Drawing on a Computer

Recognizing there will be a tiny audience for this topic, I promise to be brief.

It’s really all about tools.  One of my favorite artists, Thomas Eakins, was fascinated by new technology and would have loved to paint on a computer (I believe.)    Great computer art still needs a great artist.  The best omelette pan can still burn eggs.

I’d been drawing cartoons and caricatures since 1958 in high school.  Then, in 1968 in the  USAF, working the midnight shift as a computer operator I mapped out and then keypunched a printed pattern of Xs that produced an image of Snoopy on a $5 million mainframe.  Sparky forgive me.  General Curtis LeMay never knew.

Meanwhile for the next 30 years I continued to draw cartoons on 2-ply Bristol with a variety of pens and brushes.  I dabbled with watercolor, pastels and colored pencils loving every minute.  Slowly I learned (still doing that…)

Over my shoulder, computers were getting smaller, faster and cheaper.  Then, one of those “ah hah” moments came when Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC and saw a mouse.  He understood the possibility of a whole new way of communicating/directing a computer.  Digital graphics were soon born.

Fast forward.  We now have relatively inexpensive touch sensitive digital screens sitting above software that can mimic an entire art supplies store.  Painting with instant undo and no cleanup.  Amazing, wonderful, but still just a tool.

There is still a steep learning curve and a boatload of technology and new jargon.  For peeps and many millennials that hill is not too hard to climb.  For mature practicing artists there’s really no urgent  reason to invest their time.  That leaves me and 8 or 9 others to adjust our heads and make room for layers, opacity, lasso-selects and pdf files.

The software we learned first (photoshop) was a combination cathedral pipe organ with 4 keyboards and 300 stops and the the cockpit of a Boeing 747.  Expensive, lots of power, and a bit daunting to learn.  Yes there are simpler packages to use, but they are more limited in what they can produce,  Like a small box of crayons.

Right now I’m seeing a new generation of software, or apps as they’re now called, that greatly simplifies the digital screen/pad dashboard or interface (shudder.)  Some may remember the original TV’s had a lot of knobs for adjustments that are no longer needed, like vertical hold, similar idea.  Good word processors have gone this route by putting the most common functions out front and burying the less needed ones a few clicks down.

It’s called  the U/I or user interface.  I still wince at terms like that.  Look at a watercolor artist’s studio painting area and you’ll see paper, a paint palette, brushes, water bucket, cloth and maybe a hair dryer.  Then there’s a ton of other stuff nearby but less handy.  This is happily the direction of the generation of apps, making them easier to learn and use.   Photoshop’s U/I is still a 747 dashboard.  Procreate and Infinite Painter are minimalist.

So training/learning is crucial.  Gone are the days when software came with user guides.  Today it’s a help tab or community comment sites, even Google can hook you up with answers to weird questions.  Youtube, the university of everything, is also a terrific source of narrow topic training.  Here’s a well deserved plug for a digital artist, critic, teacher and smart-ass, Brad Colbow: Link  He has his own channel for digital artist nerds.

So, I promised to make  this short.  Virtually all the artwork I’ve produced for publication in the past 7 years has been digital.  Samples are found elsewhere in this journal.  And still I persist, always carrying an analog drawing journal and a ballpoint because I love the feel of low-tech paper and a non-erasable pen.

You might be wondering about digital art’s durability.  I don’t.  99% of all art produced is not durable regardless of medium.  So who cares?  The 1% worthy of future audiences will find a way to endure in museums.

Meanwhile, enjoy what we have.


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