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How to Make Digital Art Look Traditional

I wanted to create some art, but I lacked the skill, time, and materials to make it. So I wrote computer programs that could do it for me.

Old traditional art or new digital art?

Old traditional art or new digital art?

Digital vs. Traditional Art

Digital art is created on a computer. You can draw on a drawing tablet with a pen or on your phone with your fingers. While working on a laptop, you could use the touchpad or a computer mouse. Most of it is made inside, where there is nothing interesting to look at.

Traditional artists draw on paper and paint on canvases using actual pencils and actual paint brushes. Like a photographer, they often go outside their homes or offices looking for a scene to capture. If an artist painted a lake in Algonquin Park, then they were probably looking at the lake while they were making the painting.

I wanted to make traditional art, but I don't have enough skill, patience, materials and time to do a good job. So I started making digital art that looks like traditional handmade art.

A good example of digital art.

A good example of digital art.

Traditional Subjects

Landscapes, wildlife and portraits were common subjects for classic traditional artists. It was observational art because they would recreate what they saw. A man went to a beautiful beach, set up his equipment and spent hours painting the scenery. Nowadays most people just take a quick picture with their phone.

Digital art usually comes from the artist's imagination. It might look like something out of a dream or a nightmare. Common subjects include horror, fantasy and science fiction. A person making digital pictures might warp reality or paint something they have never seen in real life.

If you want your art to look traditional, start with a traditional subject. Go out and observe something amazing or ask people to pose for you. Then paint or draw what you see. Since real life is not still, you might want to base your images on a photograph.

Paint Colors

You probably will not be using the same colors that were used in the 1920s or 1980s to create physical art. An artist would start a painting with eight pigments. Mixing the paint on the canvas created additional colors but the range was very limited.

With digital art you have access to millions of RGB values and the default palette that comes with the typical paint program is not going to match a traditional palette. See if you can change the options before you start. Limit the number of colors and use a palette based on an old drawing or painting.

You can find RGB values for markers, colored pencils, chalk and almost anything else you can think of. If you know what you are looking for then it should be easy to find. Use a color picker to get the values directly from a painting.

After making your art you can still change it. The program I made can replace the original RGB values with the closest match from a list. For example, I recolored a photograph using crayon values. AI style transfer can transfer colors from the style image onto the subject. You could remake your image in the style of a famous painting.

Landscape painting.

Landscape painting.

Famous Art Styles

Do some research and pick a traditional style that is not commonly used by digital artists. People scan or take photos of physical drawings and paintings. So there are lots of examples to look at. How to articles and videos teach you how to make it.

I started creating dot drawings and scribble line art. It does not look like I made them on my computer. The goal was to create digital images that look handmade.

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Another option is to remake your art in a different style using a photo to art converter. Load your artwork, press a button and wait to see the results. Depending on the starting image and style, it might not work but it could. If it does not give you the result you want then try a different style or a different picture.

Use public domain artwork as your inspiration. You can go to public domain sites and download images that were created by famous artists.

Tips

  • Avoid unnaturally bright colors. Digital images are often brighter and more intense than real life. By comparison traditional art seems dull, like the original images from my camera. If there is too much contrast or saturation, then it will look like it was made with a computer.
  • Don't undo your mistakes. You could hit the undo button to erase every little mistake or you could keep going. Mistakes happen and imperfections are natural. When an image is too perfect, it looks like it was edited.
  • Make it bigger. When it comes to modern technology, smaller is usually better. People use small screens to make small images. Classic paintings are huge and best viewed from a distance. Artists painted on a large canvases and drew on a large pieces of paper. You might want to resize or upscale your digital art.
  • Change the background. Digital canvases tend to be pure white. Try using a picture of an off-white canvas or an old piece of paper as the background. If your image has a transparent background or it does not fill the whole canvas, then you can copy the foreground and paste it on the background.
  • Add a picture frame. Traditionally, paintings and drawings were in picture frames. Putting your art in a frame or protecting it with a glass cover makes it seem more valuable. It is worth the cost of the frame, so it is important, or so the thinking goes. When I see a painting without a picture frame, it makes me think of a poster or a cheap copy.
  • Limit your screen time. Go out and see a deer, a moose or a waterfall in person. Have experiences you can write about and observe things you can paint.

I made a drawing with a white background. Then I used the transparent selection option in Paint to copy and paste it onto an old piece of paper. The white background was removed. So it looked like the drawing was made on the paper.

Copying and pasting the image of a picture frame makes it look like I took a picture of a physical drawing in a real picture frame.

Drawing of a deer on snow. The old white paper changed color.

Drawing of a deer on snow. The old white paper changed color.

Vintage Never Really Goes Out of Style

Sepia and grayscale filters are popular. The sepia filter adds a brown tint to grayscale images. We have HD TVs and cameras that can capture millions of colors, but people still want photographs that look like they were taken in the 1850s.

Classic or vintage art has continuing interest and value. People are still interested in artwork that was made in the 1800s. Some of the new trends only last a month or two before people lose interest.

Following current trends means thousands of people are creating similar images. Old art does not go out of style. It becomes more valuable. Using a classic art technique can help you create artwork that looks older and more interesting.

Make Your Digital Art Look Traditional

Lots of people are using apps with virtual brushes and virtual pencils to create digital art. When posting your artwork online, you want it to stand out. One way to do that is to make it look vintage or traditional.

Modern technology is supposed to make life easier. Cars park themselves and art apps help you create great works of art. If it looks handmade, then it looks like you put more effort into making it. So it is more impressive.

The first image and the fourth are digital scribble drawings that I made on my laptop. For the last image I recolored a photo using colors from an old painting. The third is a public domain photo of an actual traditional painting from the 1920s.

Try making classic art with modern technology. Draw, paint or press a button. Most of the art I make was created using photo to art apps that I wrote using JavaScript. Instead of doing the hard work, I loaded a photo and pressed a button.

Remember to go outside once in a while and observe the world around you. I saw the deer below while I was biking in a provincial park.

Digital deer painting.

Digital deer painting.

Resources

  • How to Make Digital Art From Photos Without Drawing
    Convert photos to digital art at the touch of a button. You don't need to manually draw, paint, or type to create the artwork—a computer program can do the hard work for you.
  • How to Convert a Photo to Scribble Line Drawing Art
    Learn how to create interesting sketches and drawings that stand out. Making pictures with thin visible lines can give you some interesting results. Draw them yourself or turn an image into line art using a computer program.
  • How to Make AI-Generated Art With Style Transfer
    Create non-photorealistic images by combining the subject of the first picture with the style of the second. Making AI-generated art is fun, and the results are impressive and interesting to look at.
  • How to Turn a Photo Into a Painting or Drawing With ...
    Take a picture with your camera then make it look like a drawing or painting using color filters. Paintings and drawings can be more interesting to look at than regular photos. If you don't have the time, materials or the skill to make art by hand yo

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Michael H

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