Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Computer Art Programs

Computer art programs have become important, and not just to professional artists. Digital drawing is a useful way to improve artistic skills, even for beginners. Computer art programs have significant advantages, not the least of which is convenience and (my favorite) no cleanup. No brush washing, preserving or disposing of paint, rags, used paper or canvas. However, on the negative side of the ledger many will add that learning computer programs is too hard, or the programs are too expensive. Or they may feel that using a computer to make images puts the artist to far away from the art--the tool is too intrusive--and besides, some artists really love having dirty hands and paint-spattered jeans. And of course, artists who have established useful and solid methods and know their materials inside and out don't want to change, saying "if it ain't broke..."

Nevertheless, I'd like to gently suggest giving digital art-making a try.

My experience is probably like that of many others. For a long time, although I owned Photoshop, digital art was something I had no interest in or time for. It occurred to me that perhaps the computer expertise needed was mostly beyond me, so the program languished. But a few years ago, a program called Art Rage changed my mind about digital drawing and painting. I saw a demonstration of the program by an oil painter who had only used it a short time. Unlike the more expensive and impressively digital Photoshop, Art Rage emulated what an artist does with graphite or paint, and seemed to be quicker to learn. You can pick a "brush" with defined properties that allow the artist to make a display mark very similar to
Portrait of Woody 2014 "graphite" drawing done in Art Rage
a mark made with graphite or charcoal or watercolor or oil paint. You can blend strokes and colors, just like real paint or charcoal. And importantly, Art Rage and other digital programs let you work in layers. In this portrait of Woody Guthrie, done from a photograph, you can see how well Art Rage simulates the look of graphite pencils.

There are newer digital art programs that are immediately available by download from the various online providers for all of operating systems (you can get Art Rage online too), although some are specific to one platform or another. Even better, you can get started with a free app or program and advance to the more expensive ones if or when you feel the need. Even the expensive programs like the Photoshop line from Adobe and its companion program Illustrator can be gotten quickly online. Today those and similar professional programs from other companies (Sketchbook, from Autodesk for example) are still relatively expensive but the cost is spread over time. You can download Photoshop online and pay about $20 per month while you use it and participate in Adobe's Creative Cloud. You will pay almost $250 per year so if you use it for a couple of years, well, you've paid a great deal.

Beginning in digital art making can be very inexpensive, though. In fact several very good entry level digital art programs can be downloaded for free. If you have a smartphone (who doesn't?) you can download a free program now called Brushes Redux from iTunes. David Hockney famously used the original Brushes app for quite a lot of the digital images he has been exhibiting, if the press is accurate. Today there are thousands using the program and uploading their images online. Besides being free, it's fairly simple to learn because you can just draw the image with a finger on the screen of your smartphone or iPad. The pictures you can produce on a telephone screen with such a blunt tool as a fingertip are necessarily rather rudimentary, of course, but with the larger tablet screens and the use of various kinds of styluses the pictures can be striking. There are other programs that are free or sell for a nominal charge online that can provide very good images, excellent convenience, and aren't that hard to learn.

Another iPhone and iPad app is Art Studio, again available from the iTunes store. This program is significantly more sophisticated than Brushes Redux. It sells for $4.99. Like Art Rage, Art Studio emulates the experience of painting or drawing. You can make it produce images similar to graphite, ink, or charcoal drawing. Or you can "paint" like watercolor or like oils.
Imaginary Character 2014 done with Art Studio
There is an additional add-on that you can buy from within the app, a Brush Pack that supplies more varied "brushes," but it's not necessary if you just want to try it out. The painting to the right was done in several layers using Art Studio while checking out how different brushes laid down color.

And finally, follow the link below to see uploads of Brushes-based images from all over.

Artworks created using Brushes
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