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Best Painting and Art Making Apps for your Smart Phone – ArtFlow, 8bit PhotoLab, TextArt, and More!

by: A. Martellacci

My art is made from wire, garbage and string.

Until a few years ago, I did not have a smart phone. It seems odd I would bother trying to create art with technology at all. Maybe I’m afraid to be left behind. Maybe my junk art collection is beginning to alienate people. Either way, I wanted some good clean fun.

With no idea where to start, I gamely opened the app store hoping to trip over something interesting.I did so right away because my phone is creepy and can read minds.

ArtFlow, was the first suggestion google curated. It looked just technical enough to be useful and unassuming enough to be immediately comprehensible from its short bio and pics. The reviews were glowing, except for occasional id10-T error reports.


ArtFlow

The user interface is clean… like, blank.Tap the little white dot in the corner to view the toolbars and tap again to hide.I like it.Not all tools are available in free mode (duh), but many of the most useful brushes and pens are there.

Both RYB and HSV colour wheels are free to use, for what it’s worth. It is obviously designed for tablet and slows a bit on the phone if there’s too much going on.

Using just the tip of my finger and the charcoal setting, I was able to create gentle blends without any of the smudges of real life.

Obviously, super accurate sketching was out of the question on my tiny phone screen, but I ended up pleased with a few of the pieces. Building colours with air brushes (standard, shading and foggy) and the round brush was especially zen.

Not being much a fan of markers in real life, I was surprised to find myself enjoying them especially.

Canvas size presets are standard, and therefore useful.Saving is also standard.Save to anywhere.Send to anyone.Zooming in and spinning the canvas works great.

The app’s ability to delineate between brush stokes and the zoom function taps was consistently good; so no accidental mark making

The thing I was sad for but don’t begrudge, is layers can only be added in the paid version… which I have now. The layers work great and don’t cause slowdown on my (crappy) phone.

ArtFlow is the perfect pocket scratch pad. I love sketching with it when I have a spare moment. It will always have a front page spot on my phone.

Never knowing when enough is enough, I went back to the all knowing algorithm interface known as, the Play Store, and scrolled for a long time. Nothing looked immediately interesting. Searched: “art apps”. Scrolled. 8bit PhotoLab. Interesting.


8bit PhotoLab + Bonus App

Holy crap! I loaded an image of Luna. Yes, from Sailor Moon. Wut? My finger must have slipped. I scrolled to the Commodore PET monitor setting and this happened:

This is going to be awesome!

There are a million different settings. Great fun to play with. I finger sketched a cube with ArtFlow.

These are some of my favourite 8bit PhotoLab filtrates of the above cube after spending (a lot of) time messing around.

All kinds of monitor, colour palette and even vector graphics filters can be customized to create the most vintage computing or modernaesthetic effects.I have not reached the end of this app’s free functionality (but I bought it anyway).Oh, and it goes great with another little free app I found.


TextArt

TextArt. Free font selection is limited, though you can upload your own. TextArt, and the endlessly nifty, 8bit Photo Lab, created this delightful abomination.


Notebloc

Not comfortable drawing on a screen at all? Use Notebloc to scan and trim your meatspace sketches (and notes) instead. It does a pretty good job of it. Photographing flat things is not as easy as it seems.

Notebloc proves useful for in situ scanning and saves in pdf. I’ve already used it professionally and am creeping the Notebloc tablets on amazon.

Here are a collection of jellies and aspics. Don’t let their bouncy, colourful looks fool you. One is made from pickle relish, another from tomato soup and I think there’s even some sour cream and mayo in there.

What happens when you mash Notebloc, 8-bit Photo Lab and TextArt together? You get my new forum avatar.

This collection of apps puts a whole lot of fun and functionality in the palm of your hand. They play well together, are either free or cheap and translate well to smaller screens.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need some time alone to fingerpaint.

Oh, by the way, I came across this post on the Pixpa blog called The 40 Best Drawing Apps and Art Apps for 2019, which gave me a lot of new ideas.  Recommend checking that out if you have a chance!

