A Short Demo of Emergence

This is a quick demo highlighting the utility of Emergence brushes to quickly sketch diverse textural content.

It’s All About the Grain

Emergence paper grains can exhibit a three dimensional photo-like quality depending on the current grain’s contrast settings.

The chart below provides a sample brushstroke for each of the 35 Emergence seed grains, highlighting the resulting dynamic grained stroke. 2 versions of the chart are provided: black-on-white and it’s inverse. A grain has very different quality depending on its polarity: whether it is positive or negative. This duality is expressed depending whether the artwork is painted on a light or dark background. Taking this duality into consideration, there are actually 70 seed grains!

The image below has been scaled down, resulting in a loss of quality. You can download the full resolution here.

An Early Influence Reverberates Today

In the 60’s I was fascinated with NASA’s space program. I enthusiastically scrutinized any articles or images associated with space. By the early 70’s NASA directed some of their imaging system towards earth itself. One such program was the Earth Resources Technology Satellite, later renamed LANDSAT. 

When I first saw a LANDSAT image, I thought I was looking at an abstract painting. It was only when I read the caption that I realized this was the surface of the earth as viewed from 438 miles up.

Brandberg Massif, Namibia • LANDSAT image

The raw beauty of the color and texture impacted me on a very deep level. In many cases, this macroscopic view of earth was surprisingly similar to the close-up view we observe from a few feet off the ground…the earth is a fractal. 

In 1976 as part of the Bicentennial, NASA published Mission to Earth: LANDSAT Views the World. I immediately ordered a copy from the government printing office. It was $14 well spent. 


The multiple levels of self-similarity influenced me greatly in my evolving paintings. I began to utilize a visual vocabulary borrowed from the LANDSAT imagery.

View from on High • Acrylic, 1977

When my career in digital paint software development began in 1985, I had the ability to digitally convert my photographs to the computer for further interpretation and enhancement. I did a series of images that combined photos of graphic elements found on the ground, which I called MANSAT—LANDSAT style images of the ground from human height. 

MANSAT #3 • Digital Painting, 1986

To this day, I still photograph details of textures found in nature…I have thousands of them! It is this unrelenting fascination with the fractal quality of our natural surroundings that I now realize is yet another puzzle piece that has led me to my latest project, the Emergence brush system for Corel Painter.


If you’d like to see a great set of examples of LANDSAT imagery, check out the NASA publication, Earth as Art. It is available as a free PDF file here.

Emergence is Coming!

The Emergence brush system for Painter is coming soon…it will be released in February.

The above image highlights the emergent textures that Emergence creates. The 3 strokes were created using individual paper grains to generate the resulting textural content. The texture never repeats, although it will always have a similar expressive character based on the seed grain.

I will be posting additional details in the coming weeks.

Stay Tuned!

A 25 Year Quest is Rewarded


Sometimes an idea doesn’t come in a flash. In this case it took years. It can happen to you, too. You just have to be patient.

25 years ago in 1994, I was one of the primary authors of Painter (now owned by Corel) along with Mark Zimmer and Tom Hedges. We were finishing up development of Painter 3. Mark and I were responsible for new features and this edition was packed with them: Animation, a basic layering system that predated Photoshop, the Image Hose, canvas rotation, the now ubiquitous triangle-in-a-circle color palette, bristle brushes, a seamless pattern maker, and others I can’t remember.

Mark had written a new brush type, the Drip method, that has a unique quality. Brushes that use the Drip method can both apply and smear underlying paint within the same stroke. This ability enabled crafting some interesting brushes. One of my regular tasks was to create new content for the shipping Brush Library. Included brushes that utilized the Drip method included Big Wet Kiss, Flemish Rub, and the Sargent brushes, among others. Big Wet and Flemish have long since faded away, but the Sargent brush became a popular user favorite. 

The Sargent marches on

While creating these brushes, I took note of an odd artifact that appeared whenever the Drip method utilized a Paper Grain. These textural grains emulate the surface of a physical medium like canvas or paper. It is one of the features that allow Painter to realistically mimic traditional natural media. 

Whenever grain was enabled, the Sargent brush produced striations in the applied strokes due to the interaction of the stroke with the paper grain. The result wasn’t entirely undesirable, but it didn’t respect paper grain the way other texture-bearing brushes did. I knew there was something to this behavior and tucked it away for future reference.

