PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
I was provided with a review copy of PaintWorks, a new eMagazine from Interweave, the parent company of American Artist and their corresponding website Artist Daily.

The debut issue of PaintWorks is Summer 2011 and the theme of the issue is “The Essentials of Still Life Painting”.

The eMagazine itself is an application, with a version for Mac or Windows (see the note below on compatibility). I downloaded the installer for Mac (364mb). It installs as an Adobe AIR application; I assume that users without Adobe AIR will be prompted to install that initially.

The installer can be set to open the eMagazine automatically when installation is complete. A brief introductory video drops you on the “cover” (home page?) of the issue, without a clear prompt or indication of where to go from there.

Poking around in the control/navigation bar at the top reveals a menu of contents, zoom control, help feature and forward and back arrows. (I think they are using an eMagazine package from Adobe, which has been providing them for a number of publications, and I assume any navigation issues are to be laid at the feet of Adobe, rather than being specific to PaintWorks.)

I found the eMagazine best enjoyed at full screen.

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
Following through in sequence, the structure is familiar and magazine-like, the initial page after the cover features an Editor’s Note, masthead, table of contents and link to a User’s Guide (which should have been provided on the cover page, but I’m being picky.)

The fact that it is an electronic magazine starts to become apparent with the Editor’s Note, which is a video. In it, editorial director Michael Gormley provides a brief introduction to the issue and its features, along with short clips of some of the featured artists giving their thoughts on the issue’s topic. The table of contents items are links to the sections, and a menu of them is always available as a pop-out from the left side of the interface. There is also a hidden pop-up navigation slider accessed by moving your cursor to the bottom of the interface.

The next page is an ad (clearly labeled as such in the table of contents) for American Artist’s print publication.

Next up is a 360° panorama of painter Nelson Shanks’ studio. There is an apparently unrelated section of “Tips on how to equip your own home studio” on the left, which is essentially an ad for Dick Blick artist materials. The pictures of particular brushes, paints, etc. are links. Clicking on them suddenly leaves the eMagazine, opens your web browser and takes you directly to the product pages on Blick’s online store.

I don’t so much object to the ad (though it should be labeled as such) as I do to the disconcerting jump from one application to another without warning. To me, this is simply poor interface design.

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
Next is the first actual article, and at this point the “next page/previous page” paradigm breaks down and you’re expected to scroll down to the article’s accompanying interactive features.

The first of these is a completely pointless bit of rollover text, a prime example of how most print publications don’t know how to use interactivity properly; but the second is a reasonably effective gallery of works from the article’s co-author, Sam Adoquei. The feature includes a “detail loupe” (my phrase, not theirs) in which you can move around the selected work to see small sections in more detail (image above).

The next article is a photographic essay on arranging and lighting a still life subject, with links to downloadable PDFs of the photos and an invitation to paint them and submit your paintings to them via Facebook.

The next section is another bit of pointless “interactivity”, with pop-up speech bubbles over photos, where simple captions would actually have been better; giving the feeling that the editors were struggling to make things “interactive” to justify the eMagazine format.

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
The next actual article, Draw it First, is another in which you scroll down for the article’s interactive features, in this case a nicely done step-by-step through a beautiful pencil drawing by the article’s author, Patricia Watwood. This includes the “detail loupe” feature used in the Sam Adoquei gallery (image above).

There is also a quote from another artist, Sadie Valeri (my post here), that is a link. Clicking on it again unexpectedly yanks you out of the eMagazine and into a browser, where you’re taken to an article on the Artist Daily site.

Next up is another interactive ad for one of the “Free eBooks” they’re constantly promoting with pop-ups on the Artist Daily site (they really need to get rid of those pop-ups, but I digress).

The next article, “All About Color” is another scroll-down article, thin on content and heavy on pointless rollovers.

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
Next is an article on Painting with Complementary Colors (image above), which consists of a series of short videos by painter Kristin Künc. These are instructive and well done, and provide more of a feeling of substance than some of the other articles.

Next is another interactive ad, this one for videos from C.W. Mundy. In this case, the video previews in the ad actually contain some useful information. The ad includes a link that again yanks you out of the eMagazine and into a browser where you are whisked to the Artist Daily online store.

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
Then another article in which the actual valuable information is in the form of short videos, these from artist Martha Erlebacher. Again, the videos are instructive and well done (though supplemented with another unnecessary “interactive”, with rollovers of the names of colors on her palette where simple labels would be more helpful).

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011
The magazine rounds out with a gallery of very nice still life paintings from 16 artists, most of whom I found worth following up on (including David Ligare, who I recently featured), though this is lacking the detail magnification feature found elsewhere.

