Imagery created using smartphones and personal computers seems to be one of the most popular of activities these days, judging by the amount of photos and videos posted by my friends and family on Facebook.
Even my wonderful Nepali wife, who is not at all a geek, edits her photos in iPhoto and posts them to her online albums, using special effects known only to the most pro of photo manipulators a few decades ago.
But today’s easy-to-use yet highly sophisticated apps make it possible for anyone to easily imitate an Ansell Adams, or even a Picasso. And I mean anyone, to include toddlers toting iPads.
But the majority of photo and video app purchasers are a bit older than yet just as enthusiastic as a three-year-old when it comes to putting their fingers in the digital paint and trying their hand at this timeless method of self expression (think of the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux).
Future generations of anthropologists will have a field day with the digital walls we’re filling today, with everything from pet poodle doodles to sophisticated renditions of Rembrandts, all done without any horses giving up a single hair for a brush, or a single crush of ochre needed to create a rainbow palette.
We truly live in an amazing time, graphically speaking.
My favorite finger painting tools of late come from Ambient Design, based in Auckland New Zealand. They sell a series of cross-device apps (for Mac, PC, iPhone and iPad) tagged ArtRage, which allow users from age three on up to explore painting and sketching like never before, and these tools are priced from Rs. 160 to Rs. 4,000.
Their top of the line app, ArtRage Studio Pro, is really a reincarnation of Corel Painter, the once leader in natural painting software for decades past.
I remember getting my first version of Painter back in the 80s (about US$900), and thought the packaging brilliant – the CDs came with a printed user guide, all crammed into a real one-gallon paint can, of which you had to pry the lid open with a screwdriver.
This was a great marketing touch that could not be duplicated in today’s world of App Stores and digital downloads.
The point of the program was to replace paper and brush and messy watercolors and oils with something of more clean zeros and ones in binary code. But over the 12 versions of Painter, I never really felt I had mastered this app, as the learning curve is even steeper than with the full version of Photoshop.
Even with an expensive Wacom tablet and expensive digital airbrush accessories, I never quite got the hang of it.
But this week I saw a post of a friend’s toddler dabble made in ArtRage on an iPad, and decided to check out the grownup version, ArtRage Studio Pro – at Rs. 5,040.Within an hour, I was off in watercolor heaven happily dry brushing my way into an Andrew Wyeth stupor.
The interface and user interaction here is incredible, and can be figured out in a matter of hours, if not in minutes. There are stencils and stickers that can be laid down on a myriad of canvas choices, and of course, every brush known to man has been recreated in digital form, turning your touchpad into a veritable Rajput painting machine, but without the tedious weeks of crushing up gold and conch shells.
Another feature in ArtRage makes it ideal for the budding post-traditional natural brush artist: layers.
True virtual layers are represented here, one for the paper used, one for tracing (where you can import a photo or other image to sketch overtop), and unlimited layers of paint and materials layered over the top of that.
And these layers are compatible with Photoshop, so you can bring all these layers into Photoshop for further manipulation – or go the other way – and bring your Photoshop layers into ArtRage and combine photographic material with an infinite number of brushed effects.
This back-and-forth workflow works flawlessly, as does everything else in this nicely designed app.
But of even more interest is this future possibility of digital painting. Once true 3D printing is made available to the masses, we’ll be able to print out, say, our own interpretation of “The Song” by Childe Hassam and then hang that directly on the wall of our living room – in short, creating real canvas and oils from zeros and ones.
Jiggy Gaton is quirky kinda techo-expat who once wanted to be a painter but settled for being a wonk instead. For more info, see www.jiggygaton.info.