We live in a great time, technologically speaking. 20 years ago a large team was needed to produce an animation film. And a bunch of wizzkids on super computers to develop the software.

Nowadays, if I had the time, I could make one on my own.

It’s like a kind of magic.

For a lot of people it actually is.

Those people think that the hard- and software do all the hard work. That an artist only has to push a button to get something amazing. And that you can do that instantly without having to learn for it.

If you think that, I have news.

  • Without a creative talent you can’t produce beautiful work with the aid of digital means.
  • If you don’t have the right artistic skills, work you do on a computer will not be good.
  • If you aren’t prepared to learn, the hard- and software will not do the work for you.

Working with digital media is indeed different than working with traditional media. There are a lot more possibilities. In digital media there is no gravity (if you don’t want to) so you can make sculptures that aren’t possible in real life. For animation one can use skeletons to move the characters in a specifically restricted way and the computer can calculate most of the data of the frames between key frames. Not all, because it still is peoples work.
With digital media traditional drawing is still possible. I have an application that mimics traditional media like oil paint and gouache and I always work with a digital pencil on a digital drawing board. But you can also work with vectors thus making your work really scalable.


Digital media opens a lot of possibilities.

And that makes me happy.

But is doesn’t make it any easier.

Almost everybody knows how to hold a pencil. Easy.

What isn’t easy is the knowledge it takes to make fine art. One needs to know how to use perspective, shadows, anatomy. In other words: to make a realistic illustration one need to know a lot about how we perceive the world. No medium can compensate for that, digital or otherwise.

If I wanted an easy life I would have stayed with traditional media. Anything I imagined when I still worked with traditional media I was able to make. But it always gave a mess. Pencils have to be sharpened, paint can be poisonous and spill over clothes and hands. Cats, kids and other people can mess up your papers and canvases, there’s always something. Plus: oil paints gave me a headache.

Now I work completely digital. And that’s hard work.

Since 2005 I use 3d applications. But for years I only used them to make “silhouettes” that I then used as a base for an illustration in Photoshop. A technique comparable to the use of the camera obsura used in traditional work.

Wait a minute. You thought great artists like Vermeer and Rembrandt didn’t use aids to help in their work? Let me enlighten you: every professional artist, painter or scientific illustrator that produces realistic work uses aids to make sure their work is accurate. That doesn’t make their work less valuable. If you don’t know how to use these aids you can’t work with them and they don’t add to your talent or lack thereof.

As recently as 2008 I was working like this. Because 3d applications are very difficult and too complex to master completely in a short time. That takes years.

And this worked for me.

Until 2009. November first of that year my son was born and I had a lot of time on my hands in which I wasn’t able to work but did have access to a computer. So I practiced. And practiced. And practiced.

It took me until the end of 2013 to be content with the skill level I managed to master: only then I was able to make with 3d applications what I envisioned in my mind.


So it took me four years of dedicated learning to master my 3d applications.

And I still have a long way to go and very clear goals to achieve. Part of that is, again basic knowledge independent of the media I work in: I now know how to rig a character so that it can move in a realistic way. But now I need to learn how to do the animation on a professional level. I have a good insight into biomechanics but that knowledge I have to translate to the 3d application, Blender, I work with.

Working digitally gives me a lot of advantages. I can split up my workflow for example. I can start making props in 3d without thinking about the composition or other aspects of the final 2d illustration. In 3d I can make sure the anatomy is correct, as well as the material, skin tone and other aspects that make a subject come to life. Only in the end I have to think about composition, angle and other aspects that make a 2d illustration great.

But other than that: working with digital media is just a means to an end. Most of what I make digitally I could, and still can, make traditionally. Sometimes with less effort, sometimes with more. For me the big advantage of working digitally is that I can combine skills that aren’t easily combined in traditional work. The combination of 2d and 3d is a lot easier digitally. Have you ever tried to make a statue out of clay or stone in a very short time, make sure it doesn’t break down under your hands, to be used in a painting or such? How would you do that? Take a photo and stick that in to the painting? Make the statue and draw that on to the painting? That is where working digitally makes a big difference.

And by working digitally I can easily anticipate the use of my work without having to deal with it from the start. The end result of my work can vary between post stamp size and the façade of a building.


That is why the advantages of working digitally outweigh the disadvantages of the complex and steep learning curve one has to follow.

For me that is.

Then there are people that are opposed to digital work “because there is no original work to be shown”

Yeah right.

I never heard that argument used against a writer.


