A reader emailed recently, asking if I had plans to do video training. Though he likes reading the blog each week, he said, he’d rather see me painting, have me explain why I’m doing what I’m doing. I can definitely see his point. I directed him to the basic Painter videos (click here, or the link in the header that says “Videos”). These are videos I made using a screen-capture tool called Camtasia, along with a nice microphone. They took quite a bit of effort to make, and I was never sure they were helping people much. I didn’t get much feedback on them, and haven’t made any since.
But this got me thinking about training. This blog is my attempt to share what I know and learn about digital art. I try to include tutorials fairly regularly. But despite my best effort, I always worry that I haven’t been clear enough, that readers won’t understand what I’m trying to teach. It would be so much easier to just show what I’m talking about. So I started looking for a better way to show how to paint on the computer.
A while back, I wrote a few articles about online painting programs, such as Sumo and Aviary (article link). At the time (2009), I naively wrote that these online programs were going to give Photoshop some serious competition. Two years later, these online programs still have only one advantage over Photoshop: they’re free. And as they say, you get what you pay for. Sure, it’s possible to get good results with these programs, but that’s also true of an Etch-A-Sketch (or a bag of Cheetos), if you’ve got the patience. Just because it’s possible doesn’t make it a good choice, though. So I had pretty much written them off.
Then, someone referred me to Queeky, an online paint site I had not heard of before. It’s a fairly decent piece of software, though as with all of these programs, I found the cursor lagging behind my digital stylus. The lag is enough to make the tool unusable, in my opinion. I tried running it under Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, with the same result. Recently, Queeky was updated a bit, and now includes layers, some filters, blur and smudge tools, etc. It’s a lot like Aviary: it’s not a professional-level tool.
But what got my attention was when I noticed the site lets you record, and then play back, your paintings. You can pause it, go back, slow it down, speed it up, or just skip to the end. Unlike the many “speed painting” videos on YouTube, which compress a two hour painting session into five minutes, Queeky lets the viewer control the playback. And that makes it a learning tool. What’s lacking is the voiceover, or a comment area, so that the viewer can hear the artist’s thoughts as they paint. Also missing is the original photo the artist is working from (if any), or the line drawing they’re using (if any). The result is a movie that looks like the artist doesn’t use any guidelines or references. The brush flies around and around, and gradually a painting emerges as if by magic.
This is still a whole lot better than the aforementioned “speed paint” videos on YouTube. Someone just starting to learn painting is liable to feel completely intimidated by these. They seem to be created by someone with superpowers. At least, with Queeky, you can slow the movie down and watch it painted at “human” speed, as it was painted originally. Not as sexy as a speed painting with a pulsing techno soundtrack, but a whole lot more useful to a student. Queeky also has a cooperative online mode, where you can draw and chat with your friends and co-workers online. The Artplayer allows you to embed a playback of your art into your website. This can be a good marketing tool, as well as a training tool.
I found a handful of other sites with Queeky’s ability to playback. The first, Sketchcast, allows you to record your voice as you draw. This is the only tool I’ve found that does so. Sketchcast is emulating a “screencast,” which is what I created with Camtasia and a microphone. This is a great idea, but it’s limited by it’s very crude drawing tool (a pencil is all you get, here) which is only good for back-of-the-envelope type drawings. That’s probably all it’s intended for, but it would be great if it were a more robust art application. At least, with Sketchcast, it’s been shown that voice recording can be added to this type of software. I’d love to see Queeky add this ability.
Next up is Sketchfu, which I guess seemed like a good name to owners Andy and Matt. Whatever, dudes. The painting above shows the upper limit of what this software can do, based on what I’ve seen in their gallery. When you click on a thumbnail in the gallery, playback begins immediately. There are no player controls, other than speed. You can’t fast-forward to the end. You can’t even just view finished products. You have to sit through the whole playback to view the final painting. Obviously, I was not impressed by Sketchfu.
Artpad comes to us from the folks at Art.com, the online poster seller. With Artpad, you can modify paintings by others, add your own touches, or start one from scratch. Then you can have Art.com print it for you. The tool has a small canvas area about 600 pixels wide, as do all of the tools in this review. It has a playback control that allows the viewer full control, which is good. The brush appears in 3D during painting and playback, so it’s like watching a ghost paint, sort of. Kind of creepy. There are two painting tools: a brush with opacity control, and a paint bucket that allows you to free your inner Jackson Pollock. It only paints random spatters. There’s a type tool, and that’s it. There are also PHP error messages across the screen, reminding you that this is beta software. And it is free, after all.
Last on our list is Slimber. Slimber has a playback function that has two settings: stop and go. The preset playback speed is very fast. The painting tools are rather limited. Slimber is, however, the only software in this review which allows you to specify the initial canvas size. Once you enter the Painter tool, however, the navigation to the rest of the site vanishes, so you are sort of stuck there.
To be fair, all of these free products are no doubt the product of a handful of people working long hours, with little or no compensation. Expecting Adobe-quality software from a guy working out his basement is not realistic (said the guy writing a blog out of his basement). But these entrepreneurs have developed applications that offer features not available from the mainstream at any price. The ability to play back a digital painting is, I think, a feature with a lot of potential. With a few other features, such as voice-over recording, keystroke display, and perhaps some timeline editing, a powerful learning tool is possible.
Adobe Photoshop has a very basic “animation” function, which allows you to create frames from layers, and then “tween” them to create motion. It’s used to created animated GIF files. Wouldn’t it be great if Adobe added a playback function to Photoshop? Painter has long had a “movie” function, but it’s far from easy to use. I may give it another look, though. Hmm.
Let me know what you think about this article. I realized I was more long-winded than usual, but that’s the nature of the topic. Do you find this interesting? Got any thoughts on the matter? I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!