Digital art leverages the power of technology with human creativity to create dynamic pieces unlike ever before. Despite being a newer facet of art, digital art has branched out into its own unique subgenres and styles.
Today, we’ll cover the most common styles and types of digital art and how these styles came to be. We’ll explore how artists are using newfound technology to take art where it’s never gone before. We’ll also explore how algorithms, vectors, and CGI play an instrumental role in creating digital art.
2D Digital Painting
The most recognizable form of digital art is 2D digital painting. Utilizing a tablet and stylus, art software seeks to closely replicate the traditional painting process as much as possible in order to provide the artist an authentic experience. In many cases, it’s difficult to distinguish a digitally painted piece versus a hand-painted piece.
The artist selects from a variety of brushes, paint types, and mediums, just as in real life. Watercolor is a popular choice among digital artists, as is oil paint and pastels. The benefit of painting digitally is that an artist can work in layers and undo actions at any point in the piece. There’s also the color picker, which provides an infinite array of colors to work with.
Tools in digital art software come with subsets and settings that the artist can manipulate as they please, including paint thickness, opacity, and brush texture. These features significantly enhance the painting process and have increased the popularity of digital art among artists.
3D Digital Painting And 3D Sculpting
3D painting is another popular technique and extension of a 2D painting. It also goes hand in hand with sculpting. This is because the artists will apply paint, texture, and shading over a 3D model. The result is an incredibly lifelike representation of the figure. This technique is also commonly seen in cinema, especially with top-level studios like Pixar, and most recently with Studio Ghibli, who transitioned from 2D to 3D.
3D digital painting can be hyperrealistic or highly stylized/cartoonish. 3D sculpting not only allows an artist to create a figure but pose it and manipulate it at will, unlike in-person sculpture. This makes things like animation highly efficient, allowing a 3D model to be drafted and painted before posing or placing it in a scene. Sculpting can also be used to create 3D assets such as objects or clothing to be loaded into a video game or animation.
Pixel art relies on the most diminutive elements of art–basic shapes–to create drastically intricate pieces. Pixel art is no recent invention. Even Salvador Dali incorporate pixel art into his pieces. Today, pixel art is heavily associated with the gaming industry, as it is used to create sprites and assets in the earliest video games.
Pixel art can be used to create a piece that is hyper-realistic, as well as one with an overly-simplified scheme. Pixel art was used in early video games because it allowed artists to render characters and backgrounds without using up too much memory. This led to the term “8-bit” being associated with pixel art.
Pixel art is used to create 2D gaming assets, as well as brilliant full-color artworks. Pixel art is also particularly easy to animate, which is the reason why many artists make gifs of their work. Pixel art is not exclusively digital–it’s been incorporated into traditional art as well. However, it began as one of the first forms of digital art in both private and commercial settings.
Fractal art has its origins in ancient Asian and Middle Eastern culture. Artists would spend hours creating intricate fractal mosaics and patterns that would be used to decorate temples and places of importance. In the Western world, fractals became more common when it was realized that digital art could produce these same mesmerizing pieces.
Fractal art relies on the use of algorithms and mathematical equations to produce intricate patterns. It was one of the earliest forms of digital art and continues to dominate the scene today. Using fractal-generating software, artists are able to create fractals in both 2D and 3D. Some of these fractals are creating according to particular algorithms, such as the Fibonacci sequence.
Fractal art is an important facet of digital artistry because it represents one of the earliest forms of artificial intelligence. By inputting a number of algorithms and specifications into code, artists realized they could teach a computer how to create stunning artwork in a fraction of the time.
An offshoot of fractal art is algorithmic art. Not all algorithmic art involves the creation of patterns or mosaics. It simply entails the use of some code or equation into the creation of an art piece, and this can be done in both traditional and digital art.
Algorithmic art can be used to create a variety of pieces, from hyper-realistic to abstract pieces. In most cases, algorithmic art relies on the computer to create the entire piece, with no input from the artist at all.
Algorithms are common in digital art because they can be used to make vectors, which avoids issues with pixelization because the piece can be resized according to its algorithmic parameters. Algorithmic art is commonly seen in word art, logos, and computer-generated backgrounds and assets.
Some question whether or not algorithmic art is truly art if it’s done solely by a computer. However, the increasing presence of algorithms in visual art in addition to other art forms such as music has led to its increase in popularity.
Naturally, digital photography is a part of digital art! Digital photography was a huge innovation in photography and revolutionized the way we capture the world around us. But isn’t all photography digital? The answer is no when you consider that cameras before the digital boom relied on light exposure to film in order to produce an image. Digital cameras don’t use film, allowing them to capture images and video without limits.
