Tutorial 1-1 - Starting a project

Preamble apologies and excuses

The program is as intuitive as I can make it but you are still going to have to read the tutorial. There's too much stuff that needs to be done off screen.

There's a lot to read but it's quite simple and many steps can be skipped, repeated or performed out-of-order.

Blocks of text that are in grey and indented are mostly expositions and asides.

I know the tutorial starts slowly. I wanted to do everything in a simple order but that means there is a lot of preparation before you actually get to paint anything.

At the start it may seem that the tutorial is all about learning the software rather than learning about painting. That's because the tutorial helps us use the software, so the software can help us learn to paint.

Currently all the hotkeys are shown for a mac. Generally for Windows substitute CONTROL^ for COMMAND⌘

Other differences will be displayed in the text.

One standard MacOS behaviour that I have never liked is the automatic saves on exit or when opening a new file. If you want to be able to play to your hearts content and then quit the program without saving anything then toggle the auto saves off from the menu:

If this is your second time through the tutorial consider clearing any preferences which got set on your first pass so everything is the back to how it was at installation.

Equipment and materials

First muster all the necessary paraphernalia.

Choosing a subject image

Select a subject image.

Simple photographs

To start with choose a simple image where the interest is in the subject itself rather than intricate details or clever rendering.

Staging photographs

How do we make a painting from a photo look less like a photo and more like a painting? If we are taking a photo specifically to use for a painting then we should stage the scene as if we were going to paint it from life.

Favour images with interesting lighting

Good art is mostly about good light.

Shared images

People asking for trouble

If we can't find a suitable image of our own then there are always people asking for trouble on:

  • Paint My Photo
    Paint My Photo (PMP) is a social networking site dedicated to sharing photos for artistic inspiration without fear of infringing copyright.
  • r/RedditGetsDrawn
    We are a community for redditors who want to get drawn and redditors who want to draw them! Post a photo of yourself or a loved one, and we'll draw you!
  • r/RedditGetsDrawnBadly
    RGDB is a subreddit for people who just want to draw and get drawn, regardless of skill level! We've evolved past our name: good drawings are ok, average drawings are okay, bad drawings are okay. We have no standards, upwards or downwards. Just have fun!
  • r/DrawMe
    Draw and be drawn by cool people.
  • r/DrawMeNSFW NSFW
    A place where you can get your NSFW pics drawn or your SFW pics turned NSFW by an artist!
  • Croquis Cafe NSFW
    Free art models for drawing. Videos and Still Photos of Female and Male Models.

Prepare the subject image

It can be easier to experiment with changes to the look of a subject image in a photo editing application than during painting. Subject image editing.

Choosing and preparing a surface

a prepared surface

Select a painting surface (aka supports or substrates).

Select an appropriate size.

If the surface isn't sealed or the texture is too rough or too shiny then consider adding a coat or two of gesso. Pronounced: jesso

Consider toning the canvas.

Imprimatura - Katherine Griffin's blog

Imprimatura is an initial stain of color painted on a ground. The term literally means "first paint layer".

Choose a colour that will suit the painting. Some artists like a hue that matches the painting so it's easy to cover. Some like a contrasting hue so it's easy to see the bit's they haven't done yet.

Always stand wet canvases vertically so they do not collect any dust.

The application

Installation and launch

TODO update image


Mac users should download and open the ArtistsHelper.dmg archive and drag the .app file to their Applications folder. (A symbolic link icon is provided in the .dmg ). (Actually you can drag it anywhere you want and it should still work).


Windows users should download and open the ArtistsHelper.msi file and do whatever it is that Windows users do with .msi files.


Users of Linux or similar proper operating systems should check they have Java installed ( How do I install Java? ). Copy the and jar file somewhere convenient and launch it directly from there.

I very much doubt anything useful is written under *NIX troubleshooting.

Exploring the UI

The application has:

  • a menu at the top
  • the main work area on the left
  • the tools tabs on the right - initially showing the Space 1 tab containing the colour space widget
  • a toolbar at the bottom

The main work area

The main work area is where the virtual canvas is displayed. It consists of several layers each of which shows a different aspect of the project.

Layers Listed here for completeness, no need to worry about them now

  • oriGinal - the original subject image
  • Subject - the subject with filters applied
  • sKetch - a sketch generated from the filtered subject
  • Paints - a paints image generated with our virtual palette
  • Outlines - outlines of the areas of paint
  • seLections - a layer showing the currently selected paints (and more)
  • Canvas - for a photo of our work-in-progress
  • comparison X - a layer showing a comparison of two other layers
  • copY - a layer to hold an image of the work area captured with C

Each later can be shown individually with the toggle buttons at the bottom right. When All layers are being shown their ordering and transparency is controlled by the Layers 3 tool tab. Explained later.

Pan the display by dragging with the mouse or touch-pad.

Zoom in and out using the mouse scroll wheel or the slider control at the top right.

We can also zoom with the slider control in the top right corner or with these hotkeys:

zoom out
zoom in
reset the pan and zoom
zoom to the canvas' physical size. This allows us to see the image on the monitor the same size as it will be in the canvas.

The colour space widget

This control is where the colour information will be displayed. Pan and zoom it in the same ways as the work area. Tilt and rotate it by holding down while dragging the mouse or with the slider controls at the top right.

Various different colour spaces can be displayed.

I'm going to delay further exploration until we have loaded a subject image and added a few colours to our palette. This is because many of the commands won't yet be enabled and many of the layers in the work area will be blank.

Create a new project

When the application is first launched it will already have a default project open.

The default physical canvas dimensions are 16x12 inches. If that's not the size of our chosen physical canvas we can either resize it:

or create a whole new project:

physical canvas dimensions dialog

Either way we'll be asked for physical canvas dimensions.

Fill in the dimensions and accept them.

Load the subject image

Load the subject image with

or by dragging and dropping it onto the work area.

Subject rotation

If we have taken a photo with the camera on its side it may need to be rotated.

Filter the subject image

subject filters menu

The Artist's Helper makes no claims to be a digital image editor. The bulk of the subject image preparation should be done in a dedicated application such as PhotoShop or GIMP. However, for the sake of convenience there are a few filters available which can be applied to the subject.

These are all detailed on the filters page.

Compose the layout

When the subject image is first loaded it's plonked in the top left hand corner at the maximum zoom to stay within the virtual canvas.

subject composition, a bear at Hetch Hetchy
Original DSC00851

To better position the subject on the canvas hold down the key and drag or scale.

Notes on composition.

For all mouse dragging operations we can use the selection box in the footer to specify the mode rather than holding the appropriate modifier key.

Lock the layout

Once we are happy with the layout, we should lock it. This will prevent us moving the subject by accident when we're panning and zooming or selecting colours.

When the layout is locked the subject image is clipped to the virtual canvas rectangle. The image alignment markers become hidden (unless they've been toggled on in the menus). Any menu items and commands that can alter the layout are disabled and the behaviours of context sensitive operations, such image file drop, may be altered.

The relative positions of images and markers are locked but we can still pan and zoom the whole work area view.

Save the project

Now is a good time to save the project with an appropriate, memorable or amusing name.

Close and reopen the application.