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Make Your Own Monet With This Light-Simulating Paint App

Psykopaint hijacks your tablet's gyroscope, adding a sense of depth and texture to digital paintings by imitating natural lighting conditions.

by Kevin Holmes
18 July 2014, 2:35pm

There are many, many digital painting apps you can download for your tablet— but Psykopaint stands out from the pack. The first painting app that digitally recreates ambient lighting conditions, by moving your tablet around in realtime, you'll see how light would reflect off your creation if it existed in the real world.

By appearing to reflect natural light, as a painting hanging on your wall would over the course of the day, the app is able to replicate the Impasto technique— wherein brush strokes are very visible and thickly laid— used by painters like Gauguin, Monet, and Van Gogh. Plus, these Masters' built-in brush styles are available for purchase inside the app.

This added depth allows for the app's makers— code artist Mario Klingemann, developer David Lenaerts, and programmer Frank Reitberger— to integrate different canvases (wood, paper) and brushes that enhance your ability to play with the "reflected" light.

Speaking on how they replicated real-world lighting conditions, original creator and CEO of Psykopaint Mathieu Gosselin explains, "Instead of simply having a color bitmap which is what other painting software has, we have in addition a normal map and a specular map."

The two maps manage the information about the depth and the degree of light reflection. The more glossy a selected painting surface is, the more it will directly and precisely represent the particles of light (think of a sharp mirror or glass). A more matte surface spreads the particles of light around, like paint does on wood. 

Depending on the position of the tablet, Psykopaint then uses this information, via the iPad's gyroscope, to calculate the ways in which particles of light influence the image. An extension of the web-based Psykopaint software that's been around for four years and amassed around a million users, the app is a much-welcomed new medium for those of us who prefer to paint with our forefingers.

The Creators Project logo, created by Gosselin

"It’s a whole new dimension opened to us," Gosselin says about digital painting, "and personally what excites me the most would be to experiment with a new form of creative expression. For now we have traditional media emulation brushes (watercolor, paint brush, pencil etc…). But in the future we could dig even further, so being able to sculpt a painting using the pen pressure, like a gravure, or having a more digital type of rendering that doesn’t exist in real life, but has great aesthetic qualities. Also the fact that we can 3D print the result and have something that feels real. It’s sort of the missing link between a flat computer image, and a painting with depth."

Gosselin was generous enough to made us a GIF of The Creators Project logo (above), which demonstrates how the light changes with the movements of the tablet. You can download the app here.


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Classical Art
oil painting
mario klingemann
digital paintings
David Lenaerts
Frank Reitberger
Mathieu Gosselin