Writing on a Budget: Art Apps

Sometimes writers draw/illustrate as well as write. Sometimes they illustrate their texts (picture books, graphic novels, illustrated novels).

While some photo apps can be used as a drawing app (like Photoshop or Affinity photo), not all are good at it (for instance, Photoshop Elements has no bezier tool, which means it doesn’t have a pen tool to draw curved lines). Unfortunately, dedicated drawing apps can be pretty spendy, and the free ones are few and far between.

As with the other posts, I don’t own Apple products, so specific iOS apps like Procreate will not be covered.

But first…tablets, pen tablets and pen displays.

Yes, you can make digital art with a mouse. No, it’s not the same as using a tablet or a pen display. Pressure sensitivity is important, and that’s something you can kinda mimic using a mouse, but not replace.

Regular tablets like an iPad have pens and apps that work well together, and artists create wonderful things with them. Not everyone can afford an iPad, however.

Photo by George Milton from Pexels

This is where pen tablets come it. Pen tablets are tools that lie on your desk like a mousepad, but instead of a mouse, you use a pen to move the cursor about on your monitor. The pressure of the pen against the tablet allows artists to create thick and thin lines, draw lightly or heavily, etc.

Pen tablets are cheaper than regular tablets and pen displays, and once you are used to moving the pen while staring at your monitor, they’re exceptional tools.

Wacom’s Intuos is a popular pen tablet, but Huion Inspiroy and XP-Pen Deco series are also solid, but cheaper, choices. These pen tablets have pen sensitivity without the price of a regular tablet or pen display, ranging from $25 to just over $100. The larger the size, the more the cost.

I never did get the hang of pen tablets. I felt disconnected from my work, and practice did not make perfect. So I saved up for a pen display. Pen displays are more expensive than pen tablets, but you can draw directly on the screen with a special pen, similar to a regular tablet. Unlike regular tablets, though, these displays are monitors, and have monitor sizes from 13″ to 24″.

Photo by Daniele from Pexels

Because of screen sensitivity and the need for accurate color, these displays are more expensive than typical monitors. You can save some money on refurbished ones, but you still need a couple hundred bucks for a 13″ pen display (which is still cheaper than an iPad. Still, budget-wise writers/artists will find the pen tablets more attractive because of the lower price tag).

Wacom is considered the industry standard for both pen tablets and pen displays. Huion products are just as good for half the price, and XP-Pen a bit cheaper than that. There are other, even cheaper displays/tablets out there; I caution you to do your research. Not all are created equal.

I use Huion pen displays, and I’m pretty happy with them.

Oh, and if you are wondering about your touch screen laptop–regular touch screens do not have the pressure sensitivity artists need.

On to apps!

Artbreeder

Lord’s Council Building by me

Artbreeder is a bit different than the other apps on this list. It’s a browser-based software that uses AI to create portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, etc. It blends pics together and creates something new. The software learns from each pic that is created, to produce better images.

To make an image, you manipulate parameters (for portraits, things like age, hair color, etc, while for landscapes you change sunlight, mountain height, etc). With a few clicks of a mouse, you can create a fantastic-looking image. You can even upload your own portrait, and see how Artbreeder artifies it!

Artbreeder has its frustrations and limitations; for instance, the gender stereotypes it uses to create portraits can be very annoying if you, say, have a male character with long hair. There is also a “look” to the images; even my husband can tell an Artbreeder-created pic on random Instagram posts. You can make a more unique image, but it takes a bit more time messing with parameters than some wish to spend.

Despite the annoyances, what Artbreeder does for the average writer, especially non-artistic ones, is provide a fast, easy way to create a unique image related to their stories. Sometimes, it’s just more economical to use it.

Artbreeder is free to use, though uploads and downloads are severely limited at that tier–but if you only need a couple of images a month, there’s no reason to subscribe. The site has different tiers for a monthly fee, starting at $8.99.

Krita

Krita is a free painting app for Mac, Windows and Linux.

