Digital Printmaking: A Webist's Perspective


Pygoya, Founder of Webism, October 2003


     Like life itself, time flies for an artist working with digital tools. Yet despite the startup availability of the personal computer graphic platform almost twenty years ago (1984, the IBM XT/Lumina software), digital art as an art form still is generally perceived to be a "new" and "emerging" (not fully accepted) medium. I did guess back in the mid-80s that "things would be different" 10 years later through the efforts of the first wave or generation of digital artists. Well here we pioneers are, 18 years after that prediction, working together with a vastly enlarge pool of digital artists of the second generation. Not just ubiquitous efforts from around the globe, as evidenced by the digital art that populates the Internet, but works much more sophisticated than efforts of the earlier epoch through the advancement of high technology.

     Well how far have we come, given the passage of almost two decades? Unfortunately, digital art still has not found its patrons; it remains a tough sell. I am acquainted with talented cyberartists that produce developed works imbibed with personal style, abroad as well as locally, yet everyone complains about minimal sales. But I remain committed to the belief that our time of prosperity will come. Noticeably, some great pioneers have passed on without proper reimbursement for their creative sacrifices, such as Canadian living legend Robert Downing. Yet like any other type artist, we digital ones continue to explore the medium's potentials, not so much for the money but because of the internal drive and conviction within. We all keep making the most of our God given talents and maintain the dream of a future with social recognition and financial redemption. Ah, to be "rich and famous" someday continues to allure otherwise rational folks into becoming artists.

     Besides the enrichment of visual effects in contemporary digital work, high technology has contributed to other aspects of fine art, including the resilient traditional art market. Nowadays it's commonplace to see signed and limited edition Giclée prints, or, the high end of computer printouts. Whereas such a product was considered 'reproductions' of 'original art,' today they are accepted as print editions, or valuable commodities, in their own right. One large Giclée in a local Honolulu frame shop recently sold for $3,000, with the help of an extra fancy wooden frame job. The artist numbered it as part of a 150 print edition. Amazingly, the image was merely a photograph of the original photorealistic rendering in oil of a pod of coconuts, in other words, an imitation copy (printed on canvas cloth with simulated brush stroke varnishing) of a painting. I had to examine up close to identify it as a print instead of a hand painted work of art. At a normal viewing distance, the print mimics an actual painting. Imagine how much the painting itself must fetch!

     But is this 'original' oil on canvas worth it? Apart from how famous this particular artist is and his specific technical skills with paint manipulation, the work is more or less a copy of nature, here, some coconuts. So when it comes to the concept of originality, the painting, like most landscapes aiming for photorealism, is a rip off of nature, a reproduction of it. This genre of paintings are illusions to convenient bring nature inside one's living space. So a derived Giclée is a copy of a copy. Compare this to digital art conceived by the artistic mind through the vehicle of software tools where there is no original physical complement to the printout. In my mind a Giclée of this venue is a true original work of art as no physical precedent exists before the virtual picture's materialization into a tangible image on paper.

     Besides the high end Giclée, cyberartists can now turn to the more affordable Epson 2000 series print with archival "watercolor" paper and inks. These are as collectible as any other type of printmaking if the manufacturer's claim of 200 years of nonfading of their inks holds up to the test of time. Despite this supremacy of original digital imagery for the Giclée process, as a Webist who creates virtual (digital) imagery for Internet online display, I declare my paper prints, Giclée or Epson, for what they are - 'reproductions' of the ephemeral digital art. Of course the signature on prints are hand signed. In fact my personal preference for 'output' of the digital image is the execution of oil on canvas paintings. This caters to the mystique of painting and its perceived collectibility, even if in essence the one-of-a-kind work of art is a derivative (of the digital domain).

     Technology offers other art product end products unique to digital art. These include today's CDs and DVDs. Besides 'slide shows' or more elaborate animation of still digital images, the pictorial can be combined with music and other multimedia elements to create a new 'mixed media' specific for this electronic age and its sensitivities.

     My prediction for our newborn and fledging digital art? Technology will continue to shape the way we create all art. For example, innovations in glass blowing, metal casting, and ceramics through electronic advancement in equipment and materials, the modernization of art supply production such as synthetic acrylic paints, and the emergence of digital cameras and photographic enhancements and print processing. In the short term the digital will continue to integrate with all forms of artistic creation. In the intermediate term I have no doubt that the digital medium will reign supreme as the epoch's dominant medium to depict cultural identity. Not just regionally, but globally, as witnessed by the rapidly expanding influence of global Internet cyberculture that catapults all geographical borders. Then a time will come when the cultural digital mainstream will be shocked by a young underground revolting against the establishment by reviving hand crafted artwork. Such works, judged primitive by nature in an overwhelming social environment embedded in technology, will have a difficult time standing up to critical ridicule, just as we early cyberists have had to and still endure.