AI is Replacing Artists? Yeah, About That…

A lot of hype has raced about the internet recently concerning AI art and how computers will replace artists. Fearful painters and illustrators need to start searching for new jobs because creativity is now only for algorithms!

Silly, isn’t it?

I’m a fantasy/dark fantasy artist. I began with good ol’ pencils, pens and paper, and transitioned to a pen display because I wanted to save trees (and erasing is SO much easier and I love layers). I’m not the only artist that made the transition, and I know that choosing to create electronically did not eliminate watercolorists and oil painters and sculptors.

Erse Parr, artwork I created for my Evenacht serial. It’ll be a while before AI “learns” enough to output images that aren’t front-views of staring individuals in front of painterly landscapes.

So it is with AI. AI lets non-artists create pictures they can use in their creative endeavors. Great! Especially for independent writers, DMs, etc., paying for a pic is often out of reach due to budget constraints, and websites are popping up all over the place that will let them make a landscape for free.

But that does not mean artists are going extinct. And they never will. There are several reasons for this.

*Before I get started: I use Artbreeder regularly, have messed around with Night Café and NVidia Canvas. I’ve watched how-to videos on Midjourney, but have not personally used the Discord app because I initially thought the damn thing was a scam to swindle personal information from users (have you looked at their website? But hey, you can pay $30 for the privilege of beta testing for them! Ain’t that grand). I’ve fiddled with other AI art apps, but being unimpressed with the output, I stopped using them–and I really don’t remember much about them.

1. AI cannot give you exactly what you want. With computer-generated images, you need to nudge sliders, add keywords, backtrack, and even then, the image achieved may be nowhere near what you originally intended. What if you love a part of the pic? Changing anything will change that, too.

Artists know what they want, and can create the image they picture in their heads. If they like something about what they’ve drawn or painted, but want to change another aspect, they can do so without creating an entirely new image (MidJourney, Night Café) or warping what they like because something else is off (Artbreeder, NVidia Canvas).

Pumpkins created in Night Café. Key phrase: The left is “pumpkin with glowing eyes and wings sitting on a box” with modifier “horror Gustav Doré Greg Rutkowski”. The right is “pumpkin with glowing eyes and wings sitting on a box” with modifier “sinister by Greg Rutkowski”. As you can see, some of it is cool–but not what I wanted. How many keywords do you think it would take, to get a pumpkin with glowing eyes and wings sitting by itself on a box?

If you hire an artist, you can converse with them about what you like/don’t like about an image and get something close to what you originally pictured. You don’t have to spend hours attempting to get black hair back on your character without having an eyeball appear in their cheek or a hole in their neck.

2. But! wait until AIs learn how to properly create a human face! Then artists will be in trouble! Of course, algorithms are notoriously by the books. Once a program “figures out” what a human face looks like, that’s what you’ll get, with little diversity other than eye and hair color, let alone style.

Amderion, a Finder sage from my Evenacht serial, created using Artbreeder then transformed in Photoshop. Trying to get long hair on him without destroying the rest of the look was hours of frustration. I should have just drawn him because it would not have taken as long. I also find it interesting, that a couple of commenters did not think the portrait looked very Artbreeder-y. They’re right, I suppose; Amderion isn’t a younger woman with chubby cheeks, full lips and wide eyes.

Let’s look at Artbreeder portraits. I use the ones I create as placeholders until I find the time to draw the character (sometimes that happens, sometimes not). Their images are immediately recognizable to my husband (who is not an artist and has never used the program) because the results are square portraits that display the head, possess a dull background, and have pretty much the same appearance. Smiles and frowns tend to warp the face, so nearly all have an intense “stare” look ( and have you tried to get face-front portraits to look up, or down, or 3/4 or 1/2 view? Or *gasp* look like a person over 60? Not pretty results).

Yes, Artbreeder has a re-roll feature, which is interesting but after you’ve produced ten or so re-iterations, the re-rolls tend to look like the previous ones. And what about long hair on men, or short hair on women? As soon as you push the slider towards a gender, their hair either lengthens or shortens. Since my characters tend to have long hair (all of them. I like long hair, what can I say) this drives me nuts, which is why they get plunked into Photoshop for editing.

This is a huge problem, though. It means the algorithm is learning a strict set of gender-related cues, which, again, limits diversity in characterization (and which produces a very warped sense of ‘beauty/handsomeness’).

3. Artbreeder isn’t the only program that works from strict sets of cues. All AI does. Due to copyright restrictions, the creators of the algorithms are restricted in the inputs they use, which limits the output (or they break copyright and hope no one can prove it). Using these inputs, once the algorithms decide what a desert or a column is, that’s what they will produce.

Let’s take deserts. The Mojave Desert is very different from the Sahara, but I have yet to use an app that creates Joshua trees rather than dunes to depict a dry landscape. Earth has a wide range of biomes and an astounding diversity within them, and AI misses that.

NVidia Canvas isn’t too bad when it comes to landscapes, but that’s likely because you can paint where you want things to go. It still requires a lot of fine-tuning and lacks detail. I originally wanted a tree-lined escarpment overlooking the sea. Fine-tuning produced this. I like it, but it’s not what I had in mind.

