Artistic merit

13th June 2003 at 01:00
Painting and drawing is all about gesture - it is what humanises the processes - and by letting users draw directly on to a 10.4" screen with a pen, RM's Tablet PC allows gesture in a very satisfying way.

I have been using it with Revelation Natural Art and although you are still drawing with pixels, the program's charcoal, paint effects, wax crayon, pastel, oil pastel, spray and pencil are sufficiently convincing to feel almost tactile.

There are some neat touches too. Paint gradually runs out on the brush and can be smudged. Colour can be mixed in a natural way; blend yellow with blue and green is produced, mix in white and the hue is more subtle. Marker pens are translucent, so colours change when overlaid and a smudging tool can make things (virtually) messy.

In addition, photographs can be imported and edited, text can be added to an image, even paper texture can be specified. And if it all goes wrong the undoredo button takes you back step by step.

Revelation Natural Art is aimed at primary and possibly early secondary level. Along with nearly all primary art software, it has a symmetry tool, which enables scribble to be turned into pattern, and also a rubber stamp tool, which allows clip art to be placed. I admit, I have yet to find a creative use for these features, especially the clip art.

Teachers can pre-set three levels to the program: "simple" has three brushes, geometric shapes and fill and stamp tools; "junior" has the full brush menu and adds the mixing palette and a tool which for creating complex curves; and "advanced" is the full program plus a simple but pleasing animation program.

This animation feature has great immediacy. Make a simple drawing, use the "onion skin" feature and a ghost of the image appears on a second page (assuming you have created one). Trace around this, making minor modifications, and repeat this process to create the required number of frames, press play and - hey presto! - moving images. Each frame can be modified and frames can be added or deleted. This may be animation at its simplest (almost a digital flick-book), but it demonstrates the principles in a way sure to captivate young minds.

The only glitch of Revelation Natural Art is its annoying habit of reverting to a default brush size after every colour change, regardless of the size of the one you are using. This aside, it is a superb piece of software - it is easy to learn (for teachers as well as pupils) and it feels sophisticated enough to fully engage pupils.

While the program is at home on a graphics tablet - even a mouse and PC can produce worthwhile work - it is great when used on RM's Tablet PC, since pupils can draw directly on to the screen and work more intuitively. But the PC has one design flaw - when it is flat on the desk, the screen is impossible to see clearly unless you lean over it; I angled it on the desk edge or propped it up on some books.

For all that, use the Tablet PC and program in combination and you experience the first natural way of drawing on a computer.

REVELATION NATURAL ART

PC only pound;49 + VAT. Logotron. Tel: 01223 425558. Email: sales@logo.com

www.logo.com

TABLET PC

Student model: pound;799 + VAT. Teacher model: pound;929 + VAT.

RM

Tel: 08709 086969. www.rm.comtabletpc

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