When considering how artists save time by cutting out manual labor in places, further levels of “digital interference” in the painting process can be easily predicted from the prior post. Using digital tools, a piece can be started using Photoshop or Painter. That piece can be taken to whatever level the artist pleases, and now it can be printed out…in full color.
An entire underpainting can be printed out, the surface coated, and then paint applied on top of it in whatever degree necessary to complete the image. In the case where, say, a general digital “wash” of yellow ochre is applied and then painted on, it can still be the case that what you are looking at ends up being nearly entirely real paint (the ochre only subtly affecting the overlaying colors). This would be no different than simply toning your canvas before beginning, or painting on toned paper (an ages-old technique and one I employ often). However, given the propensity of illustrators to save time, you can easily see what will inevitably start to happen: paintings with large portions—maybe even most of the image—not painted by hand. A little paint is added to the print out and the thing varnished and considered original art. I won’t even get into what permanency issues may be involved, although many modern printers advertise “archival” inks.
For the purposes of illustration, none of this matters: as I’ve mentioned before, it’s all reduced to 4-color printing in the end, and the methods used to generate the image are rarely an issue. But does it matter to you, if you are about to fork over hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars, for what you think is original art? Could you tell?
Maybe you could because, held at an angle, the paint has a sheen which the printed portion does not. However, if the entire piece is heavily varnished, you would lose that ability. At what percentage of hand-painting would you cease to accept the title of “original art” and consider a piece a tinted or retouched print? Back when I worked for Kinkade’s company, we called this “highlighting,” but at least in those days the pieces were honestly marketed as retouched canvas lithographs. Could it be that this practice is spreading, only now with information a little less forthcoming?
Would it be an acceptable statement for an artist to do a piece almost 100% digitally, if not 100% digitally, then sell it as “original art” on the basis that it is a one-of-a-kind—they will not do another full-sized print like it? Again, would you know the difference?
Perhaps these things don’t bother you—don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that they should—because if an image was hand-done digitally then the artist’s skill is still in evidence if the digital parts are printed out and continued in traditional media. There’s certainly some rationale there. However, it is also very simple to cobble together an image using photos gathered from personal snapshots or Google Images, and using digital tools, to make them fade in the background of an image, or to apply filters to give them a sketched look, with a hand-drawn main character, say. The whole thing is printed out and major elements—never actually drawn by the artist, are lightly tinted like tinting an old photo. This could have been done in earlier times as well, since a photocopy could be made that pieced together drawn elements with photos, this being the basis of over-painting. Again, shouldn’t you know, and could you tell?
Frankly, I don’t begrudge artists trying to make hundreds of bucks off their digital creations. Losing the ability to have and market true one-of-a-kind original art can be a significant trade-off, from an income point of view, and I understand why they might want to retain some of that through various means I’ve explained. As well, I don’t begrudge a collector who is happy to pay the artist for the work, even if only 1% of the so-called painting actually has paint on it.
Here’s the thing: I want you to know what you are paying for—shouldn’t every artist? If you would not pay good money for certain levels of this stuff, then you shouldn’t be misled into doing so. As an artist who can see many of these things being done because of my knowledge of the media, I know I would not pay full-price for some of what passes as original art, when I know other artists are still applying their craft faithfully. The only solution is, if you have an issue with some of the practices I’ve outlined, for you to simply ask the artist if you are in doubt. Ask them what parts are digital print-outs and what parts have actual paint on them. Ask if certain elements were hand-drawn or were they printed out from reference scans and tinted like tinting a photograph. If you are still unsure, ask for more specific information. It seems to me that is only fair. You would not spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for other things without knowing what you are purchasing. An artist who is not trying to be deceptive will be happy to outline his techniques clearly and, if the image is still worthy of your money, deserves the sale.