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Here's What I Learned

I first discovered the world of digital art when I was researching how to transform the illustrations in my sketchbook into the stationery products I had always dreamed of creating. With little graphic and print design experience, I discovered the capabilities that the iPad held for creating print-ready artwork without having to use complicated programs, so I invested in my very first iPad, an Apple pencil, and a well-known drawing app that came highly recommended: Procreate (which is amazing, by the way). While I was intimidated to learn a whole new program, I was so excited to start experimenting with a new way of creating and all of the growth that would come from it!

When I sat down to draw digitally for the very first time, I started by creating digital renditions of the botanical illustrations in my sketchbook. Used to the feeling of pen to paper and a bit lost when it came to setting up proper file sizes and colour profiles, it was a huge learning curve — most of which I had to trial and error my way through.

Girl sitting at a desk dipping paintbrush into a watercolour palette

After navigating the initial learning curve, I was truly having so much fun trying out new digital brushes (especially the "Ultimate Brush Toolbox" for watercolour here and discovering the different capabilities that the app offered. The limitations I faced when I was creating traditionally no longer existed on digital platforms: with the ability to zoom in as far as I could go, specialized brushes and tools for creating so many different looks, and unlimited re-dos, I could create highly detailed pieces that I wasn’t able to achieve with pen and paper alone (at my skill level, anyway)!

But as I journeyed further and further down the path of digital art, perfectionism began to replace that initial excitement, and before long, I started to lose touch with what made me fall in love with art in the first place — leaving me feeling uninspired and unmotivated.

what I learned from digital art

I think that digital art is such a wonderful art form and there are so many talented digital artists out there, plus it can be a more accessible medium to so many — especially if you already own a computer or tablet!

The Pros

1. You don’t need to invest in a range of art supplies to create artwork that has the look and feel of different mediums, from watercolour to pencil sketches.

2. You can create professional-level graphics, which can help you pursue art in a professional setting!

3. When you’re learning, there is lots of room for mistakes, you can redraw sections, trace references to study different shapes and subjects, and experiment with fewer consequences.

4. It is more portable (this was great for me while I was commuting)!

5. You can easily edit your artwork, which makes it great for client work where there are usually more revisions involved.

Aside from offering me these advantages and so much more, I also learned so many lessons, including:

1. How to set up files for printing, including choosing the proper file size, adjusting the dpi, and setting up colour profiles for digital and print.

2. Getting more creative with colour by becoming more familiar with the colour wheel.

3. Drawing from different perspectives by making use of the platform's grids, which is especially helpful when I'm creating architectural drawings! Before I started creating digital art, I always drew “straight on” but I’m much more comfortable painting from different angles now!

why I gave up digital art

Hand holding a paintbrush painting daffodils

While I loved the process of creating digital art when I began, as time went on, my mindset toward art slowly shifted: I started to fall out of the love with process and actually dreaded creating. As someone who always went to art to restore and unwind, the lack of inspiration I felt was really discouraging.

When I reflected on why I was feeling this way, I discovered that my perfectionism had completely taken over and was preventing me from wanting to create at all.

The possibility of zooming in endlessly to make sure every single detail was perfect and unlimited undo's changed my approach to creating for the worse. Instead of painting for the simple enjoyment of painting, creating a “perfect” piece became my number one goal. For me, it meant a few things:

1. I constantly felt like I was falling short because no matter how hard I tried, it was inevitably never 100% perfect.

2. I put off creating and was procrastinating even starting because I knew the process would be frustrating and I wouldn't achieve the outcome I desired.

3. I felt disconnected from my work because all I could see were imperfections instead of striving toward my purpose: reconnecting with nature through art.

signs perfectionism is holding you back

1. “I’ll do _____ when _______”

2. You’re feeling burnt out

3. You procrastinate tasks because you’re so scared of making mistakes that you avoid

4. starting in the first place

5. You criticize yourself and your work in an unhealthy way

6. You feel deeply insecure with your work and let this hold you back from exploring opportunities

7. You no longer enjoy creating because you don't feel that your work is living up or you're scared of it not living up

8. You avoid doing things that you’re not good at (or don’t perceive that you’re good at)

how I’m healing from perfectionism

The thing about perfectionism is this: it is rooted in fear. Brene Brown describes perfectionism as this:

“If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

So what was I scared of?

I was scared that people — especially clients — wouldn’t like my work, I was scared of spending so much time on a piece of artwork and then making a mistake that would ruin it all. So to begin my journey of healing from perfectionism, I had to let myself make the mistakes I was so scared of and learn to navigate through them rather than avoiding them.

So, I dug out my watercolour paints from the drawer they were hiding in for too long, set my paintbrushes and pencils on my desk, and decided to start right from where I began.

returning to traditional art

Page flipping open a journal filled with sketches of wild lupine

Painting and drawing traditionally again after not practising for so long required a bigger shift in my mindset and technique than I anticipated. I thought that the transition would be seamless, but I struggled a lot.

Not only did I have to remind myself of painting techniques that had become almost irrelevant to me when I was creating digitally, like applying the lightest watercolour pigment first and the darkest last, using waterproof pens if I was planning on painting overtop of my inkwork, and not overworking my watercolour paints — but I had to make peace with the fact that the process was slower, the painting wouldn’t look perfect right away, and I had to get creative with addressing any mistakes like a paint smear or a wonky line.

I failed (a lot) — but learned more

I remember the first painting I did after I went on my digital art detox: my linework was rough, I couldn’t add in the little details that I was used to, and I wasn’t happy with how my work was turning out at all. I felt so defeated and was disappointed in myself for not creating at the level that I was used to. I didn't find my groove until I was a few months in.

Through the process of letting myself make mistakes, what I actually did was let myself learn. I learned about the types of paintbrushes that would help me refine my detail work, the best paints to use for the look I wanted to create, the differences in watercolour papers and how they affect the vibrancy of the pigments, and how to use gouache paint to refine my mistakes and small details.

The point is, I wouldn’t have learned any of this had I not let myself create bad art, make mistakes along the way, and experiment. And by accepting that my painting was “fixed” and I couldn’t go back and press undo, I embraced the imperfections that came naturally. Now, I have come to appreciate seeing the artist’s hand in any piece of work: what seems like a mistake to the artist can actually add character to a piece that makes it feel more special and unique.

falling in love with the process all over again

Perhaps the most valuable outcome of my return to traditional painting, however, was falling in love with the creative process: the quieting of the mind and overwhelming peace I feel when I'm working with my hands and putting pen to paper.

That state of flow is why I've always loved art and why I've been able to create for hours on end without getting distracted or bored. It’s a feeling that lets you know "this is what I’m meant to do” and I’m so grateful that I was able to find my way back to that again.

Paintings of iris, primrose, and daffodils scattered around a wooden desk with paintbrushes and a paint palette

finding a balance

I have gained so much knowledge through digital art, so I am now in a place where I can reintegrate some of it back into my practice. After I got comfortable and gained confidence in painting traditionally, I started to use digital platforms again to edit my paintings and set them up for printing.

By doing this, I can scan in my original works, tweak the colours so they show up crisp and accurate in reproductions, erase a smudge here and there, and create print-ready files without sacrificing the love for the creative process I have found.

I think that a part of me will always wrestle with perfectionist tendencies — and to an extent, striving to be better is healthy, but by finding this balance between traditional and digital painting, I am better able to cultivate a healthy mindset and continuously keep myself in check when I find myself slipping back into those patterns!


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