The Sargent is restricted to base

Another limitation to become problematic in future Painter releases was that brushes utilizing the Drip method did not work on layers. This was no problem at the time of release as full-blown layers did not yet exist when Painter 3 was developed. In future releases, however, this limitation severely hobbled usage of Drip method-based brushes. Users came up with workarounds, but the best way to take advantage of the Sargent brush was to restrict painting to the canvas.

The Sargent finally gets a Promotion

After 20+ years of being confined to base, Corel updated the Drip method to layer-aware status with the release of Painter 2018. This now enabled the Sargent brush to work on layers. I had always kept the Sargent’s odd grain interaction in the back of my mind and it was now time to revisit this unique behavior. 

The Sargent learns to Dance

Another new feature of Painter 2018 was random grain rotation and position. A single paper grain could now exhibit a greater range of textural possibilities. This could add yet another dimension to the Sargent brush’s unique grain interaction.

So how does all this Painter arcana fit together? 

Ever since I noticed the Sargent brush’s odd behavior back in 1994, I had a strong intuition that this could be a powerful technique for creating complex brushstrokes. What I didn’t know then was that other key parts of the puzzle had not yet been realized. Once Painter 2018 arrived, the additional puzzle pieces had arrived.

Created with Emergence

Having seen that initial glimpse 25 years earlier provided me with the insight to combine the new puzzle pieces into a complete realization resulting in my Emergence brush system. By utilizing specially developed paper grains (another puzzle piece), Emergence brushes never repeat a patterned textural element within a stroke, which is consistent with real-world analog brushstrokes. The culmination is a rich textural painting environment, a quest on I have been  for over 2 decades.

Sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks.

A Preview of My Upcoming Painter Brushes

Click image to enlarge

One of the primary features of my upcoming Painter brushes is that they produce emergent brushstrokes. What does this mean? As strokes are painted, each produces a unique textural variation. The result is that no two strokes will ever be exactly alike.

Consider the textural complexity observed throughout the surface of a snowy mountainside. Many local features will appear related, yet no two features will be identical. It is the nature of self-similar features viewed at different scales that create the richness of detail observed in every part of the scene. Textural complexity such as this engages our visual senses and creates interest.

I created the above image with my new emergent brushes. The resulting painting rivals the complexity typically associated with a photograph. This is merely one application of the brushes. They are capable of a much wider range of expression. I will be posting more examples of these brushes in action as I prepare them for release.

Note: I used a mountainscape I found on the web as my reference. This is not cloned; it was created from scratch.

Color Wheel Keeps on Turnin'


As a color selection tool, a hue ring with an enclosed saturation/value triangle (or square) is found in nearly all graphic software apps these days. Where did this design originate? I confess…it was I and it originated in Painter.

Mark Zimmer, the mind behind Painter, implemented Painter 1.0’s original color palette.

Painter 1.0

Painter 1.0

 Mark utilized a linear spectrum gradient and sliding widget to select the desired hue. This action updated a saturation/value triangle with the chosen hue. A second widget internal to the triangle was then positioned to select the desired color within the triangle. This design was used through Painter 2.0.

 By the time we started working on Painter 3.0, the interface was getting very crowded with new palettes, a reflection of the many new tools we had introduced since Painter 1.0. This provided the opportunity to re-think the color palette, which I was responsible for. 

 It had always nagged me that the linear hue selector misrepresented the continuous nature of color. The blue hues at either end of the gradient were actually direct neighbors. I realized that this discontinuity would be corrected if the linear gradient were portrayed as a circle, much like traditional color wheels. Design-wise, it made perfect sense to enclose the saturation/value triangle within the hue ring. And so, the triangle-in-a-circle color palette design debuted in Painter 3.0.

PAinter 3.0 (left), Painter 2019 (right)

PAinter 3.0 (left), Painter 2019 (right)

Painter’s color palette has had several minor updates over the years, but the basic design remains. In the interim, this design has flourished and been duplicated by many graphics apps. It’s been personally gratifying to see my design find wide usage throughout the software art community.

You can learn all about the history of the traditional color wheel here.

Now...Where was I?

It has been a Good Long While that my website and this blog have been off the radar. I had a Flash-based site for several years. Flash, however, has been dying a long death for as long. I began planning on a replacement and just sunk into the quicksand of website creation. I eventually settled on Squarespace as a platform and have been in a kind of website purgatory for what seems like forever.

