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.
Lightmagic is aimed at the less talented artist. It's got a lot of good, easy-to-use features but they're not really cut out for 'real' drawing. Sure, you can create abstract pictures with ease but that's not what we're after here. It will handle the basic framework quite well but it comes a cropper on the old attributes. Not one for the experienced graphic designer.
Picture Completion Time 3.5 hours. Rating: 3.5/5
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: YESCursor Speeds: 8UDG + Text: GOODScale Picture Size: NOHatching Ability: POORFill: VERY GOODManual: VERY GOODAttribute Handling: POORErase: AVERAGEDifferent Character Sets: NOSpecial Feature: Airbrush mode.
I drew these lines with the'Band' facility that allows you to move the line into exactly the right position before making it permanent.
Lightmagic's colour handling leaves a lot to be desired. I had to decide exactly which colour I wanted each part of the picture before I set about drawing anything. Here I'm just using black lines.Lightmagic's FILL command performs only a solid fill - a shame but it can cope with quite complex shapes in just one go. Still, you can get round its inability to perform a hatched fill by using either the airbrush mode or copy command.
No-one could possibly call Lightmagic's colour handling easy. Still, the program does include a feature that superimposes a low resolution grid on-screen. You can then draw lines so they don't clash too much when adding colour.
Lightmagic has a 'variable brush size' feature that lets you use a brush from zero to twenty pixels wide. It's a pity that this was let down by the poor quality of the cursor in brush mode. From then on it was a bit hit or miss whether I got my lines drawn where I wanted.One bit of the program I called into play a number of times, was the 'Save/Recall Picture' feature. This lets you either save or recall the current picture up in high memory. Pretty useful, as no 'erase' operation was included, so I used it each time I made any major changes.
So now I've got all I want in black. Time to add the other colours. Adding the paper colours is the most tiresome part of the job. If you take a close look you'll see this wasn't one of my greatest successes.
Lightmagic hasn't got a hatch-fill facility. To get round this, I tried the airbrush mode but made a complete hash of it. I did it eventually by drawing a small section of hatching, and then copying it with the cut-and-paste commands. The rough edges were tidied up with the enlarge facility.The final effect's OK and considering all the obstacles I'm quite chuffed with it. Underneath, however, there's a hell of a mess where I've tried to cope with the bad attribute handling.