Children Get a New Artistic Palette in Just a Click or Two

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

For most children, drawing is one of the earliest and most natural forms of self-expression, and it's available to anyone with a crayon, a piece of paper and a little imagination. For the computer-literate child, however, there also are number of creative software programs that can significantly expand the artistic palette. In addition, the computer's ability to make things look polished and professional well beyond the physical capabilities of most adults, let alone children, can give kids without innate artistic abilities a satisfying creative experience.

For pure artistic creativity that takes up where the basic hand-held supplies leave off, Brderbund's Kid Pix Studio is the undisputed classic. Though it's marketed for children ages 3 to 12, Kid Pix is a blast for kids of all ages (parents may find themselves begging for a turn). Kid Pix offers traditional tools - a pencil, a paintbrush, stamps, erasers, a huge palette of colors - as well as some decidedly nontraditional variations that make painting and drawing on the computer an adventurous visual feast.

Users can paint with a beautiful, often zany array of patterns and create backdrops that change with the push of a button. They can experiment with a wide variety of the visual elements that make up the building blocks of design, such as lines and geometric shapes, transforming the whole with tools that change the patterns a step at a time.

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A personal favorite, the electric mixer, fragments images into visually arresting kaleidoscopic patterns.

With the auxiliary multimedia programs, such as Stampimator and Moopies, designs can be animated, combined with music, and linked into a slide show or 30-second presentations.

Though no other programs come close to "Kid Pix" in scope, some offer features that are good complements.

SkidDoodle (kidBoard) is a fabulous new program that is especially attractive for younger kids. It features nearly a full-page, work-and-print area ("Kid Pix's" biggest drawback is that it only prints within a 7.5" x 5" frame) and has gorgeous backdrops. Though the stamp sets are relatively limited, each can be enlarged or reduced.

"SkidDoodle" also can be used to touch up photographs, magazine clippings, and graphics. Microsoft's Fine Artist has features kids ages 8 and up will really like. (There is a lot of reading and clicking involved, so it's not nearly as good for younger kids.)

The graphics capability for text is greater on "Fine Artist," with a special "shape" tool that can stretch and compress text into a variety of dazzling shapes. Letters themselves can be filled in with a number of colorful, often wacky patterns that make this program terrific for making signs, buttons, and party favors. Other fun features include a four-panel comic strip format and a section of drawing tips.

Art Explorer (Adobe), which contains near-professional tools and some very funky monster/alien-style stamps, is also a sophisticated program for older kids, but unfortunately only comes in a Macintosh version.

Even more sophisticated is Dabbler (MetaCreations), for both aspiring and accomplished artists, which features traditional tools (like smudging and spray painting) to execute more subtle effects. It also features step-by-step art lessons, animation features, and hundreds of stock photos.

It's a fun but rather complicated program suitable more for the serious young artist. And if your kids are really serious, you might want to invest in a graphics tablet, which allows the user to draw on a special pad with a pressure sensitive pen instead of a mouse to create images, offering far greater control.

SketchBoard (kidBoard) which includes Disney's "Magic Artist" software, is perfect for young kids. Older users may prefer kidBoard's professional level Pablo or Wacom's small, ultra-sleek PenPartner, which comes with advanced Corel software.

A clever new gizmo, the "Y-mouse Tablet and Mouse Adapter" (P.I. Engineering) allows those with only one serial port for the mouse to run both mouse and tablet off the same port at the same time, keeping both instruments active at once. A whole new visual world for your child is just a mouse-click away.

Correction

The byline on the travel story on Page 14, April 29, should have read Henry S. Hamlin.

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