December 2001

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"Caroline & Guitar" – This seriously JPEGed image was produced in Corel's Painter 7, and utilizes a cloned image from a digital photo of my daughter, produced in chalk effect on simulated ribbed pastel paper, and embellished by hand, using various brushes and effects.

This is the era of "shovelware," where software companies overload their programs with as many bells and whistles as they can in order to stay competitive and justify higher consumer prices, and Corel is no exception. Painter has dozens and dozens of brushes and special effects that would take a lifetime to adequately explore, from painting with globs of molten metal to spraying your canvas with images, to scrunching up your masterpiece with special brushes that twist, turn, and mostly obliterate anything you've drawn. Despite the lack of demand for artwork that looks like a pot of stirred color drippings, these tools are a lot of fun to fool around with!

There are now several competing programs entering the market, but I haven't had the opportunity to test them. All of them, unfortunately, are on the pricey side – Painter lists for $399. However, I do recommend Painter 7 for anyone seriously wanting to take the plunge into digital fine art. Make sure you have a fast Mac, a graphics tablet with pressure-sensitive stylus, a couple of hundred or so megs of RAM, and a mega hard drive to store all those giant masterpiece art files! The program supports OSX, but reviews I've read say it doesn't really perform any better than with OS 9. I tested the program on my trusty 7500 with a 466 MB Sonnet G3 upgrade card, with 196 mb of RAM, using OS 8.6, and Painter performed well. For artists who have been waiting to step into the digital era, Painter 7 may be the perfect transition tool.

Corel's Painter v7.0, Macintosh (fully carbonized for Mac OS X),
by Ralph McGeehan,

For most of the past decade, Painter has been one of the few programs attempting to provide artists with digital tools to imitate traditional media such as paint, charcoal, pencil, and ink. Early versions, produced by Metacreations, were slow, somewhat disappointing attempts, and were handicapped as much by a lack of available horsepower in the CPU's of the time as they were by clunky programming which seemed to have been developed more for engineers than artists.

With the accelerating rise in computer power, available RAM, and gobs of hard drive space for storage, the designers of Painter are now able to show their stuff in the new release of version 7, now produced by new owner Corel Corporation's Pro Create division. Corel, long a stalwart IBM software developer, seems to be paying a lot more attention to the Mac platform these days, and Painter 7 is a solid step in the right direction. Corel has improved The still-complicated interface has added more lifelike support for Wacom Intuos graphics tablets (which are an absolute must for using Painter or any other program to produce any real artwork), and has put a lot of effort into making the artistic effects truly lifelike.

First, the interface –Painter still suffers from a dizzying number of controls for the hundreds of special brushes and effects it offers. While they have compacted the size of the many menus which affect each brush, there are still so many that it's not uncommon to cover half your screen with controls! On the bright side, though, Corel has made the actual controls somewhat more user-friendly and intuitive. Be prepared for a fairly steep learning curve if you are a first time user, and while the 400+ page manual has also been much improved, it omits many needed illustrations of special effects in favor of urging the user to 'experiment on your own.'

The handling and 'feel' of the Wacom tablet's stylus has been improved through ° increased pressure sensitivity levels and even simulates the tilt of a flat-edged paint brush to get a calligraphic effect. Two welcome new features are the addition of Photoshop-like layers, and support for Photoshop files.

The most noticeable change has been the upgrading of painterly effects, most notably in the watercolor brushes. Corel has actually enabled the artist to simulate using a dampened art paper surface with watercolor brushes, right down to the after-application spread of the pigment over the wet surface of the paper. It's downright uncanny to apply a stroke of color and then watch for the next several seconds as the color bleeds and spreads into the wet areas! You can even adjust the 'tilt' of the paper, allowing the wet paint to spree ad towards the bottom, and the even change the 'drying time' of the wet areas!

Editing Techniques with FinalCut Pro by Michael Wohl, Peachpit Press, $44.99 with CD

Desktop video applications like Final Cut Pro put professional film editing tools in the hands of anyone with a video camera and a computer. This book introduces you to the craft of video editing by teaching you how to use standard editing patterns, recognize good composition and manage media in large projects. Creating sophisticated visual effects and troubleshooting common editing problems are also covered. This is an excellent introduction and teaching guide for anyone who wants to make movies with Final Cut Pro that others will want to view.

Photoshop 6/ImageReady 3: Hands-On Training by Jan Kabili developed with Lynda Weinman, Peachpit Press, $49.99 with CD-ROM.

If you like learning by doing, you can learn the latest techniques for creating Web graphics (yes, it covers layer-based rollovers) and animations using this powerful application combination. Classroom-proven exercises, insider tips all illustrated with detailed graphics and accompanied by a CD-ROM that's loaded with guided exercises and QuickTime moves, will ensure that you'll learn all the key features of Photoshop 6 and ImageReady 3.

Adobe Premiere 6.0 Classroom in a Book and Adobe Pagemaker 7.0 Classroom in a Book, $45 with CD-ROM, Adobe Press. (Mac and Windows)

Both of these books provide an excellent introduction to these complex applications. With all the files you need for the step-by-step lessons on the CD, you'll find using these books a profitable and painless way to learn how to use the programs.

Microsoft Office for Macintosh 2001, Freehand 10 for Windows and Macintosh, AppleScript for Applications, Final Cut Pro 2, Visual QuickStart Guides, Peachpit Press

All of these books continue the extradordiany tradition of comprehensive training manuals with enough screen shots and artwork to make you immediately comfortable with the application. Better than the program manuals, these books make even the most arcane information intelligible to novice and advanced users.