Digital cameras also have the ability to zoom, focus, and filter an image. A digital camera only does half the work when it comes to photography, however. Just as important to the artistic process is software like Photoshop and LightRoom. In many cases, the pictures we take aren’t true to life for a number of reasons.
Art software like Adobe Photoshop helps artists alter a photo to bring out its natural features and, in some cases, add to them! Photography is a huge part of the digital art world, although not many associates it right away with the label.
Once virtual reality became widely available, it wasn’t long before artists found a way to incorporate the technology into their creative process. VR painting quickly became a thing thanks to the application Tilt Brush. Tilt Brush was created by Google as a way to paint in a 3D space. The artist can physically walk around their brush strokes and paint from every angle. It creates an immersive piece that the viewer then can view in VR–or as a 3D image.
Tilt Brush is a monumental innovation because it took painting where it’s never gone before. Never has an artist been able to freely paint in the air around them, combining sculpture and paint. Tilt Brush seeks to provide realistic paint mechanics and physics so that the pieces look realistic, and they truly are. In just a few short years, developers have been able to improve the technology and supply artists with even more features. Tilt Brush is available on all major VR platforms, include Oculus, Vive, PlayStation, and Windows Mixed Reality.
2D Computer Graphics
There are two forms of computer graphics, and those are 2D and 3D. 2D graphics are images rendered solely through a computer. This can entail text, shapes, logos, graphs, and more. 2D graphics can be animated and take the form of a .png or .gif. 2D computer graphics can also be vectors instead of pixelized raster images.
2D computer graphics comprise a massive part of the digital art industry. It encompasses almost all 2D art, including cartoons and animations. It led to the invention of clipart, as well as higher demand for logos and web advertisements.
2D Graphics can appear three-dimensional but are represented by 2D shapes on the screen. This is the case with video game assets, which rely on pixel art and 2D graphics to produce an image that appears 3D. 2D graphics are still as relevant today as they were when the internet first surged in popularity and remain one of the easiest forms of digital art to produce.
3D Computer Graphics
The other form of computer graphics, then, is 3D, or three-dimensional. 3D computer graphics are praised for their realism and capabilities to render entire scenes and even movies. The term “CGI” stands for computer-generated imagery, which relies on little to no help at all from real-life assets.
3D computer graphics can be rotated, resized, and shaped. Some artists consider it a form of “digital clay.” 3D computer graphics have a variety of applications, including creating models for use in engineering and architectural programs.
When coupled with real-life physics, 3D computer graphics can create incredible works that mimic real life. This technology has been applied to movies and video games, where one can not only view a 3D object but interact with it as well.
Even if you haven’t heard of photobashing before, you’ve probably seen it. Photobashing is the art of combining real-life, 2D, and 3D graphics to create a dynamic scene. An artist may paint some portions of the piece while incorporating 3D models and textures for other portions.
Artists who use the photobashing technique are able to create surrealist depictions of life that are vivid and engaging. These pieces appear to be realistic, but more often than not, the artist will add some sort of whimsical or science-fiction edge. In fact, the cyberpunk aesthetic seems to be popular among photobashing artists, as they are easily able to blend fantastical elements in with reality.
Photobashing also is a way to correct elements in a digital painting or to speed up the process by incorporating already rendered objects. Concept artists often use these techniques, as well as digital painters.
This form of digital art takes a photograph and applies paint over the existing figures and forms to create a painting. It’s popular to block in the major forms with color and leave out the details of the face (sans the eyebrows) to produce a minimalist painting. Digital artists also go into further detail in photo painting, as it is popular to create lifelike portraits and paintings that are hyperrealist.
Like photobashing, photo painting can be used to enhance or add to the detail of an existing piece. This piece can be entirely traditional with some added elements or completely digitized. A sub facet of photo painting is rendering a high detailed photograph into geometrical shapes, often taking on a more subdued color scheme.
Photo painting is not to be confused with photoshopping, which is the alteration of images using art software. However, in many cases, photoshopping an image might entail replacing an area with a clone stamp from another area. This, in a way, is also photo painting.
Data-moshing is one of the smaller niches of digital art. It involves layering videos, filters, and programmed-glitches to create a moshed video. This video is described as being bright, modernist, and even psychedelic. Data-moshing might appear to be a scrambled mess, but it can be quite ethereal and thought-provoking. Some videos have a slight vapor-wave aesthetic, whereas others juxtapose things like ballerinas with industrial chaos.
Data-moshing applies to 2D and still images as well. Like algorithmic art, it relies on programming and software to splice and layer videos. It’s common to have a video that appears normal, then turns into a data-mosh at some point as a distortion of reality.
