital art. The device is there all of the time and whenever you need a new canvas, it’s simply a matter of applying the correct sizing and away you go, but whilst the tech is always there, the associated incidental costs are too. If most digital artists gave more currency to their outgoings I am sure that we would see some dramatic increases in the price of digitally produced art by tomorrow.

I know this too well because it is something that I never gave much thought to in the past. When I produce traditional art I know roughly what I have invested in art supplies or a good idea of how much I need to invest in any given piece. I know generally how much paint I will use and I know that I will need to replace that filbert brush next week. If I’m not selling my traditional work, unless I am still buying art supplies (which let’s face it, is highly likely), my production costs are paused unless I need to pay rent on a studio. With digital art, the costs never stop regardless of whether or not I’m producing work, selling or not selling it. They might dip a little in periods of inactivity, I won’t be spending out on commercial font licences and digital brushes for that one project, but the subscriptions, the upgrades, the storage costs, those things never really go away. Digital art is all sorts of everything but it’s mostly like frequently emptying your wallet.

The real expense in digital art begins when you want to dial things up technically, or when you learn new skills and diversify your portfolio to take on increasingly complex digital projects. Something that has always struck me about digital art and art in general, is that the more you learn, the more you realise you need to learn a whole heap more, and the more proficient you become with digital, the more you are likely to become constrained by the technology you currently have. I guess that’s similar to traditional art but I’m still using an easel I purchased over twenty years ago and the oldest tech I’m using is about two years old.

The myth that digital art is easy…

Digital art can be easier than traditional painting, it can be more forgiving, there’s an undo button if you make a mistake or prefer a different look. You can swap out layers and change the colour of a project on the fly so I can see exactly why there is a general consensus amongst the non-digital community that digital art is much easier than traditional art to create. But that’s forgetting the many years of not only learning the same skills as a traditional artist, but learning the skills needed to master the use of layers, figure out things like masks and alpha locks, working out the difference between a vector and a vexel and understanding how dpi settings and colour profiles will work on any print medium along with any screen.

Many of the skills needed to produce digital art rely on having a traditional artist mindset, a knowledge of things like colour theory, composition, and perspective, because those things when done with digital tools are much less forgiving than when you are working on paper or canvas. The errant pixel in the wrong place on a screen will stand out way more than that errant smudge in the lower right corner of a canvas and colour acts differently when you also need to contend with the brightness or clarity of displays and colour profiles. With higher and higher resolution displays now becoming the norm, the slightest inaccuracies become much easier to spot. 

There are also some very specific nuances that you will come across when creating digital art that make it strikingly different to creating art using more traditional mediums. Over the years, I have come across a lot of artists who have tested the waters of digital and found the experience to be less than the pleasant one they had expected. Most had experienced challenges that were the same kind of challenges they would have come across when painting on canvas but there were also challenges that they had found that are only present in a digital format.

These are the kind of challenges that can put you off digital for life if you’re not expecting them. The slippy screen seems a minor niggle but sketching on a piece of glass with the plastic tip of a stylus can be like watching someone who has never ice skated before attempt the Bolero while performing a double twist. Sketching with a mouse is something that digital artists avoid doing at all costs, unless they want that Jackson Pollock vibe applying to everything they create, yet there are a lot of new to digital art, artists who perhaps might not be overly familiar with the alternatives and continue to struggle with the wrong tools.

One of the biggest frustrations is just how incredibly difficult it is to manage expectations about just how long it can take to go beyond the basics of applications like Photoshop. I have a friend who purchased what would have been the equivalent in cost of a supercomputer a few years ago, expecting that he could transfer his stop-motion animation skills to digital to come up with something that looked like it had been created by Disney animation studios.

Despite having access to the right kind of tools, he just didn’t have the experience in using what was essentially a very different toolset to the one he used in traditional stop motion. He likened it to having always driven a Mini car and then getting into the cockpit of a jumbo jet and wondering where the windscreen wipers are. Never underestimate the digital learning curve, and never try to cram everything in at once while you are learning. Most of what you get to know won’t come from videos and books or even a formal class, it will come from just playing around and making lots and lots of mistakes.

