In 1983, as an art student with no computer training, I worked as an illustrator and animator for a startup educational software company. After hours, I’d use the computer to create portraits and still lives. By 1984 I was drawing digital portraits at computer trade shows, and I’d begun to teach. Through the mid-90s I created “sample art” for software companies, magazine reviews, and my own books; my art evolving from exploration with the tools. As I enter my third digital decade, my digital and traditional art worlds are finally fully integrated using a process that I call “Digital Printmaking.”
More than anything, the computer allows me to work in a completely risk-free creative environment. I like to say that the greatest invention of the 20th century was undo—and at least for my artistic development, that is the case. On the computer, I never have to make the decision that one has to constantly make in traditional media: “This is working, should I stop here?” When working digitally, I can always save it as it is and continue to work on an image. I can return to a “finished” work and work over it, or develop multiple versions and combine portions of each. This amazing capacity has helped me to be a more daring artist in all media. For this I will be forever grateful to my digital tools.
The progress has been much faster and more impressive than I could have imagined. From my first moment with digital tools, I at least knew that I wanted to work in higher resolution, to be able to print in archival materials. But the development of great scanners and digital photography has steered my path in different directions than I had anticipated. For years I assumed that my digital work would just develop in a parallel universe to my traditional work. But now, with the ease of getting images in and out of the computer, I’m continually discovering new ways to create art digitally. A wish? Large format prints (and printers) are still too expensive for me to feel comfortable experimenting with. So one of my greatest wishes is to be able to archivally print large—inexpensively—so I can experiment with combining digital and traditional tools on a physically large scale.
My dream environment is to be working outside somewhere beautiful and warm, with a tablet and a large, crystal-clear screen suspended in the air. But for now, I use my PowerBook, Wacom tablet, Photoshop, and sometimes Illustrator or Painter. MacPaint was the first program that I could use to draw with a tablet. ColorStudio (Letraset) was my first true color painting package—where I learned about masking and transparency. Photoshop is now my main creative digital tool—layers, blending modes and Layer Comps have completely transformed my creative workflow; it is with these tools that I am creating new ways to use digital tools in a printmaking frame of mind.
For me, the specific advancements that have most influence me, are image input and output. It was the Wacom tablet that allowed me to use subtle application of pressure to affect my mark-making. Before scanning and digital photography were at this high a level on a personal scale, it never occurred to me to weave my oil painting imagery into my digital work, or to use digital tools to work through compositional problems in painting, then bring the prints into the painting studio to work from as a source. It is the amazing output of the Epson 2200 printer that has allowed me to create archival prints that can then be cut and collaged.
I would have to say that in my first decade (1983–1992) the Macintosh was the most influential component. Before that, computers were too big, expensive, difficult to use, clunky and with a black, blank screen. With the Mac, we saw the white screen as akin to paper. It was even aesthetically appealing. My second decade (1993–2003) was I believe the decade of software—specifically Photoshop. Before Photoshop, the “Quantel Paintbox” and its competitors were a proprietary, stand-alone, very expensive, hardware/software solutions, mostly for television stations, retouching houses, and high-end ad agencies. ColorStudio came from Letraset, but it was still pricey. Photoshop was priced for the masses. Unsophisticated at first, it developed into more than just a rival for the Paintbox, it has become a ubiquitous verb. “Was it Photoshopped?” Photoshop has revolutionized 2D digital art.
There have always been simultaneous clusters of people who pioneered within their niche fields. I can’t begin to compare the Pixar folks to those who began to digitally composite on proprietary systems, or even to those of us who first began to create fine art on silly little 128K Macintosh computers. There are so many areas within the digital art realm, so many fields, so many technologies, so many artists—to single out individual pioneers? It is impossible for me to say.