Krita is targeted towards painters; it is not a replacement for a program like Photoshop. If your style is more painterly/concept art-y, or you like to create textures and patterns, it’s a good app to try out.

It’s not the smoothest app out there, but for free, it’s a great program. It has a gentle learning curve, but I would still mess around with the program and get familiar with it before beginning any serious artwork.

Clip Studio Paint

Shiobe by me

Clip Studio Paint is for Windows, Mac, and mobile devices. It has a free trial if you want to check it out. It also has several options for payment, including monthly plans from $0.99, depending on device. If you purchase their product outright, it’s a one-time payment. So Clip Studio Paint is yours forever for under the cost of one Adobe CC monthly bill.

For authors who like to draw and illustrate and lean towards 2D/comic/manga style or digital painting, this program is awesome. It has brushes, pens, and fantastic manipulation of vector lines (an absolute must for comic/manga drawing, IMO). You can access their store to get free extras, like brushes and such.

Purchasing the EX version is much more spendy, but you gain access to animation, page layouts and 3D models. If you are serious about creating comics/manga, you might want to look at the monthly plans for EX, which start at $8.99. Still spendy, but more doable.

I do all my line drawing in Clip Studio Paint. Sketching in Photoshop then transferring to Illustrator was once my go-to workflow, but due to an Illustrator bug, it’s now unusable with my pen displays. I decided to check CSP out because I needed a vector program.

I’m glad I did. Being able to easily erase and manipulate vectors sold me on it. So I now sketch on a raster layer then refine on a vector. You can color your work in CSP too, and they have a great fill feature where the program doesn’t have to have the outlines closed to properly fill in a shape. Awesome.

If you like to digitally paint, they have a lot of painterly brushes, too. They run contests, and seeing what others create using the program is a great source of inspiration.

Sketchbook

Sketchbook was discontinued by Autodesk in 2021 and spun off to other developers, Sketchbook Inc. I haven’t used the program since this development, so I’m not certain about updates and changes and if it works the same. It was a decent program under Autodesk, especially for free; as of this writing, the new developers are charging a one-time payment of $19.99.

Sketchbook Inc. is promising loads of new content, and since the price isn’t bad for a drawing app, this is one to keep in mind. It has hundreds of brushes and a predictive smoothing element to keep lines nice and smooth. I enjoyed using it when it was part of the Autodesk lineup, and I hope the new company keeps the quality up.

Affinity Photo / Designer

I’ve covered Affinity before. Their apps are cheaper than Photoshop, and if you wait for a sale, you can get a favorable discount that lets you purchase them individually for under $40.

Affinity Photo is a raster program like Photoshop. It has versatile brush creation and a fantastic zoom feature. Designer is a vector program like Illustrator, and is good for outlining art. Together, you can create some nice pieces.

Affinity software has familiar interfaces for those who have used graphics software before. Getting their product for photo manipulation as well as drawing is a great two-fer–just know, that with Windows 10 and 11, an audio enhancement app called Nahimic can play havoc with it. If menu items start to disappear and other menu options get blurry, you need to disable it. (Nahimic and NVidia aren’t good friends, and can cause problems for other drawing and audio software as well).

ArtRage Lite

ArtRage Lite is $29.90 as of this writing. It is a digital painting program that is meant to be easy to use. The Lite version has most of the same features as their more expensive versions, but it targets users who don’t want to create their own brushes or textures, and prefer to use things as-is.

ArtRage was once the painting app rage, and designed for all ages and experiences. They have Mac, Windows and mobile versions. It’s worth checking out if you want to get started, or already enjoy, digital painting.

Wrap Up

There are a lot of other apps out there, especially ones targeting iPad and iPhone users (Apple’s supposed to be the go-to for digital artists, after all). They’re worth a look, but make certain that, if you purchase something, it’s still being developed. There are a lot of dead apps out there you can still download and use, despite the fact they no longer are active.

*featured image by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

Ambercaast Chapter 20: Quests and Questions is Live!

