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Unleash your inner Picasso with 'Art Academy' app

6:56 AM, Jan 6, 2013   |    comments
(Photo: Nintendo)
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With "Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone!," boxed or as a downloadable game on the Nintendo 3DS, kids and adults learn how to draw everything from a cherry to a barley field to the Tower of London. The game delivers two art courses, one as an introductory course and the other as an advanced one. In each course, players get art lessons from virtual tutor Vince.

In the beginning course, Vince introduces the art tools available and demonstrates how to use them in a step-by-step manner. He explains basic principles of drawing and painting, including perspective, the effect of light on a subject and how to make a dynamic composition. Vince can also get into topics of art theory and history. The paint colors are premixed for you, so you can focus on learning to draw. Players start with a cherry, then a tulip, a tree and a melon. Next they graduate into a windmill, a barley field, Koi carp in a pond, a torso and a seascape.

The advanced course introduces color mixing and offers more complex lessons such as: a still life with a pitcher and peaches, an old man's face, an archway, a waterfall, a bouquet, a girl wearing a headscarf and the landscapes of the Tower of London and Westminster Abby.

Depending on how quickly you draw, a lesson can take between 30 to 60 minutes or longer. Vince breaks down each painting into stages. For example, with the still life of a cherry, Vince teaches you to start by filling in the background, then outlining the cherry, painting the shadow and coloring in the cherry. He also explains how the light is hitting the cherry and teaches you to add a lighter color to catch the light shining on the cherry.

When you finish a painting, you can choose to save it as a photo, share it via Wi-Fi with a friend or place it inside your own personal art gallery. For the latter, you enter a building where your framed artwork appears on the walls, displayed in the manner that you choose. It's a thrill to experience.

"Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone!" is a nifty package because it works for both doodlers and art enthusiasts. Both courses - the one for beginners and the one for the artist with some experience - are available at the start; although once you begin a course, you have to work through each lesson to unlock the next painting.

The virtual art tools work in an impressive manner on the Nintendo 3DS. As in real life, a paint brush starts out with strong color and gets fainter as you continue your stroke. The colors can be blended, and you can layer colors to get just the effect you desire.

Players have access to a grid tool, which originated in the 15th century with artist Albrecht Dürer. The grid appears superimposed on your canvas (shown on the lower screen) and on your reference image (appearing on the upper screen). This tool makes it easier to place your objects in the correct location on a canvas. Also helpful is the ability to zoom in for detailed work.

In addition to offering courses, the program provides you with a free-draw section. You can draw whatever you imagine or select one of over 50 photos as inspiration. If you want, you can use the device's 3D camera to take a photo of a subject and then use that photo as your reference image.

"Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone!" is a remarkable software package for learning how to make digital art. With Vince, the knowledgeable and upbeat instructor, players can create different kinds of art from still life to portraits to landscapes. His supportive attitude encourages kids to experiment with graphite sticks, colored pencils, paint, and pastels to create gradients and blends without ever making them feel intimidated. And he brilliantly weaves tidbits of art history, famous artists, and various techniques into his lessons and tutorials.

Both kids and adults will enjoy this well-produced software, but its subject matter is sophisticated enough that it isn't meant for little kids. The in-depth lessons must be read; and some of the art tools and concepts are complex, even in the introductory lessons. The coolest aspect of this software is that the lessons provided in this virtual art studio can be applied to creating real art.

Score: 4 stars (out of 4)

Rating: E (for Everyone)

Best for: Ages 8-up

Publisher: Nintendo, http://artacademy.nintendo.com

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Cost: $39.99

Jinny Gudmundsen is the author of the new book: iPad Apps for Kids, part of the For Dummies series. Contact her at techcomments@usatoday.com.

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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