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Dealing with change and a shift in interests

For over 11 years, my life has revolved around glowing screens and keyboards. Whether it was my free time gaming, working, or painting, it all revolved around my trusty PC. Over the years I have had the pleasure of growing up with technology, going from clunky dial-up, all the way to the ‘cringe’ RGB set-up I have today, which I’m incredibly happy and proud of.

When I look back at that time it’s hard to without feeling a bit nostalgic. I have so many good memories from using PCs, from funny memes to hours watching anime or zoning out over epic music. I wouldn't be who I am today without a good PC and lots of free time, and I certainly wouldn't be drawing up to this day. When the only downside to using a PC seems to be that your eyesight is slightly worse – it feels like a decent trade!

I say all this as I’ve felt my preferences for where I like to spend my time have really changed over the past 2 years. I’ve gone from what many would scathingly call ‘terminally online’ to ‘sometimes online’. With the pandemic, working from home and being stuck indoors most days, it feels much more fulfilling to switch off the PC and bake or do something else instead.

And on top of that, I discovered oil painting this year.

Learning oil painting has been so much fun. Taking a step back from my PC to try something new has been invigorating for my motivation and a welcome new challenge. For the first time in my life, I’m not really missing the digital world the same way I did as a teen or a young adult.

With all that in mind, I’ve managed to compile a mental list of the pros and cons of oil – and I’ll be discussing if I plan to continue with the medium – or stick fully to my digital roots.

Oil Painting of a Rottweiler
A recent oil painting of a Rottweiler.

The pros of oil painting

  • Looks amazing to see the final piece. The rich glossiness and its *chefs kiss* amazing!

  • So easy to get realistic brush strokes, because it’s real life I guess? In digital you have to spend hours finding the right brush for the job that looks ‘real’ and the experience is never the same

  • It’s so much faster than digital art (at least on small canvases with the right techniques) I can finish an A5 Piece in one sitting, whilst a digital painting can take me weeks.

  • No one can claim that ‘you used AI’ in your paintings.

  • There's a physical original copy of your work. Whilst I hate to say it, because I think all art to a degree is valuable, physical work holds an intrinsic value digital art doesn’t have for many. It’s easier to value your oil painting as £50 and for people to say ‘understandable’ versus people saying ‘I could make this and sell it for £2’ (which is doubtful, or at least it was before AI) when it's digital instead.

The cons of oil painting

  • It’s so messy! I got paint all over myself on multiple occasions, which isn’t good health-wise

  • You need a well-ventilated space. Even if the paints are generally safe and non-toxic

  • Paints cost lots of money. Compared to digital, where the tools can be expensive, but many are a one-time cost or fee, and there are always free options. Oils paints are going to cost you money forever if you continue to paint – no ifs ands or buts

  • Mixing colours is a new thing I need to learn, but I’m enjoying the experience

  • Alla prima is also something new I need to learn, but I’m enjoying the experience

  • I have to plan my paintings more. With digital I can work on a canvas and liquify or undo if something is wrong. You can rework oils to a degree, but even though it's a forgiving medium, no medium will ever be as forgiving as digital is

  • You can’t just do it anywhere. If you’re working with solvents it's a risk to everyone nearby: yourself, babies, pregnant women and pets. If you work solvent-free there's still a low risk of some toxic colour mixes getting on your skin, so you best cover up. Toxicity wise, its also also the the last place you’d want a dog or child to waltz in and steal, or worse, eat something from. Digital is super safe and you can work on a tablet anywhere – generally speaking, it is a lot safer for everything (barring your eyesight)

  • If you don’t have the space it's a no beuno – this is a big reason why I never picked up oil painting sooner. Living in a small UK three-bedroom with my parents for the majority of my life, there was no easy and safe way to learn to oil paint when considering how messy it can be and how unhealthy it can be if set up wrong, owning a PC was a given at home, so digital art made more sense growing up

  • You can’t work on the fly. As mentioned in the last two points, you have to make sure your space is set up not only for your health but also for easy painting, and did I mention oil painting is messy?? With digital all you need to do is sit and open the program you use. No need to dress up, collect your paints and set up your easel

Despite the many cons I can come up with, I still find myself yearning to learn more about oils. I think that's because deep down the pros greatly outweigh the cons, despite the numbers.

Digital Art poodle
A digital art poodle portrait I made recently. This could easily be replicated with AI now unfortunately...

AI is here – we adapt or die

AI and digital art is a heated topic right now, there’s no denying that Pandora’s box, once opened, can’t be undone. AI is here to stay, and it's only going to get better from here. It's quickly gone from funny to a serious threat to a creative career. Ironically it's come for the industry everyone told us was ‘automation proof’: impossible to take away from humans and, funnily enough, all our work has trained the tool so it can eventually replace us.

Of course, there are two ways you can see this – I’ve painted a fairly negative view of the tool because I’m a digital artist hobbyist who has used the medium for over a decade. Now I find myself forcibly wrenched away from that part of my identity by a machine.

I’m aware it does absolutely have its merits. When it comes to boring text-based projects I do find it useful, as I struggle writing for topics I’m not passionate about (it provides some great initial inspo and does a great job proofreading and spotting errors in conjunction with tools like Grammarly)

In simple terms though – these are the pros and cons of AI currently – at least when it comes to artwork:

Why AI might be neat

  • It will take the low-effort jobs most designers and artists might not like and find time-consuming anyway

  • Nightmare clients will be filtered out, as they choose AI over humans (let’s be honest – they didn’t value the work you produce anyway!)

  • It can work great as inspiration for your own creative work when used correctly

Why AI is the spawn of Satan

  • Some artists and designers thrive on the mundane – they don’t want to be directors or manage campaigns. AI might force them to take these roles, or otherwise, they’ll need to consider a career change

  • The copyright laws around AI are very hotly debated right now, is that really a can of worms you want to be involved with when it could affect your income or IP?

  • How are we supposed to tell what’s real and what’s not? When a tool can be trained to draw like you, does that devalue your work, effort and style?

To me – AI coming for digital art in particular is absolutely heartbreaking. It's a medium I love and in comparison to oil, digital art always fits in with my life perfectly, in a way oil will never do. But to me, AI coming for digital art makes sticking only to the digital medium seem like a foolish decision, especially if one day I want to sell my work.

In my professional life, the die has been cast – AI is going to come for design (once it figures out text) and all I can do is learn more about it to avoid obsolescence in my career.

But for my personal art – I just can’t bring myself to use the tool. Without the financial incentive I have for my job, all I can think of is how I worked hard to learn how to make artwork. I won't allow the years of sore wrists and tears to be erased because AI causes people not to value digital artwork any more. I know I can adapt and learn new things.

AI final thoughts

I’m sure in the future more protections will be put in place so that the internet won't be overrun with AI and bots – but until that day I’m going to work on learning more about traditional artwork and pivot more towards it.

Will I still make digital artwork? Absolutely! I still find it fun. But If I were to ever sell my work on the side, I feel my hand is forced to learn how to work traditionally for a longer-lasting side income.

Oil final thoughts

Luckily despite its cons, oils are tons of fun. I just wish I could have started to pick it up under better circumstances. But my mother always told me ‘adversity is the mother of invention’ – so maybe I should be thankful for how turbulent this year has been for the creative space for all of us. Maybe it will make us all into the artists we were always meant to be. Even if it's not in the medium we expected it to be in.

After all the last thing to come out of Pandora’s box was hope.
I’ll be continuing with oil for the foreseeable future.


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