Creativity – It’s all about the ideas…

Creativity belongs to everyone who has an idea, a story, or a feeling to express. It opens a world of possibilities using whatever tool or medium that allows you to describe it, tell it, or show it. Creativity doesn’t care how you surface your art, or whether you have the biggest and best PC or the most expensive brushes and paint. Creativity screams out, tools, do not an artist make.

You can create great digital art without breaking the bank on technology if you have an idea, a story, or feeling to express but you also have to have realistic expectations around what the technology you have will be able to do. As you develop your skills and your needs change, costs can quickly rack up. There are things that you will eventually need but once again, it depends on how much currency you give to the very clever marketing campaigns that tell you that this or that device will make your life easier. Having said that, there are also things that might look like a bargain but end up costing significantly more overall.

A perfect day beach scene art by Mark Taylor
A perfect day beach scene art by Mark Taylor - available now!

What do you need?

To start out in digital art, surprisingly very little. Most modern mobile devices and computers will be able to produce something digital but you will be limited in exactly what that something is. This is exactly why having an idea about the style of art you want to create will begin to lead your decisions around the choice of technology you need to purchase.

If you have a tablet that is reasonably modern, the Google Play and App Stores are chock full of arty applications. These will certainly give you a taste of digital art, although the experience you will get from a lot of them will be quite linear experiences. Many of the apps available today are designed to do one or two things really well, and they are designed to be simple to use. The output they produce is often a subset of the features that you would find in an application such as Photoshop rather than a full Photoshop-style experience. Many mobile devices are limited in the number of computing resources they have and whatever resources they do have, have to be powered by a battery and a mobile version of whatever processor. Add to this, that many tablets are built to a price point rather than a specification, and the limits of mobile technology become more apparent. An entry-level device will have limitations but might be perfectly adequate to test the water, but if you decide to continue then you will ultimately need to consider upgrading.

If you want to create on mobile and you need a level of professional output, you will ultimately need to consider something like the iPad Pro or look towards multi-function-devices such as the Surface Book from Microsoft, with both of these being more than capable of producing professional results. I use a Surface Book, iPad Pro, Mac Book Pro and Mac Pro for my workflow but tend to find that a majority of my day to day needs can be dealt with on the iPad Pro, and heavy loads are performed on the Mac Pro which hardly breaks a sweat considering it resembles a cheese grater. 

Mac Pro Front
Tell me that doesn't look like a cheese grater!

If you are considering an iPad Pro or something such as the Surface Book, that kind of money also opens up the possibilities of other mid to high-end laptops but whatever technology you decide on should still be guided by your artistic style. Some very expensive laptops can still encounter challenges when faced with multiple layers on Photoshop or Illustrator, as can desktop PCs. Despite the power of the iPad Pro, when it comes to running Photoshop, don’t expect the desktop experience just yet. Despite Adobe releasing the full-blown version of Photoshop on the iPad, the hype is more than the current reality. Development is ongoing and in comparison to something like Affinity Photo, Photoshop on iPad is severely limited. Again, having an idea of the software you need to run will guide you towards the equipment you will need to create whatever you want to create.

Software performs differently on different technology, even if the technology is broadly similar. Always look at the minimum technology specifications needed to run a piece of software and remember that those minimum specifications really are the absolute minimum. You might find that you can work with a handful of layers on a device that meets the minimum specification and you might be able to perform some reasonably lightweight actions, so this is another area where expectations need to be set. The more you throw at a device, the more resources it needs, the more money you need to spend.

With devices such as the iPad Pro, all is not lost. This is a perfectly pro-level capable device with the right set of applications. Procreate, Art Set 4, Concepts, Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, are all very capable applications that will give you whatever control you need to produce professional results at the right kind of resolutions. However, not everyone who owns an iPad owns the Pro model, and this is where those more linear experience apps tend to be useful. The same is true of Android devices, although the choice of apps to create professional outputs on Android seem a little more limited.

Many of those, what I would term as experience apps, that tend to perform one or two actions quickly become limiting and you will find that you might need a suite of very different apps to work on a single professional piece of art. Remember I said earlier that there are no golden panaceas or one-stop shops with either technology or software, that becomes, even more, the case when you are working to a smaller budget and using mobile apps, even if they are labelled as desktop-class.

