Today’s Art (9th June 2020)

Woo hoo! This is the third (and final) landscape in a series of MS Paint 5.1 pixel art landscapes that I made using a variant of the technique I’ve previously demonstrated here and here.

This digital painting is based on this photo I took at Hill Head last February and you can also see a side-by-side comparison of the MS Paint picture and the photo here too.

As usual, this digital painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Hill Head – Rainy Day (MS Paint 5.1)” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (8th June 2020)

Woo hoo! This is the second landscape in a series of MS Paint 5.1 pixel art landscapes that I made using a variant of the technique I’ve previously demonstrated here and here.

Anyway, this MS Paint painting is based on this old photo I took of Westbrook shops during a snowstorm in March 2018 and you can also see a side-by-side comparison of the painting and reference photo here too.

As usual, this digital painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Westbrook – Snowfall 2018 (MS Paint 5.1)” by C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (7th June 2019)

Woo hoo! This is the first landscape in a series of MS Paint 5.1 pixel art landscapes that I made using a variant of the technique I’ve previously demonstrated here and here. I’ve been meaning to make more MS Paint artwork for ages and, although this one was more time-consuming to make than I’d expected, it ended up looking more realistic than I’d expected 🙂

Anyway, this small MS Paint painting is based on this photo I took of Portsdown Hill last June, and you can also see a side-by-side comparison of the two images here as well.

As usual, this digital painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Portsdown Hill – Pavement (MS Paint 5. 1)” By C. A. Brown

Five Tips For Painting Realistic Landscapes In MS Paint 5.1

Well, although I’ve already written a (slightly old) guide to painting realistic landscapes in MS Paint 5.1, I found myself experimenting with it again.

If you’ve had a bit of art practice, you can produce some absolutely amazing artwork with this simple program, and it isn’t anywhere near as difficult as it might look. However, I should warn you, it is much more time-consuming than it looks (eg: expect to spend at least 1-2 hours on a small 400 x 500 pixel drawing).

So, if you’ve still got an old Windows XP machine lying around (and you really should, they’re awesome), then take a look at it’s “Paint” program. Yes, it is more primitive than the later versions of MS Paint that have appeared in Windows 7 and 10, but this is one of it’s strengths! It is a simple no-nonsense image editor that – with practice – can be used to produce better art than you might think. Here’s a detail from of one of my recent MS Paint 5.1 creations:

The full digital painting will appear here on the 7th June.

Anyway, I thought that I’d offer a few random tips and new techniques that I’ve learnt during my brief return to this artform again. Apologies about the slightly rambling nature of the list, I’m a little exhausted after spending the past two hours or so in MS Paint.

1) Keep it small!: MS Paint 5.1 is not built for large, sweeping landscape paintings. If you want to make a painting in any reasonable amount of time, then keep it small!

Not only will this allow you to use a few time-saving impressionist tricks to keep the time spent on distant detail down to a sensible amount but, more critically, it also allows you to keep a small copy of the reference photograph that you’re copying in sight at all times (and, yes, your MS Paint artwork should be the exact same size as this small copy. It makes working out proportions a lot easier).

This “work in progress” screenshot (with reference photo beside it) shows the sort of size you should aim for if you’re new to making MS Paint artwork

Another good thing about keeping your MS Paint 5.1 artwork small is that it also makes it look more realistic too. Since individual pixels tend to be more visible in older versions of MS Paint, keeping the image small means that the audience is already “looking at it from a distance” and can take in the whole picture at once, making any individual pixels a little less noticeable.

2) Save it as a bitmap: I cannot emphasise this enough! Remember to save the picture as a 24-bit Bitmap (.bmp) whilst you are actually working on it! Do not save it as a JPEG! Yes, bitmap images guzzle up a lot of hard drive space, but MS Paint 5.1 is primarily designed for working with bitmaps.