I have had plans —forever!— to combine the former pixlart Flash site and Google Blogger PixlBlog page to centralize everything, including an art gallery and digital brush sales. But the PixlBlog is a priority and needs to get back into circulation. So here it is. The rest will be forthcoming (I’ve actually got those sections well underway and will endeavor to get them live ASAP.).

What you’ll currently find here is a curated group of earlier posts from the old blog, as well as a couple of articles I wrote initially on linkedin. Speaking of which…I continue to write courses for Linkedin Learning (mirrored at lynda.com). My latest is Painter 2019 Essential Training. I have also been working on a long-term expressive Painter brushes project that will be seeing the light of day soon (before the end of the year).

Consider this site in the beta stage with more to follow. Please bear with me as I get up to speed with Squarespace.I hope you’ll check in regularly to watch this website expand to its full scale. I will be posting here regularly going forward…I promise!


Artists, we're living in the Future


Using your fingers or stylus to interact with a mobile phone is pretty universal these days. But it wasn't always so. The digitizing table originated in the early '70s as an analog-to-digital interface for traditionally hand drawn pen & ink engineering drawings. A draftsman would register a completed drawing on a large-format digitizing table, then use a wired puck or stylus to digitize the crucial data points representing the drawing and transfer this data to a computer.


A smaller version —the digitizing tablet— was appropriated and used in concert with early commercial paint and draw applications. Until we arrived at the current drawing on glass era, the digital artist has been required to learn an eye/hand coordination trick in which drawing is done on the tablet surface while watching the resulting strokes appear on the display. I've been working this way for over 30 years and I'm completely comfortable with it. But, for many artists new to expressive digital mark-making tools, this paint-in-one-place-see-it-somewhere-else approach is disorienting.

John Tokyo.2png

By the late 90's, tablets had acquired the ability to sense all six degrees of motion (X, Y, Pressure, Tilt. Bearing, and Barrel Rotation). With this data, the artist's full gestural motion was now capable of being translated into expressive strokes by savvy software apps. However, the bugaboo of look here, draw there remained. This changed in 1998 when Wacom introduced the PL-300 LCD Pen Tablet.


The PL-300 used an outboard power supply and required an external computer (Win or Mac). While this technology realized the dream of direct stylus interaction with the screen, specification-wise the PL-300 suffered from low resolution (1024 X 768), poor color accuracy (typical for LCD displays of the era), tricky setup, as well as sluggish performance. It would take Wacom several product generations to eliminate these early impediments.

Apple in 2007 debuted the iOS-based iPhone, heralding the dawn of the multi-touch finger-sensitive touchscreen interface that is today ubiquitous on multiple platforms. Following the success of the iPhone, the iPad arrived in 2010 sporting a larger form factor. Both the iPhone and iPad utilize capacitive display technology which enables direct interaction using your fingers. Unfortunately, this technology is not well-suited to precise expressive mark-making. As a result, several 3rd-party stylus solutions solved this limitation by leveraging Bluetooth as a means of sending pressure-sensitive data to the iPad. Due to the capacitive display, however, these styluses suffer from large tips that hinder precision.

Apple addressed this in 2015 with the iPad Pro and its integrated Pencil stylus. Improvements in display, processor, and stylus sensing technologies provide the iPad Pro with an elegant expressive gestural mark-making solution, albeit within the iOS ecosystem.


The iPad Pro's dependence on iOS limits the artist's choice of expressive draw and paint applications. While there are several good iOS-based apps that take advantage of the Pencil's gestural savvy, users wanting to use industry-standard pro tools like Photoshop and Painter are out of luck. Cue the rise of the pen tablet...

Microsoft's Win10 pen tablet —the Surface Pro— comes to the rescue. The Surface Pro (originally released in 2012, now in its 3rd generation) has pressure-sensitivity built in. Win10 enables full versions of design and gesture-heavy applications like Photoshop and Painter to run. Other hardware vendors are starting to adopt this form factor, now including Wacom.


The recently released Wacom MobileStudio Pro takes the Win10 hybrid and outfits it with specific proprietary Wacom features: surface controls (Touch Ring, ExpressKeys), zero parallax surface, 8192-level pressure stylus (Pro Pen 2), as well as fast processors, GPU, 4K display, and cameras capable of 2D and 3D capture. And all in a 4.5 lb. package (MSP 16). 

