digital art

Digital Art: Refurbishing or Dismantling Traditional Art?

Gone are the days when only humans play story characters. A human character does not have to put on excessive costumes to play the character of legends who passed even before photography was invented. With digital drawing pads, computers, and software programs, two- and three-dimensional visual characters are developed with even more features and abilities than their human counterparts. The only limitation, however, is that digital art cannot replace live theater.
The demand for digitally generated visual artworks is growing in Ethiopia, mainly from film makers, videogame enthusiasts, and visual advertisement agencies. However, there are only few digital artists as not even the traditional art has fully matured in Ethiopia. EBR’s Samuel Habtab, assessed the baby steps digital visual art is taking in Addis Ababa.

Artists are always endlessly thriving to create unforgettable characters to communicate unforgettable messages. Few, such as Shakespeare and da Vinci, have succeeded in traditional story writing and painting. In modern times, characters are simulated and generated by computers, taking over inks, brushes, pencils, papers, and canvases.

Yet, some computer-generated characters, such as Tom and Jerry, are equally successful in capturing all kinds of audiences for generations. The film industry in the west is even producing great movies using both human and digital characters in the same movie, as seen in the latest Tom and Jerry rendition.

Digitally generated characters are flexible, play stories that could be difficult for human characters, and are enjoyed by all types of audiences because they are not limited by natural boundaries encountered by human characters.

Digital visual art, particularly the use of software applications to develop characters on computers and digital drawing pads, is usually used to revive and resurrect the features of historical people whose images are inaccessible and to also rebrand existing characters with new features. Digital visual art can generally be called digital painting. Once fully developed, digital art can animated into 3D or 2D formats.

“I have developed many characters from the battle of Adwa using digital art, with the right mood of the scenery at the time. It takes the audience back to that time. It is different from traditional painting. The characters I create are very relatable with the stories. They are also relatable to all audiences,” said Fanuel Leul, Digital Artist.

Fanuel started painting digitally three years ago during the 122nd Adwa victory celebrations. He recently organized an exclusive exhibition where he displayed a few of his digital artworks, extremely rare for Addis Ababa. A graduate of Addis Ababa University’s Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Fanuel specialized in graphics designing. “If you want to learn digital graphics in Ethiopia, you must enroll in the industrial design department at the art school. I majored in industrial design with a minor in fine art.”

“Graphic art is given as illustration under computer graphics. It is used to create images to illustrate stories. Many software programs are used to change the illustrations into 3D. We teach art students not only of how to use digital art applications, but also the art itself,” said Addis Afework, Lecturer and Painter.

In order to develop digitized 2D and 3D visual artworks, Fanuel uses various means. “Digital art provides immense resources because the artist is not limited by color, brush, and dimensions. It offers many varieties. You can use it emulate a painting, collage, charcoal, or other types. It includes all methods used in painting. The difference is, in digital art, everything is done on the computer screen or digital drawing pad. Plus, it also includes everything that is done by photography. Since you are not limited by the factors of traditional painting but have immense resources, the opportunity to expand and utilize your imagination is sky high.”

There are times when Fanuel uses hundreds of picture bits to develop a piece of digital artwork. “I use color, lighting, and can perform photography manipulation. So, I envision what kind of digital art I can produce with the various combinations. I derive parts from different places to build a piece. I paint on a photograph to create another picture.”

It takes Fanuel three weeks to finalize a digital painting. “Digital art uses special costumes to make the artwork more appealing and attractive. The thought process and the time it takes to refine what message you want to communicate takes time. Finding the image resources, stories, and actually creating the 3D piece takes time. Once everything is fulfilled, I sit on the screen, for up to five days.”

His works go for at least ETB30,000 per piece. “This is not the price placed on the idea or message, but rather the energy exerted. If we value the substance and message, it would be much more. I cannot compare traditional painting on canvas with digital art on screen. It takes me three weeks for a digital piece. A traditional painting consumes just a day, until the paint dries. May be that is because I specialized in acrylic paint. But in digital art, there are much more tiring works to refine the idea and create the final product. Traditional painting also has its own laboring. People think digital art is simpler because they think it is all about manipulating photography. But for me digital art is more difficult.”

Currently, digital artworks are largely demanded by advertisement agencies wanting to use computer-generated visual characters for their works. However, the main market destination is the film industry.

“Many people from the film industry are contacting me, but also from billboard and broadcast advertisement agencies. I am creating digital characters and stories, which are the base to produce animated movies and productions. But thus far, I do not think I have satisfied the demand. Digital art will garner big business from the film industry in the near future. But the end goal is more than that,” said Fanuel. “My artworks have their own themes, and I can’t wait until I introduce my own series. There are stories I want to tell, through a sequence of my own exhibitions but I’m waiting for the opportune time until the series is full. The rising interest of youth in digital art is inspiring.”

Addis says digital art is not well utilized in Ethiopia. “Few graduates are currently embarking on developing it. However, there are no working spaces and platforms for youngsters who want to practice full time.”

The lecturer argues that this is attributed to the absence of outlets for digital artworks and the overall nascent level of the art industry in Ethiopia. “Digital paintings can be used on printed mediums such as magazines. But mainly, digital paintings are used as input for animations. The animation could then immensely contribute towards a story’s development and movie production. However, there is not much demand to change Fanuel’s digital paintings into movable characters and movies. Magazines are usually focused on text. There are also no comic books in Ethiopia which could use digital art. All in all, the technology is already here, but there are no outlets.”

“Coupling art with technology is the best way to boost the youth’s imagination. Especially in developing countries like Ethiopia, the scope and imagination boundaries of the young has shrunk, mainly because their minds are constantly exposed to conflict, instability, extremism, and poverty. Digital art is a new venue to think about solutions,” believes Fanuel. EBR

9th Year • Mar 16 – Apr 15 2021 • No. 96

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