Realistic drawing with MyPaint

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Old and new

The MyPaint interface for the current version 1.1 is clearly structured and clean (Figure 4) with little distraction from the canvas. Because the tools are at the top edge, you can change brushes, characteristics, and line styles quickly (Figure 5). It takes only a few parameters to make the necessary adjustments. Also, MyPaint 1.1 allows using Gimp color palettes [6], which all major distribution repositories should now include.

Figure 4: The MyPaint interface assembles the tools at the top edge. The dock at the right edge shows information and lets you select colors, brushes, and layers.
Figure 5: The important MyPaint functions are easily reachable. You select the brush tips, set their behavior, and determine how the program interprets brushstrokes.

The layer concept has a special significance in MyPaint. The program supports an unlimited number of layers to manage the parts of an image separately. These layers are managed in a dock, where you can activate single layers with a mouse click. Clicking the eye icon hides the layer but does not delete it. MyPaint's layer concept is similar to that of Gimp, albeit with only a subset of the functionality.

By default, MyPaint has no dock on the right edge, but it is created automatically once you open a window through the buttons arranged on the toolbar on the right and "unhook" it from the edge (Figure 6). In this window, you can change colors, brushes, and layers.

Figure 6: The dock contains only certain tools, which become available throughout. You position the dock by pulling it from the right edge.

The brush tips are very special features of MyPaint. The program sorts them into various groups, which you can add to through subsequent packages. These groups combine properties that go beyond the usual form (Table 1). All brush tips support Gimp's "soft drawing" mechanism, which allows you to draw fine lines without any noticeable artifacts.

Table 1

Pen Tips

Group Characteristics>
Classic These tips simulate realistic drawing instruments, such as brushes, soft and hard pencils, markers, airbrushes, calligraphy nibs, or spatulas.
Experimental Differently animated tips that change shape in rapid succession during application.
Favorites User-selected tips that are dragged and dropped from other groups.
Lost&Found Tips for precise etching, painting, blurring, and many other functions.
Set#1 Similar pens.
Set#2 Various brushes.
Set#3 Special, mostly animated tools.

New to MyPaint 1.1 are the geometry tools that you select from Line Mode (Figure 5, on the right). With Lines , you can draw individual lines; with Line Seq , you draw a sequence of lines; and with Ellipse , you can create free-hand curves. These tools let you make use of pen pressure [7], which you can accomplish with the Line Pressure setting (Figure 5, below). In this same group, you'll find the tool for symmetrical drawing.

As with version 1.0, the newest release allows the use of keyboard shortcuts (see Table 2 for a summary). Also new is the ability to quick-save interim versions of your work in what are called "scraps." You can then use F2, F6, and F7 to toggle through them.

Table 2

Keyboard Shortcuts

Key(s) Function
Ctrl+N New image
Ctrl+N Open image
Ctrl+E Export image
Ctrl+Page-up New layer over current
Ctrl+Page-down New layer under current
Ctrl+C Copy layer to clipboard
Ctrl+V Paste from clipboard
Ctrl+Left-arrow Turn stepwise left
Ctrl+Right-arrow Turn stepwise right
Ctrl+S Save image as OpenRaster
Shift+Ctrl+S Save image as
Ctrl+Q Quit
Ctrl+Z Undo
Z Undo
Y Redo
Delete Empty layer
. and + Reduce view
, and - Diminish view
F2 Save image as scrap
F3 Open last image
F5 Undo
F6 Open previous scrap as image
F7 Open next scrap as image
F11 Full screen mode
A Reduce opacity
S Increase opacity
B Select brush
D Reduce brush
F Increase brush
G Select colors
I Mirror vertically
U Mirror horizontally
J Draw connected lines
K Draw lines and curves
L Select layers (dock)
O Draw circles
P Draw freehand
R Color pipette
Shift+I Symmetrical drawing


Once you complete the somewhat cumbersome installation and configuration of the graphics tablet, working with MyPaint can be fun. With a few clicks, you can set new layers, select brushes, switch colors easily, vary the thickness of lines, and use various pens. The layers feature allows you to trace pictures or practice drawing. Overall, the performance is pretty fast and requires few resources.

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