Brushes for IPhone

For artists, painting on location has always meant packing up brushes, paint, and a canvas and easel to take along for the trip. This whole process took time and planning, not leaving much room for sudden inspiration. With Brushes from Steve Sprang, whenever inspiration hits, all you need is an iPhone or iPod touch and your finger.

Brushes is a $5 mobile studio in your pocket that lets you sketch or paint anywhere, anytime. Recently, a New Yorker cover featured a painting by Jorge Colombo done entirely with Brushes on his iPhone, creating quite a buzz. There is even a Flickr gallery of paintings made in Brushes, and some of the images are truly amazing.

The opening screen of Brushes features a gallery where you store your masterpieces; it comes loaded with a few sample paintings done by different artists. You can view all your paintings here and even play a slide show of them.

To create a new painting, you can either start from scratch or load a picture from your photo album to paint over. There are three different brushes to choose from, ranging from smooth to rough. You can choose the size of your brushes, starting at 1-pixel in diameter and going all the way up to 64 pixels. When I first considered painting on the iPhone, I couldn't imagine being able to paint any real details with a finger, but being able to zoom in to 800-percent combined with a brush tip as small as 1-pixel wide makes it completely possible.

There is also a paint bucket tool to quickly fill the canvas in with any color. Brushes has an excellent color picker in the form of a color wheel. Rather than a set of swatches to pick from, the color wheel allows you to select virtually any color imaginable. Once you've selected a color, there is also a slider to make your pick lighter or darker--that makes it much easier to paint shadows and highlights.

Brushes also supports transparency, letting you layer up your brushstrokes to achieve some really great effects. An eyedropper tool lets you pick any color from your painting. You quickly access the tool by tapping and holding a finger down on the screen; once the eyedropper pops up, you just slide it over the color you want and let go.

Brushes lets you undo or redo virtually an unlimited amount of times, so you don't have to worry about making mistakes. And that brings up another excellent feature--all of your paintings are not only saved as an image file, but each and every brushstroke is also saved as a .brushes file which you can export in the form of a video clip to watch a painting session from start to finish. Just speed up the video playback and you've got a nice movie to share with others.

The only minor drawback to this feature--if you don't have access to a Mac, that is--is the free Brushers Viewer program that allows this is only available for Mac OS X. The developer says he is working on either a PC version or possibly setting up a Mac server where people can upload and then convert their .brushes files.

Brushes has a built-in Web server so you can download your paintings directly from the iPhone or iPod touch to your desktop via a Wi-Fi network.

All of these features are nicely wrapped up in a really simple and efficient interface that makes using this app easy and intuitive. I'm definitely impressed with what can be done in Brushes, and it has inspired me to further dive into digital painting. If you're an artist, you'll certainly want this app on your mobile device.

Brushes is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.1 software update.

[Tim Mercer is a technology enthusiast, graphic designer, and blogger, whose blog, digital-artist-toolbox.com, offers free resources to the digital artist and graphic designer.]

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