If you save your only “work in progress” copy of your picture as a JPEG, then the program’s extremely aggressive compression algorithms (which are great for reducing the file sizes of digital photos, by the way) not only distort or dull the colours in a few specific circumstances – but will also leave lots of annoying barely-visible compression artefacts that can make using the program’s “fill” tool an absolute hassle. Seriously, if you’re used to the more generous/forgiving fill tools in other image editors, then the one in MS Paint 5.1 will seem very annoying if you’re working with a JPEG image.

So, when you’re actually making your MS Paint artwork, always save it as a bitmap! If you want to post it on the internet or send it to other people, then make a separate JPEG copy (using “save as”) after you have finished making your painting.

3) Background first: This one isn’t essential and it is something I’ve only really started doing recently (and I used a completely different approach in the guide I posted here three years ago), but it makes things a lot easier/quicker.

Unlike traditional drawings (where it is best to sketch and fill in the foreground detail before focusing on the background), it will save you so much time if you start your MS Paint artwork from the background and then work forwards.

Since MS Paint includes things like fill tools and airbrushes, it is actually a lot quicker to add the broad, sweeping background details first and then focus on the more detailed foreground elements afterwards.

4) Useful features: When painting a realistic landscape in MS Paint 5.1, there are two features you need to be aware of – since you’ll be using them a lot.

The first is the “pick color” tool – the icon for this looks like a pipette/dropper and, when used, it will change the brush colour to the exact same colour as the pixel you have clicked on. One of the most important parts of making a digital landscape painting look realistic is getting the colours right and, if you keep a small copy of your reference image next to your painting, then you’ll easily be able to sample the correct colours from it with this tool.

Another useful feature is actually an undocumented one. If you need to fill in large areas with the airbrush tool, then it will actually go larger than the three pre-set options available. All you have to do is to select the airbrush tool (the icon looks like a spray can), hold down the “Ctrl” key and then keep tapping the ” + ” key until the airbrush is the correct size. You’ll know that this is working when the highlighting disappears from the size menu at the side of the screen.

Interestingly, there are also several settings between the three pre-set sizes (eg: If you highlight the smallest one and then hold “Ctrl” and start tapping the “plus” key, then the highlighting will disappear for the first couple of button presses, but then briefly re-appear on the “medium” setting on the next one). This is well worth playing around with, since it also makes the airbrush a bit softer and more diffuse at larger settings, which can be really useful when painting skies, especially since it can also be used for…

5) Dithering: This is a really old pixel art technique that turns up in a lot of retro videogames. It is used to create smooth gradients and transitions between colours (and realistic-looking shadows).

When you have two areas of different colours meeting each other, then select the “pencil” tool and add a few random dots of one colour to the area just behind the edge of the other one (and use the “zoom” tool to do this precisely). These dots break up the stark line between the two areas and, from a distance, give the impression of a smooth transition or gradient between the two areas.

It looks a bit like this:

This is an example of dithering. The random green dots at the edge of the shadowed area help to give the impression of a softer edge to the shadow when viewed at a distance.

Even doing fairly basic dithering can really add a lot of smoothness to your MS Paint 5.1 artwork and help to avoid the slightly angular, abrupt and “pixellated” look that is often associated with MS Paint artwork.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (7th November 2018)

Well, today’s art was originally going to be a digitally-edited memory painting of a pub window I briefly saw in Havant during a car journey, but this painting failed so badly that I abandoned it and drew on one of my other memories of the journey (eg: The view over Portsdown Hill at night which, for some reason, had a large chimney which was letting out a plume of white smoke in the distance) for a quick piece of MS Paint art.

As usual, this picture is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“A Plume Over Portsdown Hill” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Animation (11th September 2018)

Well, it has been way too long since I last made an animation. So, I thought that I’d make a neon-drenched cyberpunk style animation that is very loosely based on both my more distant memories of visiting Port Solent and my memory of a car journey to the cinema there to see “Blade Runner 2049” (and, yes, I make these art posts ridiculously far in advance).

