December 15, 2004

THE ILLUSTRATED GEORGE Art software for a possibly talented teenager.

I have a nephew who likes to draw on the computer and who has outgrown MS Paint. I'd like to encourage this creative direction, but know almost nothing about it myself. Fortunately I know a talented Monkey or two who might have some ideas. Browsing Axe Meffy, I found some recommendations that assume the use of a tablet. Is a tablet standard for this? I certainly could spring for it, if so; perhaps then he'd graduate to sketching freehand, which would be beyond excellent. I'm pretty sure that he's using a mouse today. Who makes a decent entry-level tablet? Platform: Windows (where teh games are). If it comes shrinkwrapped, it'll go over very well at Christmas. But I'm sure I can sex up a download somehow. Many thanks, the well-meaning uncle

  • Waaah! MoFi ate my clever sidebar title. *pouts*
  • I think Wacom is one of the leading manufacturers of tablets. Their Intuos line of tablets starts at about $200 bucks, and comes bundled with Photoshop Elements and a few other pieces of software, which would be a good introduction to the more complex world of Photoshop. Here's an article on choosing a graphics tablet.
  • I'd say for a nice and inexpensive package, Get him a Wacom Graphire3 tablet and then hook him up with Gimp for a free alternative to Photoshop (which is crazy expensive). Corel Painter is another great program that works well in combination with a tablet. If you or someone you know qualifies for an educational discount you could get a copy from JourneyEd for $99 (compared to $400 retail).
  • Also, it looks like the Graphire3 tablet comes with Photoshop elements and Corel Painter Classic as well.
  • I would skip Gimp and go with Photoshop Elements, primarily because it's not that expensive ($99) and the skills will potentially be transferrable later in life. However, if it's drawing he wants to learn, I would suggest going with traditional media rather than computers. Yeah, you can do it on computers, but I'm a firm believer in learning the basic skills and then transferring them to a computer. To further that end, I would suggest a low-end Canoscan Lide scanner, Photoshop elements, a sketch pad, and some pencils. This will also let him take photos, things in magazines, etc and work with them in photoshop, which is handy for making collages and the like, not to mention the fun of digital photo manipulation.
  • I've never used Painter, and I'm hell and gone from being an artist, but Corel makes some damn fine art software. Draw and PhotoPaint are quite useful.
  • I've always liked my PaintShopPro. I got it for a hundred, don't know what it costs these days.
  • Bought a Wacom tablet several years ago; it came with a terrific PhotoShop program though I belive they now offer other options. Not too difficult for a teenager to use, anyway, goetter.
  • My kids (8 and 6) use a Wacom tablet. Graphire I think - its pressure sensitive which is the real advantage over any other input device. Photoshop is what they mess around in, but they dont 'use' it, other than to hit File, New... and get a blank sheet of paper to scribble on, or to tweak their 'brush' settings. If your nephew is drawing with a mouse, he will work wonders with a graphics tablet. Have you ever tried drawing freehand with a mouse? Zoiks. I have the Adobe CS package for my work, so software cost wasn't a part of the equation, but Photoshop is pricey on its own.
  • As someone with extensive background in the visual arts, especially drawing, NO NOT COMPUTERS NOTHING HAS EVER BEEN DONE ON A COMPUTER WORTH LOOKING AT ARE YOU EVEN JOKING. Blow that $200 on some PENCILS and CONTE CRAYONS or CHARCOAL or AdMarkers or WATERCOLOR or cartooning nibs and ink or christ, ANYTHING but a tablet and software. GIMP and versions of photoshop below the professional grade (version 8 or CS or whatever) are wholly unsuitable for anything but photo retouching, and certainly not any drawing. Not only can good work not be done, but it isn't even fun to use. Sorry if I'm pissy about this, but trust me. Get him to try a wide variety of natural media - watercolour, conte, ink wash, ink pen, charcoal, marker, they are FAR more direct. One of them is sure to catch on. Plus, on a computer you can't draw from life! Anything you do is in the world of that little box. If anything digital, get him a scanner or digital camera so he can edit stuff he's already done with software. You cannot learn how to draw on a computer as of yet. The delay, the light, the everything is fake fake fake. That technology is not mature. Dry or water media on paper however, is way more fun and produces work that reflects your character. Someone starting out is not going to get that on a computer.
  • He's probably comfortable on the computer, you see, which is perfectly fine, but some of the best lessons in drawing you can learn are those from a medium which is at once challenging and fun. Pen and ink for instance - the pen makes cool marks, but requires a lot of patience and discipline - it smudges if you're not careful, you can't erase, etc. But once your comfortable with it, if you learn to draw in ink, you will be drawing like a motherfucker. The confidence you gain from a challenging medium makes the work really, really exciting.
  • That's all true, but I don't know how much of that you can force on the kid with just a Christmas present. The scanner is probably the best idea if you want to nudge him towards natural media. What does the kid in question like to draw on the computer, exactly?
