Digital Art Disruption: Bringing New Possibilities to Fine Art
With the introduction of photography in 1839, art enthusiasts, critics, and even painters feared painting was dead. While it may have struggled to find it’s place at that time, the medium has since found new life.
Having been disrupted many more times with the introduction of new technologies, fine art today embraces both beauty and impact across a variety of media. And painting’s trajectory represents an interesting opportunity for artists to leverage technology.
Two innovative 3D projects from Adobe Research are once again disrupting the creative canvas. With Project WetBrush, traditional oil painters can create in ways they never imagined. And Project StyLit allows artists to apply a variety of artistic styles to 3D models.
New brushstrokes for digital painting.
Traditional oil painters work through many difficulties to create their art: paints with lasting power on and unfortunately off the canvas, long drying times, and brushes that always need cleaning and care. But of course they value the process of creating. Creating the same art digitally will have a less messy and time-consuming process, but it will continue to be a process nonetheless.
With Adobe’s Project WetBrush, this process involves a 3D digital canvas, a variety of digital brushes, and a palette of infinite color options that can be mixed just like oil paints. WetBrush is the first real-time full 3D oil painting system that physically simulates fluid dynamics as well as individual bristle interactions.
With WetBrush, artists can simulate painstaking oil techniques by quick-loading their digital brushes in some areas, while thinning other areas down. Selecting a brush in the program is not limited to selecting a “line size.” Artists can choose actual brush types and brush styles. The end result is the amazing sensation of feeling like you are using a real paintbrush.
WetBrush also allows artists the ability to control the rate at which the digital canvas dries — to the point of drying just one area while letting others “air” dry.
“Even if you make some parts of your piece ‘dry,’ you can go back and ‘re-wet’ the paint,” observes Zhili Chen, research scientist with Adobe Research. “These are controls you cannot do with actual painting.”
Control leads to experimentation, and WetBrush’s re-imagined user interface quite literally transforms how artists are able to experiment. The new tools allow digital paintings to become more “real” than previously possible — for both artist and viewer alike.
Art styles come to life on 3D models.
While Project WetBrush produces 3D brush strokes, Project StyLit gives artists the chance to transfer any art style — oil painting, sketching, even finger-pinched clay — to a complex 3D model. With any 3D model on your digital canvas — whether a custom creation or something downloaded from stock — you can see the style from your drawing, painting, or sculpting be transferred to the screen as you create it.
StyLit aims to leapfrog WetBrush’s focus on realism by focusing on artistry.
“We want to give creators the ability to express artistic style and move away from the overly computer generated, photorealistic work that you tend to get by default,” explains Paul Asente, senior principal scientist at Adobe Imagination Lab.
Paul is referencing critical consensus of digital art as feeling more corporate and less artistic. He expresses Adobe’s commitment to fine art and artistry by noting, “We’re trying to bring art back into the process.”
Disruptive tools in a digital vs. “in-real-life” culture.
Early experimenters of Projects WetBrush and StyLit seem to be negotiating the question of “Is digital art real?” — but in much different ways than art critics and observers do, and possibly, even in different ways than product innovators may have even imagined. WetBrush alpha users, not protected by their usual artist smocks, are reported to express concerns about getting paint splatters on their business clothes, Zhili humorously shares. A key innovator of the tool’s performance at the sub-pixel level, he views this input as being as much of an endorsement as anything created on the digital canvas itself.
Just as WetBrush blurs the line between using “real” brushes and “real” digital brushes, artists experimenting with StyLit are confused about the “realness” of the digital work itself. “One of the artists who worked with StyLit said the results looked exactly as they would have if he had created it himself,” says Paul, he himself perhaps not even realizing the irony of the comment. The artist, with StyLit, did create it himself.