Sunday, September 12, 2010

Buying Art (Lesson 1): Real Hand Drawn Original Paintings vs Digital Art

Progress of Michael's original watercolor painting of Marauders of Woodward
The white you see is the board he paints on, the blue is tape he uses to mask off the image.

Let me start by saying that art is subjective. Whatever the piece, and however it is created, if you love it and want to hang it on your wall, then you should. At the same time, I believe that you should always have as much information about what you're buying, so you know what you're investing in.

This summer, we had a client come to us talking about an artist claiming to use an airbrush to create his 'paintings.' What the artist was actually doing, was using the 'airbrush' tool in a program like Adobe Photoshop or Ilustrator, when digitally creating his pieces. In this day and age, with the technology computers offer us, and the advances in illustration, paint and photo touch-up programs of the last few years, some artists have chosen to take that route. And why not, it's quicker and safer, and the effects, when used correctly, can be beyond photo-realism. The problem lies with them misrepresenting their craft, because, as many people know, there is a huge difference in a hand-drawn, hand-painted work of art and one that is created digitally.

I'm a graphic designer (not an artist) and over the last 25 years, have worked on books, wine labels, ads, brochures, you name it. I've used Photoshop to edit and fix photographs supplied by clients, in order to make them usable for reproduction. I've created computer generated characters to adorn teaching posters. I've bought stock photos and completely edited them, changing colors, adding images, etc., to make them work for my clients. Michael has often marvelled at how easily I can manipulate or change an image using Photoshop. And, how carefree I can be when doing so. It's because I can keep a back up file on my computer, click back in my 'history', or simply fix an error without risk — something watercolor does NOT allow him to do.

Something else a program like Photoshop or Illustrator allows users to do is to reuse certain images, portions of images or objects again and again. For example, when you look at a series of digitally created prints, you'll often find the same background, figures and (in the case of automotive prints) the same cars. They may be a different size or color, but those things are easily changed. Once the digital artist has created that image or component, it can be used over and over again, by copying and pasting into the next document. Some people even keep their own set of 'stock' images to go back to and reuse as needed. And certain things, like gradations of color, are created with the click of a mouse ... the computer software does the work.

So, want to know what you're really looking at? Next time you talk to an artist saying he or she uses an airbrush, ask them what medium they use. An airbrush is a tool (whether the physical one or the computer tool), but if they are actually hand painting, they must be using watercolor, ink, gouache or acrylic paint as the medium. 

Aside for the obvious lack of risk, and ease of reusing elements, with computer generated art there is no actual original. With a piece that is done by hand, whether in oil, acrylic, gouache, airbrush, ink, pastels, pencil, charcoal or watercolor, there is always, always, a one-and-only original painting.

As I said in the beginning, art is very subjective and no matter how it is created, may be worthy of your collection. My intent is not to discredit digital artists, but instead to help clients make an informed choice — you should have all the information about a piece and it's creator. Kind of like a tribute or cloned  car ... as long as you know that's what you're getting and you're okay with it, there's no problem. Like the client I mentioned earlier, no one likes to feel like they've been misled.

The next time you invest in art, if how it's created is important to you, ask the questions ... "Is it hand painted?" "What is the medium?" and "Is there an original painting available?" — Linda

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