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Kids Animation Tutorial Part 2, Character Design Stage with Powerpoint

Welcome to my second instalment of an animation tutorial I am doing with my buddy Carlos Campos for our channel Kindertunes, where Carlos shows us his process for creating an animated video for kids, step-by-step, using Powerpoint and some other digital tools.

To recap our last animation tutorial + interview, Carlos basically was working on his “idea board” using Powerpoint, and coming up with some of the designs for the characters in this video he’ll be working on, which is going to be for the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.

This will be the song with both lyrics and vocals, with an animated video accompanying it, with character design and animations all by Carlos.

So, on to the next part of the tutorial. After Carlos finished up creating some models and elements in Powerpoint, he moved on to refining those models, which are essentially the characters and the animated elements that make each of them up.

Here’s a picture of how Rudolph is coming along.

Things, as you can see, are getting a bit more detailed, but they’re not completely refined to the point where they’re quite ready to be animated yet. This process can take a little while. It’s where the characters get all of their personality, so there’s a benefit to not rushing it along.

At the same time, you have to know a few things about Powerpoint in order to get anywhere here. As such, because I’m a Powerpoint newb myself, I decided to ask him some questions about the software and how it works in regards to animations such as these.

DF: When it comes to Powerpoint, what can you say about using this software in terms of advantages and such?

CC: PowerPoint is extremely versatile here, which is why I’ve come to appreciate it so much, and why it’s become one of my main tools when it comes to design software.

Essentially, it is part of the Microsoft Office Suite and is often used as a software for presentations. The “workspace” it offers acts like a sort of canvas and several of them can be used in the same project.

They’re known as “slides”. In each slide one can input information in the form of text, images, video… and each of this elements can be manipulated at will through the use of certain commands.

One of its main advantages is that programs from the Microsoft Office Suite have become nearly ubiquitous among computer users. They are available for both Mac OS and Windows.

This guarantees compatibility between platforms in most cases. The software is designed specifically for each platform though, which means that, for the most part, they both have the same features, but may still vary to some degree.

I personally use PowerPoint for Mac OS and use it to create the character models you saw earlier and, as PowerPoint also has the option to animate certain elements within and across slides, I can animate most of them directly in PowerPoint.

DF: So Powerpoint can animate? Tell me more!

CC: Sure thing! In the images from our project shown here, you can see how the animation pane actually looks in the PowerPoint interface.

As you can see, there are many elements that can be selected and different effects can be applied to them. For instance, they can fade or zoom in or out, spin, change color, grow/shrink, or blink, just to name a few possibilities.

They can also move across the slide in various set paths. It is also possible to combine two or more animations and apply them to the same object. Like a spin and a zoom-in, for example.

In the next image, you can see that the list of object visible has been shortened since a menu that was previously hidden was now made visible.

CC: This is the ‘properties’ menu. From there, you can select any animation you’ve applied onto any object. As you can see, the object that has been selected is called Circle Burst.

Again, I rename every object to be able to track it down and know which one it is that I’m working with. There are 3 types of effects: Entrance, Emphasis and Exit Effects. That’s a lot of E’s, I know.

The one I’ve chosen is an Emphasis Effect (in yellow). Combined with other objects and animations, it gives the effect of lines radiating from an object, like a flat explosion or a circle “bursting”, hence the name.

This is to signal that the object is appearing, and emphasize its position. From this panel, you can indicate whether you want the animation to start or end more gradually, have it happen more that once, decide how long you want it to be and if you want for it to play automatically or when clicked.

This is usually for presentations where there’s a presenter changing the slides, but in this case we want it to happen automatically. We can delay it for as long as we want to in regards to when the slide comes into view.

Slides can also have transitions between each other and fade in and out, have all sorts of wild and crazy effects or just change from one to the other seamlessly.

There’s a lot of room to play with these settings and with all of those options available, animating is made much more simple. There are certainly many other animation programs out there.

They can have a very steep learning curve or a ton of over-specific features, but they can also be helpful when working with 3D models or just really detailed stuff. It’s all a matter of personal choice and needs, I think.

