Tuesday, August 16, 2011

? What is Tradigital ?

by Ginger Nielson

The methods and means of illustrating for children's books, book covers, novels, and magazines have changed dramatically over the past 15 years.  Advances in computer painting software, digital photography and the internet create a combination of tools for the artist.

For any artist trained in the traditional methods of oil, acrylics, pen and ink, etching, print making, and screen printing the advances in computer technology provide new tools for the trade.

Combining the traditional methods with digital methods leads me to define the work as "Tradigital."

As an example, my work begins as pencil sketches.  Often I will add paint to the first draft and then either photograph the beginnings or scan the work if it is small enough.  I am not alone using this traditional beginning process.  The advantage for a traditionally trained artist is the freedom to work in large strokes that capture a moment and keep the flow from the brain to the paper or canvas.  If wanted a soft wash can be added to define form. Some of us love to feel the paper beneath the pencil; a soft and reassuring sound and feel can stir the imagination.

There is something about a pencil on drawing paper that cannot be recreated.  There is a tone, a feel and a journey the artist takes from that first mark on the paper to the completion of an idea.

Using a digital camera to transfer the initial work to the computer is easier than using a scanner if the first sketches are very large.  I like to keep the drawing table ready for any thought or idea that pops into my head.  The camera is always ready too *:)

As the artist paints in the computer, layer upon layer of image can be created.  Before the layers of painting are merged into one final painting the artist has the option of eliminating, improving, changing, enhancing or redoing any layer.  Once merged, the layers become the final painting.  Then it is on to the designer and editor.

What are the tools of the "tradigital" artist? A must-have is a drawing tablet and stylus or an entire screen on which to draw. Wacom is one of the companies that make various sizes of tablets that are packaged with a pressure sensitive stylus.  For this type of tablet the artist draws on the tablet while watching the computer screen.  Color, line, paint, adjustments in size and much more are easily controlled.

 A newer, but more costly advance, the Cintiq, eliminates the disconnect between tablet and computer screen. The Cintiq is the screen you actually draw upon. Cintiq by Wacom is the industry standard for a screen on which your high end painting software combines with the ability to draw right on the screen itself.  The images the artist creates in this way mimic the traditional method most closely.
Apple also entered the market with the ModBook and ModBook Pro.  A few other companies are now in the market and have similar products available.

The advantages for the "tradigital" artist are numerous.  Today's publishing industry often demands quick turn around on assignments.  Numerous changes may occur during an assignment.  Computer painting programs allow the artist to make changes in color, composition, size, and style without laboriously redoing an entire oil or acrylic painting.  There is also the fact that many large files containing illustrations can be sent quickly over a secure internet connection.

Another key factor that enables "tradigital" artists to keep their sanity is the fact that there are 32-200+ levels of "undo" in some of the most sophisticated painting programs.  You may not like the color of an object... you can change it in an instant.  Your art director may not like the size, position, proportion or particular hue in a painting.  The digital process will allow far more forgiving changes.

Occasionally editors, on behalf of their client, the author, will require the artist to redo and revise large sections of a book or create an entirely new cover.  The "tradigital" artist enjoys an advantage here even if the editor needs a completely new direction. The combination of traditional and digital moves the project along at a quicker pace and keeps to tight deadlines.

Do not call "tradigital" or even "digital" painting computer generated art or call it digitized.  Those are two things it is not.   This is still painting and drawing which take time and talent. There are instances where a digital painting can take longer than a traditional one because of the complexity that is coupled with the endless possibilities.  Calling this type of art - digitized -does not reflect the amount of time and care that goes into the creation of illustrations that have the power to interest, enlighten and entertain.


  1. No, I didn't follow everything you present in this article, but I'm technologically challenged. However, I understand that "things, they are a changin" only too well.

  2. Interesting article, Ginger. It's amazing how things progress over time.

  3. I love the term!

    I use a Genius tablet. It was a lot less expensive than the Wacom at the same size.

  4. Ginger, this was really enlightening. I had no idea how the process worked, but have a much better understanding now. Thanks! ";o)

  5. The main point here is that digital artwork is still painting and it takes time and talent to create something that brings the magic of the author's words to life.