Painting Seurat on snake skin: Tim Nott adds a little splash of colour to his desktop

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The Independent Online
ANYONE with Windows, the graphics-based operating system on PC-compatible systems, has probably played briefly with the Paintbrush, the painting program that comes with it. Brave souls might have even waded through the tutorial before giving up in artistic frustration.

PC Paintbrush is a direct descendent of its namesake, but bears as much resemblance as the Louvre does to the cave paintings at Lascaux. It has all the usual luxuries, such as handling multiple images, importing a variety of formats, including Photo CD, and using up to 16 million colours. But its real charm lies in the simulation of natural media. Though this has been done before, it has never been done so simply or cheaply.

The best way to learn the program is to jump straight in and start throwing paint around. The toolbox has 27 buttons and while some of these do unexciting things such as draw lines and circles, clicking on the Brush tool reveals lots more options in a control bar above the workspace.

Here you change not just the size and shape of your brush, but the pressure and degree of opacity. The real treat lies in the Tool Type list, where 17 styles of brush are found, ranging from Wet Oils, that mix in with colours already on the page, through multi-brush Seurat and Van Gogh effects, to completely unnaturalistic but fun effects such as Neon or the Jitter Rainbow tool, which paints a swathe of multi-coloured dots.

The Spraycan tool is equally versatile, with effects ranging from a delicate airbrush to a Graffiti effect, where excess paint dribbles down the wall from the bottom of strokes. Then there are Charcoal, Pastel, Crayon and Felt-tip to play with, again all with a wide range of options. A Clone tool lets you paint over one image with another, then there are all sorts of wholesale effects to be had, such as embossing outlines or giving the picture the appearance of a cracked oil painting.

It is not just what you paint with, but what you paint on, that determines the look of a work and there are textures ranging from the sensible, such as canvas or woodgrain, to the surreal, such as leopard or snake skin.

The limitation is that painting with a mouse is like painting with a brick and you would really need a stylus for professional results. But for Sunday painters, PC Paintbrush, is probably the most fun you can have in your best clothes.

PC Paintbox

System: PC-compatible.

Requirements:

Software: Windows.

Publisher: Softkey; 081 789 2000.

Availability: Dealers, superstores, some retail outlets.

Price: pounds 57.50 (including VAT).

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