Why you should still bother with analog art

Even with the best digital tools, you should sometimes still use analog techniques as a safe, future proof default.

As tools and techniques advance, it’s reasonable to question the time and hassle that go into making physical artwork for source materials like patterns and backgrounds. It’s getting easier and faster to recreate very similar effects using Photoshop or other tools. Why bother with analog?

I believe the difference is in quality, complexity, and making the artwork future proof.

Here’s an example.

Pattern made by pouring and mixing paint on paper

Pattern made by pouring and mixing paint on paper

A similar pattern made in Photoshop with layers of Difference cloud and generated wave effects

A similar pattern made in Photoshop with layers of Difference cloud and generated wave effects

The first image came from my experiment with marbled house paint, water and ink. The second one is a quick attempt to recreate the look with Photoshop’s built-in effects.

The texture and light-to-dark ratio look comparable. Both images are fairly complex: there isn’t an immediately apparent repeat pattern in the computer generated one, and the shapes and waves range in size in a pleasing way.

But even if the results look almost equivalent at a first glance, I prefer the hand-poured version over the digital effect because I want my results to last.

Hand made effects are more complex

The physics and chemistry of the paint swirling in marbled shapes and the paper moving around make an unpredictable pattern each time. Even with the power behind Photoshop, it’s not yet possible to create the same level of complexity in a digital image.

Handmade things are more unique

Just to start, a handmade thing will be unique every time you make it. Even if you tried, you couldn’t reproduce the exact same paint swirl a second time. And by making the effort to hand-make (draw, scratch, photograph) a texture for your project, you’ll further set yourself apart as a designer.

Analog & hand made things are more future proof

Think of early computer graphics, or the dreary default marble texture in PowerPoint. Most people used it, because it was easy. Eventually, all the best defaults and tools of their time become too familiar, and lose their impact. Things start to look dated, either due to overuse, or because technology or style have changed enough to make the previous work obviously dated. Using unique (often, analog!) textures instead can help future proof your work.

DO IT: marbled paint swirls

To start, I gathered supplies: regular house paint is already fluid enough to use in marbled paper effects, but the full-body acrylic paints (white and yellow) had to be diluted by about half with water.

I used 140lb watercolor paper, taped on all sides to a foam core board. The board gives a larger surface for the paint drips, and provides a rigid support for when the paper warps with the wet paint. If you let the painting dry flat, it will return to a reasonably flat state :)

As different paints combine, they may bleed into each other in interesting ways. Sometimes the effect will disappear once the painting dries, so I took pictures with my phone as I went.

From here, the technique is basically to move the puddle of paint around until it fills your canvas or paper. You can add paint or water a bit at a time (I used an eyedropper) or use a palette knife scoop up extra paint and fill empty spot.

The final result was colorful but a bit more green than what I had imagined. For the finished version, I prefer the black & white, or the IK Blue versions at the top of this post.

Acrylic ink, white paint, gloss medium - before the piece dried. (detail)

Acrylic ink, white paint, gloss medium - before the piece dried. (detail)

On a different sheet of paper, I tried the same technique with acrylic ink and white paint.

Try it yourself

This is my first experiment, and I’m pretty pleased with the results. There are many great tutorials out there to make the same look. Here are several I’ve enjoyed reading:

As I advocate for an analog instead of digital approach here, I don’t mean to be against technology. Rather, I want to use technology for what it’s good at instead of reproducing a paint & paper look. There are motion, 3D, and interaction effects that can only be done digitally, and give new meaning to the art we can make. I simply want to use the right tools for the right purpose.

Maria Matveevafourth-9