And, of course, even if an artist does not hold copyright on an image, they can use it as a visual reference as long as they don’t copy it. Apps like Midjourney legally can’t, though I’ve watched tutorials where the user finds a Google image and plunks it into the data set, whether legal or not. This could be a huge problem in the future if the owner of a pic decides to sue for infringement because the result looks too much like their copyrighted image.

If you think that’s unlikely, you might want to read about Shepard Fairey, who was sued by the AP for using their photo of Barack Obama in the famous HOPE poster, and who ended up fined and put on probation for hiding evidence about it. Or how about reading Cory Doctorow’s account of harassment by underhanded lawyers concerning Copyright Commons (basically, businesses search for breaches of copyright and demand compensation from users of images etc.–and get this, they don’t even have to represent the original copyright holder. They can just accuse and reap the monetary benefits because those they target usually can’t afford a lawyer).

Or you can look into how YouTube creators get copyright claims against them for doing typical filter sweeps in synth showcases. Or how about these two louts who stole $23M from leading Latin artists because YouTube’s copyright enforcement is shit. The lessons here are: anyone can sue you for unauthorized use, even if they are in no way related to the original artist, or if the original artist is in no way related to the use. And yes, that sucks.

4. Which leads us to another copyright problem–the artwork itself.

In the US, our laws have not caught up with technology. Images created by these programs are not copyrightable, and truthfully, considering how many of the images look like thousands of others, who wants that? Having users suing each other because the portrait of their book’s main character is exactly the same as the main character of their rival’s book, only with blond hair instead of brown, is not exactly what the coders of these algorithms want. Such suits will kill their app in a matter of months.

Artbreeder background, human figure created by me in Photoshop. This background is based on a common landscape base found in Artbreeder, with thousands of iterations used for a variety of purposes. With so many variations on the same image, does any one of them count as the “real” one?

5. So you still think AI can replace human creativity?

HAHAHAHAHAH.

The reason these data sets produce weird, interesting results is because the algorithm hasn’t figured out how things “look” yet. All that creativity will die once they do because, as stated previously, computers are literal. So while a lot of people like the monstrous looks Midjourney or Night Café produce, those will go away once deep learning “learns” and uniformity takes hold (which I see in Artbreeder).

AI is a tool, no more, no less. Computer-generated images can be an interesting first step in the creative process, but as of now, the end results will not replace artists–and I see no future in which they will.

Writing on a Budget: Art Apps

Sometimes writers draw/illustrate as well as write. Sometimes they illustrate their texts (picture books, graphic novels, illustrated novels).

While some photo apps can be used as a drawing app (like Photoshop or Affinity photo), not all are good at it (for instance, Photoshop Elements has no bezier tool, which means it doesn’t have a pen tool to draw curved lines). Unfortunately, dedicated drawing apps can be pretty spendy, and the free ones are few and far between.

As with the other posts, I don’t own Apple products, so specific iOS apps like Procreate will not be covered.

But first…tablets, pen tablets and pen displays.

Yes, you can make digital art with a mouse. No, it’s not the same as using a tablet or a pen display. Pressure sensitivity is important, and that’s something you can kinda mimic using a mouse, but not replace.

Regular tablets like an iPad have pens and apps that work well together, and artists create wonderful things with them. Not everyone can afford an iPad, however.

Photo by George Milton from Pexels

This is where pen tablets come it. Pen tablets are tools that lie on your desk like a mousepad, but instead of a mouse, you use a pen to move the cursor about on your monitor. The pressure of the pen against the tablet allows artists to create thick and thin lines, draw lightly or heavily, etc.

Pen tablets are cheaper than regular tablets and pen displays, and once you are used to moving the pen while staring at your monitor, they’re exceptional tools.

Wacom’s Intuos is a popular pen tablet, but Huion Inspiroy and XP-Pen Deco series are also solid, but cheaper, choices. These pen tablets have pen sensitivity without the price of a regular tablet or pen display, ranging from $25 to just over $100. The larger the size, the more the cost.

I never did get the hang of pen tablets. I felt disconnected from my work, and practice did not make perfect. So I saved up for a pen display. Pen displays are more expensive than pen tablets, but you can draw directly on the screen with a special pen, similar to a regular tablet. Unlike regular tablets, though, these displays are monitors, and have monitor sizes from 13″ to 24″.

Photo by Daniele from Pexels

Because of screen sensitivity and the need for accurate color, these displays are more expensive than typical monitors. You can save some money on refurbished ones, but you still need a couple hundred bucks for a 13″ pen display (which is still cheaper than an iPad. Still, budget-wise writers/artists will find the pen tablets more attractive because of the lower price tag).

Wacom is considered the industry standard for both pen tablets and pen displays. Huion products are just as good for half the price, and XP-Pen a bit cheaper than that. There are other, even cheaper displays/tablets out there; I caution you to do your research. Not all are created equal.

I use Huion pen displays, and I’m pretty happy with them.

Oh, and if you are wondering about your touch screen laptop–regular touch screens do not have the pressure sensitivity artists need.

On to apps!