  • You’ve certainly gives a fair and personal argument for working digitally instead of using traditional media. I very much agree with the points about it being a tool, just like the camera obscura etc. Surely it’s just foolishness to use the tools available? However, I’m wary of listing the disadvantages of paint, sculpture etc – it sounds slightly defensive and the object isn’t to get artists to put down their preferred tools and start using digital instead, it’s to convince the wider art community that digital is a valid fine art form alongside other media.
    The fact is, the majority of illustrators are now using digital media and it’s become the accepted form of working. Most publishers expect digital files and illustrators who still use pencils and brushes are in the minority.
    However, whether it’s accepted as fine art is more to do with the VALUE of each piece rather than the difficulty or skill required of its creator. And that’s about how many copies are in existence, how they’re presented to the world, and most importantly how much money they’ll generate to collectors, gallery owners and investors.
    I think there are two lines of opposition we have to face: firstly, to computer generated imagery itself, and secondly, to the non-traditional tools we use to print it. My problem is largely from opposition to the latter. I’m one of the dinosaurs that work exclusively in traditional media, you see, (pencil / paint / ink) but put these elements together and enhance them in Photoshop and print them using a top quality giclee printer. Because the digital images have been significantly altered by the Photoshop manipulations (colour and composition on the page), they are very much the desired end product, and very different from the initial drawings.
    The opposition is fuelled with ideas about mass production, and reproduction of existing artworks. In their mind: giclee is used for reproduction = giclee is not an acceptable medium for original prints. Whereas the truth is: giclee is an acceptable medium for original prints that, like other traditional print media, was developed as a means of reproduction.
    There is no point, in my mind, of transferring good, detailed on-screen images into a traditional print medium that will compromise its aesthetic quality, and limit it to a smaller size format. This is Ludditism for its own sake, and a senseless backward step.
    Opposition to digital media is confused between these two distinct areas: the skill involved in its initial creation, and presentation as a work of art with a monetary value.

  • Mieke Roth says:

    Thanks Katrina for that point of view! Because I am completely digitally, this really adds to the discussion. I hope more people will follow.

    • I have only recently started using digital art as a medium. I will honestly say that my ability as an artist has multiplied greatly. I love my new wacom cintiq companion2. It’s fantastic and my art is in a whole new league.

  • Well done, Mieke. I agree one-hundred percent.

  • Excellent post!

    As a younger medical/scientific artist, I’m a native digital learner.
    I wasn’t trained with traditional tools and I have respect for those who can work with them. In response to Katriana’s reply, I felt very insecure when I started out because of criticism I received for being a digital native. As I’ve matured in my profession, I’ve developed my own reasons for not using traditional tools in my day-to-day work.

    Many of these reasons you’ve expressed (ease of use, versatility between 3D/2D scenes) but also, I find working digitally allows me a lot of freedom.

    As you discussed, there are programs that mimic traditional tools and from there, I’ve been able to experiment and see what I might like to work with traditionally. For example, from playing in Manga Studio, I saw how certain pens work and I learned that I’d really like working with Copic pens (and I’ll probably buy some one day). This experimentation has allowed me to accumulate less, which has been beneficial financially and given me the freedom to move/work remotely.

    Studies of my generation show this kind of mindset, with many moving multiple state lines for jobs or because they work from home and can live wherever they want (the Wireless Generation). These studies also show more urban growth which usually means smaller living spaces. The less we move with, the less we store and the more we can keep in our savings, I feel is better.

    Everyone has a different journey when it comes to learning, creating and for us, making art into a profession – just make solid work 🙂

  • Edward Bell says:

    What a great post. So many interesting points. As the former long-time art director at Scientific American magazine, I was privileged to work with a great many artists, all of whom had their preferred medium. When digital media became available to artists, I found it interesting to see how some artists welcomed this new challenge, while others believed that digitally produced art would never be comparable to traditional media. Soon enough, the printing/publishing industry (for economic reasons) began to favor digitally produced art, or at least preferred to have the art delivered in digital form. As a result, those artist who embraced the new medium soon began getting more and more calls from the publishing industry.

    The immediate result of this trend was several years of fair to mediocre illustrations. As you’ve lucidly stated in your post, it takes several years just to get competent with complex digital software. Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Painter and others were and are programs that grow deeper and more intricate with each version. 3D and animation programs are an order of magnitude more complex. It takes years to master any medium that is new to the artist. Digital is no exception.

    At the magazine, I never asked an artist to work in a particular medium. All I asked was that the artwork be great. The medium is your choice. I remember noticing that artist George Retseck was giving me fewer and fewer traditional pieces, eventually delivering only digital media. I asked him what happened to his airbrush. He said he couldn’t give it away. By the time I left the magazine in 2010, almost every piece of art delivered to me was done digitally.

    The protests that digital media will never create art as great as traditional media grow dimmer with each passing year. Great artwork is created by artists who’ve mastered their medium. There is no menu selection in Photoshop for great art.

  • Mieke Roth says:

    Thank you so much for those great comments, you all! The last days where very busy, will try to comment more elaborate tomorrow.

  • I just came across this thread. You make your point beautifully Mieke. Thanks!

  • Mieke Roth says:

    Thanks, Lore!

  • […] Have a look at these illustrations and at her site! Here is the full article. […]

  • […] Kröte spielen? Auch gibt es eine seitens Roth mit ihren Besucher/-innen angezettelte, sehr lesenswerte Diskussion,  was das Erstellen von 2D und 3D Illustration in 2014 bedeutet bzw. bedeuten […]

  • […] Kröte spielen? Auch gibt es eine seitens Roth mit ihren Besucher/-innen angezettelte, sehr lesenswerte Diskussion,  was das Erstellen von 2D und 3D Illustration in 2014 bedeutet bzw. bedeuten […]

  • @jousiapiha says:

    Word! RT @wacom “It’s a kind of magic.” @miekeroth’s gorgeous take on digital vs. traditional art.

  • @MikeTaylor @TetZoo @Emma_ShutterBug @thejohnconway @sharkbitesteve think that way. I’ve written a blog about it: