With especial emphasis on the tutorials of Wen-Xi Chen.

For those who don’t play in the fields of digital art, Corel Painter X (or XI, which has just been released) is the big “other” art program. Unlike Photoshop, Painter is designed to mimic the natural materials so many artists use. Sure, Photoshop has some natural material brushes, but it doesn’t have a mixing palette or blending brushes or brushes which naturally and intuitively pick up the underlying paint and mix it, or make impasto, or a dozen other things. For the curious, here is a shot of the desktop:

See all the color options and the palette?

The mixing of paints, the vast variety of brushes, and the intuitive nature of color choices and ease of vast color picking make Painter a very strong program. One of the biggest flaws I see in digital art today is the tendency to use a very dark, very gray palette, with a photo-realistic, brush-stroke-less style for the people and a lot of green-gray-yellow shadows. This isn’t so much an artistic choice as it is a habit induced by some curious features of Photoshop. Art created in Painter has a tendency to be much livelier in color and to have unexpectedly quick and fun brushstrokes. It’s easier to do certain kinds of paintings spontaneously in Painter and it’s deeply easy for an artist decently skilled in craft but relatively new to digital tools to create something worthwhile:

This is a study of a gingko that I did about a year ago; it took me about an hour total in Painter. The entire time I just focused on what I wanted the piece to convey, and none of the time was spent mucking about with filters or complex low opacity blending techniques that Photoshop would have required. I did not know Painter then, I just picked up a bit of a tutorial, flipped through it, thought, how hard could it be, and did this piece.

Painter doesn’t get much respect at times, but I think that’s a shame. One reason that it doesn’t always appeal to artists (digital and traditional) is that it’s a rather powerful program and with great power, as we all know, comes great responsibility. Or at least the need for a tutorial or two. Which brings us to Painter Magazine.

Painter is so utterly different than Photoshop and so full of yummy options (a dizzying array of brush types and brush tips and watercolors that require special layers and some paints that interact and others that don’t) that a guide is delightful and necessary. Unfortunately, many of the traditional guide options suck. The books are either old or too complicated or are pretty much how to turn photographs into ‘art’, which is all very boring. Some of the Deviant Art tutorials are good, but they’re insufficient, by their nature.

Which is why I really like the Painter magazine. It’s one of those beautiful English magazines that comes with a CD full of goodies and some ads for cameras I’d never be able to afford. I have to buy mine at the Borders and they’re always a month or so behind the English release date, but it doesn’t really matter. The magazine isn’t cheap: It retails for fifteen bucks (14.99), but it’s well worth it.

The magazine is divided up into some regular sections and features. It’s designed to appeal to Corel Painter newbies as well as some really advanced artists. The format is roughly:

  • A tutorial on cloning a photo into art
  • A tutorial to create a painting in a famous artist’s style, using media brushes that the artist favored, like Baroque portraits or Sargent or Vermeer.
  • A tutorial on a brush family, like Sumi-e or art markers
  • A tutorial on creating the cover art
  • A traditional art tutorial (such as drawing skills)
  • A few more tutorials on differing subjects (like portraits, landscapes, color use or seasons)
  • Some reviews and interviews

The CD goodies always include a trial version of Painter, often a trial version of another software, and stock images, underdrawings from tutorials, brushes or special settings, and often a video tutorial

The tutorials are well done and have some unique features. My favorite is that they are graded by difficulty (easy, intermediate, and advanced) and have a suggested time. Five hours is a common time, but there are also tutorials that list 36 hours. I love that.

There are many fine artists who are, to put it politely, less than stellar instructors. Fortunately, Painter chooses its artists carefully. My favorite tutorial writer by far is the artist Wen-Xi Chen. Her art is stunning, but equally important, her tutorials make sense and help me make my art better. She is a frequent writer for Painter and has done at least two covers, the lush and beautiful feature on portrait painting eyes and the latest issue with Sumi-E.

This eye isn’t perfect, by any means, but I think it’s turning out rather well, and it’s all down to Wen-Xi Chen’s fine tutorial.

The latest issue of the magazine (at least the one available in the states) has another Chen cover. Her tutorial on Sumi-E brushes has me excited to try another simple portrait and test out some new brushes and tools. The program is lovely, but having this kind of solid, useful guide is fantastic and makes it possible for someone like me, who just does this as a hobby, to enjoy it more fully. I highly recommend the magazine. It’s not necessary to get it every month, but I hope if you’re interested that you’ll pick it up and give it a look see.