A friend of mine – a clever 17-year-old who makes Flash animations, hacks his friends' phones for them and problem-solves his family's computers is a member of a 'tablet' club; a group that meets online to share drawings and animations in a forum-style international community.

Apparently, this is not uncommon. There was a story in 2008 on the front page article in the Los Angeles Times. 'Subway Sketchers Create an Online Community' featured NYC artist, Ed Velandria. It documented his use of the paint and drawing software, ArtRage.

Once upon a time, if you were bored and had to ride the subway every day, you might find yourself surreptitiously delving into a bag or pocket for a permanent marker and before you know it, your transport is a moving canvas. That may be a thing of the past – in some quarters, anyway.

Velandria uses the time he spends on daily subway rides to sketch portraits of other subway riders on his laptop computer using ArtRage with a digital drawing tablet.

The software allows anyone to easily paint and draw realistically. Users can use artistic tools in 'virtual replicas' of oils, pencils, crayons, airbrush, chalk and markers.

Now, before you have conniptions, you have to put this in context. Conniptions are for those arty sorts who believe oils, pencils and crayons should be real oils, crayons and pencils. True, and sure, those things are great, but to reproduce the products of these analogue artistic efforts you need to scan the work, as large as it may be, into a computer for it to enter the publishing chain.

If you can get a similar result directly into a computer, you not only avoid this step, you also avoid any loss in detail you may be inviting.

I know this because I used to work in pre-press. Retaining the detail on artwork while avoiding damage during the scanning process (and before that, on a lithographic camera) was a major pain in the proverbial, analogue, erm … you know what. I'll never forget that day I sneezed on a large, airbrushed commercial...

In ArtRage there are choices of canvas size, paper grains, stencils and layers, too. You can noodle with a mouse but you're really set free with a pen and tablet – and if you go wrong, you can undo, unlike with that replica Goldie oil painting you're working on in the shed.

Velandria told the LA Times he loves the simplicity of ArtRage and how it allows him to capture the essence of his subjects quickly.
Apart from layers, blending, being able to replicate palette knives and 'smear' stuff and more, ArtRage has Stencils and photo-realistic 'stickers'.

It exports in the formats SCI Image, Windows BMP, JPEG, PNG, MacPaint, Tiff, Truevision TGA, JPEG 2000, QuickTime image and Photoshop. You can import image files, make a new layer and paint over the top of them.

It's a little non-Mac to work in, but this impression only last a few minutes. As soon as you realise that holding down different keys (on a Mac, Control, Command, Shift and Option) while you work gives all sorts of options, it makes everything a breeze and you'll master it in no time.

For example, hold down shift and drag ons-screen and your brush grows bigger. (Now if only I could actually draw!)

There are two versions – ArtRage Studio is for artists who want to work with the wider range of tools Studio and Studio Pro offer but do not want the filtering and detailed editing options Studio Pro provides.

ArtRage Studio Pro is for artists who want to be able to manipulate their images without leaving ArtRage, or work with stickers that can be edited after spraying. It has inbuilt colour adjustment and blur, and supports Photoshop Filters.

The prices are in US dollars – just $40 and $80 respectively, or about NZ$58 and $116. Try the 30-day demos if you are interested.

"So what?" You slur into your latté. ArtRage is by Ambient Design. It's an Auckland company, right down here in lil young New Zealand, run by a Waikato farm boy and a Britisher.

Matt Fox-Wilson and Kiwi Andy Bearsley wrote a 3D painting application called '4D Paint' (which was later rebranded as Deep Paint 3D) for the New Zealand company Right Hemisphere about 15 years ago.

Fox-Wilson and Bearsley managed to show it to some of representatives of MetaCreation at a Siggraph show in Los Angeles. They were so impressed (or rather, recounts Andy Bearsley, "they were so worried that it was better than Painter 3D!") the duo was offered a job with Meta.

They went on to write the very cool (I remember it well) Kai's Power Tools (in versions 5, 6 and KPT Effects). These popular pro plug-ins for Photoshop were written for MetaCreations, then Corel, and then the pair set out on their own.

Fox-Wilson and Bearsley founded Ambient Design Ltd, then developed the flagship product ArtRage for Windows and MacOS X. ArtRage won the Microsoft 'Does your app think in Ink' award in 2004.

You see, ArtRage runs on Macs and Windows' PCs. The same version. This sounds like the sort of thing that would shake up the computing world, doesn't it? I had to know more …

Bearsley: "We developed our own cross-platform toolkit, called 'Goblin'. It has all the platform-specific code for the UI, fileIO, ImageIO, text rendering, window handling and the like. Then we build our application on top of that.

"ArtRage is entirely platform independent – the same code-base compiles on Windows (with DevStudio) or MacOSX (with XCode). So for the most part we really don't see any difference."

Now, is it just me or is this a Goblin that should be unleashed on the world?

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com