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Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Early Painter Art

As Painter's creator, I was also its first user. You might remember the reason I created Painter: to satisfy my own desire to draw. The first benefit of this fact to Painter was that I was never really satisfied with the tool set.

And I had nobody to blame but myself in the early days before John Derry came to Fractal Design.

So I became a constant user. There was a demand for imagery in press kits, so I had to contribute what I could, and quick! As it happens, the first tools I successfully simulated were colored pencils. So in my early art, I shaded using Painter's colored pencils (mostly because they built up from lighter colors to darker, more saturated colors). I was already pretty good at shading, and I was pleased to see my style come right through.

This lonely-looking example was drawn in the earliest days of Painter. It exhibits my shading style about as good as any other image I can show.

I really needed the ability to clean up edges and to create sharper-looking items in the images I was drawing. Aside from creating chalk, charcoal, and felt pens, I created a little thing called the frisket tool. To an artist, a frisket is a mask that can help to guard some parts of the image from being touched. It is often used with airbrushes. Perhaps I should have called it a selection. That's what it really was. But unlike most selections, this one was anti-aliased, with a clean edge. This came from the benefits of having high-resolution information data for the brush stroke, which in turn came from the Wacom tablet. You could restrict your paint strokes to the inside of the frisket area, or to only the outside of the frisket area. It was convenient to be able to switch from one side to the other.

So I started using friskets in my work as well. This led to some images that often were used in screen shots in the early reviews of Painter. This image, done in red ochre using Painter's colored pencil, was drawn while looking at a real number 2 pencil and a Bic ballpoint pen. Notice the water droplet on in the lower right corner, which is drawn with a frisket and a soft cover brush in black and white.

It only took three or four passes with a soft brush to create the shading in the water droplet. I like to create catchlights on the edges of the objects I render this way. Still, it looks kind of naive to me now. Part of the shading style I had been using since high school!

On the very next day, I got a little more ambitious and did my best to create a cloud scene. I went back to mountains and big water droplets, which were a part of my visual signature at the time. Of course, the color picker worked in those days, but if you remember, it was a triangle with a hue slider at the bottom. Later I replaced this with a hue ring because I needed more accuracy in hue selection (particularly between red and yellow).

This scene ended up in several press reviews of Painter 1.0, mostly because it was in the screen shot in our press kit. The mist in the background was done with the eraser tool, which actually worked by subtracting density, a very different thing than overlaying white, which was how every other eraser worked as far as I could tell. The technology behind the colored pencil, the density-subtraction eraser, and the felt pens is covered by my '620 patent.

Another image to make it into the press kit at the time (for Painter 1.2) was the Splat image. This image showed how you could cut down on the density inside a frisket before shading it with a soft cover brush (which would now be known as a digital airbrush). Looking back at it, my control over the opacity of the brush was amateurish. But when you compare the results with any other paint program of its day, Painter's control over textures was really what made it stand out in versions 1 and 1.2. The texture technology was also covered in the '620 patent. I still remember trying to describe it to our patent attorney Jeffrey Hall. The ability to dim the area inside the frisket testified to one of the first effects that was added to Painter: fill. In its earliest form, it was actually a feature of the paint bucket. The transparency in the cover inside the frisket was the result of partial undo. That gave me the ability to fade back any operation I had just done. I think it was even called fade.

Soon thereafter, I invented a new kind of technology, that allowed the user to smear the canvas in color. This technology was radically faster than a pixel-by-pixel smear brush because the entire brush dab was given the same color. The color pick-up from the image was controlled by two mysterious color well parameters, called bleed (which controlled how much the colors on the canvas would be picked up by the brush) and resaturation (which controlled how much the current color continued to affect the color the brush deposits). If you set resaturation to 0, you would get pure smear. Then you could adjust bleed to control the length of the smear.

This Apple image was another image that graced the Mac press at the time. Painter 1.0 (really just known as Painter) was a Mac-only product. Painter 1.2 was released for both Mac and Windows simultaneously.

With the Just Add Water brush, my intent was to provide the feeling of smearing charcoal with a fingertip. For those of you who remember ImageStudio, you will remember that the smear brush icon was a fingertip. As it happened, ImageStudio (sold by Letraset from 1987 through 1990) was my first artist program, with charcoal and the fingertip. But there was no paper texture.

These mountains are very much a reminder to me of my style before Painter using real media. For these images, I put in the color using colored pencils, and then used Just Add Water to get the smeary look. I'm still waiting for the first iPad app that can get this look, by the way.

One day, I set up a 1024x1024 canvas and started to draw a large-format image. My subject was my left hand, always a convenient model. The background was just an ad-lib theme, kind of like a 3D fingerprint.

As I worked on it, I used a smaller-radius smear brush to even out the colored pencil. And I settled on a cubist style. You can see my style: relentless contrast improvement by shading.

This was the first larger image that I did; the rest of the images were 640 pixels wide or so (excepting the branch image at the top, which was an experiment).

This one also caught the eye of a few reviewers and graced the pages of MacWeek and other press. Again, as one of the only artists using Painter before its release, I could play to a captive audience!

