Tablets that can turnout masterpieces

If you have to sit at a VDU, there can be no better fun than messing about with an art package. Especially if you haven't got an artistic bone in your body. .

With a few clicks and flourishes of the mouse, you can doodle and slosh colours around the screen, happy in the knowledge that you won't have to tidy up afterwards. Sadly, with even the most expensive computer in the world, you'll discover you are just as lousy at art as you ever were.

It's true that the package will draw you straight lines and all manner of geometric shape. It will add 3D effects; it will reduce or enlarge any part of the picture; invert it, create a mirror image and perform every imaginable artistic trick. You can choose to adorn your masterpiece with fancy patterns and textures and select from the millions of colours that computers can (allegedly) generate .

The problem arises when it comes to drawing free-hand - or free-mouse as it should be called. The mouse is a clumsy beast and you might well conclude that it's simply not up to the job. There is a range of alternatives. With a Glidepoint, for instance, you merely move your finger across a a small pad and the cursor (the on-screen pencil) replicates your movements exactly. Better still, you could use a Graphical Tablet. You simply draw on the tablet as you normally would on paper, and the image is transmitted instantly to the screen.

The real joy of an art package is the precious UNDO command. If you make a mistake, you can instantly erase it whether it's a line or an injudicious splodge of electronic paint.

Furthermore, by saving your work before embarking on each new phase, you know that if your next step proves an unmitigated disaster, you can always return to a previous unsullied version. This gives pupils - and teacher - the freedom and confidence to experiment with colour, shape and courageous ideas to their hearts' content.

Artwork doesn't have to be created on screen. Any paper-based painting or drawing created in the traditional way can be copied into a graphics package using a scanner. This ingenious device converts the image into the digitised form that the computer can understand. It's also possible to buy libraries of photographs and "clip art" - huge collections of cartoons and drawings.

Any package will allow you to add text to graphics. Once you've started playing with this facility, you'll see how easily the glossy magazines create their stunning blends of words and pictures. But to do it yourself, you'll need DTP.

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