But this is where some balancing has to take place. Many of those one or two-trick app developers have already gone down the subscription route meaning that you will end up paying a monthly or yearly fee to continue to use them or to continue to utilise some of their enhanced features. If you find that you need a handful or more of these apps, the outgoings suddenly become similar to subscribing to a platform such as Adobe Creative Cloud which then gives you access to a range of applications that will cover almost every digital art creating base. The downside, of course, will be the technology you need to run industry-standard software applications on, which then becomes another expense. While it is true that digital art can be created on a budget, it soon gets to the point where it can’t.

Happy Summer art by Mark Taylor
Happy Summer art by Mark Taylor - also available now!

Beware the false economies…

There is no avoiding it, if you find out that after taking the first steps in creating digital art that you want to continue, you will at some point need to splash the cash but having found out the kind of artistic style you want to create and the software you will need to use to produce it, you should be much better prepared to go down the digital path and avoid tripping up too often.

Invest in tried and tested technology that you know will continue to perform, is the general rule of thumb I would suggest sticking to because there are plenty of alternatives that promise much and deliver little. If you find that you still can’t afford to buy the latest and greatest, consider looking to see if the original manufacturer sells refurbished equipment which usually comes with the same warranty as a new device, or consider stepping back a generation. Older generations of the iPad Pro is still perfectly functional and will continue to be updated for a little while yet and it’s the same with other devices such as laptops and desktop PCs and Mac Books.

There are technologies that you will find more useful and technologies that the marketing people will tell you are useful and there’s often another disconnect between the two. If you really want to get into digital art, you have to make it easy on yourself by selecting the tools that you know will work, even if the act of creating it isn’t quite as easy as you first thought.

Get a good stylus…

If you are using a tablet or touchscreen, it’s always a good idea to invest in a pressure-sensitive stylus, but because we’re talking digital art and technology, it’s never quite as simple as that and yes, there are pitfalls here too. Some styluses are passive rather than active so they utilise capacitive technology that simulates using a finger. There is no pressure sensitivity with this kind of stylus and no other features that will allow a greater degree of control because they don’t usually have Bluetooth. If you think an undo button might be useful then you will need something that talks to the device and a dumb stylus doesn’t.

Having said that, a dumb stylus is still infinitely better than a finger, but the best experience will come from a Bluetooth pressure-sensitive stylus that has a much greater degree of control and a wider range of features. In short, it will talk to the device.

When it comes to selecting a stylus you will need one that is compatible with your device. Some Bluetooth styluses are designed to be used on a PC, others are specifically for Android, and there are some which will work reasonably well on the iPad. Most electronic styluses are designed for a particular device so the choice is often limited before you even start.

For iPad, there really isn’t that much choice and there is little point in wasting time looking around. Some third-party vendors do manufacture compatible devices but in my experience, none of them come remotely close to the precision offered by the Apple Pencil, and yes, that means paying a premium but finally, one that is worth paying. However, we’re still not done with complicated because not all iPads are able to take advantage of the Pencil, or if they are, they will rely on either a first-generation or a second-generation pencil, neither of the generations are interchangeable. iPads prior to the original iPad Pro first generation are lucked out, the choice for those is to go down the third-party route. Newer iPad Pro’s need a second-generation Pencil, and there is no negotiation with this, it is what it is because the screen technology on newer iPads is very different.

As with everything premium you can happily purchase a less expensive look-alike, the problem being is that they rarely work-alike. One device I came across on a social media advert this week looked like the original Apple Pencil, cost a third of the price, but essentially did only a third as much, although the seller gave the impression that pressure control was built-in, the pressure sensitivity was non-existent, relying on the software’s own brush size control that you manually have to adjust, and there was no mention of being able to replace the tips rendering the device pretty useless once the tip becomes worn making it yet another disposable piece of plastic.

Tips are another area that you will want to think about, you need a stylus that allows the tip to be sourced and replaced easily. The Apple Pencil tips are said to last 6-12 months of regular use, I find I need to replace them every three to four months, and occasionally a little more often depending on how busy I am. The plastic of the tip wears against the glass screen and eventually misses strokes, reduces the sensitivity and it begins to feel very different. Again, there are look-alike tips available for most styluses from different manufacturers but these are usually hit and miss and often made from a completely different material to the original. There are some things you really can’t or shouldn’t skimp on.

