LO 4 – History of Digital Painting

My specialisation is about digital painting, which has greatly influenced the practices of many industries.
Digital painting is a way of painting in a computer’s digital environment and is a form of digital art. Digital environment means software packages or computer graphics programs, these programs or packages contain many tools which enable an artist to create various artworks. The tools and techniques used typically give digital artwork a unique appearance from a traditional piece. One of the directions one can take within these programs is ‘traditional digital painting’ which is where an artist creates a picture with brush strokes except the painting tools and canvas are digital.


Digital painting offers a few improvements as opposed to traditional painting, the digital process can be less linear with the use of layers working independently from each other, you have any colour and any painting tool you could ever want, you can undo and re-do brush strokes until you achieve the desired strokes, and the creation of the graphic tablet and stylus enabled digital artists to work with a simulated pen and drawing surface.


Digital painting is a widespread practice utilised by many creative disciplines, because of this it has influenced their practices. For example a lot of 2d animations feature characters, backgrounds and other assets that have been painted digitally. In the same vein, 3D digital art still uses digital painting in its texturing of projected 2D textures.
texturing digital painting

As everything is moving toward things being more digital and less physical, digital painting has become the common place practice, you don’t see much animation or video game studios using traditional painting for their media, because painting in the digital setting has become the mainstream process for a lot of animation, video games and concept artists.


James Faure Walker, ‘Dark Filament’ (detail), 2007. Museum no. E.147-2009. Given by James Faure Walker

Digital art in general has existed since the 60’s and there are some precursors you could say that can be found in the 1950’s. An artist named James Faure Walker is known since the late 80s’s for integrating the computer into his process as a painter. He practiced on a lot of mediums and media, moving to and from photography, drawng, painting and computer software, exploiting each of their aspects. Walker’s artwork contrasts the physical paint and digital paint, at times, it may be difficult telling the two apart (Victoria & Albert Mueseum, 2015).SW concept art traditional

The transition from traditional to digital was interesting, you had people like the previously mentioned James Walker, who integrated different medias in his paintings, there’s also people like Ralph Macquarrie paining these incredible traditional paintings as concept work for the first Star Wars movie, they had such an impact on the overall production that a lot of the video shots throughout the film are almost exact copies of Macquarrie’s paintings. Speaking of multi-media artists I’d now like to discuss the history of digital painting in reference to the software itself, Bill Atkinson and later, Susan Kare created MacPaint, the prototype for all digital painting and image design programs. Despite home computers limited functionality MacPaint and MacWrite were released in late 1984 even all the way back then, even though the compared to modern day’s programs it had limited functionality (much like the computers), it ran slow and it’s appearance was rough and not polished enough. Even witha ll that it still announced an entirely new path for home computer and mass-market technology to go. Comparing the tech of nowadays to 1984 is a purely ridiculous jump in the power and performance of our hardware, with software programs expanding their functionality to suit this increase in power. We also witnessed a change in how people viewed and created digital painting programs,they went from being a novelty little program used to create a simple image or entertain children to full artistic suites capable of creating any kind of master piece the artist desires.

Darek Harman, 2009. From MacPaint to Corel painter: a Brief History of Digital Painting. http://digital-painting-software-review.toptenreviews.com/from-macpaint-to-corel-painter-a-brief-history-of-digital-painting.html

Victoria & Albert Mueseum, 2015. A History of Computer Art.  http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/computer-art-history/

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