But there were more brushes to create, and little time to do it. I got this idea that one stroke could be orchestrated to create multiple strokes that overlapped, and the VanGogh Brush was born. This was a "stroke of genius" according to several magazine reviewers that used the hackneyed phrase over and over again.

Here we see a Grainy Flat Cover brush being used using the VanGogh setting to create a faux VanGogh painting, complete with crows. Yes, I observed several VanGogh paintings in the Arles period to create this piece. Yes, I looked at the color sets he was using. This one made it into a few magazine art contests as well.

I was quite proud of Painter. And I was (naively) talented enough to have enough chops to test my own clever brushes as well...

Soon enough, it was time to ship a product and choose the packaging. Hal Rucker and Cleo Huggins showed me the Painter Can, amongst three other designs. Tom, Steve, Lee, and I all were brave enough to prefer the paint can approach, and the rest was history. I set about creating the image that would grace the front of the paint can itself.

The image came from a photograph by Rucker/Huggins. It took hours and hours because it was done at 300 dpi resolution, and so was 2400 pixels square. I did some brightness/contrast manipulation on the image and proceeded to paint onto it using a Grainy Hard Cover brush in VanGogh mode. The color was set to bleed 100% from the image, and resaturation was set to 0. In this way, I could draw in the colors from the image.

After it was completed, I went over it with a bit of a new effect, Surface Texture. There was a mode where the color variations in the image could be used to create the height field used for shading in surface texture. This image was used for the Painter can until Painter 4, in which John Derry did a mosaic rendition of the can.

When I first saw the paint can, I did this image showing the form as a basic shape. It used some grainy cover brush to put in the colors, and Just Add Water to smear them out again. No friskets were used in the production of this image. Or harmed!

At one point in 1994, John Derry and I thought up the slogan Painter can! This signified that Painter was a production tool and that Painter was up to nearly any design task you needed to get done. But it was nixed because it was too confusing. Steve Guttman responded "Hmm. Painter can! ... and it's in a can. Hmm." OK I got it, Steve! Hey, we were just being playful...

Actually, the can wasn't my first attempt at creating the VanGogh look on a real image. That has the distinction of being a landscape scanned from a slide on a Nikon slide scanner. I liked this image because it showed actual chiaroscuro.

I worked on the color variation used in the VanGogh brush. It uses the exact same brush and color pick-up technique as was used for the Painter can image. But I didn't apply any surface texture to this image after I was done painting it.

It was in the press kit, but I don't think it ever got used by the press.

Then came the time for going on the road. At Comdex in 1992, we were showing Painter 1.2 on Windows 3.1 for the first time. Tom Hedges and I got to meet Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at that show, if I remember correctly. I doubt we were well-behaved.

Anyway, as the story goes, I was sitting at the Fractal Design booth at a huge monitor, sitting in a high chair with a Wacom tablet in my lap before the show started on the first day. It was in the Sands, I think, which was not the premiere venue at all. And I started drawing using a Grainy Hard Cover brush in a manner that I might have drawn with colored pencils. But this time, I was freely choosing colors every ten seconds while I drew. This actually drew a bit of a crowd of onlookers.

This has become one of my favorite modes for drawing: with many colors in an abstract color style that merely emphasizes the form without being too literal. I don't drink coffee, so I'm sure I wasn't drawing from life.

My usual technique of using white lines to delineate the shapes was used when contrast was lacking. I had to say it was fun to attract a crowd, and this gave me some ideas that were used later on in Fractal Design's booths. And, really, I didn't know how dumb my demos were until I saw John Derry demo Oasis at Macworld 1991. Now, that was a pro!

The next day, I created another painting using the same style. This time it was a vase. And kind of a crooked one at that. This time, as you can see, I was a bit more careful about which colors I chose.

And the same thing happened the second day: it attracted a crowd. Remember, I was a Mac developer at a Windows show. So I figured that our product was probably going to be a bit irrelevant to the Windows market. Boy, was I wrong.

Little did I realize just how hungry that market was for image editing and painting programs. Up to that point, paint programs were just pixels. Now paint programs were art.

And, with my naive style, I was lucky most Windows people were quite tolerant when they saw what an application could do. So it was even more groundbreaking on Windows!

When I got back to Aptos, I took that image and turned it into something quite different by using Just Add Water, again.

Now the colors took on the lilt of the California Plein Air style. If the colors used for the table were used for the sky, I'm quite sure it would have been better.

Oh, well.

As time went on, we secured more artists to do the demos, and the requirement for me to create example art was severely curtailed.

The talents of Chelsea Sammel, Corinne Okada, Rhoda Grossman, Diane Margolin, and Elise Huffman changed that by providing quite a stable of artists to draw from.

So, dear reader, that is the early history of my art on Painter. I have to say, my own style advanced considerably as time went on. Particularly when John Derry introduced me to scratchboard. But that is a story for another day.

My self portrait, shown to left, has a real tilt to it, which perhaps serves to indicate what an overbearing a**hole I could be in those days. Yes, I had an iconic beard, not much hair on top, and a pony tail. And what's with those glasses? The look was quite unusual for a CEO then. At least the investors thought so.

Hmm. Never ended up in the press kit. No wonder!


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