With non-Apple devices and some of Apple’s earlier devices, the third-party stylus is as good as it gets and there are some great and not so great stylus’s available. If you have a Surface device then you will be hard-pressed to find better than Microsoft’s own offering in terms of a stylus, but beyond that, the main stylus manufacturers offer a reasonable variety to suit different budgets and different devices. Some might have a fine tip, others feel more like painting with a crayon, some, well, just carry on using a finger, so it’s really a case of trying before you buy if you can.  If you are a traditional artist you’ve probably got a favourite brush, stylus’s are no different.

Empty Deckchairs by Mark Taylor
I wish I was here! Available in my Pixels Store now!

Minimise Wear…

One of the things about drawing on a touch screen that makes everything feel very different from sketching on paper or canvas is that glass is very slippy. It can be frustrating and at times, difficult to master the same kind of strokes that you would perform with a brush or a pencil, but there are things that you can do to limit the slip as it were.

Paper-Like is a screen protector that offers very little in the way of screen protection, but it does a few other things very well and it is worth the investment, you can thank me later. It provides a grippier surface to move the stylus across, reduces glare by giving the screen a slightly matt look, and it helps to extend the life of your stylus tips. The downside, the original Paper-Like screen protectors, while they aren’t overly expensive, they’re not exactly spare pocket change either, and they will need to be replaced as they wear. Having these protectors on your device quite literally changes the dynamics and it feels like you are painting or sketching on paper. Same thing here, there are cheaper look-alike versions available but I know a few people who have used them and found that the adhesion with the alternatives is nowhere near as good as the adhesion you get with Paper-Like and they often complain of bubbles or peeling.  Digital art is full of false economies.

Other peripherals…

Yes, digital art does feel like a never-ending list of pitfalls and costs at times, but if you haven’t got the technology to support a stylus, you might have to look towards a graphics tablet. Even at the most basic level, a budget graphics tablet is about a thousand percent better than a mouse for drawing and sketching. I picked up a Wacom One, for less than $50 recently, because the Cintiq that I usually use is just too cumbersome to carry around. Whilst the Cintiq is brilliant, the Wacom One, was more than a thousand dollars less expensive. It doesn’t have a screen, it has a pad with a separate pen, but perfectly adequate for entry-level needs.

Or, if you don’t fancy spending out on a Cintiq-like device, you could consider one of the off-brands models that are sold online through the likes of Amazon. Some of these devices, despite costing less than $300 are almost as good as the Cintiq models which many of them are based upon. Many have full HD displays and they allow you to control the on-screen software and draw with the included pen. This is where you can grab a bargain, although some may run a little slower than some of the high-end devices or they might offer fewer features, they are good enough to see many digital artists into at least their early professional careers if not beyond. Look for manufacturers such as Huion, the devices they have been producing over the past year or so have been impressive when you consider their relatively low price point compared to something like the Cintiq, they are different but how often will you use all of the features offered by a high-end device? Take any opportunity you can to save money where it makes sense, you’ll need that money to spend on where you won’t be able to save.

Generation Leaps…

Gone are the days when I would join the line at midnight to buy the new release of anything, today I am comfortable enough staying at home in my slippers thanks. The only exception has been the new Mac Pro, but even then, I waited until the fuss had died down and this was an essential replacement of an ageing previous model that had been a workhorse since 2013. Even though it was still very capable, it didn’t owe me anything and had paid its way over the seven years of near-constant use, it was beginning to show signs of age, as we all do in time.

Last generation tech is a good idea when you don’t necessarily need today’s technology. The last generation in tech by comparison to everything else is generally last year, although it often feels like yesterday. The downside is that it is usually supported for around one year less by the time you buy it but the savings you make over a series of replacements shouldn’t be underestimated. By leaping a generation you can often get very similar tech for a lot less money and we so often see only small iterations between generations or cosmetic changes, with bi-annual generations usually offering the serious upgrades. Mostly in between, there is maybe a slight or incremental speed increase but certainly not always enough to warrant spending too much more of your profit than you really need to, but I really do get how clever marketing can suck you in, it sucked me in constantly for too many years!

The only caveat to this is that, I have always found generation leaping works best if you can wait until the next generation gets released or just before, and certainly not much after the new release because the ongoing support for the previous generation then begins to count down, a three-year-old iPad may only have a few more annual iOS updates remaining and sadly, there’s not usually a roadmap to guide us in our spending choices, again, that’s probably more to do with marketing and the constant need for manufacturers to push out shiny new tin.

