1st Artist

Reviewed by Mark Hickson
Partner, PriorITas - an independent IT advisory service

This review first appeared in MAPE Focus on Art Summer 1998

1st Artist is a painting package aimed at users from Nursery through to Key Stage 3. The version supplied for review was Version 1 .0 with a copyright date of 1998. 1st Artist requires Windows 95, a 486DX2 66Mhz computer or better, an SVGA monitor, 8Mb free space on your hard drive, 8Mb RAM and a SoundBlaster-compatible sound card and speakers. Acorn users may well recognise 1st  Artist as an enhanced version of Resource's longstanding package. 1st Paint. 1st Artist costs 39.00 for a single copy, a further 39.00 to extend the number of users to five and a further 60 to extend the number to ten.

Installation from the supplied floppy discs is straightforward. On startup a screen presents a list of 'groups' from which one is asked to choose one. These groups may be classes, curriculum subjects, topics or whatever; setting up new groups is easy. The purpose of these is to allow easy access to the relevant files stored on disc.

The working screen layout presents the user with a large painting area, a 'palette' of colours on the right of the screen and a row of tools at the bottom (though the position of these can be configured left! right, top/bottom).

The row of tools at the bottom includes a left and a right arrow that allow the user to choose between four sets of tools: painting tools, geometry tools, advanced tools and utilities.

The painting tools include a round and a square brush, a 'rubber band' line-drawing tool, a spray tool and a fill tool. These all work much as one might expect. In addition to these there are a few general tools which appear with each tool set. These allow one to alter the size of the brushes, constrain brush movements when, for instance, one wants to paint horizontal or vertical lines, and an undo tool.

The geometry tools include filled and empty rectangle and ellipse tools and tools for drawing joined and radial lines.

The advanced tools include an airbrush (for which one's computer and monitor  must be able to show more than 256 colours), a smudge tool, a 'snapshot' tool, a 'stamp' tool and tools for arranging repeat and tiling patterns. 1st Artist comes supplied with a range of 'stamps' and further, themed sets are available from Resource on topics such as Christmas, holidays and minibeasts. Other sets of stamps are said to be in preparation.

The tiling tools allow for quite sophisticated pattern generation, including the reflection and rotation of a selected area.

Utilities make saving and loading pictures easy.  There are buttons for printing and 'throwing away' one's picture. A zoom control allows the close-up editing of small areas. A 'pipette colour-picker is provided for choosing a colour from the picture being worked on rather than the palette.

The palette first opens with a range of sixteen colours. These may be changed to a set of sixteen different textures which, like the colours, may be used with either a brush, line or spray tool or with the fill option. The sixteen colours are not fixed:  any one of them may be re-mixed to create a new colour. This feature works particularly well - the user drags red, green and blue paint pots to alter the amount of these in the mix. Different colour palettes created in this way can be saved to use again later. The standard Windows colour selector may be used if you wish. Text entry is available, with the ability to change font, size and colour.

One option which may delight or infuriate teachers in equal measure but is likely to appeal to younger users is that one may have sounds for most of 1st Artist's actions. Thus, when painting, the computer makes a different sound for each different colour or pattern.

A reflection setting makes it possible to create one or two lines of symmetry on the painting, so that what one does in one quarter of the screen is reflected and created instantaneously in the other three-quarters.

1st Artist accepts files in BMP, WMF and JPEG formats. This means that a wide variety of ClipArt resources may be used with it, in addition to scanned images, images from digital cameras, images gathered from the Internet. Etc.

1st Artist may be configured by the teacher for different learners. Thus, advanced options and tools may he made unavailable, creating a simpler working environment for beginner users. Other tools may be made available as users gain competence.

1st Artist is a good introductory painting package, presenting a clear interface for young users while also having sufficient power to stretch older pupils. Given its easy teacher-configurability, it is well worth considering alongside other packages as a tool for use across the primary age range.

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