Computer technology continues to evolve at breakneck speeds, and what might be cutting-edge technology today will surely be considered oh-so-retro tomorrow.
That being said, here is a list of my current and rapidly aging computer tools.
The Painter software provides a fully equipped artist's studio where the majority of my drawing and painting takes place.
Painter's ability to effortlessly emulate the look, feel, and essence of traditional art materials makes it my most valuable painting program. And because I can tweak and/or build new brushes at will, I can easily coax the program into fully supporting my quirky creative vision. What an extraordinarily powerful and responsive vehicle for artistic expression!
And if truth be told, I doubt I would have ventured far into the digital art waters if it wasn't for the uniqueness that is Painter.
This is a lightweight but highly functional painting program. I use it on a portable device to sketch and rough out color ideas when I'm away from my studio computer.
An incredibly fast and responsive drawing program, I use SketchBook Pro extensively to dash off ideas on my portable device.
Over the years I've developed the habit of either reading or sketching in bed before sleep. This program, then, is a sleepy-time companion that helps me capture visual ideas that surface as the conscious mind begins to wind down for the day.
I use this program when creating illustrations for coloring books.
My initial rough idea drafts, as well as my more advanced final layout drawings, are all created in Corel Painter. I just love how natural the progam's pencils feel.
The final inking-in stage, however, is executed entirely in Adobe Illustrator. This Vector drawing application excels at producing the clean, crisp line work that coloring book enthusiasts enjoy.
Qimage is known widely as the ultimate batch printing software for a PC. Although I don't batch print and instead make each print individually, the software still provides me with many indispensable and powerful print preparation tools.
Because I employ color management across all my painting software, monitors, and printer, what I see on the monitor screens is very close to what I'll end up with in a print. Nevertheless, there are always unpredictable variables at work, and image adjustments are sometimes required before a painting can be accurately printed.
Not only does Qimage allow me, when needed, to tweak the image in a multitude of different ways, it also makes the job of precisely positioning the print on the paper a cinch. In other words, Qimage provides me with all the adjustment tools necessary to faithfully transfer my inspiration onto paper..
Macro Express Pro
This powerful macro utility program allows me to condense long complicated keyboard and mouse actions into single clicks.
An example: Say I must perform the following sequence of mouse actions repeatedly during each painting session.
- Click to open a menu
- Move the mouse curser down to an entry
- Click the entry to open a submenu
- Move the mouse cursor again to find the correct entry in this submenu
- Click the entry to open a dialog box
- In the open dialog box
- Adjust attribute 1
- Choose attribute 2
- Change attribute 3
- Dismiss attribute 4
- Etc., etc.
- Click the OK button
If I do this multiple times in an hour, tedium increases to unbearable levels. If instead I use a macro to complete the same sequence, I only need perform a single mouse click or single keyboard shortcut each time.
Normally one adjusts brush attributes (size, opacity, features, etc.) by moving sliders. This of course means repeatedly targeting and moving those sliders every time an adjustment is needed. And as the sliders have no set positions, repeatedly jumping between favorite sizes, opacities, and features (finding the correct position on the slider) can quickly become annoying. Of course I can type in the exact size, etc., but that hardly speeds up things.
So in addition to the sliders, I also use macros to access predetermined brush sizes, opacities, and features. To use a macro I click on the correct button in a floating menu. Although I use several of these floating menus, they never get in the way. They popup on screen only when needed.
In short, using macros makes digital painting far more transparent and moves me even closer to my original traditional intuitive workflow.
Computer 1 - Studio
The majority of my painting time is spent on a 64 bit quad core PC with 24 gigabytes of RAM and two large hard drives. I know, I know, I'm an artist so I "should" be using a Mac.
- Drive 1 is dedicated to the operating system and other geekish whatnots.
- Drive 2 is for data storage: painting files, images, research notes, software program backups, and all the rest.
Although definitely now yesterday's technology, this trusty computer continues to get the job done with nary a complaint.
Computer 2 - Portable
This is a small but powerful-for-its-size PC tablet. The tablet is a fully functional computer running a windows operating system and should not be confused with the Wacom Drawing Tablet peripheral mentioned elsewhere.
The 12 inch touch-sensitive screen allows me to sketch directly on it with a special stylus. Coupled with installed painting software, this setup works as my take-anywhere sketch pad. So very handy.
Gone are the days of squinting at a single, flickering 15" CRT monitor. For my studio computer I now use twin 24" HD flat-screen landscape monitors positioned side by side. The color and clarity are exceptional.
- Monitor 1: Positioned directly in front of me, this monitor is devoted to my canvas and the current work in progress.
- Monitor 2: Positioned to the right, this monitor displays all my reference images, pallets, and tools.
To ensure accurate representation of color, professional monitor calibration is an absolute and nonnegotiable necessity for any artist working digitally. It is especially so for an artist who outputs his work as high-quality art prints.
I use Spyder Elite hardware and software to keep my monitors' color consistently accurate.
A Wacom Intuos Large Pen Tablet is the only drawing/painting input device I've used. I started with a version 2 tablet and now use a version 4. And this really is the magic ingredient that makes "real" painting possible on a computer.
It's been said many times before that trying to paint with a mouse is akin to painting with a bar of soap. So true, and so frustratingly clunky to say the least!
In marked contrast, the highly sensitive drawing-painting tablet and stylus combination allows incredible control. By instantly responding to every nuance of my hand movement, it faithfully transmits to the digital canvas even my most subtle paint strokes.
Because I use one of the larger Wacom Tablets, it occupies the desk space normally taken up by the computer keyboard. The Keypad sits to the left of the Wacom and I've programmed its ergonomic keys to trigger my painting software's shortcut keys or specially designed macros.
During a work session my left hand fingers rest on the Keypad's keys while my right hand paints with the Wacom stylus.
I've experimented with a few different keypads and a Logitech G13 Gamepad (keypad) is my favorite.
Over the years my backup protocol has evolved to the point where I now use three 1.5 terabyte external USB hard drives. Yep, I backup everything in triplicate, both system and data files.
For ongoing peace of mind, one of those USB hard drives travels with me wherever I go.
I handcraft prints on a Hewlett Packard - Designjet Z3200.
This is a 12 ink, large-format, high-end Giclée printer that consistently delivers long-lasting gallery-quality prints.