Artbreeder

Lord’s Council Building by me

Artbreeder is a bit different than the other apps on this list. It’s a browser-based software that uses AI to create portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, etc. It blends pics together and creates something new. The software learns from each pic that is created, to produce better images.

To make an image, you manipulate parameters (for portraits, things like age, hair color, etc, while for landscapes you change sunlight, mountain height, etc). With a few clicks of a mouse, you can create a fantastic-looking image. You can even upload your own portrait, and see how Artbreeder artifies it!

Artbreeder has its frustrations and limitations; for instance, the gender stereotypes it uses to create portraits can be very annoying if you, say, have a male character with long hair. There is also a “look” to the images; even my husband can tell an Artbreeder-created pic on random Instagram posts. You can make a more unique image, but it takes a bit more time messing with parameters than some wish to spend.

Despite the annoyances, what Artbreeder does for the average writer, especially non-artistic ones, is provide a fast, easy way to create a unique image related to their stories. Sometimes, it’s just more economical to use it.

Artbreeder is free to use, though uploads and downloads are severely limited at that tier–but if you only need a couple of images a month, there’s no reason to subscribe. The site has different tiers for a monthly fee, starting at $8.99.

Krita

Krita is a free painting app for Mac, Windows and Linux.

Krita is targeted towards painters; it is not a replacement for a program like Photoshop. If your style is more painterly/concept art-y, or you like to create textures and patterns, it’s a good app to try out.

It’s not the smoothest app out there, but for free, it’s a great program. It has a gentle learning curve, but I would still mess around with the program and get familiar with it before beginning any serious artwork.

Clip Studio Paint

Shiobe by me

Clip Studio Paint is for Windows, Mac, and mobile devices. It has a free trial if you want to check it out. It also has several options for payment, including monthly plans from $0.99, depending on device. If you purchase their product outright, it’s a one-time payment. So Clip Studio Paint is yours forever for under the cost of one Adobe CC monthly bill.

For authors who like to draw and illustrate and lean towards 2D/comic/manga style or digital painting, this program is awesome. It has brushes, pens, and fantastic manipulation of vector lines (an absolute must for comic/manga drawing, IMO). You can access their store to get free extras, like brushes and such.

Purchasing the EX version is much more spendy, but you gain access to animation, page layouts and 3D models. If you are serious about creating comics/manga, you might want to look at the monthly plans for EX, which start at $8.99. Still spendy, but more doable.

I do all my line drawing in Clip Studio Paint. Sketching in Photoshop then transferring to Illustrator was once my go-to workflow, but due to an Illustrator bug, it’s now unusable with my pen displays. I decided to check CSP out because I needed a vector program.

I’m glad I did. Being able to easily erase and manipulate vectors sold me on it. So I now sketch on a raster layer then refine on a vector. You can color your work in CSP too, and they have a great fill feature where the program doesn’t have to have the outlines closed to properly fill in a shape. Awesome.

If you like to digitally paint, they have a lot of painterly brushes, too. They run contests, and seeing what others create using the program is a great source of inspiration.

Sketchbook

Sketchbook was discontinued by Autodesk in 2021 and spun off to other developers, Sketchbook Inc. I haven’t used the program since this development, so I’m not certain about updates and changes and if it works the same. It was a decent program under Autodesk, especially for free; as of this writing, the new developers are charging a one-time payment of $19.99.

Sketchbook Inc. is promising loads of new content, and since the price isn’t bad for a drawing app, this is one to keep in mind. It has hundreds of brushes and a predictive smoothing element to keep lines nice and smooth. I enjoyed using it when it was part of the Autodesk lineup, and I hope the new company keeps the quality up.

Affinity Photo / Designer

I’ve covered Affinity before. Their apps are cheaper than Photoshop, and if you wait for a sale, you can get a favorable discount that lets you purchase them individually for under $40.

Affinity Photo is a raster program like Photoshop. It has versatile brush creation and a fantastic zoom feature. Designer is a vector program like Illustrator, and is good for outlining art. Together, you can create some nice pieces.

Affinity software has familiar interfaces for those who have used graphics software before. Getting their product for photo manipulation as well as drawing is a great two-fer–just know, that with Windows 10 and 11, an audio enhancement app called Nahimic can play havoc with it. If menu items start to disappear and other menu options get blurry, you need to disable it. (Nahimic and NVidia aren’t good friends, and can cause problems for other drawing and audio software as well).

ArtRage Lite

ArtRage Lite is $29.90 as of this writing. It is a digital painting program that is meant to be easy to use. The Lite version has most of the same features as their more expensive versions, but it targets users who don’t want to create their own brushes or textures, and prefer to use things as-is.

ArtRage was once the painting app rage, and designed for all ages and experiences. They have Mac, Windows and mobile versions. It’s worth checking out if you want to get started, or already enjoy, digital painting.

Wrap Up

There are a lot of other apps out there, especially ones targeting iPad and iPhone users (Apple’s supposed to be the go-to for digital artists, after all). They’re worth a look, but make certain that, if you purchase something, it’s still being developed. There are a lot of dead apps out there you can still download and use, despite the fact they no longer are active.

*featured image by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!