As usual, this animation is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Port Solent Runner” By C. A. Brown

MS Paint 5.1: Can It Paint “Crysis”?

Last summer, I ended up watching this fascinating Youtube video about the history of Microsoft Paint. A couple of days earlier, there had been some uncertainty about MS Paint’s future (which was later resolved). Anyway, one of the comments under the video asked if the program could paint “Crysis”.

If you’ve never heard of this question before, it’s a running joke about a graphically-impressive computer game from 2007 called “Crysis“. And, no, my classic mid-2000s computer can’t play “Crysis” (although, a couple of months after I originally got it, I discovered that it could play “Far Cry” – this seemed downright futuristic at the time, given how my previous computer was a Windows 98 machine.)

Yet, one of the many cool things about having an older computer is that it has MS Paint 5.1. One of the most user-friendly and reassuringly simple versions of the classic graphics program.

So, for the purposes of reviewing MS Paint 5.1’s capabilities and demonstrating how to use it, I decided to find a small gameplay screenshot from “Crysis” on Wikipedia and see how MS Paint 5.1 can do when paired with a mouse.

As for me, I’ve done some MS Paint art before (such as here and here) and I’ve used MS Paint for small corrections and edits to the many traditional/digital paintings that I have made over the past few years. So, yes, I have a little bit of experience with this program.

Anyway, let’s begin.

You can click on each step of this seven-part demonstration to see a larger version of the image.

This is the side-by-side technique I will be using when testing if MS Paint 5.1 can run “Crysis”. Foolishly, I saved the original image as a JPEG. Don’t do this in MS Paint 5.1 until you’ve finished editing! The program’s powerful JPEG compression algorithms can create problems if you use “fill” effects (but they do result in a tiny file size, when compared to more modern JPEG images).

Using the both the “line” and “pencil” tools, I’ve sketched out the basic outlines of key features of the source image. I also converted the original image into a bitmap (“.bmp”) image too.

I added some basic colours to the image. To make the colours more realistic, I used the “pick color” tool (the icon that looks like a pipette/dropper) to make sure that the colours were exactly the same as in the source image. As you can see from the white dots in this picture, I couldn’t fill everywhere completely due to foolishly saving the image as a JPEG earlier. Even after converting it to a bitmap, I still had to manually fill in a fair number of areas (and the white dots are parts that I missed when doing this).

Using the “pencil”, “line”, “brush”, “airbrush”, “zoom” and “pick colour” tools, I started to fill in some of the background details.

I then filled in some of the foreground detail. As you can probably see, MS Paint 5.1 has trouble with smooth gradients (such as the water), when using the “airbrush” tool.

After this, I began to add some lighting (and extra foreground detail) to the picture. Once again, MS Paint’s “airbrush” tool was barely even close to adequate when replicating the smooth gradients of the sunset in the sky.

I added a few small details and finishing touches (and accidentally got a spot of black paint on the source image too). Voila! “Crysis” in MS Paint 5.1 (sort of..)

In conclusion, MS Paint 5.1 can technically “run” Crysis (if you look at the two pictures from a distance and squint slightly..).

However, the resolution is extremely low, the DirectX lighting effects don’t work properly and the framerate is absolutely abysmal (seriously, it took me 1-2 hours to render a single frame manually!).

Yet, it’s “Crysis” in MS Paint! It can be done!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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 🙂

Editorial Cartoon – Microsoft To Discontinue MS Paint!?!?!

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

[Update (25/7/17): Yay! It seems like MS Paint has been saved, sort of..]

Well, a while ago, I read the terrible news. I then opened MS Paint and made an editorial cartoon. With a mouse. In “Paint”. It seemed like a fitting thing to do.

