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Doing Computer Art - Getting Started

by Dee Dreslough (http://www.dreslough.com)

This document is public domain. Please feel free to redistribute and post freely.

New Info: Paintshop Pro has all the features you'll need to get started in computer art at a reasonable price.
Wacom ArtPad II is available for between $99 and $150, and can come with Fractal Painter 4.0.

Table of Contents

1. Get a computer

2. Get a drawing program

3. Choose a way to enter your graphics

3a. Art Tablets

3b. Scanners

Get Drawing!

Web Site summary of all websites mentioned in the tutorial

Author's Contact Information

1. Get a Computer

First, you'll need a decent computer - Apple, Windows, Amiga..doesn't matter. All have access to wonderful drawing programs. I will use Windows PC systems for my examples because they're most common, and that's what I use myself.

For a windows PC, you should probagbly have at least a 486dx50 or above with 8 megs ram at the very least, that's capable of running either PC Paintbrush (Comes with Windows 95 and Windows) or one of the other drawing programs. You'll be happiest if you have the fastest machine and the most ram you can get, but of course, this is true for any kind of computer work. I used to use a Pentium 100 with 64 megs of ram for my web stuff. Now, to do 300 dpi print quality stuff I use a Dell Dimension XPS T600. Here's a picture of my setup:

2. Get a Drawing Program

I use Photoshop, but it's VERY expensive - $550. And, it's not actually the best program to use for drawing. Adobe also makes Illustrator, but I've never figured that program out. It's supposed to be a bit better than Photoshop for drawing freehand, though.

The one I've heard the most rave reviews about is called Fractal Painter. It can do just about anything you can do on paper...watercolors, charcoals, oils, all kinds of brush styles and strokes. I've tried it a few times but haven't gotten around to ordering a copy for myself. It was excellent.

Another good program for drawing which I don't think is sold anymore, mores the pity, is Imagestar. I got it with my drawing tablet (more on that next).

Other drawing programs

Paint Shop Pro < - Very good price, and all the features you need. $99 - available for free trial.

http://www.corel.com <- makers of CorelDraw

http://www.macromedia.com <- Makes Freehand ($400 or so) and other drawing and computer graphics software

3. Choose a way to get your art into the computer - Tablet or Scanner

So, once you've got some kind of drawing software and a computer that can handle it, you need to get your art into the computer.

3a. Art Tablets

For drawing directly into the computer, I strongly recommend an art tablet. Tablets are little square flat plastic boards that you cna write on with a special pen,allowing you to draw right into the computer. I use a Wacom Artpad...the cheapest they make (4"x6") - got mine for $130, and I've had it for over four years now. I couldn't do what I do without it. Drawing with a mouse is just too difficult. Mouse work is fine for filling in drawings with colors, but terrible for actually drawing outlines and forms.

The other great thing about Wacom and other artpad makers is that they often include a drawing program in the software for the pad. As I remember, a version of the Artpad by Wacom comes with Fractal Painter, too! So, you kill two birds with one stone by buying a Wacom tablet...you'll get the software you need too.

Other pad companies:

SummaFlex by Summagraphics - about $600

Acecat by Acecad - $99 (for macs)

U&C Superpen

Jam Studio

(Search CNET for Graphics Tablet and see what comes up. Also, EBAY is a great source of tablets at a good price. I got 2 JamStudio tablets for around $20.)

3b. Scanners

What if you can't get a tablet? Well, find a place where you can scan black and white line drawings. Kinkos copies, or other graphics and copy shops often have scanners. If you're doing web art, 72 dpi is all the resolution you'll need. (72 dpi = 72 Dots Per Inch - how many pixels per inch you need for a good computer picture.) For printing on paper with a regular printer after you've done your computer coloring, though, I recommend at least 150 dpi or even 300 or above. But, these pictures are much harder for your computer to handle, especially if you have a 486 or not a lot of ram.

http://www.microtekusa.com <- affordable scanners - I got mine for about $300 four years ago. Now they're about $150.
Hewlett Packard also makes some excellent scanners.

http://www.scanshop.com/ <- A buyer's guide for scanners

Start Coloring!

Once you've got your picture either drawn into the computer or scanned, you take your art program and color it in. Use the tutorials in the programs to learn how to smudge, get watercolor effects, etc. I'll try to post tutorials for various programs as soon as I can. I've had a lot of Photoshop owners ask for specifics on the tools I use. I'm hoping to get Fractal Painter again soon, so I can write up some technique stuff on that too.

The biggest thing, though, that will lead you to success quickly, is to Practice Every Day. Tutorials and lessons will help you move along the learning curve quickly, but if you practice every day, you'll just discover things on your own and be getting professional results quickly.

I hope this has helped you get started.

Website Summary List

http://www.adobe.com - Photoshop, Illustrator and other programs

http://www.corel.com - makers of CorelDraw

http://www.fractal.com/products/painter/ - MetaCreations, makers of Fractal Painter software

http://www.macromedia.com - Makes Freehand and other drawing and computer graphics software

http://www.wacom.com - Art Tablets by Wacom, makers of the affordable Wacom ArtPad

SummaFlex by Summagraphics - about $600

Acecat by Acecad - $99 (for macs)

U&C Superpen - makes a nice little pen pad.

http://www.microtekusa.com - affordable scanners - I got mine for about $300.

Hewlett Packard - also makes some excellent scanners.

http://www.scanshop.com/ - A buyer's guide for scanners

Contact Information

Email me if you have any suggestions for things I should add to this document, or if you just want to saw a friendly 'hello'. No flames, please!! dragon@dreslough.com

All art and text (c) 1996-2004 Dee Dreslough unless otherwise noted.
Please read and understand my Terms of Use for the artwork.