DF: So how close are you to finishing this stage of things? It looks like there’s a lot of stuff laid out.

CC: Yeah! This is only one of the multiple slides to be used in this particular project.

Right now, there are over 30 slides in total! The story sequence of the song is almost done by now, and in relation to the video, I’m at a point where the song is almost over.
 
I’m very excited to share the final result with you!

DF: Will you be adapting all of this to another animation program?

CC: When needed, I complement the animation with the video-editing software I’m using. In this case, it is Shotcut. I also use iMovie sometimes.

There’s a neat green/blue screen feature that allows for the overlapping of two videos. That can be very useful for including new elements on top of the already existing ones.

Right now I’m working on another project which will probably require me to migrate to the Adobe Suite environment temporarily. That would be Adobe Animate software. Again, it is a bit more specialized and, in my experience, not as accessible.
 
Still comes in handy.

DF: Powerpoint files are interchangeable with this other software?

CC: In most cases, yes. It has a ton of export options, and there’s file conversion, too! Which is super convenient when working across systems.

I can transform it into pdf, then vector format, or turn PowerPoint elements directly into image files, or video! It’s something you don’t really get with other platforms.

DF: This is all thanks to Powerpoint?

CC: Yup! Some third-party software can be used if needed, of course. I think what’s most important is to have final product that works. Sometimes programs don’t behave well… lol. So that requires finding alternatives.

DF: What file formats are we talking here?

CC: Image-wise: .png, .jpeg, .tiff, .bmp, too! Video exports allow for MP4 and MOV or WMV I believe, depending on your version and operating system.

There’s PowerPoint’s native .ppt and .pptx, also .pdf as mentioned earlier. I believe there’s even a way to render elements as text, though I am not sure how that works or what it produces as an output as I’ve never had the need to use it.

With .pdf, .svg is also a possibility! I can then take it to some other program such as InkScape or Illustrator and verify/tweak it there if needed.

DF: Good to hear all of these formats are basically interconnected in some way. Makes it all easier.

CC: Boy, it does!! Haha

DF: Anything else we want to mention to the people out there? Or should we wait until the next lesson?

CC: I think we covered most of it for now! It feels like a little bit of a crash course on PowerPoint itself probably, haha, but we just talked about the basics here. It is just to give you an idea of what this software is about.

Of course, it’s not perfect, nor are any of the other applications out there, but I consider it to be a great tool. Going into detail over how every animation is done individually would take a huge amount of time!

Probably wouldn’t even fit in one article! Haha. Again, my advice to those who are interested in getting started is to just start playing around and try finding creative ways to translate your ideas and inspiration from other sources, and from the real world, into animated sequences.

Just give it a try! There’s also a bunch of tutorials online and checking them out certainly wouldn’t hurt!

DF: Sounds good man, let’s see where the next tutorial takes us!

CC: Can’t wait!!!

Lastly here, this is a picture of Carlos’ written notes that goes along with what he does with the software. As he says, he likes to write things down with a paper and pen as well, because it helps his creative process.
 
You at home might want to try this too!

 

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Kids Animation Tutorial – Part 1, Idea Board with Powerpoint

Today I’m chatting with Carlos Campos, professional freelancer and animator of many, many projects about what you might call his “workflow” when it comes to designing an kids animation project for a client using Powerpoint to start things off.

In this case, that client is…well, technically it’s me, since I commissioned it, although we are more like buddies in this animated endeavour.

What’s going on is that Carlos and I are working on a new animation channel for Youtube called Kindertunes featuring children’s nursery rhyme songs, which requires us to come up with animations of various lengths to provide content for the channel.

I wanted to talk to him about how he gets his inspiration going, and he gave me the lowdown on these first crucial stages of planning. Now I want to share all that with you!

Check out our Youtube Channel called Kindertunes here!

Generating Ideas for your New Animated Video

Carlos is a fan of coming up with what you might call his “storyboard” or “idea chart” in Powerpoint, where he can design the characters who will appear in the animation, and then do some editing of those characters to work on their aesthetic looks and expressions.

