Digital art won’t save you

A bit of history

The first digital drawing: in 1956, an IBM programmer used a $238 million military computer, the largest such machine ever built, to render an image of a curvy woman.

The first digital drawing: in 1956, an IBM programmer used a $238 million military computer, the largest such machine ever built, to render an image of a curvy woman.

We witnessed a huge IT revolution in a very short time. The first calculator was built during the World War II to decode the Enigma algorithm. As peace was restored and decades passed, computers became appliances in every house, like the washing machine or TV.
Computers also grew in power and devices, went mobile and more interactive with touch screens and augmented reality.
Nearly 60 years later, we can’t imagine our lives, work and fun without a computer or smartphone in our hands.

Being an artist today

Due to a variety of reasons, the majority of processes in the art field quickly translated from traditional media to digital tools.

  • There’s more demand for digital content than ever before: webcomics, games, ebook covers, websites, etc.
  • Digital is easy to modify, endlessly.
  • Digital processes allow non-destructive work: for example, you can redraw an arm and keep the old one available on an hidden layer.
  • Publishers and printers expect you to send them digital files.

Most artists are as good on paper as on the graphic tablet. They just happen to work digital everyday. They only need a pencil to sketch and refine their lineart, then a scanner and -PUFF- they continue digitally. Moreover, an increasing number of artists only draws completely digital.

So, as a modern artist, you’ll spend your everyday sat in front of a screen and a graphic tablet. As soon as your career progresses, this can change without the slightest warning and you should be prepared.

An artist’s career doesn’t start and end in front of a monitor.

An adventurous career

There are a lot of conventions, events and opportunities in the real world that can definitely push your career further.

Exhibiting at conventions is a must to promote your art and spread your name as an artist. The same is true for live performances, workshops, demostrations and teaching. These situations happen to any artist, and it’s where traditional art skills can boost your career.

Me performing live at "The Magic Castle" event. I used coloured pencils and Copic markers. I also crafted my wings and dressed like a fairy.

Me performing live at “The Magic Castle” event. I had to craft my own wings, dress like a fairy and perform live drawing.

The lie of digital art

People don’t know the efforts to complete each image in your portfolio. They think it’s an easy, relaxing hobby where the computer does the magic. Therefore, people can’t separate your value from the contribution of the digital tools you used.
The one way to prove them wrong is to show your artistic skills using different, traditional tools.

True artists don’t necessarily need a computer to create art. Prove you’re one of them.

Showing that you’re proficient with traditional tools will prove that you’re versatile, willing to learn and to challenge yourself. In the end, it will make you stand out and bring you a step further.

Pencil on paper, inked with Sakura pen markers and coloured with Copic markers.

Pencil on paper, inked with Sakura pen markers and coloured with Copic markers.

Have a plan B

Sooner or later, you’ll be asked to draw in places without any digital tool. The notification may arrive late and you’ll have very short time to become proficient with tools you never used before.

Your workflow must suddenly change: no undos, no layers, no filters or special effects!
You step into an unknown reign of surfaces, materials and blendings where physics and chemistry rule uncontested.

Take your time to master one or two traditional techniques as a plan B. You’ll be ready and self-confident whenever a potential client calls you to perform live.

I suggest you choose two, because sometimes you can’t either decide which technique to use. For example, at Lucca Comics & Games, sponsors give acrylic and oil colors. Another example: I’ve been recently hired for a live demo with Copic markers.


Despite all the technology and softwares at our disposal, an artist’s life is sprinkled with situations where digital cannot help. This is why mastering at least two traditional techniques is mandatory for whoever wants to establish as a professional and take advantage of a wide range of offline, real life opportunities.

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Francesca Urbinati Artist

Francesca Urbinati

Sono illustratrice e fumettista freelance. Ho lavorato su effetti speciali 3D, graphic design e multimedia per RAI, Mediaset, Adobe, ArtOrder LLC, Studio Hamburg, MoveTheGame e molti altri. Pubblico la serie a fumetti Niki Batsprite e aiuto altri artisti e autori a emergere.
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