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Painting with brushes versus painting with computer digital brushes

Painting With Real Brushes (Instead of Digital Ones)

Digital painting with digital brushes is *wonderful.*

Other adjectives that come to mind include:

  • convenient (because all your digital brushes are stored inside your computer and are easily retrievable);
  • flexible (because there are just so many digital painting brush options readily available);
  • affordable (because you don’t have to buy paints and mediums and real brushes, which can all quickly impact your budget);
  • and scaleable (because the amount of digital brushes you can stock up on is relatively endless)

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However …

There’s just something about painting with real brushes, instead of digital ones, that has me quite artistically intoxicated these days.

No matter what I’m painting with, which lately is more with watercolor, gouache, and acrylics, when the brush and paint hit the paper or canvas and create that delicious texture that no computer will *ever* emulate 100%, the feeling I get, and the visual result that gets produced, is just amazing.

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Perhaps this is because, for me, my own real brush painting experience is limited to the past three years.

Prior to that, all I ever truly knew was digital painting and computer design.

That’s why I truly do know what it feels like to rely so heavily on the computer, for years on end, to paint instead of painting something by hand.

And along this vein, because I had never painted outside a digital environment prior to three years ago, I recall never really even considering the notion of “real painting.”

Why would I, or so I thought, when I could easily paint whatever using the convenience of digital tools.

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Now that I’ve experienced both sides of the painting fence …

Since I paint in both analog and digital mediums, I can now say that I much prefer painting offline 100% … *hands down.*

For me specifically, I’ve found that the look, texture, and character produced by hand-painting versus digital painting is much too lush and too exquisite to pass up or ignore.

Moreover, no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t ever seem to get a digital painting to look hand-painted. It doesn’t matter how many tutorials I watch or online courses I take or which digital brushes I use or don’t use, the visual outcome — no matter how great or beautiful — is still a far cry from the real thing.

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So … is one way of painting better than the other?

I guess maybe at this point, this might seem like a natural question to ask: Which method of painting, then, is better?

Personally, I really dislike these types of rigid questions because they don’t factor in the context of the artist’s or designer’s creative needs, which may oscillate from project to project.

I truly do believe it’s far more about what will work best for the project or visual outcome one is trying to achieve.

Additionally, beyond the project needs, one has to also factor in their personal preference or level of expertise with either painting approach, so this is another factor that has an impact on the question of “better.”

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In the end

I realize that painting with real brushes isn’t always as practical but as someone who had ignored “real painting” entirely (but has now seen the “real painting” light!), I highly encourage digital painting-devoted folks — who’ve never considered holding a paintbrush loaded with pigment in their hands their entire lives — to give traditional painting a try!

And when you do try it, you might find that you completely suck at painting with real brushes … or you might be pretty good but much prefer painting the computer way … and desperately want to get right back to your Adobe Photoshop.

In either case, at least the experience of painting with real brushes and real paints will expand your painting knowledge and help you better appreciate not only the conveniences digital painting offers but also the stunning masterfulness of painters from our art historic past as well.


Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

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