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  • Writer's picturecheryl mendenhall

Why Digital

I usually describe my medium as digital. Or a digital/traditional hybrid. Or computer-rendered art with a hand-made touch.

It didn’t start out that way. In art school and early in my career I experimented with various media. Colored pencils. Gouache, acrylic, watercolor. Dyes and inks. Nothing quite clicked. All too often I engaged in an uphill battle, working against the medium instead of with it. Or the best creative tools for an assignment wouldn’t meet my deadline. Or textures that worked on board or canvas would become a muddy disaster in print. I was primed for a change. With tech support from my mad scientist husband I became an early adapter of computer-assisted illustration.

The switch was liberating.

Areas could be made opaque or transparent, selection edges crisp or feathered at the click of a mouse. Revisions no longer involved hand-stripping patches or starting over from scratch. Pre-press features offered more control over how the art would appear in print. And then there was the miraculous Undo command.

Today many illustrators describe their computer use in terms of percentages. Mine began as fifty-fifty, hand-drawn in the sketch stage and digital in the final. But in recent years the process has become more flexible. Putting a physical pencil to physical paper remains central to getting ideas flowing. I tweak the sketch on screen, refining characters and composition, sometimes going back and forth between hand-drawn and scanned drawings several times. Color studies and final rendering are mostly digital, although more and more I find myself incorporating painted or photographed textures, inked line, or the original rough sketch.

No approach is right for every job or every illustrator. While a degree of twenty-first century computer literacy is necessary, the ultimate choice— digital, traditional, or the endless possibilities in-between— is up to the artist. Some of my friends and associates are hundred-percenters, doing both sketches and finals with a stylus and graphics tablet. Others only use the computer to tweak final color or scan a painting for upload.

In my case going digital brought me full circle, rekindling my appreciation of traditional media. It gave me permission to play and explore.

And there is always that Undo command.

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