Of course, having an older computer, I have nothing to worry about. But, the idea that MS Paint may not be included on new computers or even worse, may potentially be removed [Edit: Hopefully just not updated, rather than actually removed] from future updates to the modern version of Windows, is very disturbing. Apparently, it’s going to be replaced with a program called “Paint 3D” (which looks a little bit like Paint, but doesn’t seem to be the same).

MS Paint may not be a fancy program. But, it works. You might not be able to create good art in it easily (but I tried here) but that was never it’s true purpose. It was a quick, simple program that you could use to correct small mistakes in your art. There is nothing more practical or useful for this purpose than good old MS Paint 5.1 (and earlier).

But, in this modern age of computing, “practical” and “useful” seem to be dirty words. I mean, a few months ago, I happened to look at one of the more modern versions of Paint briefly, and it was a confusing mass of “ribbon” menus and options, rather than a simple, reliable, useful program. So, maybe this shocking news isn’t entirely unexpected.

Still, for those poor souls who get a modern PC in the future, there do seem to be some open source programs out there that are vaguely similar to classic paint. However, the most user-friendly looking one of these seems to be Linux-only [Edit: There’s a version of it for Windows too :)].

Still, with the direction that Windows seems to be going in these days (apparently, the latest Windows doesn’t even have a DVD player program by default!), I guess that Linux may well end up becoming more popular…..

Still, goodbye classic MS Paint (1985-2017). You won’t be forgotten and you won’t go unused!

Making A Landscape Painting Using A Mouse And MS Paint 5.1 … Can It Be Done?

2017 Artwork MS Paint challenge article sketch

Well, the morning before I wrote this article, I happened to watch this astonishing Youtube video of someone painting a landscape (from a reference photo) using nothing more than a mouse and an old version of MS Paint.

Since I also have a mouse, an old version of MS Paint and several years of art practice, I was curious about whether I could do something similar myself.

So, in seven steps, here’s how I tackled this formidable challenge. You can click on any of the images to see a larger version, although they’re all fairly small (since I quickly worked out that painting in a small area would make it easier).

The reference photo is an old photo of the pier in Aberystwyth that I took in 2009. I also used it as the basis for a Japanese-style painting back in 2014.

Anyway, here’s how I got on with painting in MS Paint:

Step One: I shrank the source image and, unlike in the Youtube video, I decided to put it next to the space I will be painting in, since it allowed me to compare the two pictures instantly.

Step One: I shrank the source image and, unlike in the Youtube video, I decided to put it next to the space I will be painting in, since it allowed me to compare the two pictures instantly.

Step Two: I drew the basic line art using the "line" tool. At this point, the line art is still pretty rough.

Step Two: I drew the basic line art using the “line” tool. At this point, the line art is still pretty rough.

Step Three: I zoomed in on the image quite a lot whilst working on it. Like with the Youtube video, I also made heavy use of the 'pick color' tool to get the colours exactly right.

Step Three: I zoomed in on the image quite a lot whilst working on it. Like with the Youtube video, I also made heavy use of the ‘pick color’ tool to get the colours exactly right.

Step Four: Using the 'pick color' tool and the 'fill' tool, I filled in most of the colours.

Step Four: Using the ‘pick color’ tool and the ‘fill’ tool, I filled in most of the colours.

Step Five: I added more fine detail to the picture, as well as adding a few colours to areas that I'd missed during the previous step.

Step Five: I added more fine detail to the picture, as well as adding a few colours to areas that I’d missed during the previous step.

Step Six: I added more realistic shading to the picture. However, I couldn't really get the colour gradient on the sea or the sky quite right.

Step Six: I added more realistic shading to the picture. However, I couldn’t really get the colour gradient on the sea or the sky quite right.

Step Seven: After making a few small changes (eg: adding more shading to the pillar on the right), the picture was finally finished!

Step Seven: After making a few small changes (eg: adding more shading to the pillar on the right), the picture was finally finished!

All in all, this was a rather fun exercise and it turned out better than I expected, although it’s probably not really something that I’d want to do that regularly.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