At what point is using a computer cheating?


I recall an argument years ago when computers started becoming more widely used. It went something like “drawing and painting on the computer wasn’t real art.”

I would counter that with:

  • Is using a ruler cheating?
  • Is sharpening a pencil cheating?
  • Is digital photography cheating?

I always thought it was the input device—you, or me—that mattered. What’s the difference between laying down pixels or ink?

In high school and college, I developed my own black and white film and prints. Our options were pretty limited. We could expose the prints lighter or darker, or we could burn and dodge areas of the print. That was it. And we were ok with that.

I keep that same basic philosophy for my digital photos. I don’t enhance them to the point of looking un-real. I’m trying to maintain the purity of the process.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. There was a time in advertising when we used every conceivable photoshop action—bevels, embossing and drop shadows. All this in our effort to “Jazz things up.”

While I don’t usually start my illustrations on the computer—it’s almost always in my sketchbook—there’s a point where I switch from analog to digital. And frankly, I’m happy to have the convenience and efficiency of working digitally.

However, I do like to maintain a few ground rules.

There are tutorials online that show you how to make your typography look analog by running filters and Photoshop actions. This defeats the true meaning of hand lettering. It removes the many steps necessary to produce something original. It also mostly eliminates the learning process, and distills it down into a series of clicks. It defeats the meaning of deliberate practice.

Running a filter on a typeface does not turn it into lettering, just as running a painting effect on a photo does not make it a painting.

Want to use a Photoshop drop shadow, apply a background texture, or re-colour a shape or letter? Go for it. Leverage the power of the software to make your workflow more efficient.

Let the software expedite the process within reason. The line between real, deliberate practice and taking the express lane can be a fine one.

You’ll have to decide what’s comfortable for you.