Guest Post – Derek Douglas – Working Digitally VS Painting Traditionally

Today we feature a post from Derek Douglas’s Blog. He gives his thoughts on working digitally versus traditionally. Read on to find out which he prefers.

Recently in art group forums I’ve read that some traditionalists claim that children’s books should be done using “real” materials, or at least that’s the way they prefer it. Some don’t care at all. And me? I confess that now I’ve changed over to the dark side of working digitally on a Cintiq drawing tablet and one worse, in Photoshop. Many work this way because there are numerous benefits, but which is better?

I don’t begrudge those traditionalists who say that you have to be really good at digital work to have it stand up against hand drawn artwork, because they’re right in a way. There is a lot of not so great digital artwork out there. And they may also be right when saying that traditional work is more personal because it’s made by human hands. But isn’t drawing on a tablet still drawing? It’s not the computer doing the work for you while you sit back and enjoy a chai latte. I understand the point but none the less, I have traded worry of spilled ink on the carpet for worry of spilled chai latte on the keyboard and ongoing art store trips and costs for just a few, thousand dollar purchases of heavy-duty hardware for initial set up and away I go.


Before this first children’s book job I painted mostly in acrylics or watercolour and even dabbled in 3-D dioramas with the occasional computer touch up. So you may ask why I changed over. It’s a simple answer really. Time. I know we’re all busy and many artists have done it traditionally for ages, but I chose to work digitally to see if it would speed up the process. Did it? The answer is yes and here’s how:

After agreeing with the publisher to work digitally for sake of time, it has now been a few months of solid work and I’ve discovered that the benefits are numerous! Other than liking the way it looks, I’d say the number one benefit would be the ability and ease to make changes or corrections. If working traditionally, to make a large correction to a painting can be very time consuming with painting over, blow drying the paint and then reworking the section and then counting on getting it right the second time around. Yes, I know I’m sounding like a complete advocate for digital over traditional, but read on. I love my command-Z shortcut on the keyboard, which allows me to “undo” any brush stroke or change with the touch of a button up to the last 50 changes to the image. For example, if I ink Sir John. A. Macdonald’s nose too big, no problem! Press command-Z and Voila! His ugly too, too large nose is gone and I just redraw it, but just big this time. Because I work in layers, (which means separating each element of the painting on to it’s own respective layer in Photoshop) this makes changing colours, moving or shifting characters to the left, right or deleting an element out of the image entirely, easy without affecting the rest of the image at all. Old pros who always get it right on the first try may not care, but I like my “undo button.”

Though I kinda miss the look of a traditional painting and the feel of working with paint on paper, I truly never thought that I would prefer working digitally over traditionally. Getting over that, logically it just makes sense for me in this day and age with deadlines pending and family to spend time with. The ease of changing an illustration while working digitally is good for me, the publisher and is just a push of a button away.

guest_postderekdouglas001 Right Side Studios artist Derek Douglas was trained at renowned art school Sheridan College, where he honed his skills in fine painting, sculpting, classical animation and animation film-making. After freelancing in animation, graphic design and even teaching art to special needs adults, the direction of focusing in illustration and children’s books in particular, became apparent after becoming a Father. Derek and his lovely wife Charlene now live in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, joyfully raising their little Douglas clan. With the newest little edition to the family, Charlene and Derek are now outnumbered by their kids which brings their family total to 5.
Links to Derek Douglas can be found at



  1. Romeo Varga

    I have been working traditionally since I was 3 years old and have moved on to digital work about 5 years ago. Like you said, there are great benefits. I’m a freelance storyboard artist and needed a way to work faster and due to nature of my work, a way to easily make quick changes. Most work needs to be done overnight so as much as I loved working traditionally, common sense won. My workflow has improved by at least 50% and when clients ask for changes, it’s not a headache thanks to layered work. I went on to buy another Cintiq, the smaller one, in addition to the large one at home, because I need a portable one to take when working from clients’ offices. I still sketch traditionally when I have the time, but digital work is cleaner, cheaper and faster.

    Here’s my sketch blog. Traditionally drawn while travelling and digitally painted at home:

  2. GLGale

    I began as a traditional illustrator working primarily in ink many years ago and then switched over to working with a mouse for most of the past 25 years. I tried one of the earliest Wacom tablets when they first came out but found it far too cumbersome for drawing. Since most of my actual client base has been logo design work I’ve found that the mouse works beautifully for me as the designs tend to require a nice clean line.

    That said, I have recently begun a new project illustrating a series of graphic novels with a best selling author and I’m now reconsidering a proper tablet. I still do all my rough sketches in pencil, then clean layouts in blue line that are redrawn in pencil on an enlarged layout sheet prior to scanning this into the computer for inking and colouring. The best part is when you look at the finished layout and realize that your entire centre panels need to move to another page you no longer need to redraw everything. You can just select the frames you need and copy them over.

    As an experiment at the beginning of the project I took one frame that I had cleaned up and then inked it traditionally (after scanning it into the computer). I then took the scanned image into Photoshop and reworked the inking and colouring there, and then repeated that process in Illustrator. End result is that I was almost twice as fast in Illustrator as I was in the other two and there was no clean up. And you’re right, when things go wrong ya gotta love that “undo” button.

  3. Donna Dillon-Truckenbrod

    I have been using traditional materials up to this point and have decided to try digital for my next project. I am hoping it works out, painting by hand, while I love it, simply takes forever. As you said, there is nothing like the “undo” button.

  4. Philip Howe

    I’ve been illustrating for over 3 decades and work both traditionally and digitally. The speed, flexibility and effects you can get digitally go beyond any traditional mediums. Clients want fast, less expensive work and that has changed the business from one of laboring over a large oil or other medium to producing a piece in one night that has better color, can be easily tweaked, and can be sent out immediately.
    I find most of those who don’t want to admit to this are simply afraid to make the leap and so their work load is far diminished. I still prefer the look of a highly finished oil over any digital piece, but that’s a fine-art attitude and one that has little place in today’s speedy market. And if you haven’t tried one of the Cintiques, they will get you even closer to traditional working methods. Nothing is perfect and it does take some getting used to, but even if you painted traditionally, shot the image high res, then worked over it digitally, as I did for years, its a step forward. Get to know the brushes, Painter, even 3d, its all fascinating and will enhance every step of the illustration to get your work done faster and at a high level of quality.


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