Making Art in Real Life vs Digital Art

So my creative time recently has been spent on learning Mixed Media art.  This is my fourth piece, and the largest at 10″ square.  It occurred to me while finishing this off that there are a lot of parallels between real life art and digital art that have relevance for digital artists.

I say this because I came to digital art via photography.  My skills in painting and drawing by hand are non existent so making art in the physical space has never been an experience for me.  Of course, I am doing it all backwards most likely 🙂

Tip # 1  Start with Quality Ingredients

There is a colloquial phrase here in NZ “You can’t polish a turd” which certainly applies with art, of any kind I’m sure.

Quite simply, you need to start with quality ingredients – be it paints or photographs and digital media.  This can be an expensive and time consuming exercise, but what you put into it will dictate the quality of the final result

Tip#2   Prepare your Background Properly

Of course this might depend on your final image, but in my experience, taking time to prepare a good background enhances the overall image. It adds textural depth and interest to the image, rather than being blank space.

In the piece above, my background is crumpled tin foil (shiny side down), strips of plastering tape and paper die cut steampunk cogs. It helps frame the image and give the eye points of interest to move around.

Doing the same in a digital image is important, it can be harder in some ways, as you lose the benefit of the 3D effect and have to make up for that in different ways.

Tip #3   Have Enough Stuff

It can be challenging to put together an interesting and varied piece of art if you have a limited choice of options to use.

Invest in a range of different elements, so you have choices.  Also, don’t be afraid to experiment and use things in an unusual way.  In digital art, I found creative application of brushes and masking and colours could have some really interesting effect.  All it took was some time, and the willingness to think outside the box.

Tip #4  Build Layers and Depth into the piece

You can see from the image above, I actually have a key sticking out of the keyhole element.  This piece has elements stacked 4 layers high – starting from the background.

Careful placement and balance of elements is important for a cohesive piece.  It needs to work as a whole, not just a scattering of different bits.

In digital work, the layers are virtual, but still have relevance in the placement of the components – should this bit go in front or behind that bit, maybe a mask here or there?

Tip #5  Colour is Important

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You can see from the images in the above slideshow, a radical difference.  One was the first development of colour application – the image has been coloured and toned, a vignette effect added in.  But it was all one tone and lacked impact.

The final image has copper, gold, verdigris and patina effect added.  Suddenly different elements stand out, the background has the colour tones blended in to support the overall effect, it has become a more interesting and effective piece

Sometimes you might have to rework an image several times before you finally reach the finished piece that you envisioned.

Tip#6  Once the Glue has dried, there is no going back

This is where digital varies from real life art – if you are saving your work in Photoshop layers and keeping those intact, then everything you do can be changed as often as you like.   I wonder now, if that lack of final commitment makes it harder or easier for us to create?

With physical art, once the glue has set or the paint has dried, there is not much you can do to alter a piece.  With this 4th work, I actually did it in stages, taking time to place elements and let it sit over night, and see if I was happy with it. The glue was only applied once I had manipulated the design and decided how each piece should sit.

Taking the time to do this made it a better end result, I know I made many changes from my original concept.  Because each time the glue was applied, it was a final commitment, so it was important to take time to get the positions right.

Tip#7  Seeing your art for real in the physical space is awesome

Like many photographers and digital artists, I don’t print my work often enough.  I know that I should, but cost is a factor.

So being able to work on a piece with your hands and see it come to life when the paint is applied for the first coat is a delight I could get quite addicted too 🙂


So my thoughts on the links between making art in the digital or virtual space, and getting messy with the paint brush on the lounge floor!

Who else out there does art in real life?  What are your thoughts on the links between creating physical art and digital?  Do you agree with my tips?







About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
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11 Responses to Making Art in Real Life vs Digital Art

  1. Love this post and agree totally! I also love that you continue to expand your horizons. I do photography, digital and traditional art forms and love them all. I am a learner in all of these areas and find the crossover learning totally beneficial.

  2. loisajay says:

    On a chain, this would make the most beautiful necklace. It is truly gorgeous.

  3. Robyn G says:

    Stacey, I find they all relate very closely and work together. I did my learning in Fine Arts Photography and Art together. An awesome experience and very much ongoing.
    Am enjoying your experiments in MM 😀

  4. green_knight says:

    I love this piece, and I love reading about your process. As for the layers and possibility to rework stuff: I love that it exists (I keep the layered versions of all of my pieces), but I try to do what Sebastian recommends, which is to finish something, look at it, and move on. My trick for this is to keep working at it until I feel ready; then I add another layer and add my mark. After that, it’s done, and I’d have to see a really strong possibility to improve before I go back to it.

    On the other hand, I feel that I am creating too quickly – I tend to move through a piece, adding things, masking items, playing with blend modes, adding some more… and then stepping back and I’m done. I don’t know how to plan a piece, to be methodical about working with it, to make small adjustments for an overall effect, so take this with a pinch of salt.

    • Doing mixed media has also slowed my process down a lot too. I don’t know that there is a right or wrong way as to speed, if you work fast and are happy with the result then yay! My first MM pieces were like that with no detriment to them, but this one took longer because I adapted the process and added black gesso paint layers in between. I found building ti all and then painting didn’t get gesso into all the underneath places or needed to be. So this time I planned out the layers so I could paint in stages. It also gave me the advantage of taking time to position the elements and I think in this instance it was better for it. So it might well depend in the image and your outcome too 😍 I have plans for my next piece but I need to collect more stuff first

  5. sydspix says:

    I had never considered doing this type of project but it looks like a lot of fun. I enjoyed following the steps to see how your beautiful artwork was constructed. I think this will go in my arsenal of art fun!

  6. hxiwenchen says:

    These ornate keys and metalwork remind me much of Through the Looking Glass and Harry Potter. Great choices. I think it’s important to combine different mediums in order to push creativity/technical skills to the limit in order to improve.

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