Ambercaast Chapter 20: Quests and Questions is Live!

Lapis and Faelan acquire the scantest of info from Cile, but fortunately Linz and Jetta show up with documents from Danaea’s stash that might have clues as to where the mercs took Rin and Tovi. Lapis refuses to wait any longer to find the kidnapped teens.

I also finished WorldEmber with 17K + words. Check out the articles here. There’s quite a few that relate to the Lapis of Nicodem serial.

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

Ambercaast Chapter 19 is Live!

Ambercaast Chapter 19: A Jaunty Forest Outing is Live! It’s not a “happy holiday” chapter, since Jilvayna is on a different festive schedule 🙂

Lapis volunteered to go with Cassa on her search for the terron lizard Badger and his advisors but did not expect to confront more khentauree. They find out Badger has agreed to help Gredy’s mercs, and what they’ve done will prompt Cassa and Lapis into more extreme actions concerning Ambercaast.

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

Writing on a Budget: Video and Misc. Apps

If you write on a budget, you end up doing your own ads. This includes video promotion as well.

Videos are no longer just for book trailers. Tik Tok and YouTube are social media powerhouses because people like to watch videos, and so much so, that Instagram is no longer a “picture” app but a video one (or so they claim. Most people I follow on Instagram prefer pics).

Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

If you write, you are going to end up creating a video at some point to advertise your book, or create a tutorial, or put your smiling face up for fans to see. While short clips can be filmed on your camera and uploaded to your social media of choice, book trailers, tutorials and such need a bit more editing love and care than that.

And, like photo apps, there are a variety of free or cheaper programs you can use.

I do not own a MacOS or iOS product, so apps like iMovie won’t be covered here. I’m also not going to cover phone apps. I personally believe that, for book trailers, tutorials and such, you need more computing power and monitor space than you get on a phone. On-the-go is fine for a quick Tik Tok video, not so much for a nicely edited book trailer.

Video Editing Apps

Canva

Canva makes another appearance. Not only can you create regular photo ads with Canva, you can create book trailers as well.

Canva provides all the tools you need to create awesome videos, including stock footage. There is a slight learning curve, and sometimes it’s difficult to get words to show up well against a moving background. Keep at it, though, and you’ll make awesome book trailers!

This YouTube video by Daniel Schiffer is an interesting look into what one can do with the free video features.

Overall, Canva is a gentle intro to video editing. The downside is that many others are using it to create content as well, so you might produce something that looks similar to another creator’s content. Of course, a lot of people use Instagram’s filters, and produce fairly unique content, so while it’s something to keep in mind, it’s not a dealbreaker.

OpenShot

My husband uses OpenShot. It’s free for Windows, Mac and Linux, and is an easier program to learn than some other apps out there, though it does have its frustrations and limitations. He uses it to create short music video clips, then transfers them to Da Vinci Resolve for filters.

If you’re a beginner interested in making book trailers, this isn’t a bad product to try.

VSDC

VSDC offers a video suite that includes screen recording and video capture software. It is an easier-to-learn freemium app. The video editor pro version is only $19.99, so if you try it out and find you like it, but need chroma key, masking and other features, it’s on the cheaper end of the spectrum.

Da Vinci Resolve

Da Vinci Resolve is for Windows, Mac and Linux, and has a ton of free features for video editing. Yes, you get more effects if you pay for the pro version, but if you are making simple tutorial videos, free will beyond suffice.

Did I mention, Da Vinci Resolve is free? It’s one of the industry-standard apps for editing video, and it is awesome. You get a lot for free. If you’re interested in a more advanced product for creating a professional tutorial or author introduction video, definitely look into Resolve.

For someone on a budget, the pro version is spendy, and probably out of reach at $295, but that’s a one-time payment for a lifetime of use. In this, Resolve is WAY cheaper than Adobe’s subscription-based model.

