What Traditional Art Mediums can Teach Web Designers?

In today’s world an artist can create stunning images and models without using an ounce of paint or a single brush. This, of course, refers to digital graphic design. Indeed, ones and zeroes are the predominant medium of professional designers these days, but it would be remiss of the industry not to continue to look at traditional art mediums for inspiration.

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web designer and traditional art

Truth be told, these seemingly outdated ways to make art hold the key to understanding many concepts critical to good graphic design of the 21st century. Such lessons are as follows:

Oil Paint – Let There Be Light

The number one choice of the most famous painters to have ever lived, oil based paint allows for a bold, vivid image. Key to the beauty of a good oil painting is the ability of the artist to capture light and lighting nearly as accurately as a photograph. For graphic designers, oil paintings offer a glimpse into the way light can be recreated in a digital image. This allows for more realistic renditions going forward.

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Latex Paint – Color Contrasts

Canned latex house paint can be mixed to create countless colors across the visible spectrum. Designers will be reminded of the vast array of color options available to them digitally. Pairing opposing colors for contrast and matching similar colors for harmony has been the hallmark of many painters using latex paint. Often these works fall in the abstract category. Designers can examine them to find inspiration in the creation of a color palette, abstract background designs for web pages, brochures, and so forth.

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Watercolor – The Power of Shapes

The inherently runny nature of watercolor paints means the artist has to be talented not only in the basics of image formation, but application technique as well. This often leads to watercolor painters building their images out of shapes applied by a swift, singular brush stroke. In short, this lays the groundwork for shape based web design, as it shows what’s possible with the accumulation of squares, ovals, diamonds, triangles, trapezoids, et cetera.

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Charcoal – Less is More

Sketch “black and white” drawings done by charcoal are triumphs of design when they successfully encapsulate key features of the subject. A charcoal portrait, for example, may not depict the color of a person’s eyes, but the detail of the eyes are nonetheless breathtakingly vivid. For graphic designers, this showcases the importance of emphasizing key features of a subject in minimalist image creation; if the desired product is a simplified rendition, make sure to accentuate the most striking aspects.

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Marble – Three-Dimensional

Studying marble sculpture, especially of human/human-like subjects, is vital for designers seeking a comprehensive appreciation for 3D modeling. Yes, modeling software is amazing, and very helpful in understanding the fine details necessary for realistic rendering, but they often neglect one thing: imperfection. The verism, or “warts and all,” approach to certain marble sculpture, particularly of the Greek and Roman world, shows designers how the human face is not perfectly symmetrical nor likely to be smooth and chiseled – no pun intended. Apply this to model rendering to make more realistic characters.

The professional artists of today work almost exclusively with digital media. This is great – it’s progress – but let’s not forget there are lessons to be learned from the art forms of the past. These mediums can inspire designers to think outside the computer box, and reveal the universal nature of artistic expression across time and technology.