January Visual Trend Exploration: Digital Illustration
While much design has gone digital from start to finish, until recently, many illustrators still relied on their physical pens and pencils to at least start their work. Final details were usually added digitally after images were scanned and uploaded to illustration software. Because using a mouse to sketch can be cumbersome, a stylus only has one width and lacks the same feel as traditional drawing tools, and tablets haven’t had the computing capacity, digital illustration is behind the curve.
But as technology expands and hardware and mobile apps evolve, more and more professional illustrators, animators, and graphic artists are sketching with digital pencils, from first stroke to final masterpiece, and it’s transforming the way they work. This digital process offers detail, flexibility, and creativity on the go.
Clean, detailed line work — naturally.
Digital pencil sketching creates line work that’s smooth and clean, regardless of whether the illustrations are simple or detailed. In the same stroke you can move from ultrafine to thick lines, just by relieving pressure on the pencil. Unlike digital styluses of the past, modern sketch pencils are thin and they feel like real pencils. By imitating natural strokes and angles, they respond in the same way as physical media.
London-based digital illustrator Dan Mumford creates epic imagery with intricate details and a limited color palette. He prefers illustrating digitally and says of digital sketching tools, “You can go from the firmest of tiny points to a big, thick line in one stroke just with the use of pressure. And within the apps, you can tweak how sensitive the pressure and the angle is, and how other details about how the lines that you draw are going to come out on the screen. It makes for a very powerful tool.”
Flexibility to explore.
Another allure of digital illustration is flexibility. Whether you’re laying out loose lines to plan composition for comic book art or creating a detailed illustration, with digital design, you’re free to explore new concepts, evaluate your choices, and make corrections quickly and conveniently. Dan says he has created quite a few intricate pieces digitally. “I was very impressed that I could do something so complex to completion from the iPad alone.”
While digital tools offer flexibility, some artists may shy from having the ability to print endless original productions of their art. Does it devalue the work? There is certainly value we attach to artwork that is created physically — where only one original exists. Dan admits, “It is actually a thought process that I struggle with at work quite a lot, and that is feeling that working digitally isn’t cheating. It definitely isn’t cheating; it is just another tool to create the end product.”
Inspiration on the go.
Ideas can strike anywhere and using digital tools for sketching puts unlimited possibilities in your hands wherever you are — whether leaving your studio to run an errand or traveling on an extended vacation, you can easily take your toolkit with you. With all your files online, the use of a digital pencil instead of a mouse, and the necessary computing power literally in your hand, technology today makes drawing on the go easy and convenient.
For Dan, streamlining his creative process with technology means that everything is for him to carry on with his work wherever he goes. He explains, “In the past I haven’t really had a solution that worked for me while I was not in the studio. I would go away for two weeks on a trip and essentially not do any sketching. Sometimes that was by choice, but also out of stubbornness to not want to go back to work with pen and paper. Digital sketching has made my work super easy because I don’t have to sit on the idea too much, I can just get on with it and I really enjoy that.”
Watch for more digital art — start to finish.
Ultimately, art is about communication. Whether it’s painting an emotional watercolor or drafting an informative blueprint, the right tool enhances the creative process and makes it work better. With the digital toolkit for artists constantly expanding, watch for more and more unique and fine digital art. On the horizon with Project WetBrush are tools for realistic oil painting. For today, digital sketching tools bring quality, flexibility, and convenience to illustrators and it’s changing how they facilitate conversations with their audiences.
See more examples of digitally enabled illustrations in our dedicated Adobe Stock gallery.