One of the things I plan to do in early 2009 is to brush up on my skills, as well as learn some new ones, in some dedicated practice sessions. My goal is to become skilled in all areas of game development and management. This is for a number of benefits: if I really have to I can make a game by myself; I can attract freelancers' interest better with higher quality working prototypes; and I hope to find good synergy and innovations between the combinations of all the different fields.
A big area I need to work on is my art skills. I did some somewhat undirected doodling and scribbling throughout the last few years and brought my skill up to "poor". After a lapse of the better part of a year, my art skill has deteriorated down to "very poor" or possibly "terrible". It needs some serious work, and that means serious practice.
I think this time I will try more digital art practice than before. I used to just doodle around on paper with pencil, but things hardly ever got finished that way. I have never been very good with ink due to my somewhat bad left handed pencil grip; everything smudges so easily. With digital it is easy to correct mistakes, plus I get more practice with my Wacom tablet and actually getting images into the computer.
At the moment I am only reasonable at using Inkscape, the free open source SVG editor. However a vector editor like Inkscape may not be the best tool for this job. Therefore I am looking for another good tool for a relative art beginner to learn with. I am currently reviewing a few that I have heard are good for this.
A brief checklist of the properties I am looking for:
- Good as an equivalent for freeform rough pencil sketching, brainstorming ideas and building up interesting characters. Typically I do this with a pencil on A4 paper when trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. For a software tool to emulate this, the interface should stay out the way and make it easy for the ideas to flow.
- Good for sketching the basic skeleton of an image. When I draw a typical Inkscape image, I usually start by doing a rough sketch as a basis. Currently I do that within Inkscape itself using the calligraphy tool, but importing raster images works too. A high quality finished result is not necessary for this stage, but it needs to be good to use as a reference image or as an underlay.
Highly desirable additional properties are:
- Ability to ink the rough pencil sketch into a final version. The more I can get done in one tool the better.
- Ability to extend further to make full pieces of concept art. Not essential, but would be extremely useful if I get good at a particular tool.
- Any other features that I think would help in learning art - shading, colouring, use of different styles, ex cetera. This is not mandatory, but every extra useful feature for this helps.
- And obviously, price is a factor too. I am more likely to buy useful software if it is cheap.
In short, I am looking for something that offers a fun, easy to use interface for rough pencil sketching and hopefully inking and other art features as well. A zillion extra professional features is not required.
Over the next week, during the periods I can stand my un-air-conditioned office space during the current hot spell, I will trial some software to see how it meets this criteria. My art skills are a bit shot, so I'll do a few quick doodles to see how it feels then try a cartoon figure. I'll spend maybe a few hours on each tool, then post a review up here with my comments. Once I'm done, I'll buy whatever I think makes the grade.
My list of software to trial has expanded a bit since I posted a query in the art forum:
- ArtRage 2.5 - emulates natural media, especially oil paint but also has pencils and markers. Comes in a free Starter edition with less features, and a cheap US$25 Full version.
- Autodesk Sketchbook Pro - designed to be a digital sketch pad. Is very popular with artists for the role I am looking for. US$100 for North Americans, unknown price for me.
- Corel Painter Essentials 4 - Painter X is the leading product in natural media software. Essentials is the toned down version for a fraction of the cost. Essentials costs US$100 from Corel, although Apple Australia is offering it for A$100. (Painter X is about seven times the price).
- Adobe Photoshop CS3 - The big brand name art tool. CS4 is the current version, but I already own Creative Suite 3 (I got it to get Flash plus all the other Adobe tools with an educational discount). Costs about as much as Painter X, but you can get the stripped down Elements for less. For me, cost is moot as I already own it.
- GIMP 2.6 - The open source raster art editor. I have had misgiving about GIMP, but for fairness and completeness I will add this into the trial. Cost: free!
- Inkscape 0.46 - Last but not least, my favourite vector editor, Inkscape. I currently do sketches with Inkscape's calligraphy tool. I am putting this in last just for comparison, plus I can compare a vector editor to all these raster editors. Cost: free!
That's probably enough for a series of handy tests, unless I find out about another good tool out there. I'll post each individual review here when I am done with the test.