When Creative Cloud apps crash-dived into snail-on-ice slow in 2021, I tried Resolve and was very impressed. Yes, there is a learning curve, but there are many, many videos and tutorials out there for you to watch/read. It’s easier to pick up, if you have previous experience with video apps. If you are planning to create a series of tutorials or use more video in your advertising, Resolve is worth a look.

3D and Misc Apps

There are other free and inexpensive apps out there that can help you in your video creation. While they are not video editing apps, they can provide an interesting addition to your video toolset.

Blender

Ambady Sasi from Pixabay This pic made me smile 🙂

Blender is an all-in-one completely free 3D app for Windows, Mac and Linux. And it is awesome. More and more studios are using it, and if you plan to dabble in 3D, see if it’s right for you, there is no better program to start with.

I’m serious about that; Maya’s like $1700 a year. Studios pay that–and luckily, you don’t have to! You get quality without the price tag.

Blender does it all, from modeling to adding texture/material to lighting to animation and rendering it all. If you are a little hesitant about 3D, check out Blender Guru’s donut tutorial. He teaches you what features do, and how they work with each other. He’s easy to understand, which puts uncertain newbies at ease (yeah, I watched the whole thing a couple of times. There are other videos out there that fall into the “I did this donut in two seconds unlike Blender Guru” category, but they aren’t interested in teaching. They’re interested in being trolls).

Blender has a ton of fan support. There are numerous add-ons, pre-made models and 3D objects for you to use. You can check out sites like BlenderKit, SketchFab, TurboSquid and the like (but make certain your choices are free to use. Many creators sell their models, textures and add-ons, and you don’t want to use one for commercial use that isn’t intended for commercial use).

Now, the caveat: 3D is tough on your computer. There’s no getting around that. Make certain your specs can manage it. Even on a brand-new lappy, if it’s cheap, it probably can’t handle 3D. Even if it technically can, be aware, without graphics card capabilities, renders take forever. It’s a downside to 3D, but new technologies are on the horizon and will hopefully make it easier to work with.

Flowscape

I use Flowscape all the time, for stills and video. It can be downloaded directly from itch.io or through Steam, and is available for Windows and Mac.

Painting I made for a Wellspring World article on caravans. Yes, Flowscape is great for worldbuilding, too!

PixelForest had the idea of a game that painted with a 3D brush. The program has pre-made models (though you can import others if you wish) that you select, then spread across the landscape. You can create beautiful settings with a few clicks.

Why do I mention Flowscape? It’s easy to use, cheap (I bought it for $10 on itch.io, and added a tip. PixelForest’s the single developer, so all support is appreciated), and you can create some amazing landscapes with it. That’s important, because you can transform a dirt square into 1) a cool map for your book, 2) a setting for a book ad, 3) a setting for a book trailer, and then 4) use the camera to shoot a video of your wondrous landscape (I actually use OBS Studio for this, which is also a free program!).

To Sum It All Up…

Video is an important part of any author’s marketing and branding. If you’re uncertain about using video, that’s OK! Slowly work your way into it. You don’t have to produce the best book trailer your first time working with video.

Don’t know where to start? I would suggest finding a couple of pictures on the free stock photo sites that represent your book, then use them as backgrounds while you animate text over them. That’s like making a story in Instagram, only you have more options.

You may find out you like it better than you think.

My next post is going to be on art programs the writer/artist on a budget can use to create illustrations for their work. See you then!

*Cover image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site. And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

Ambercaast Chapter 18: Threats is Live!

Ambercaast Chapter 18: Threats is live!

Has the destroyed khentauree emitted a distress signal? Are more machines coming to retrieve it? Lapis spots glints in the distant mountains, just like the cyan reflection produced by the sphere in the destroyed khentauree’s chest–and they’re headed towards the Mawai science station. The community needs to prepare, but a threat other than the khentauree looms. Gredy’s embarrassed rage causes him to threaten the terron population in the Depths–and now several members of the lizard community are missing.

**Fun fact: Khentauree is based off the Greek word for centuar, kéntauros.