Tuesday, May 8, 2007

This is an ArtRage!

You may have noticed I am playing with some things like scanners, hammers, chisels, clay, and cameras. I suppose people of a certain bent would identify a theme there and attempt to reduce my activities to a word or two, but I'm not one of those sorts of people. I refuse to acknowledge any such theme. There is no unifying thread in this blog other than I'm writing all these posts.

However, if I were the type of person who attempts to reduce everything to some sort of identified pattern so that it can be quickly dismissed out of hand, I would probably recognize a continuation of the purported theme with this: ArtRage. I've been playing with that program recently. I've only had a little bit of time to use it, but I like what I've seen so far.

In a nutshell, ArtRage is an art materials simulator. In other words, you can create images with your computer using methods very similar to painting and drawing. It goes so far as to attempt to simulate things like paint drying (insert joke here), the type of material your canvas is made of, how different material blend and mix together, and how much paint you have loaded on your "brush". It seems to do an admirable job at these things. A person with experience working in physical media would probably be initially frustrated since you don't get all the normal sensory feedback, but if they gave it a chance, I think they would quickly adjust to the program. A person with no experience working in physical media may also be initially frustrated (at least with the more esoteric features of the various media), but I think they could also quickly adapt.

Keep in mind that the program is strictly a painting/drawing program. It doesn't bother with frivolous things like region selections or box/circle/line drawing tools. It's not a pixel perfect image editor. There's not even a way to type text. The program is solely focused on mimicking traditional methods. The only computer-like features ArtRage gives you while working on your images are undo/redo, layers, and a surprisingly useful reference photo pin up feature. You won't be using this program to create diagrams for your next business meeting or touching up your photos, but that's not what it is for.

While Ambient Design has put a lot of effort into simulating the various materials, it is still possible to tweak the various media and materials to achieve not-so-traditional effects if that is what you want. I just throw that out there for those of you who might find the idea of a true simulator a little daunting.

To give just the most bare minimum taste of what this program can do, I've uploaded a very rough sketch I drew in a minute or so using the pencil and paper capabilities of ArtRage. When I say a minute, I'm not bragging about my skills (I am so not bragging). I just want to emphasize how simple it was for me to just pick up and use. Other than using a tablet (more on that in a second), creating this rough sketch was about as close as you can get to feeling like drawing on paper while working with a computer.

If I hadn't told you I had drawn that directly in ArtRage, you probably would have assumed it was a scanned image of a real world pencil and paper sketch.

The above picture is a screenshot of the ArtRage application window. You can see the reference picture feature in action. I placed a self-portrait (also created in ArtRage) in the upper left-hand corner while I worked on a crummy cartoon self-portrait. The long window hovering in the center shows the other layers that I had created. The only thing you can't see is the color picker which I tucked away in the right hand corner.

The interface is a little off-putting at first if you are used to applications looking a certain way, but I think Ambient Design has done an excellent job with the design and implementation. Most features are accessible from the application window and the little sub windows. You can work quite efficiently within the screen and never have to give things too much thought or jump to the menu. Which is exactly what you want while you are deep in throes of artistic passion. By the way, all the hovering windows you see are smart. If you are drawing on the canvas, and you approach one of the windows, they will instantly disappear to get out of the way.

I've played with some of the other media that ArtRage supplies, but I only did so with an eye for achieving other effects. So, I can't comment on how well the paint simulation appears to work. However, other people have stated they like the paint media ArtRage provides even better than its pencils.

ArtRage provides a complete little art studio in your computer for only $20, and you don't ever have to clean up when you're done! In fact, it's probably the best little painting software you can buy at that price (it's certainly the most fun). To get more features and capabilities with competing programs will likely require you to drop at least five times that amount (most likely ten times that amount). So, what's not to like?

The only downside to ArtRage isn't really the fault of ArtRage. To really get the most of this program, you will want to have a graphics tablet (or maybe a tablet PC). You can use all the features of ArtRage with a mouse, but you will lose the pressure sensitivity that a tablet provides that makes painting programs work as well as they do. You can adjust the default sensitivity for the mouse, but the ArtRage experience won't be as smooth.

Of course, if all you have is a mouse, and you really want a program like ArtRage. Go for it. There's a free preview, and if you like it, it's $20! I'm sure you've spent more money on other occasions and received much less in return. If you already have a tablet, you should give ArtRage a spin. At the very least it will provide a nice break from all the expensive tools you are probably already using.

By the way, that little self-portrait I've just installed as my user profile picture was drawn using ArtRage. The fact that it appears like something you might see while watching America's Most Wanted (insert joke here) is not the fault of ArtRage.

Here's some examples of what an experienced artist can do with ArtRage.

Here's a review that compares ArtRage to a more expensive alternative.

And one more link to ArtRage itself.


Unknown said...

Hey Chaz, Do you think the boys would be able to operate this program?? They both LOVE to draw, must get that from you :P I just thought maybe they might get a kick out of using this program. It looks awesome.


nybarrak said...

Hi! I also use ArtRage from time to time. I draw, and used to use the windows journal app(I know,kinda not what its made for, but I´m technologically inept) to draw with when I had a Tablet PC. Actually did my whole thesis with it. But now I´m using a Mac with a graphic tablet and ArtRage, but I´m not all that comterable with it. Do you know of any other program out there that I could try out? Guess I´m looking for something that´ll give me stronger,more opaque lines. Anyway, Gr8 drawings by the way!

Charles said...

Hey, nybarrak! Thanks for the compliment. I've let what skills I developed atrophy by years of just doodling. I'm working on it though...

Anyway, I'm also using ArtRage with a Mac and tablet. I agree with you about the desire for stronger, more opaque lines. That was actually why I was playing with the media settings. I was attempting to get something more ink like. One of the media ArtRage doesn't have.

If you use the pencil, and turn the roughness of the paper down to 0%. You can get pretty strong lines. On the downside, the pencil lacks expressiveness even with those settings. It's not like using a nib pen or brush, and ArtRage doesn't track the stylus angle (it seems). It does track the pressure, but that just gives you lighter lines.

I only know of two other programs in the same category as ArtRage. One is Sketchbook Pro from Autodesk and the other is Painter from Corel. Both companies offer free trials of those programs (often within magazines like ImagineFX).

I haven't used Sketchbook Pro. I actually have Painter, but I haven't used it much just yet. ArtRage is just so much simpler to get started with. I'm lazy ;)

I will make an effort to dive into it and really see what it can do. What little I played with it indicated a much larger potential for expressiveness and variety in the media than ArtRage. It was initially overwhelming.

I took a quick look at your blog and saw that you had tried Flash for drawing with. My Spanish is terrible, but it looked like you didn't like Flash for that purpose. That's good to know. I've been curious about what it might be good for, but drawing doesn't appear to be it.

Good luck. I hope you find a suitable setup.