Google launched the “Deep Dream” tool in recent years, which enables users to data-mosh a still image. Users have described these images as equally terrifying and breath-taking. In some cases, the overlayed data consists of eyeballs or mouths, which presents especially horrifying over human figures.
Dynamic painting is one of the more controversial forms of digital art. Using artificial intelligence and human data, computers are able to create vivid paintings that are indistinguishable from organic work. That’s not to say that’s always the case, however. Artificial intelligence has a long way to go, and more often than not, computer software presents us with errors. Some of these paintings are slightly off in a sense, whereas others are reminiscent of the great masters.
Recently, an entirely AI art gallery was founded to showcase the best of the best of current software. Machines were trained using a variety of classical art pieces from various periods, including those of the most well-known artists. The landscape pieces are eerily beautiful and look authentic.
The portraits, on the other hand, are a hit or a miss. In some ways, the uncanny valley that presents itself in these paintings is part of its charm. Art has always been open to interpretation, and dynamic paintings seem to play entirely off that. If you feel like going down a rabbit hole (or are interested in owning a unique piece of art that won’t be found anywhere else), check out the dynamic painting genre.
Digital collages have climbed their way into relevancy through mood boards, aesthetic mash-ups, and scrapbooking. Mood and aesthetic boards have been especially popular in recent years, partly due to social media. Users quickly took to the trend of compiling photos together on Instagram and Facebook, and this increased demand for image splicing and photo editing apps.
Digital collages can be extremely varied in appearance and style. They can combine photography, 3D assets, and painting to create a collage. Like some of the other digital art forms mentioned on this list, many digital collage artists seek to distort reality or create an illusion. This cross exposure technique actually dates back to the invention of the camera.
Raster painting is the process of painting in a raster layer. In some cases, it involves painting directly onto a rasterized image, similar to photo painting. Raster painting works exclusively in the raster form or with pixels. It cannot be resized or edited without the risk of becoming blurry.
Raster painting encompasses most forms of digital painting. It can be used to create 2D or 3D graphics that utilize pixels. The higher definition a piece is, the more pixels it will have. The convenience of using raster layers and raster painting is that it’s easier to blend and create more organic textures and shapes.
Vector art is the arch-nemesis of raster art. Or, more closely, the opposite. Vector art relies on algorithms–yes, again–algorithms, to create shapes and render an image. Vector art is preferable for many reasons. This vector art can be regenerated and resized as many times as needed without losing any resolution in the process. It can be easily edited to change color or add and remove details.
Many artists will vectorize their line art, so it’s more efficient to color and shade. Vector artists create a variety of works, from full-scale portraits to simple logos and sprites. They’re particularly common in graphic design, such as in advertisements or on websites.
Integrated art is present in both traditional and digital mediums. It involves the use of two more media in one piece. This could entail combining photography and painting, 3D models and 2D assets, or fractals and other assets.
Integrated art most commonly resembles a collage, although it’s recently expanded to mediums like virtual reality, which combines real-time environments with rendered assets.
Integrated art is a cornerstone of digital art because it encourages experimentation and the pushing of boundaries. Integrated art incorporates not only other media but also other art forms, including music, theater, and writing. One might even consider entire works such as films or video games as a large, integrated art piece.
Mixed media is an extension of integrated art. It is a type of art that blends and combines multiple mediums. These mediums typically include painting, pottery, ceramics, glass, and photography. In digital art, mixed media pieces may combine 3D models and paint.
Adding paint to 3D models helps it create a more realistic piece. There are special brushes available to add textures to a model, as well as shadows and lighting. Mixed media is essential in digital art because, without it, a piece wouldn’t have the same depth or realism. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of digital art, given that it combines both traditional and digital assets.
Computer-Generated Digital Painting
Computer-generated digital paintings are far more common than you think. In addition to more niche genres like dynamic painting, computer-generated digital painting is used to create landscapes, backgrounds, and concept art.
It’s also used to help repair traditional artwork and photographs. Using art software, artists can help create backgrounds and environments as assets to be used in other works. It can also be used to create minor 3D assets or textures such as hair, weather, or surfaces.
In particular, computers are especially adept at generating painted versions of machinery and technology. These things are normally quite difficult to paint in real life, so relying on a computer to generate these textures can be quite helpful.
When Genius Meets Creativity
The digital art of today might look drastically different from the digital art of tomorrow. And that’s okay, given the technological innovations that lead to new possibilities. Virtual reality and CGI seem to be at the forefront of the technological wave, while older versions of digital art like collages still remain popular.
The future of digital art is an exciting one, albeit a controversial one as well. Regardless of what you think of digital art, you can’t help but be impressed by what you see.