The last page is an ad for the American Artist Weekend With the Masters workshop and conference in California in September, 2011.

I’ll give American Artist and Interweave credit for jumping into the uncharted waters of digital publishing, and try to keep in mind that this is their first effort, but they don’t quite have it yet.

This is a publishing medium with exciting potential, but the editors haven’t learned how to use it to advantage.

The most valuable information is in the familiar format of instructional videos, while the instructive potential of interactive features has gone essentially untapped. Instead we’re presented with an array of unnecessary rollover text and other unhelpful “interactivity”.

The format holds great promise, but they need to hire experienced interactive designers to take advantage of the medium.

Think of what could be done with an interactive color wheel that shows artists’ colors in different views for complements, value range, chroma or mixing gamut. How about step-through demos in which the final piece can be moused over to reveal underpainting steps, videos of process and original sketches as layers in a single image? What about interactive color charts in which sliders reveal tints, shades and complementary mixes?

You could have interactive demos of how different brush angles produce different paint strokes, or painting demos in which information about the color, brush type and mixing palette are available as pop-up extensions to the main image. You could use sliders to show a work with the hues removed as a study in values, or instructional videos with integrated links to still images of the work in various stages for closer study.

There are lots of possibilities that could make the eMagazine format shine for an instructional art magazine. Rollover speech bubbles aren’t among them.

They also need to restrain the urge to link out to the web without warning. If you want to constantly link to web resources, put the primary content on a website. If you’re making a separate downloaded application, make it self-contained. Even the advertising, if there is work put into it, could be instructive and entertaining, and actually feel like valuable content. (Advertisers would expect a link out to their website via the user’s web browser, just label it as such.)

The potential is there, the editors just need to learn to use this new publishing medium for its real strengths. Hopefully, future issues will take the strong aspects of this issue, abandon the weak ones and build from there.

That being said, the editors certainly do know how to select excellent artists with valuable painting knowledge to impart, even if it’s mostly in the videos at the moment, and there is a beautiful selection of still life painting on display in the issue.

PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011: The Essentials of Still Life Painting is available from the Artist Daily shop for $9.99 USD. There is a description page with a preview of the table of contents and some introductory videos.

Requirements, from Interweave: “To view this eMag, your computer needs to have these requirements: PC with Intel Core Duo or faster processor or Mac OS X v10.5 or v10.6, plus 512MB of RAM or greater available (1GB recommended). Note: Mac computers with PowerPC processors are not supported, and this version of the eMag is not compatible with the Apple iPad (but we’re working on it!).”

7 Replies to “PaintWorks eMagazine, Summer 2011”

  1. nothing specific- just have to say every once in a while that you do a great job.

  2. Nice ideas for better interactive publishing! Wouldn’t they be cool? But good luck with ’em:)

    It’s not at all that editors or interactive designers need to get better so that e-pubs and artist’s apps such as you envision can come to be. These people are currently trying to produce exactly what their bosses and accounting depts want from them: Faster and simpler to make products that leverage existing or more easily/cheaply procured content that can be assembled by ever less-well-paid, less-skill-needed worker-bees, for ever shrinking, ever more specialized audiences who want more for less, if not free.

    Every one of your ideas would require not only unlimited time and cash and the emergence of a new breed of either individual polymaths combining passion with the programming skills to build them and the artistic knowledge, insight and wisdom to provide the content for them, or super-hero teams with brilliant, commited direction, but also a public vast, wealthy and excited enough to pay for them.

    Unfortunately for aspiring artists with big dreams of better e-pub training, teams like that are already busy at places like Pixar creating fairy tales for audiences in the billions.

    Fun to imagine, though!

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, David.

      While I think you’re correct that it’s largely a budgetary issue, I have to disagree with your assessment of what it would take to implement some of the kinds of interactive features I’m suggesting. In my day job as website designer and Flash developer, I’ve done my share of interactive features, all on a budget, all in limited time frames, and I know what can be done under those circumstances with a bit of thought, effort and imagination.

      My real objection isn’t so much the lack of fancy features, though I would certainly like to see the medium put to better use, as the substitution of pointless excuses for “interactivity”, either completely superfluous or actual content made unnecessarily “interactive” with rollovers and such, where plain descriptive text would not only suffice but would actually be better.

      My point is if you’re going to venture into an interactive medium and create a magazine as a downloaded application, put some thought and effort into it, or else just leave the content as images of pages and make it a PDF for half the price.

