Materials & Techniques

Combining Digital & Traditional Media for Artwork

Since time immemorial artists have embraced and pushed the boundaries of new tools and new media as they have been invented, whether it be new pigments, surfaces, or equipment. For example, the Camera Obscura is thought to have been used by artists such as Canaletto and Vermeer, JMW Turner was notorious for experimenting with new pigments, (which sometimes proved to be so fugitive that they faded quickly on the walls of his customers), and artists such as the Impressionists were inspired by photography and the accidental compositions of snapshots.

Today with the advent of computers and printers, the options to experiment are even wider. There are plenty of artists now who work completely in the digital sphere, but for me the excitement lies in combining these new tools with more traditional techniques to create something physical.

One of the beauties of digital art is that whatever mistakes you make, you can usually undo them, so there is no danger in experimenting to your heart’s content. As someone who regularly pushes their artwork too far, I find this hugely reassuring and it opens up multiple avenues to explore and develop. 

The tools that I find most helpful are the camera phone (assisted by various apps), the computer, drawing tablet, scanner and inkjet printer. You can of course use other printers too, and each kind has its own strengths and weaknesses depending upon what you’re trying to do. I shall deal with each of these tools separately. Please note that this is not intended to be in any way an exhaustive approach to the potential of combining traditional and digital media, more a starting point for exploration based on my own experiences.

Camera Phone

I use the phone on my camera to capture inspiration when I’m out and about. I know I should draw more directly from my inspiration, but the speed and ease of taking a photograph means I can capture ideas and images quickly and easily while I’m getting on with everyday life. There are also a whole wealth of apps out there which can be used with the camera. One of my favourites at the moment is Adobe Capture – I love the way it allows you to capture colour palettes from nature, or turn your existing images into kaleidoscopic designs.

Source image for colour palette
Colour palette generated from image (Adobe Capture)
Source image for pattern
Kaleidoscopic pattern generated from image (Adobe Capture)


Anyone who has explored this blog will know that I love my scanner art. I have used it to create digital papers, wrapping paper, doodle sheets, and artwork in general, both with children and for myself. It’s very simple to do, and whether you’re scanning plant material, or miscellaneous items, the results can be surprisingly effective. I also scan in my-own hand-painted papers and images to create a resource library of material that can be used and adapted as required, whether I’m printing it out to use for collage, or simply using digitally. I love the way I can change the colour at will, as ultimately this saves time creating new papers uneccessarily.

Check out the following posts to find out more:


Once I have scanned my material, or downloaded my phone images, I can use the computer to manipulate them further (you can of course do some of this directly on your phone if you prefer, but I like to have the big screen). I use Photoshop for this, but any image manipulation software will give you some tools to help you create artwork. I like the way that at this stage I can take some of my previously scanned artwork or downloaded images, and make very simple changes, for example to change the hue or brighten the colour, or to crop out details etc. For example, when painting I often find that I will like details of a piece of work I have done more than the whole thing, and a favourite detail enlarged will become the basis of further artwork. By playing with changing hues and composition, new ideas are also sparked.


Your printer takes your artwork back out of the digital realm and into the physical again. It takes the work sourced from the camera, scanner and manipulated in the computer, and then brings it back transformed. A printer can be used creatively in many different ways – here are just a few to get you started: 

  • Using different papers in the printer to print upon, such as printed pages from an old book, or brown wrapping paper.
  • Print onto your own hand-painted paper. Experiment with metallic and pearlescent paints too.
  • Try printing images onto OHP film for creative use, and to make transparencies
  • Experiment with printing images onto fabric (you can get specially prepared sheets for this)
  • You can also print onto tissue paper, which can then be used to collage onto artwork. If you’re going to try this, you need to tape the tissue paper onto a sheet of ordinary printer paper to support it, otherwise it will just tear in the printer, and potentially cause a jam. I use masking tape for this purpose, and then use a knife to cut the printed tissue paper away from the tape and support paper.
  • Use printed images with a photo transfer medium to physically transfer the image onto artwork (note that most of the image transfer gels available are designed for use with laser rather than inkjet printers).
  • Try printing onto waxed paper, and then using a monoprint technique to transfer the image. The effect can be unpredictable, but very painterly.
  • Experiment with overprinting – printing out an image, then putting the paper back into the printer, and printing over it with a different image.
  • If you have access to a 3D printer, try creating your own relief printing blocks. This is not something I have tried myself since I don’t have access to one!

Waxed Paper

Photo Fabric

Photo Transfer Medium

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Combining all these different tools and techniques, and developing your own is all part of the fun

It is especially satisfying to use your own material to create something completely unique, but if you want to save time, there are a whole range of resources out there on the internet to explore and inspire. Sources like Creative Market offer a whole range of ready made templates, motifs, and design elements, while the Google Arts & Culture App has lots of fun creative tools to play with (see example below!)

For those of us who are older (like myself), it is important not to be scared of using digital media for artwork – it is after all just another set of tools to explore, and if artists like David Hockney can embrace digital art, then there really is no excuse for the rest of us! I have come across art teachers who will not entertain the use of digital techniques in the classroom, but personally I feel this is a mistake. My son tells me that there are now Virtual Reality games that allow you to paint and create directly in a 3 dimensional digital environment, so the opportunities just keep growing, and I’m not sure why any art educator would want to restrict their student’s creativity. 

Have fun!