Review: Digital Painting with Krita 2.9

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Nov 28, 2015 GMT
Bruce Byfield

The painting application Krita has been limping along for years with scattered and partial documentation. Consequently, Scott Petrovic's Digital Painting with Krita 2.9 is a welcome first step towards the kind of thorough documentation that it deserves. Petrovic has spent months learning Krita, and the fact that his acknowledgements include project leader Boudewijn Rempt and artist David Revoy serves to boost his credibility.

However, at 232 pages, the book is by no means exhaustive. You could easily imagine at least twice asmany pages again, most of it with the task-based organization that Digital Painting with Krita lacks. As things are, what Petrovic has produced is the equivalent of the first chapter in documentation of a far less complicated subject, with a few minor rough edges.

Covering the territory
The main value of Petrovic's book is that it provides the overview that Krita has been lacking until now. Wisely, Petrovic does not attempt to detail every option, giving only a single bullet point to most, and omitting the occasional more advanced ones. However, what he does do is orient readers enough for them to enable them to navigate Krita by themselves, referring back to his table of contents as needed.

Much of the usefulness of Digital Painting with Krita is in its explanation of basic terms such as masks and layers. Readers can also judge the importance of brushes from the fact that they are the only topic to which two chapters are devoted. In addition, though, Petrovic is constantly providing background comments such as "the menu system is almost never the fastest or most convenient way to do something" or giving a warning like the fact that newer versions may render some brushs unworkable. Just as valuably, his book is scattered with capsule explanations of color management or memory consumption that, for new users, can be as important as the description of features themselves.

Admittedly, Petrovic does stumble once or twice, perhaps through over-familiarity with his subject. For example, he does not explain the difference between a painting application and a graphics editor. Nor does he define "Brush engine." At other times, as with "Liquefy transform," he relies on screen shots for an explanation, then neglects to add the callouts to help users understand what they should observe, apparently assuming that the screen shots are self-explanatory.

However, such lapses are not the norm. In particular, two reasons why the book successfully covers so much in so few pages is its selection of screen shots and the care with which Petrovic annotates them. In fact, in some cases, the combination of screen shots and callouts give more information than the main text. Once or twice, screen shots could be larger, but all of them are intricate, symmetrical designs in themselves that catch the eye and encourage it to explore in detail. Unlike in many manuals, in Digital Painting with Krita, the screen shots do not just supplement the text, but are important elements in their own right.

A place to start
In a book about graphics, it seems reasonable to expect that the typography should reflect the expertise of the writer. Unfortunately, the typography in Digital Painting with Krita is only partly successful. On the one hand, its effective elments include an informal font with a handwritten appearance for chapter titles, and a first page that reverses the basic colors. I also appreciate how each chapter ends with an example of work done in Krita.

On the other hand, the cluttered footers place design over functionality, and the selection of pale blue for headings and pink for callouts in screenshots is discordant and vaguely distasteful. As for the table of contents, which uses leader dots to connect text entries and page numbers, the less said about this failed design the better

However, the weakest part of Digital Painting with Krita is its march through the menu. Too often as I read I was left thinking something like, "Cool! But why would I use this feature?" Probably, though, expecting a description of the interface to have any other structure is unreasonable.
That is why I hope that Petrovic or somebody else considers a second book on Krita that takes a task-based perspective, possibly through a selection of projects that readers can follow through step by step. Without such a book, Krita is unlikely to receive the attention that it deserves -- attention that is too often given instead to applications like GIMP.

Meanwhile, in the quest for adequate documentation, Digital Painting with Krita is a promising beginning. Despite some minor flaws, I can only hope for more of the same.

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