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Does bud­get limit your choices for soft­ware? Nick Har­ris doesn’t see that as an is­sue th­ese days, es­pe­cially with the lat­est ver­sion of ArtRage

With more va­ri­ety of paint­ing soft­ware around than ever, we’re spoilt for choice. Yet the lure of the allpow­er­ful Pho­to­shop is still strong.

That said, not ev­ery­body is a fan of Adobe’s subscription model, pre­fer­ring the older li­cence pur­chase one. I sit in that camp. I was also be­guiled by a free ver­sion of Painter 5 when start­ing out (yes, that long ago), be­fore my bud­get would even run to a ver­sion of Pho­to­shop.

My eyes are al­ways open to al­ter­na­tives, and the past few years has seen me pur­chas­ing var­i­ous de­cent, bud­get-con­scious paint­ing and draw­ing soft­ware. ArtRage, Sketch­Book Pro, Mis­chief, Re­belle, Paintstorm Stu­dio and Clip Stu­dio Paint sit along­side Painter 2016 on my sys­tem. ArtRage and Sketch­Book Pro have proven to be my go-to stal­warts for nearly all my work. Hence it’s with some de­light that I take a new ver­sion 5 of ArtRage, which comes in at £64, for a spin.

Is it a vi­able al­ter­na­tive for Pho­to­shop? That’s a ques­tion that you’ll have to an­swer for your­self, de­pen­dent on just what you use Pho­to­shop for. If you mainly want to draw and paint, in an ex­tremely com­pe­tent and well-stocked soft­ware, with a good choice of file for­mat im­port/ex­port op­tions, then I’d say the an­swer is yes. Here we tackle a mul­ti­ple fig­ure il­lus­tra­tion, go­ing through how I use some of ArtRage’s arse­nal, and touch­ing on a few new ad­di­tions.

Launch ArtRage 5 and the in­ter­face seems rel­a­tively un­changed from ver­sion 4, which of­fered a cleaner UI called Bench Mode. This one of­fers Dock­ing Mode in­stead. You ac­cess it through View/In­ter­face Mode. Both modes dis­play three lit­tle boxes, top left of can­vas. Drag out guide lines from th­ese. Go through View/Lay­out Panel for edit con­trols, and do the same for Grids and Per­spec­tive.

I pre­pare a can­vas and set up guide lines to rep­re­sent the gut­ter and bleed for a dou­ble-page spread. I launch the Layer pal­ette from the icon on the top bar, tear it off and dock to the right edge (drag the float­ing icon over to the side). Go through View to launch a new Tool­box Panel and then dock it to the other side.

I se­lect a Pen­cil and start sketch­ing the idea of a cir­cus troupe head­ing to­wards the big top. I load the Pen­cil tool into the Tool­box through the drop-down at the bot­tom of the pop-up Tool pal­ette, which ap­pears when you se­lect a tool. I’m think­ing of char­ac­ters with fan­tasy tinges, and keep things loose for now.

I re­fine some of the line work, al­though it’s still pretty crude. I’m work­ing from my head with­out ref­er­ence at this stage, but use what­ever imagery works for you. I block in some base colours us­ing the Pas­tel/Chalk tool on a layer be­low, and load a few favourite tools into the tool­box. I also save colours to it as Sam­ples.

5 Plac­ing the light and shad­ows

Ev­ery­thing’s look­ing very flat at the mo­ment, so I use the Water­color brush on a layer set to Mul­ti­ply to add some first hints of light and shade. I want sun­set/sun­rise light com­ing from be­hind the tent on the right. That in­forms where I lay the washes, the edges of which I soften in places us­ing the Pal­ette knife.

6 Ben­e­fits of colour blocks

Block­ing in solid colour on the char­ac­ters with the Pas­tel tool, on sev­eral lay­ers be­low the shadow layer, helps me get a bet­ter idea of how shape and com­po­si­tion is go­ing to work – or not. Build­ing up colour in­ter­est over­all also helps. The lower por­tion, left clear for text, can be re­duced and so I move the cir­cus troupe down.

7 Ap­ply tex­tures with Stick­ers

ArtRage al­ready had a cus­tom brush sys­tem called Stick­ers. Now it has a sec­ond called Cus­tom Brush. While Stick­ers are more akin to an im­age hose, this works more straight­for­wardly with a brush head. Open Tools/Brush De­signer, load a brush head (painted white on black – try dif­fer­ent sizes) and try the many con­trols, sav­ing pre­sets as you go.

8 Build­ing up the com­po­si­tion

I add some tex­ture to the ground plane, and keep work­ing at so­lid­i­fy­ing the main fig­ures. This in­cludes work­ing on both the solid colour lay­ers, and also adding to the tones with more lay­ers of shadow in vary­ing colour. This helps to­wards a feel of rich­ness and more nat­u­ral­is­tic light­ing. You can al­ways merge those lay­ers to­gether later.

9 Cre­at­ing a sense of warmth and depth

I want a warmer feel, so I du­pli­cate a top glaz­ing layer (ochre hues set to Mul­ti­ply) and in­sert it lower down in the layer stack. This serves two roles, be­cause as well as warm­ing the over­all feel­ing, by plac­ing it be­hind the solid lay­ers it helps lift them from the back­ground more. It’s a bit like in­stant at­mo­spheric per­spec­tive.

10 Paint­ing blades of grass

I go back to the new Brush De­signer to make a quick brush or two for block­ing in grassy ar­eas. I add some Ro­ta­tion and Dab Jit­ter, and set their size to re­spond to Pres­sure, so that the blades don’t look too uni­form. I lay down darker strokes first and lighter sec­ond, while keep­ing the light­ing scheme and per­spec­tive in mind.

11 Du­pli­cate and strengthen

I want the fore­ground fig­ures to have stronger tones, so I du­pli­cate their body colour layer and set it to Mul­ti­ply blend mode over the top. That’s far too strong on its own, so I ad­just the Opac­ity and work back into the lighter ar­eas in par­tic­u­lar, to make the most of the con­trast.

12 Merge lay­ers where pos­si­ble

Once the num­ber of lay­ers starts to be­come more of a bur­den than a help, I spend five min­utes con­sol­i­dat­ing my de­ci­sions by merg­ing as many layer clus­ters and groups of lay­ers as I can. It works to clear both the Layer pal­ette and my mind for the fi­nal push. That said, I still keep a lot of sep­a­rate lay­ers.

13 Pull the scene to­gether

Take a step back and see if you think the im­age is work­ing as a whole. It’s easy to be­come in­volved in en­joy­ing cer­tain details at the ex­pense of other bits… not that I ever do that, ahem! I du­pli­cate an ex­ist­ing, blue wash and ad­just the Opac­ity, be­fore work­ing into it to help the over­all tonal bal­ance.

14 Make those fi­nal tweaks

Now’s the most en­joy­able part, if you have time. Add high­light and ac­cents. I do that on a layer on top of ev­ery­thing. Tweak those details you’ve been itch­ing to tweak. Make sure things still work as a whole. I only use a few brushes and tools here, ArtRage has plenty more toys for you to play with. En­joy them!

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