Three Basic Ways To Deal With The Transience Of Digital Art Tools

The day before I prepared the first draft of this article (last summer), Microsoft announced that MS Paint would be discontinued (luckily, a day later, they realised the error of their ways). But when the news of the long-running program’s cancellation was first announced, my reaction to the news looked a bit like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Microsoft To Discontinue MS Paint ?!?!?” By C. A. Brown

Anyway, this made me think about digital art in general. Although I don’t usually make entirely digital art (like the picture above), I often use a mixture of traditional and digital tools in my art and webcomics. Yet, in a world where even MS Paint could potentially be discontinued and where there’s always a push for people to use the “latest” stuff, I can’t help but think about the transient nature of digital art. How, a lot of it relies so heavily on program-specific knowledge etc…

So, here are a few basic ways to deal with this problem:

1) Open-source backups: A lot of the problems I’ll be talking about are inherent to commercial programs. Although some of these programs might be really good, they were primarily created to make money. As such, the companies behind them will always be trying to push the “latest” thing, if only to re-sell things that people already had in the old version of a program.

Well, open-source software doesn’t have this problem. Not only is most of it free, but older versions will often be archived online too (though, be careful with third-party archive sites!) which can be useful if you have an older machine. Not only that, but many of these programs will do the same basic things as commercial image editing software will do.

For example, a good backup/open-source substitute for classic MS Paint seems to be a free open-source program – originally designed for Linux- called “KolourPaint” (apparently, there’s a Windows version too but I couldn’t find it). From all I’ve read about it, it possibly seems to be one of the only programs out there that manages to capture some of the classic user-friendly simplicity of pre-Windows 7 versions of MS Paint.

Likewise, for slightly more advanced editing, there is always good old GIMP (GNU Manipulation Program). Yes, this one is a bit slow to load on older machines, but it can do quite a lot of basic things that most commercial editing software can do. Plus, since it’s so well-known, you can find a fair number of tutorials for it on the internet if you don’t know how to use it.

2) Similarities: The important thing to remember is that, since digital image editing programs often do the same thing, they will often have features in common. Yes, these features may have slightly different icons, names and/or locations. But, a lot of editing programs will have at least the same set of basic features.

So, take a look at a few different programs and see what they have in common with each other. For example, most programs will include a tool that allows you to change the brush colour by clicking on a part of the image you’re editing. This will then change the brush colour to the exact colour of the pixel you clicked on. It is perfect for correcting mistakes in a seamless way.

In most programs, the icon for this will look like a pipette or a dropper of some kind. It will often be called something like “Pick color”, “Color picker”, “Dropper” etc… Yet, this one feature does exactly the same thing in all of the programs that use it.

So, yes, even though a program might be different, the basics might be more familiar than you think.

3) Focus on skills, not tools: This is kind of an obvious one, but try to focus on learning general art skills rather than how to use one specific program.

For example, although I use MS Paint for small corrections etc.. all of the time, the image at the beginning of this article is the first time in quite a while that I’ve used it to create an entire picture. Here’s the picture again:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Microsoft To Discontinue MS Paint ?!?!?” By C. A. Brown

When making the picture, I used all of the skills that I use in both traditional drawing and the general principles I’ve learnt from other image editing programs. For example, when drawing myself in MS Paint, I started by sketching something similar to the preparatory pencil sketch that I’d use if I was drawing myself traditionally.

This re-creation of part of my initial “sketch” uses the same principles and knowledge as drawing with a pencil. Although MS Paint’s line and shape tools can speed it up a bit.

Likewise, my decision to use light purple for the shadows on my face was something I learnt through messing around in an old image editing program from 1999 called “JASC Paint Shop Pro 6” (that I use fairly regularly). Likewise, the general principles behind this were something I initially learnt from making a study (with traditional and digital materials) of an old 19th century painting:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 6th May.

So, yes, general art skills aren’t specific to any one computer program. If you focus on general skills, then you’ll be at home in a surprisingly large variety of art mediums.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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