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.
The Artist is a pretty amazing package. Its features are powerful and easy to use. Plans are already underway to produce a mouse and/or a trackerball to work with the program. There's even talk of add-on programs that'll run in conjunction with The Artist like a 'Letraset' overlay database that'll allow the user to pick out icons and graphics for use in their own pictures.
Picture Completion Time 3/4 hour. Rating 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: VERY GOODRotate/Mirror: YESVariable Brush Store: YESCursor Speeds: INTELLIGENTUDG + Text: VERY GOODScale Picture Size: YESHatching Ability: VERY GOODFill: VERY GOODManual: VERY GOODAttribute Handling: VERY GOODErase: GOODDifferent Character Sets: YESSpecial Feature: 'Overlay' mode, Wafadrive compatible, Airbrush UDG animate.
It's a doddle (shouldn't that be doodle? Ed.) adding colour as you go along. You can change whole blocks, or individual character squares, by Ink and Paper separately or both together.
The program helps you all the time you're drawing by giving you a key guide at the bottom of the page. Simply press the symbol shift key and you can flip through the different modes of operation.This is amazing - this screen took less than halt an hour to produce. The FILL commands are wonderfully versatile and the basic lines are very easy to place and edit.
The cursor is described as intelligent. This means that it'll speed up it you hold your finger down, but if you simply press the cursor movement key, then it will only move one pixel at a time.
I've got a hunch that the programmer of The Artist based much of his work on the operation of the Apple Macintosh program, Macdraw. Apart from its speed, it has so many goodies that you're bound to find one that'll help you do exactly what you want.The enlarge facility came in very handy when I drew the pilot. As you can see, you can get quite a lot of detail in a very short time - and it's faster than an F-15 at full throttle.
The Artist's ability to cut and paste came in very handy here when I got round to adding the final colours. I could move parts of the picture a couple of pixels in any direction, so they affect the attribute problems as little as possible.
I've got to admit that I would have had difficulty producing a reproduction this good on paper. The Artist allowed me to chop and change a lot more easily than a rubber. Also it's advanced colour editor means I could try different colours in different areas, and then swop them about.The Artist's most powerful feature is its pattern fill command. Take a good look at this piccy and you'll realise it's little more than shading effects. The Artist also lets you create your own patterns or even choose a random pattern from ROM!