He can also design background elements and play with those as well. This would essentially be the first step in what will become the animation that will be used for the video.

So it’s an important step to take, but it can also be one of the most fun because it involves creating a lot of the visual elements of your cartoon, or animation and doing a lot of brainstorming.

For instance, our new video is for a Christmas song (as Christmas is around the corner), and here’s his version of Santa Claus.

I don’t know a whole lot about Powerpoint myself, so I’ll let Carlos jump in here and say a few things about what he’s up to in this first stage of planning your animation.

I will also jump in and ask a few questions to get more info.

Interview with Carlos Campos on the first stages of animating using Powerpoint

Carlos: Alright! So, I took a bunch of snapshots of my “workspace” you could say. This is basically showing what the project files look like. It shows the first and second stages of the creative process.

First comes what I call the “mood board”. I know some people call it different names. I just go with that, because I like it. It’s pretty much any external source of inspiration.

You include it within your space (be it physical or digital) and keep going back to it while designing. It’s a lot of fun, ’cause you start connecting the dots, so to speak, and create different relationships between the chosen objects.

So if I’m creating, let’s say, a logo, for a company called Evil Apples Entertainment (nice name right?), I’ll take into account whatever the client wishes to include in the design and see how we can work it in.

In some cases, I might advise them to drop certain elements or include certain others, maybe just change a thing or two about the ones they mentioned.

Dave: Can we take a look?

Carlos: Yeah! So this is the mood or idea board for this particular project. The song will be “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – a Christmas classic.

So the animation, being mainly for kids but also adults too, has got to be fun, colourful and festive!

Dave: Looks cool! Looks like you’re working with a few templates to get some ideas.

Carlos: Thanks, that’s right. I take a look at those items and see what vector shapes might help me better represent the style and ideas behind the project at hand.

In this case, since the graphics in the previous video lacked an outline (referring to our Itsy Bitsy Spider video), I’ll try to steer away from using them here, to keep the graphic theme consistent.

We want to have a visually similar look from the last video to this one, I think. It will make it all look more consistent. We’re basically coming up with our style of how the cartoons or animations will look.

Next, I look at icons, logos or vectors already on the web and maybe inspiration outside of the target field.

So, not just Christmas maybe but also actual pictures of deer to see if there’s any anatomical features that any drawing may be missing (e.g. spots, a tail, more realistic antlers…)

Then see if I wanna include that. Next I go to creating shapes, editing them, etc. I’ll show you that now. The idea is to make them “easier” to edit.
 
Here’s a Christmas tree that will be part of the video. As you can see, certain shapes repeat.

Dave: Nice, yeah I see. Lots of different shapes…

Carlos: Yep, a few different elements here. I am just kind of working on the fly a little bit. Some people do it in a way that’s more rough-and-ready.
 
Some are super nit picky.

I consider myself being sort of in-between. Hahaha. But yeah, I mean, the creative part is not something you can teach or reproduce just by having the knowledge.

Dave: All part of the workflow I guess. Getting some ideas going. No need to be super picky right away.

Carlos Campos: It does help to be somewhat organized. Otherwise it’s chaos. Lol.

Dave: Never hurts to have a plan eh?

Carlos: Exactly. Anyway, as you can see in the “Model: Rudolph (elements)” slide, I create a bunch of shapes and then put them together to create the actual model which will then be animated.

So if I want to make the arm pivot or move or something, I have to keep it on a separate “layer”, so to speak. But yeah, even if they might resemble elements from my mood board, I have to come up with all sorts of crazy ways to make them work on my project.

Carlos: Also, on that one you can see how I name every element to be able to track it down when there’s tons of shapes and pictures all over the place. It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience, creativity, organization…It can be very time-consuming, too, haha, but I like it.

So in the snow slides you can see I get to select the elements, edit them (make them bigger, taller, larger, change colors, shadows, dimension, glow, position…), animate them…There’s the Santa model which is more recent.
 
I made that yesterday.

Dave: So this is all in Powerpoint?

