Intense ‘crash test’ — ArtRage survives — with some tweaks

Categories art, artrage, creativity, visual facilitation

Here’s a post I recently offered to the ArtRage feedback forum

I recently stumbled into becoming a visual facilitator. It’s a field that requires real-time live capturing of people’s ideas in a meeting or seminar.

The visual facilitator basically sits in the room capturing the content of the session, interpreting it visually.

Some visual facilitators use traditional art-making tools. I use my tablet pc, with ArtRage 2.5, with a video projector hooked to my machine, displaying my stuff in-progress on the back wall of the venue.

I have now done four sessions, two of them for money. And I can tell you, it’s a pretty intense way to spend a coupla hours. Relentless. Hard hard hard work. And ArtRage is really tested to the limits.

Here are my responses to the package:

1. Freaking excellent!!!!! It works like a bomb! And I am SO happy to have discovered this package. ArtRage… you are the ultimate!

2. I see people’s jaws hanging open in amazement as they crane their necks round, watching the screen, then watching me. They LOVE what they see.

3. Because of my ability to make incredible pics using ArtRage, the work is really just flooding in. From 0 to 100 in seconds, actually. Brilliant. Thanks, ArtRage.

Here’s my working setup:

1. I’m using a pretty underpowered tablet — the Toshiba Tecra M4, with 1.73gHz single core Centrino processor, 1 gig of ram, a 60gig onboard harddrive, and a 160gig USB2 external harddrive.

2. I have ArtRage open at all times. Possibly two or even three instances of it. Cos sometimes I have to prepare a picture that will be used later in a session. And I need that open so I can flick back and forth at will.

3. I have Firefox open at all times, along with a 3G dashboard, allowing me constant mobile web access to be able to hunt for and download reference images as needed. Firefox is a memory slut. And it consumes WAY too much of my processor power for my liking. I’m thinking I’m going to have to reconsider the Firefox side of things.

4. I have Bluetooth switched on all of the time, cos my current easel means I don’t have access to the switch. I take reference pics of speakers using my cellphone, bluetooth them across, and import them into ArtRage. Another bit of memory hogging.

5. In ArtRage, I have a few high res templates set up. These have a base layer of metallic coloured paper with a custom texture. I also have two images on separate layers acting as filters. One sits just above the base layer, adding colour and tone to the canvas. The other sits right at the very top level, and stays there, adding colour and texture to the painting layers I’m doing. Both of these layers have blending turned on. A memory hog, I suspect? I need this because I’m working live. My images are projected onto the back screen, so people are seeing it as it happens. I can’t wait till the end of a pic to apply the blends and so on.

6. My images are fairly high res. Cos my clients all want to be able to print the final pics out at A0 size. Which means I’m working at 3508 x 2479. (This is a PowerPoint aspect ratio, cos I also have to save pics to memory stick for presenters to slap onto their own PowerPoint presentations.)

Now, let’s look at some of the things that I’ve observed in terms of performance:

1. ArtRage is very slow in switching from layer to layer. It’s ULTRA slow in applying blending options. If I had a more powerful machine, I would have Photoshop open all the time, and slap an image there to experiment with blending. But I can’t. So I HAVE to use ArtRage. But it takes WAYYYYYY too long. Two things that need fixing… a. I need to be able to use the down and up arrows to go through each blending option. b. I need blending to be fast. Ultra fast. As fast as Photoshop. In fact, I need ArtRage to give me the option of using Photoshop’s blending engine, instead of the built-in one. At least, that’s what I THINK I need. What I reallllllly need is speed. Tons of it.

2. Exporting to Photoshop is too slow. I would prefer to be able to allow ArtRage to give me the option of saving ALL files as Photoshop native, rather than ArtRage. This would allow me to hit save (cutting out steps in between), close ArtRage, open Photoshop, do whatever I need to do in Photoshop, close it, and immediately open ArtRage again. With no intervening steps. Those steps add minutes to any swap. I don’t HAVE those minutes in a visual facilitation scenario. It’s time pressure like I’ve never dealt with before.

3. The ‘transform layer’ tool is brilliant. But the interface isn’t friendly to this time-crushed practitioner. And it’s WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY too slow. I would so prefer the traditional Photoshop/Corel interface… the marque with arrows on the corners. And it HAS to work faster. It takes around 20 seconds for me to resize a pic. Another twenty to see a rotation. Etcetera. This is one of those areas where I wish I could flip seamlessly between ArtRage and Photoshop. Photoshop is super fast at this stuff. ArtRage is super slow.

4. There is no tool in any package I’ve worked on to date that beats the ArtRage palette knife. Having said that, the palette knife in the 2.2 version gave me way better results. The new version doesn’t offer me a tool that does the same thing. I realllllllllllly want the old tool back. It was way better for what I need. In one of the modes, it also behaves really slowly. I make a stroke, and it takes a good twenty seconds to show progress of the stroke.

5. I neeeeeeeed neeeeeeed neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed to see the full file name on screen at all times. It HAS to appear somewhere. This is something I actually can’t do without. When I’m working hard and fast, cranking out six to ten paintings in a 3.5 hour period, I HAVE to know which file I’m on. Or I risk painting over one of the sessions I’ve done. This is critical. It’s a red flag update, for me.

6. I spontaneously create multiple layers. Cos I’m capturing stuff in real time, I often paint something too big, and need to resize it later. Then capture the next thing on another layer, and resize that later. Which means that I end up with, say, six layers, that will ultimately become one layer. I would like to be able to do as in Photoshop…. select ALL SIX layers, and merge them down to one layer in one operation. The layer merge tool is ultra slow in ArtRage, and needs some attention, I feel.

7. One of my key needs for flipping between Photoshop and ArtRage is to move components around, getting the layout and design of my incredibly fast sketching into shape. ArtRage offers me no fast way of doing this. Photoshop does. But the two just don’t see eye to eye fast enough for me.

8. Please bring back the space bar for moving the canvas around. I need it. The right click is faulty in two significant ways… a. It has a significant lag on it. b. Whatever tool I’m on when I press the right button to drag is active for a split second. When I’m erasing, for instance, there will be a single LEFT click that somehow happens on the erase tool as it engages with the drag. So a hole is left in the surface I’m moving. Same happens with the magnifying tool, the roller, and the brush. This has to be fixed. Both by fixing the right click functionality. AND in bringing the space bar back as the moving tool.

9. There is a significant tool-engagement error, that reallllllly irritates. It happens like this. I’ll click, say, the magnifying glass, and start enlarging the screen. But because of the lag, the magnifying glass doesn’t engage, and it stays on the tool I was on. So, if that was a brush, I’ll end up with a streak of paint across the screen. It it was an eraser, I’ll erase a swadge across the screen. When I’m painting, and I lift the brush, putting it down often doesn’t engage the brush. It kind of seems to require TWO clicks. The first click makes it neutral. The second click engages the brush again. This didn’t happen in 2.2. It’s happened in all of the 2.5 versions so far. I really hope I’m explaining this one correctly.

Thank you, ArtRage and ArtRage-makers:

Having said all of this, I really want you to know that I LOVE ArtRage. And I’ve simply gone into clinical detail about these things cos I can. Cos I’ve tested it under seriously hardcore conditions. And if you look at my Flickr gallery of images created under these conditions, you’ll see that ArtRage shines.