With all of this miniaturization and increased processor power we have commenced the era of the truly portable digital paint/render/photo-retouch studio. Just a few years ago, this was science fiction.

Artists, we're living in the Future.

A Glimpse into the FUTURE of Digital Painting

One of the hallmarks of traditional painting is its physical presence. As viewers, we tend to pay the bulk of our attention to a painting’s pictorial content. On a more subconscious level, we are aware of the painting’s matière —the three-dimensional texture and impasto buildup of painted brush strokes. When a painting is photographed, this physical presence is at best implied by the manner in which the painting is lit. For example, the use of directional side-lighting emphasizes the painting’s surface via highlights and shadows.

Digital painting in virtual 3D (also referred to as two-and-a-half dimensions, or 2.5D) has been around for awhile. This visual effect is achieved by borrowing some tricks from the 3D rendering side of the tracks. The use of a height field —an extra grayscale channel in an image that uses gray values to represent a brush stroke’s height— is illuminated with a user-adjustable virtual lighting model, creating a 3D visual illusion. Brush color is simultaneously applied in concert with the height field. The result is a painted image that appears to have the three-dimensionality associated with a traditional painting.


Recently, an intersection of technologies has emerged that enables stunningly accurate 3D reproductions of traditionally painted artworks. Verus Art of Norcross, GA utilizes advanced laser imaging and Océ Arizona UV flatbed printer elevated printing technology to create high quality reproductions of famous paintings. Elevated printing utilizes a series of layered representations of a 3-dimensional scan —in this case, an oil painting— and builds up height via multiple layers of ink.


Verus’ initial project is a collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada. The collection includes several works from textural masters Van Gogh and Monet, as well as other European luminaries such as Degas, Gauguin, and Cézanne. Verus was allowed to scan several paintings the NGC collection. The resulting reproductions are done as limited editions and are priced in the $2,500-5,000 range (example below of Verus' 3D printing).


Allow me to add up what I’ve discussed thus far: the 2.5D digital paintings we today create onscreen will soon be capable of being 3D printed to reveal the thick impasto buildup depicted on the display. The key missing component currently preventing this is the ability to output a 2.5D digital painting in a format that a specialized 3D printer understands. Once a compatible file format is in place and a 3D printing service offers prints from user files, impasto style 2.5D digital paintings will be capable of being recast in the real 3D world.

I'm not suggesting that traditional oil painting is now irrelevant. But consider this: we tend to be comfortable with what we know. Change can be disruptive. Take a look at the invention of the automobile. The public initially dubbed autos a horseless carriage for the sake of familiarity. Another example is Greek temple architecture, whose original construction material was wood. As stone replaced wood building materials, the shapes of elements —columns and entablature, for example— remained the same.

In these and innumerable other cases, new materials have resulted in new forms. While it may be initially entertaining to recast an oil painting into a new medium, in the long term these mimicked forms will evolve beyond the limits of the older medium it imitates.

Advances in nanoscale science and engineering are already producing new classes of coloring materials that will eventually make their way into commercially available art materials, including paint and inkjet inks. These new colorants utilize structural coloration rather than dyes or pigments. The perceived color doesn’t arise from pigmentation, but from the light scattering off nanoscale structures embedded in its wings.


Structural color is the production of color by microscopically structured surfaces fine enough to interfere with visible light. For example, the brilliant iridescent colors of the peacock's tail feathers are created by structural coloration. Because the produced color is light, it is both brighter and more saturated than pigmented color.

These glimpses into evolving new media offer us a peek at the kinds of expressive tools our children and their children will have at their creative disposal. Were we to travel, say, 50 years into the future —I've no doubt that we may not initially recognize what expressive painted art has evolved into.


Ominous Clouds before the Storm

Sunday, May 11th (Mother's Day), the Kansas/Nebraska/Iowa section of the Great Plains experienced a strong outbreak of tornado-producing thunderstorms. We didn't get any tornadoes here in Omaha, but we did get an impressive display of mammatocumulus clouds.

These cloud formations are often associated with the leading edge of supercell thunderstorms and are a good indicator of an impending storm. I've seen these prior to tornadoes, as well. Fortunately, the Omaha weather event did not spin up any twisters in the immediate area. However, the area did receive quite a bit of wind damage. We lost a big tree limb but otherwise escaped unscathed.

