Thursday, 24 November 2016

Xara Xtreme and Me
I'm so pleased to have been given the opportunity to share my anime artwork in this month's issue of Xara Outsider! It's surreal to see my alias coupled with the headline "Inspirational Art" - I feel unworthy, but am very grateful.

At the risk of sounding like I've landed some national award, I'd like to thank Kate for noticing my work and being generous with her time. All she needed was permission to use my art, but she made me feel valued and included even though I'm an unknown artist.

Having mixed in social media circles as a digital artist for so long, it's a shame I haven't naturally encountered fellow Xara users. The Xara community seems small and confined to the Talk Graphics forum, which can be found through the Xara website. What better time than this to shout about Xara Group and why I remain a loyal user?

The latest version of the illustration software I use is Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 365 (and it's Black Friday, so you get 30% off if you order before Cyber Monday ends!).

Believe it or not, I'm still clinging to a 10-year-old version called Xara Xtreme 2.0f... A couple of years ago, Xara offered a free download of Xara Xtreme 5 to prise people off the old version (that's right - it was FREE. Who does that?!), but apart from minor features, I didn't think it was all that different... so I casually fell back on my ancient kit!

Admittedly, I can do without the bugs that come with such an early version, but they're easy to live with and the software itself still meets my artistic demands. It's a testament to how powerful this affordable program is.

As a hobbyist who was still in full-time study, Xara Xtreme had what I was looking for. It was quick and easy to download a free trial and I was excited by what it could do, even if I didn't have the skills (or patience) to recreate the glorious 3D art or realist paintings seen in the Xara Gallery.

The other advantage was that I didn't need to buy a graphics tablet. Xara Xtreme operates in vector and allows you to complete an illustration using just a computer mouse.

Growing up, I was influenced by my favourite cartoons and anime. My first instinct was to try and capture what I saw on TV as precisely as I could, so cel-shading was all I wanted to do. I like clean, crisp lines and I like vivid, block colours. They look tidy (I was a particularly tidy child).

In school, I learnt I had no artistic instinct when it came to painting. It felt so messy and random. Even now, when I get inspired by digital artists who know how to use a digital paintbrush, I can't enjoy the painting process, because I'm too fussy when it comes to finer details.

Vector drawing also gives me freedom to change my mind whenever and however many times I want. I'm dreadfully indecisive (painting in Photoshop would involve much manual erasing, colour replacement and wondering why a character's arm/eyes/legs still look funny no matter how many times I redraw it). With vector, I can grab a piece of my existing drawing and resize, rotate, drag and tweak it until I'm happy. I also love how you can zoom in 25,000% and not lose any quality on screen.
Having seen such beautiful pieces of art that were painted digitally, it has at times been difficult to stay satisfied with my block colours. Whilst I can never hope to paint like a pro, I've turned to bitmap textures as an alternative. Xara Xtreme came with an extensive gallery of bitmap textures, which can be used to "fill" any shape you draw. Since launching myself as a freelance artist, I've handmade my own textures using crumpled paper, ink, paint and chalk. I've scanned them into the computer and imported them as bitmap fills in Xara.

Browsing through the Xara Gallery, I'm still amazed at the potential that my good-old Xara Xtreme has. There are many free online tutorials that have enabled me to create awesome effects and complex shapes with ease. It's a bonus that the people behind Xara are openly supportive of the artists who use their software. I can't recommend it enough.

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