Wednesday, March 7, 2012

ArtRage Is A Catalyst For Creativity

When you think back to the prelaunch of the iPad, there seemed to be an abundance of skeptics. Many likened the iPad to an oversized iPhone, which had also endured its share of skeptics just a few years earlier — people who tended to see the world based on what they knew instead of what they didn't know.

Steve Jobs was different. He relied primarily on his own instincts rather than focus groups and market research. He did it because people tend to struggle when trying to completely imagine something that doesn't exist. All that changes when they hold what they thought to be impossible in their hands.

Sometimes I wonder if even Jobs knew what he had in the development of the tablet. But then again, maybe he didn't have to. He knew once it was on the market, other people might use his impossible to create their improbable, especially in arenas like music and art.

A quick overview of three drawing and painting apps. 

Most artists and designers have already found their favorite apps as they rolled out over the last few years. There are many worth mentioning, and some deserve independent reviews. I'll mention three.

Like many art apps, SketchBook Pro was designed especially for tablets and digitized pen tablets. As an app, it's hard to beat as one of the fastest and most reactive drawing tools available. It's amazingly useful for fast concept work, especially if you want to include preset hard shapes (lines, squares, circles), auto-smooth draw, and color fills. The mirror tool, free transform, and eraser are standouts. 

The art tools in the arsenal include pencils, pens, markers, and airbrushes. The program is surprisingly intuitive, helping to eliminate the learning curve and quickly enhance the casual pen-and-paper artist's work. It's truly impressive and will no doubt take full advantage of the next generation iPad HD. 

Brushes was one of the first art applications designed for the iPhone and then the iPad. As the first, it had the advantage of becoming a favorite among many artists who really grasped the potential of digital art. Some of the best functions include its color picker, eye dropper, and ability to create some interesting textures with a variety of brush patterns that always reminded me of Aldus Superpaint. 

Brushes can be fun and plenty of people have created some amazing work. But there are two downsides. As good as Brushes is, it almost forces a style on the artist, enough so that the finished work often looks like it was created in Brushes. It also has the steepest learning curve of the three mentioned, making beginners feel like they have to learn the program as much as art technique.

While both serve their purpose (SketchBook Pro more than Brushes), ArtRage has an edge as the most complete, versatile, and intuitive art app for the iPad. Unlike Brushes, ArtRage wasn't originally designed for the iPad but was brought into it. What truly stands out is that the app feels like an art simulator more than it feels like an art application.

It's fair to say ArtRage lives up to its promise for traditional artists — it feels familiar in every medium. And by every medium, ArtRage delivers the most: oil brushes, watercolor brushes, airbrushes, pallet knives, rollers, paint tubes, pencils, ink pens, felt pens, crayons, chalks, pastels, and paint buckets. 

All of them do a surprisingly good job simulating real life tools, with scores of options. There are varied degrees of sizes, pressures, softness, and wetness for each art tool. There are 24 preset canvases,  which can be adjusted for metallic, roughness, gain, and color.

ArtRage has an edge because its functionality expands with the artist. 

Along with these features, presets, and properties, ArtRage allows artists to work naturally, with or without the benefit of layers (with adjustable transparency). They can paint over or blend colors (using the pallet knife or a wet brush) like a real canvas or use the graphic design layers to sketch an image with a pen or pencil on one, and then paint the sketch on another, without picking up sketch marks. The bottom layer can be deleted upon completion.

While nowhere near as polished as the practiced hand of Caesar or other artists, the untitled figure (right) was my first trial with ArtRage using a stylus, allotting 15 minutes from concept to creation. I hadn't really drawn anything in ten years (beyond fingerpainting with apps). It was surprising how natural it felt, even if it wasn't perfect.

In addition to design, ArtRage also provides more flexibility in transferring the image. While SketchBook allows images to be saved to the photo library or Cloud (a recent upgrade), ArtRage allows work to be sent as a JPG, PNG, or PTG to photos, email, online storage sites, or even iTunes. As a digital file, it's easy enough to embellish it in PhotoShop or Illustrator.

ArtRage By Ambient Design Draws In At 9.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While any of these applications will work with nothing but fingers, a stylus is welcome for anyone who feels more conformable drawing or painting with a tool. While I am currently waiting for two new experimental styluses (one that simulates an actual paintbrush and another that brings a fine point to the digital screen), the Targus stylus is still the best on the market. It doesn't take much to forget you aren't using a pen and paper or paint and canvas. 

All three applications for the iPad are available on the iTunes App Store. ArtRage by Ambient Design is $6.99,with periodic discounts. Brushes by Taptrix is $7.99. SketchBook Pro by Autodesk, Inc. for the iPad is $4.99. If you are still not sure about how convincing the art can be, SketchBook Express, which is like Pro with some limitation, is available for free. All three apps also have iPhone counterparts (two with desktop versions), but the bigger screen makes all the difference.
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