Carlos: Yes. So far, it’s all on PowerPoint. And for the tree, I wanted it to have some cool, fun decorations to avoid it from looking too traditional.

I thought that a funny way to generate interest with the decoration would be to make the connection between Rudolph’s nose, Santa’s nose (they’re the exact same), and the Christmas tree spheres.

I’m gonna let the viewers know that they’re the same thing (noses) by using the same animations. It’s just an idea.

Dave: Well, I see you’re coming up with a lot of ideas at this stage in the process. Nothing is moving yet, but I can see how it will soon enough.

Carlos: Won’t be long! I really hope this can give you a better perspective of how I work and what goes into the designs and creation of the videos!

Dave: Once you’ve got enough ideas, then what?

Carlos: Yup. Once these ideas are ok’d, I move on and create the settings and start the animating. Add music, then edit the video file…it’s not necessarily a long process.

Dave: Cool. So what do you call this stage in the process…character development? Storyboarding? Idea board? Is there a name that covers what this is?

Carlos: Storyboarding might be a good way to put it, but there’s no plot progression yet. So character development might be the best term. I just consider this my idea board and I work off of it for now.

I mean, to me, it’s just sort of drafting I guess. I know it’s not that actually, haha, I guess I never give it too much thought, I just do it.

Dave: Well I feel like I’m learning a lot here, man, thank you! Hopefully my readers on the site enjoy this as well.

Carlos: Cool! We’ll have to document the process as we go along. This is just Part 1. We’ll come back with the next step in the process, and I’ll share that as well.

Dave: Sounds good. I’ll leave people with our first video so they can see what we’ve been up to lately. See y’all next time!

Carlos: Bye!

Read part 2 of our animation tutorial with Carlos Campos


 

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Creating Digital Artwork with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil – An Interview with Marco Pedrosa

Today I sat down with my buddy Marco Pedrosa, who, as long as I’ve known him, has been drawing.

We met when we were about 11 years old in junior high school, and he was always known as the guy who could draw cool cartoon pictures and stuff of that sort.

Now, about 20 something years later, he’s still drawing stuff, but he’s got a few new toys to play around with.

Namely, he picked up an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil, which he has been using to draw / paint stuff digitally, yielding some pretty cool results.

I decided to pick his brain a bit about these drawing utensils, and see how he’s putting them to use. Enjoy our chat!

Marco Pedrosa, digital artist / painter / illustrator

DF: Heyyyy how’s it going buddy?

MP: Goood

DF: Nice. So, you got some kind of new fangled art device thingie?

MP: I guess so. It’s an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. It’s pretty sweet.

DF: Is that a new thing, or maybe I just live in a cave?

MP: It’s newish. This is the second hardware revision so it’s only been out for about 1.5 years. But before the iPad Pro you could us a Wacom cintique to do similar things but those are super expensive.

They’re basically a flat monitor that sits on your desk that you can draw on..It’s what all the comic and graphic design pros use. But the iPad Pro costs a lot less and performs almost as well so a lot of people are digging it.

DF: That’s cool. So why’d you get it? To draw, I presume?

MP: Well I do a fair amount of graphic work (mockups, icons, posters) for my day job so I actually got them to buy me one. It can make certain types of drawing faster and more accurate than using a non screen based pen tablet so they agreed.

On the side I’ve also been using it to shore up my digital painting skills since the apps for that are so awesome these days.

Artwork by Marco Pedrosa using iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

DF: Ah, I gotcha.

MP: It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious painting but this tool lowers the barrier and is faster and less messy. It’s kind of the best of digital and real painting without any of the downsides.

DF: So it’s a less messy sort of painting program app type thing?

MP: Well you don’t wind up with charcoal all over your hands and paint on your face so yeah. Plus you have access to many different brush styles and the layering and limitless undid that you can only get from a digital format and it’s great!

DF: Yeah the stuff looks really cool! I’ll have to share some of it with my readers.

MP: Usually I’ll start with a sketch layer to capture whatever the idea is, then I’ll do a basic color layer to figure out roughly what hues to use where, then I’ll often do an ink layer over top before getting into the real painting.

