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How is technology changing what it means to be an illustrator?

October 6 2017

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Our favourite BBD illustrator Luke Bampton shares his thoughts on how tech is changing his doodles

From the very first Etch A Sketch to the latest Apple Pencil & iPad Pro, technology has been playing the role of the ‘tool’, spearheading its way through the industry, allowing creatives to express themselves in revolutionary ways.

But what does this really mean for creatives? Is it really helping us to find new ways of expression, or is it just a lot of expensive gadgetry that we don’t really need?

After recently crippling my bank account and purchasing the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, I thought now would be an appropriate time to reflect on how technology is shaping the creative industry and what it really means for us doodlers in the workplace.

A short history of tech and art

The modern graphics tablet has had an interesting history to say the least. When Apple released their first graphics tablet in 1979, it enabled users to draw on the tablet with a wired stylus pen and transfer those creations over to their computer in its most basic form. The original asking price? $650 (£325 at the time!). Well, things have changed over the last 38 years…

Today’s industry leading products such as the Wacom Cintiq Pro, Microsoft’s Surface, and now Apple’s iPad Pro have made it even easier for illustrators to put down their 2B pencils and pick up a stylus. The tech in these new gadgets can pick up on a user’s pressure level, tilt sensitivity, angle of stroke, speed and more. Not to mention the softwares that enhance these techniques, such as Adobe’s Photoshop, Procreate, and Corel Painter, allow users to create some truly incredible pieces of artwork.

The potential of digital 

Having your artwork saved as digital forms of media/invisible codey stuff also has its benefits. It’s faster and easy to change or manipulate your work. You’re always able to reposition elements of your work, as well as re-colour and re-touch it. This means that the final piece of work can always be altered in a far easier way than with traditional means. This is always handy when you’ve got a fiddly client who just wants that bird in the background to be, “A bit smaller. And face the other way. And be behind that tree. And actually it should be an elephant instead now. That is pink but not girlie.” — only for them to say, “Actually I kinda preferred the bird. Can you change it back.”

As inspiration can spring from anywhere at anytime, another advantage digital has is its access to an unlimited virtual toolkit. You can’t really go on the bus and take masses of your papers, canvases, inks, oils, charcoals and whatever else you use to make marks with, and not get some strange looks. But you can take your iPad or laptop pretty much anywhere – and with it, we now have an unlimited toolkit of apps and services to turn raw inspiration into usable assets. Be it on the tube, in the park, on your bed in your pants, or anywhere else you get inspiration and can break that pesky creative block.

However, the transition from paper to plastic isn’t an appealing option for everyone.

Why tradition still matters

The argument can be made that traditional illustration has something ‘unique’ about it that cannot be captured in a digital image. Some illustrators don’t like the fact that with digital illustration their work only exists on a screen and there is no physical outcome.

The process of making traditional artwork means that when mistakes are made, they stay in the art. It’s these types of flaws and mistakes that make art unique. If you can ‘undo’, transform, or recolour an element of your work, does it really make it better? Art, illustration, sketches, doodles, scribbles or whatever you want to call them, are by their very nature expressions. Can digital art still be called an honest expression, or are you simply stripping away all of the natural/organic parts that make you unique as a creative?

Personally, I believe that technology playing a part in the creative industry is a good thing – hell, it’s a great thing! It still only plays the part of the ‘tool’ in a creative’s arsenal, but it is a tool that vastly increases productivity, allows for even more experimentation, and makes the general process of creating artwork more efficient. It’s helping me storyboard better for clients, scamp up ideas for internal meetings more efficiently, and edit final imagery for the artwork department. And in a world of fast moving content it’s helping me meet client demand.

But don’t get me wrong, I‘m still covered in pen marks from a doodle I was making earlier – I’ll always have a brush and some acrylics ready-to-hand. But I truly admire the way technology is shaking up the creative industry and it’s only making us better, which makes the work better, which makes the clients happier. Technology is moving on in leaps and bounds, so who knows where we’ll be in the next 38 years.

Oh, and here’s a digital doodle he made using some of that tech…