  • Thanks, y'all (including Jeff, a new can't-yet-post monkey who was kind enough to opine via mail). Newegg's winging a Graphire3 to me in plenty of time for the holidays. It was shockingly affordable. The young man in question is a 14yo with a computer game obsession approaching monomania. His mother has seen him drawing all manner of engines of destruction (probably taken from one of his games) in Paint with a mouse, and suggested to me that I get him a better program for what he likes to do. According to his mother, he's good, though I have no idea what that really means. I'm just happy to get him something that will further encourage the act of creation on his part. For the most part, he passively consumes media. I suspect that he's only drawing his guns and tanks and death robots and whatnot during periods when he's been forbidden to play his games-- but that doesn't matter. What does matter to me is that he's now creating something, somehow. If he ends up using his new mad drawing sk1llz to collaborate on Half-Life mods, that's fine, because he'll still be creating instead of consuming. Traditional media fans, he has shown no interest to date in sketching or drawing: indeed, any notion that he might eventually do so is pure fantasy on my part. If even the spark of such an interest does appear, I'll make sure that he gets pencils and a scanner (excellent idea); for now, however, I want to fan the existing interest, not thrust a pile of strange tools at him with an admonition to learn a new skill. Hell, if I could give him a gift and guarantee that he'd use it, I'd give him a season pass to his local ski hill, or something else that'd make him breathe fresh, non-computer-exhaust air for a while. He'll have a birthday in a few months. Perhaps by then he'll need that scanner.
  • A beginner should most definititely learn to draw without a computer, and leave the skills of tablets/photoshop for later. ActuallySettle - your post is a bit confusing but I hope you are just saying that one should not learn on the computer - to say that great art cannot be created on a computer is disturbingly ignorant (or just elitist?).
  • I do not believe it is impossible to create great art on a computer. Of course, definition of "great art on a computer" needs to be defined - I would say that great computer art must either specifically recognize its digital origin or succesfully hide it. I've never seen that. Let me put it this way: I have yet to see any work of art created on a computer that yet transcends the fact that it was created on a computer (possible exceptions being some very minimal photocollage and unintentional art created by mathematicians/physisicts). The reason you shouldn't learn how to draw/paint on a computer is that it's harder. It's too indirect, clunky, no connection to the hand, not to mention inflexible - how do you draw outside? And if this boy has no interests in traditional media, just pirate him up some 3Ds max or Solidworks, softimage, maya...etc. With a manual some of these are learnable to a 14year old. If he likes guns, machines of destruction, and computer games, the shoe would seem to fit, wouldn't it? Note: I do not condone piracy.
  • I'm partial to some of Jeff Brice's work. Though I wouldn't necessarily call it great, I like it. *snaps suspenders, spits*
  • d'oh...not the tablet....I got one and had the worst time with it...something about their interface is way unintuitive...for me anyway...i would have said scanner (which is what i i just sketch on paper...dont even need fancy paper...scan it, and PShop it from there)...but, hey....if you've still got a few bucks in you, how about this idea...sign him up for a photoshop class for kids...1) how much could it be? (for kids, anyway...just try getting a class for yourself...oy, youl'd have to sell a kidney) 2)pshop has a STEEP learning curve...but its what all the professionals the sooner the better,right? 3)you can probobly find a place for it matter how far away you live 4)he gets to meet and hang out with other young artists...possibly also into video games? possibly? 5)oh, and the whole interacting/creating vs passive consuming thing, right?
  • oh, and hey...he's 14? yee-eah, I seriously doubt you have to help him acquire any software....
  • Jeff Brice! Yeah, I enjoyed his work in my high school earth science textbook.
  • Eh. Would you really want a Jeff Brice print? Full disclosue: I'm the son of a photographer that had a serious anti-digital bias for a long time. But really, most computer game characters are sketched first, then scanned. The best drawn-on-computer art is not video games, but rather comic strips, since they're about the limitation of the medium. The thing that computers are really best for is coloring already completed work (and photo manipulation, levels and etc.) If he's 14 and you want to get him into more tactile mediums, get him comic book subscriptions. There's no 14-year-old boy who ever read comic books that didn't draw them (usually in class).
  • I think you made a good choice with the tablet, given the situation. Most of the advice in this thread, while correct, is probably overzealous.
  • Followup: apparently the young man already sketches in pencil. He has pencils, pads, and a lap desk, and even uses them occasionally, though without the great passion that goes into his pixelated BFG9000 renditions. Shows what I know. Perhaps I'll use one my biannual encounters with him to express a vague, avuncular interest in his art, and thus find out what the hell he's actually doing, instead of deciphering his mother's cryptic hints. Meanwhile, I thank you all again. Your input has been both helpful and enlightening.