There can in that every app has its formats but they can all import jpgs and pngs so it’s not usually an issue. If I had to move layers between programs that might be an issue but I usually stick to just one app.

DF: So are there no issues with file formats or what have you? That’s awesome. It does look very painterly.

MP: Yeah! The neat thing is that if one painting attempt isn’t working out you can just hide the layer and try again in another style with some other brushes.

Artwork by Marco Pedrosa with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

DF: So it’s got a bit of photoshop layer-y stuff happening? How much is this stuff costing btw?

MP: For sure! I like to use layers as insurance. If I’m about to try something I’m not sure about I just put in on a new layer and get rid of it if it doesn’t work out.

DF: Specifically, how much is.. the app? The device? The pen? Is the app just free?

so wait.. are you starting off importing some pre-existing pic or you just make it up? I’m not just playing the part of the clueless guy here, I am that guy! lol

MP: I just make it up of course! I’ll often use pics from the internet for reference on colours and details but I’ll always try to compose something from scratch and take it from start to finish.
 
I’ve never been into tracing or replicating exists no work through I’m not above trying to understand a style.

DF: Yeah so you grab a Ralph McQuarrie pic and just sort of use it as a reference? Well i notice your style is your style, really. It’s not like you’re copying the artist’s style..
 
maybe the composition a little bit?

MP: So an iPad Pro goes for around 800$ I think? The pencil is another 120$ and painting apps can go from 5-80$ or some of them require monthly subscriptions.

My fav at the moment is Procreate, which is fairly inexpensive for what you get. I think it’s only 20$ or something. There’s also clip studio paint which is 10$ a month but you can actually make a comic from start to finish with it! Yeah my style is my style. I can’t seem to escape it.

DF: That’s cool.. and it’s super portable yeah? Like you go on vacay, you can just toss this shit in your bag and go. Also, battery life?

MP: Yeah, it’s the size of a clipboard basically! It lasts about 10 hours which is more than enough for me. I’m pretty sure my hand would fall off if I were drawing that long

DF: Yeah might cause an injury! And we don’t live in the days where artists need to work like 160 hours straight for a piece of bread like in the .. whenever that was

MP: Thank god for that.

DF: So we can actually do stuff for fun if we so choose.

MP: Yup. At some point I’d like to get my skill with these tools to the point where I could whip up an image I’m happy with within a couple of hours.

My first few tries over the summer I would call enthusiastic failures but I feel like the momentum is building and I’ve been pretty happy with the last few things.

It’s important not to get discouraged when you’re just figuring out what a new tool is good for. At this point I feel I can probably do a piece digitally about as well as I could if I were doing it by hand so that’s something.

DF: That’s good! You’re pretty in tune with the thing and that’s a good place to be it’s an instrument.

MP: My next thing I think will be figuring out how to escape my “style” since it hasn’t really changed much in a while but I feel it needs to start evolving.

There are lots of things I’d like to get better at in terms of painting but obviously you don’t get anywhere unless you put yourself out of your comfort zone and fail a few times.

Artwork by Marco Pedrosa with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

DF: That’s for sure. And that’s not easy of course. But this tool seems like a pretty versatile one so i guess you’ll be sticking with it. Will you be getting anything new to go with it? Or just explore the possibilities…

MP: I’ll stick with it as it is for now. I’m really only scratching the surface of what these apps can do. At this point my skill, not the tool is the bottleneck so there’s really no need to jump to something new right now.

Although if an iPad version of Affinity Designer came out I’d be all over that. AF is a vector drawing app, as opposed to all these painting apps that are pixel based.

DF: Ah yes, vectors. Tis a whole other thing.

MP: Yup, they’re good for a different set of problems but I like those too.

DF: Well lots to explore then from here. It’s cool that you’ve kinda got this whole thing going. It’s always good to have an artistic outlet.

MP: For sure. I draw all the time professionally so it’s nice to have an opportunity to do some stuff recreationally too.

DF: Totally. Well thanks for stopping by Marco, good to chat!

MP: Ok ttyl!