PAINTING BY NUMBERS
Forget the pens and paintbrushes - how about painting with pixels? Penny Page has taken a peek at four new graphics packages and Peter Shaw completes the picture.
First off, the sixty-four thousand pixel question - why do you want to draw pretty pictures on the screen? Of course, there's always the art for art's sake answer. After all, why do artists draw pictures anyway? The average artist can fork out quite large portions of his pocket-money on pens and paintbrushes, but at least you won't have to keep replacing your software. But if you're not that arty-farty how does the idea of making money grab you? Thought so. Well , I know of people who have sold their computer masterpieces to software houses who've used them as tide screens for games. You don't have to be a poor artist! But the best reason of all is that drawing with your Speccy can be real fun. And if you don't rate yourself as much of an artist, you'll still be able to knock up some professional looking graphics with your Speccy's help. Beats staring at a blank sheet of paper any day!
Every art form has its limitations and computer art's no exception. Your Speccy hasn't got an infinite number of pixels to draw with and your colour palette's pretty small. You can always mix a hue on screen with the aid of a grid pattern and clever use of colours but this only highlights the problem of the low-resolution attribute grid. All sounds a bit grim, doesn't it? But don't despair, 'cos a quick butchers at Pete's piccies will show you what's possible.
All of the packages Peter picked to produce his piccies (OK, you can untwist your tongues now! Ed.) are new to the market, though Paintplus has arisen from the ashes of P'n'P's previous package, Paintbox. All the software we looked at offers improvements on previous graphics programs but none of them has got it completely right yet. They're either too complicated or they miss out on one important feature or another. Take for an example, the idea of adding colour. A painter would usually draw a rough sketch on the canvas first and then slap on the colour afterwards. But with three of these packages you've got to choose your colours and put them on without any previous drawing. Only The Artist has got it right.
DRAWING THE LINE
One of the major problems about creating pictures on the Speccy is the distance between the screen where the pic appears and the keyboard that creates it. This is pretty unusual - just think, if you're painting, the brushes are at least in direct contact with the canvas and a sculptor chisels and chips at his chunk of rock. Of course, a light pen seems the obvious way round but none of these packages has that facility. And have you ever tried to draw with one of them on the Spectrum - they wouldn't have persuaded Picasso to pack in his painting!
All the programs include a User-Defined Graphics editor and positioner - very useful if you want to store away complex pictures in twenty-one graphics symbols but I find this option a bit of a waste of space. Still, that's only me and if I was asked to pin down the best program on its UDG handling alone, I'd plump for The Artist.
Well, now for the moment you've all been waiting for - which one of the four packages would I go for on overall picture creating ability. As you probably expected I'm going to hedge my bets. My choice lies somewhere between The Artist, PaintPlus and Lightmagic in that order. Leonardo just didn't come into the running. But before you make up your mind, have a look at what Peter made of the packages and see which one would most suit your artistic temperament.
Leonardo's definitely aimed at the novice artist. It includes a 'programmable draw' feature that lets you draw all sorts of shapes. In fact, it's a bit like Squirler which we published in Program Power a couple of months ago! The worst bit's growing old waiting for it to perform even the simplest operations. OK, it's not a crime to write in Basic, but the cursor... well, I mean.
Picture Completion Time 4.5 hours. Rating 1.5/5
BEST OF DRAWERS
Anyone who can come up wHh an animated graphic on a Speccy which doesn't look lost on the huge screen of the Hippodrome, has got to be worth listening to about graphics packages. That's why we asked Chi-Yeung Choy, one of the winners of the Great Animated Logo Compo to come to the YS Art Gallery and offer a second opinion.LEONARDOThere's a multitude of commands here - shame they're so totally confusing. It's a must to have the manual at hand at all times. I found the cursor annoying to use as it didn't have any variable speeds. For the hype surrounding the launch of this package I don't rate it at all.LIGHTMAGICThe best bit of this is the large pool of commands open to you. True, the FILL command's a bit of a let down but the BRUSH mode makes up for that. Overall, it's easy to produce instant pictures but the attribute handling can be difficult lo use - still, better than PaintPlus.PAINTPLUSThis is certainly an improvement on Paintbox, but it's still not quite the perfect solution to artistic endeavour on the Spectrum. The attribute handling is decidedly ropey. The best bit is the enlarge feature. It's a shame that drawing is limited to lines, rectangles and circles.THE ARTISTWho needs a Macintosh when you've got a Speccy and this program. There are on screen commands, a very fast and extremely flexible FILL command and even a cut-and-paste facility. All it needs is a mouse and you've just saved yourself two grand!
Cut + Paste: YESEnlarge: POORRotate/Mirror: YESVariable Brush Store: NOCursor Speeds: 1UDG + Text: AVERAGEScale Picture Size: YESHatching Ability: GOODFill: GOODManual: POORAttribute Handling: AVERAGEErase: GOODDifferent Character Sets: YESSpecial Feature: Programmable draw, Elipse 3D drawing & windowing
It may not look like much to you but considering the snail's pace the cursor travels round the screen and the age it took to produce. I'm quite pleased with it. Shame I can't say the same about the package.
Wow, my first chance to draw a perfect circle. After working through the hefty 99-page booklet, I got the impression that this is considered an advanced feature!Leonardo's line drawing facilities are nothing special. I'd plump instead for any one of the other three packages. It got really tedious twiddling my thumbs, waiting tor the cursor to shift down to the next point. It seems that a fair chunk of Leonardo's written in Basic including the cursor going on its speed!
Leonardo's got a very complex enlarge facility - not nearly as good as, say, Paintplus's. Once you've sussed out what the manual's trying to say the enlarge feature seems a doddle - in practice though it's a bit of a nightmare.
Drawing curved lines with Leonardo's surprisingly simple. I imagined - after the trouble I'd had with the straight ones - that this would be a desperate task. As you can see though, they ain't that bad, after all.Creating this background turned out to be a lot simpler than I first thought. Once I'd read through the bit in the manual on textures about ten times, I got a vague idea of what they were driving at. Still, it took a fair bit of time. Thank goodness there's a good 'erase' facility.
Adding colour to the picture wasn't as bad as with Lightmagic - but it still wasn't much cop though. Mind you, the overall effect doesn't look too bad with the colour added, I suppose.
The textures facility's pretty flexible - more so than any of the other's hatch-fill options. It still needs a fair bit of grey-matter application to master it. I got a bit carried away with it here!Leonardo's much the same as Lightmagic in its low-resolution grid operation. In fact, it has two modes to help you get the best out of the attributes. The first super-imposes a bright/normal grid over your picture to show you where the character cells are. The other offers a cursor the size of a character square.