When Digital And Traditional Painting Meet

The following entry is a description of the mixed media digital printing and painting process that I have developed over the past few years. I work in many different mediums including acrylic paint, oil, mixed media, and purely digital. This is a heavily edited version of a previous blog post (The Adventures Of Icarus Elck) about the methods I used to create 30 unique mixed media prints for the ECU faculty exhibition in 2011. 

There are now acrylic mediums that can be applied to 2D surfaces to make them receptive to high quality archival digital printing. Once printed, these images can be sealed with UV varnishes to stabilize the surface making it possible to paint or collage on top of the image without releasing or lifting the water based, pigmented inks used to print the digital image. What is unique about the process I use is that I am painting back into these images with traditional paint and then running the print/painting back through the printer, sometimes multiple times. This process is unpredictable and causes accidents that inspire me to change the image. 

At that time I was creating the work described below, I was using a cheap Bamboo Wacom tablet (which has been completely redesigned and now is nothing like what is pictured below). I now use a Wacom 13' Cyntiq.

If you would like to see a sided by side comparison of digital and traditional painting, the video below is by our MFA Alumnus Jonathan Peedin, and was used during a presentation in October 2012 at the Southeastern College Arts Conference in Durham, NC. where he spoke at the invitational panel "Technologists, not Technicians: Integrating New Media in Art & Design"


Tornadoes have consistently appeared in my work since I started dreaming about them on March 29, 1989. For many years the dreams were terrifyingly vivid and often bordered on lucid. In many of those dreams I ran from the tornadoes, as did the characters in my paintings and drawings. At that time, my intention for this particular image was to finally turn and face the tornado.

I had begun this pencil drawing

with the intention of drawing a character, based on the clip art image below, walking in a field of poppies. I have been developing a personal/universal avatar called Icarus Elck. The image below is the first iteration of that character and was not the direction I ended up taking. I chose this particular image because it reminded me of Faust, and the expression, as well as the song, Candle In The Wind. I also saw it as a visual metaphor for the way a psychiatrist analyzes dream content, or the way an academic/traditional oil painter might think about digital painting.

I tried to shoot reference shots, but quickly realized that the anatomy of the original drawing is incorrect and I could not duplicate it. If you do not believe me, stand in front of a full length mirror and try to recreate the pose exactly. I promise you that if you have children or a roommate, they will walk into the room the moment you do this.

I liked the obviously dated, black and white drawing, so I decided to just use the image exactly. In the Artworld, it is called "appropriating". In music it is called "sampling". When somebody does it to you, it is called stealing. :  ) Remember - Everything Is A Remix

I was not happy with the intestine like tornado in the original drawing, nor with the beginnings of the poppy field.

So, I scanned the drawing into the computer and edited out the intestinal tornado.

I wanted poppy fields for their link to tornadoes that I had grown up with and for their tie to mind altering drugs and the war in Afghanistan. 

I chose this iconic scene and edited out the characters as well as desaturated colors and mirrored the image. The black and white landscape that resulted reminded me of old postcards of tobacco fields in North Carolina.


I introduced the man, and decided to add a few flowers.

Here are some early test prints.

At that time I was teaching myself how to use Photoshop and got carried away with layers and the digital drawing process. 

Believe it or not, I start every image by saying “This time I will not get obsessed with minutia.”

Below is a studio shot of some of the different versions at various stages of completion.

Here is a weird one that I like.

A shot of the actual printing.

My studio Friday, October 7, 2011. The day the paintings were due to the gallery.

The 30 best ready to be hung.


This particular image has continued to evolve and change over the years and now that you have seen how it began, you can probably see how it is related to these images;