      The good news is that I hear from the publisher of PaintWorks that they are hard at work on their second issue, which will have a different eMagazine technology solution as its base (and will be compatible with the iPad), and I get the impression that they are indeed working to refine and improve their use of the medium.

  3. I’ve no doubt the folks working on this particular e-zine are likely to improve it as they play with what they’ve got; critical reviews like yours will be a huge help. And I’m certainly with you on the blight of superfluous “interactivity” standing in for actual problem solving. Besides budgets and bogus features, tho, my main point (which I make only because I create multimedia too and find most aspects of digital publishing fascinating) is some confluence of these problems:
    1. It’s really hard to come up with teaching and info-delivery devices that are actually more useful than good old text with pictures once you’ve added links, video, and maybe even some simple animation, no matter how much budget you’ve got. Many toys aspire to be tools, but very few actually make the cut.
    2. It’s hard enough for an editor and an art department to convert an expert’s expertise into an educational experience when the expert’s not already a teacher themselves. Who’s really creating the content in such a situation (and who’s got either the skills or the authority to supplement what the author/expert offers)? Adding an “interactivity” person or team doesn’t simplify these problems, it increases them.

    In short, I guess I’m saying that while thought, effort and imagination are certainly going to be helpful as this publication looks to improve and grow, for it to ever be something beyond a bog-standard how-to-art magazine with some added multimedia is going to require a near miracle: Deep innovation (to come up with multimedia solutions that don’t actually exist anywhere else at present), extraordinary good luck in team building (to find experts, educators and facilitators with the shared vision and interpersonal working skills to find and sustain a great groove), and management that’s more interested in greatness than in profit, with the cash to make it happen. So, once again, I wish them, and us, the very best of luck!

  4. After reading both the article and comments so far and not being the hands on experts (web designers/creators) that you, Charley, and David Coffin are I’ll still offer my 2 cents in the interest of improving it for all ( a strength of the web world we live in ).

    As a user/consumer I get both excited and annoyed by new tech.
    When it works I stay, when it annoys I almost always leave.
    Sometimes fancy tech actually gets in the way, like your example with rollovers for paints instead of simple titles or captions.

    To paraphrase Jeff Goldbloom in Jurassic Park “The question we should be asking… ourselves… Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should”.

    I don’t like being yanked to other sites without warning either.
    I hate having my browser window resized.
    I don’t care for rollovers that are pointless or get in the way or are the only way you can see something.
    My time is valuable, don’t make me wait through long intro’s without the choice to skip. Same with music that automatically plays.
    No one I know likes pop ups, no one.
    I could go on but the point is to get feedback from your audience. They will improve if they pay attention and listen.

    I am willing to pay for valuable, useful information provided there aren’t too many of the above problems.

    I like your ideas Charley. They are geared towards the primary audience, artists themselves.

    In response to David Coffins’ ‘woes’ on “good luck in team building”, “management… “, “finding experts..’ etc.

    If they are professionals they will problem solve and make it happen, if not they won’t survive.They are getting paid, not the same as amateur websites or blogs, so we , the consumers expect more out of them.
    When in doubt, simplify. Lose the unnecessary, time consuming features and put that (tech) to better use.

  5. I like how-to magazines; I worked on one for 18 years. The idea of doing them digitally so you could add video and working links when you list a resource seemed to me, back in the late 90s, such a compelling no-brainer that I quit and went solo, so I could do it without having to battle the powers that just couldn’t see it.

    Simply adding video and links still seems compelling enough that I feel little else is needed to make a printed how-to-do-it story come alive in the 21st C.… So long as your existing editorial concept, your educational model and vision, is a good one to start with, that is.

    I don’t personally think that any current US how-to art magazines actually have a good educational model, but there’s no doubt in my mind that adding some video and some links could improve them. Remains to be seen whether there’s a market strong enough to keep this one or other similar ones alive; I hope so.

    But going beyond that, to the point of really “taking advantage of the medium” as far as interactive practical artistic training is concerned is where I’m not holding my breath or counting on miracles, especially in the form of a digital periodical coming from a printed periodical shop; that model is simply too cumbersome and limited to expect much from, in my experience.

    No doubt some ingenious folks will eventually take a crack at digital/interactive art training products in some form, and I’ll be curious of course. If I were to try that, I think I’d start by building it around a digital painting app, like Art Rage or Painter. Could be pretty cool, and fun to work on.

  6. who is this magazine for? I see grandma giving how-to tutorials… ‘ these new fangled plastic paint tubes always give me trouble…c’mere sonny, be a dear and open this will you?’

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