Have fun…

When I first wrote this article I tackled it thinking it would be one of the shortest articles ever. Don’t commit to buying anything until you are sure digital is for you, determine what art style you want to create and then see what software will assist you in producing that particular style, and finally, only then figure out the tech. That’s essentially the best route I have found, but I probably found that out way too late. Having said that, despite spending probably way too much to remember on tech that doesn’t quite pull off what I have needed it to pull off, technology has evolved massively over the past decade. When I think back to 1979 as I sat as a pre-teenager in a bedroom making pictures out of letters and 8 by 8-pixel blocks, and then I look at what’s possible to create today, we’re now in a very different world and I wouldn’t be surprised if what we see in the next decade makes an even bigger leap. Who knows what digital art will look like then, I don’t think any of us could begin to imagine it and get it even semi-close to being right.

If you are taking anything away from today it should be that technology is just a tool, it’s an enabler, you still need some level of skill and some realistic expectations. If you were to build a wall or a complete house, the range of tools you need would be very different. The difficulty that I see most artists who try creating digital art struggle with, is that they either choose the tools to build a house just to build the wall, or they choose the tools to build only the wall but then attempt to build the house and then get tied in knots when they need to put on the roof before realising they forgot to lay down the foundations for either the wall or the house, and then they give up.

I don’t want you to give up because digital art really does open up a world of new possibilities. You’re no longer constrained by what’s in stock at the art supply store and the skills you eventually come to master are massively helpful when you paint using traditional tools too. As I said at the beginning, digital art isn’t for everyone and that goes for buyers too, there are still to this very day, purists who suggest that digital art isn’t art, but hey, that just confirms how little they really know about art and that’s on them not you.

Hopefully, if you are thinking about testing out digital art you might now have a better idea about where to begin, and I would love to see what you create. If you produce something, show me and tell me about it and you could appear in a future follow up article I’m planning that documents an artist’s first steps!

Until next time, I hope you have a wonderfully creative week, stay safe, stay well, and look after each other.

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

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Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me are the only way I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall! Send me your email address and I will send you a PDF coffee donators edition art print via email!


  1. Hi Mark, Great work! It sounds incredibly challenging. My son got me a Parblo PR- 01 last Christmas, it's still sitting in the box. What do you think of it? Hope you're all ready for the 'Big Day'! xx

    1. Thanks Jane and hope you’re having another brilliant week, looks like you are being impressively creative again this week, not forgetting busy! Par blo are fantastic, I used their gloves for a while too, outstanding quality and way less friction than many others. Always rated them as a manufacturer, they’ve created more than a few capable pads and screens. Time to take it out of the box and give it a try! It’s only challenging when you stop thinking that you still need to be an artist, you will be brilliant with digital, you’ve got the right mindset! Xx

    2. Also, yes! Looking forward to the show! Social distancing is a bit of an issue for us but we’re figuring out ways to work with the new rules that came in yesterday so we can keep everyone safe. My work might be there more than I am but for an extended period, so whatever we end up doing will mean doing it very differently. Strangely I’ve now got less nervousness about it! Xx

    3. There are days when I feel being simple using mere parchment and a quill as you mentioned. Indeed, nothing inexpensive about what we do, however, addiction comes at a price, eh! Fascinating read Mark.
      Best of luck on your upcoming exhibition. I'm really fond of some of your new work on this page. I had forgotten that I created an entire series of flower trees last year. Thanks for spurring my ole memory bank. I must dig them out of the dirt now that you made me remember.

    4. Thanks Colleen, and yes! There's definitely an additive quality about doing what we do, and then the developers add some addictive functions in too and then you're hooked! Glad you remembered the tree's too, I created Happy Summer back in January and completely forgot about it until someone reminded me that they had seen a WIP photo I sent out in one of the collector emails and wondered where it was! Can't wait to see your trees, and I'm in love with your latest still life, exceptional work! xx

    5. Thanks Mark! I certainly will give it a go at some stage. Fabulous theme for your show, hope for you a great success. Nervousness only for the
      inexperienced ;) Have fun! xx

    6. Thanks Jane, I’m sure I’ll find some nerves again when the people decide to buy or not! Coffee usually handles anything though! Xx

    7. Got to have faith and believe and grow a thick-skinned :)) xx


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