New Painting App Sketchable: All in the Family

There is a new Win-based painting app on the block, Sketchable by Silicon Benders, now available at the Windows Store. Description from the download page:

Sketchable provides the best creative digital journaling experience on the market. Whether you import an image, snap a photo, or start from a blank canvas, Sketchable puts the creative options in your hands. No matter the context, Sketchable is the perfect app to breathe life into your ideas. The elegant interface is designed to get the most out of each device and fast fluid brushes allow for an uninterrupted workflow.

Sketchable is tablet-friendy and pairs nicely with the Wacom-enabled Surface Pro. The app is a free download with and comes with brush and eraser tools. In-app purchases offer 7 additional painting tools. I'm happy to say that I had a bit of involvement with this new app; I created its textures and brush presets.

Silicon Benders is the brother team of Miles & Ryan Harris. Painting apps appear to run in the brothers' genes: their dad is Jerry Harris, co-author (with Keith McGregor) of early Mac paint app PixelPaint Pro, the first full-color paint application for the Macintosh. Jerry is now a Principal Computer Scientist on the Adobe Photoshop team.

Sketchable is designed to be easy to pick up and start using with a minimal learning curve. It is a particularly pressure-sensitive savvy app offering a wide range of expressibility in concert with its tools. Sketchable has a simple interface with plenty of room for expansion. I have a feeling we'll be seeing this app grow over time. Highly Recommended!

Waterlogue App Advances Digital Watercolor Ease-of-Creation

My friend, John Balestrieri, has released Waterlogue for iOS Waterlogue is compatible with both the iPhone and iPad running iOS 7. From the press release:

We wanted to come up with an easy and fast way for people to create images based on the kinds of aesthetic decisions an artist makes when he or she is painting.

The technology we developed for Waterlogue transforms your photos into spontaneous, unique, and brilliant watercolor sketches that look like real paintings. Waterlogue distills your environment down to its essence—just the way an artist would—and turns even an on-the-fly snapshot into something luminous and sublime.

We designed Waterlogue to create the most authentic and aesthetically true watercolor interpretations available, and we hope that as soon as you start using the app, you’ll start seeing the world differently.

I've been playing with Waterlogue for a few days, and I have to say: This app advances the ability to easily create convincing watercolor art from photographs. John and Robert spent a year examining traditional watercolor and have created a deceptively simple app that faithfully replicates all of the hallmarks of its traditional counterpart.

At $3.99 from the App Store on iTunes, this software is a steal. John and Robert have indicated that Waterlogue will continue to evolve with additional features to be added over time. Highly Recommended!

Between Flights

This is an iPhone image that I shot and played with in between flights at Denver International Airport. I shot the jet at the gate through a window reflecting the interior of the restaurant. I don't remember which apps I used to get to this version, but I like the way the dual reflective subjects integrate together.

For regular air travelers, this is the Cantina in the United terminal.

A Recent Photographic Interpretation

This is a recent portrait interpretation job I did for Mercer Harris Photography. Mercer is a real master of lighting, making it a joy to work on his portraits. I just love the pose he captured of this girl.

I have a course on lynda.com, Digital Painting: Transforming a Portrait, that goes into all of the details of how I approach and interpret a portrait photograph. When the subject and photographic quality is as good as Mercer's output, it makes the interpretation easy.

Everything Old is New Again

I've been going through some of my older photography. I shot this photo of a Buddhist monk in Tokyo during the mid-90's on film and had the roll converted to Kodak's PhotoCD format. Because I was unhappy with the overall quality, these images have languished for years. Now flash forward to the present. Photoshop CC has so many excellent dynamic range recovery capabilities now that I am able to extract much more contrast and detail out of these images than in the past.

I used Jixipix's excellent Aquarelle app to transform the photo into a watercolor appearance. I used some John's Watercolors brushes to distress the edges, as well as lighten some of the image itself.

Windy City Perspective

I've been playing around with Painter X3's new Perspective Guides, which can be used to snap brush strokes to the lines of perspective. In this image, I started with a shot I took of Chicago from the top of the Hancock Center. I aligned a 3-point perspective grid to match the photo, then drew in the building shapes. The original photo is a daytime scene; I used a new color palette to change the cityscape to a nighttime scene.