Surrounded by the tools of her trade, Los Osos computer artist Phyllis Paradies unveils examples of her work. Some have appeared in national magazines. ©Tony Hertz/The Tribune
The revolution happened in our lifetimes. Not that long ago, but in computer years 1986 was the stone age. The first successful personal computer, the Apple II, had been released less than a decade previously in April 1977. The basic model shipped with a miniscule 4K of random access memory. Compare that to an iPhone 4 delivered with over 100 times larger memory.
By the mid-1980s it was not unusual to have a computer in the home though it helped if you could write software.
Back then a newspaper photographer had to be skilled at developing film, making black and white prints, setting the correct exposure and manual focus. Mice were something you didn't want in the office.
Here is the June 6, 1986 story explaining the future, from the then Focus section of the paper:
Computer graphics are new wave paint-by-numbers
By Mary Ann Trevathan
Special to Telegram-Tribune
She is an artist, he a computer programmer and consultant. Together Phyllis and David Paradies are helping make the computer a medium available to nearly any artist.
At their Los Osos home studio lined with video screens, Phyllis tests the latest graphic arts software and suggests changes that might better serve artists.
She sends her art work to software manufacturers, who exhibit her pictures to demonstrate their software.
David writes print programs for artists. "The whole idea is to give artists more post-production control by allowing them to make their own prints," he said.
"Artists always want more colors. When Xerox sent us their printer they said they had seven colors available. I was pretty sure I could find more. I stopped at 4,096."
Phyllis chimed in: "With the print driver program David wrote I can make my own color prints. I can even reassign colors. You can repaint anything."
Phyllis has been doing art work since she was a young girl. Five years ago she was doing botanical studies of flowers on parchment using Prisma color wax pencils. She would build up as many as 25 layers of wax, spending an average of two months on one composition.
A friend who admired her work put her in touch with a software company. "I did two weeks' worth of pictures for Island Graphics and they took them off and showed them," she said. They were very good about putting my name, logo and phone number on the screen.
People saw them and we started getting calls." Her career as a computer artist had begun.
"What the computer program is, is a bunch of tools and palettes," she said. "You work with icons instead of words. The fine art principles of composition, line, form and color still apply."
The artist chooses from a "menu" of brushes. Using a "mouse" or a graphics tablet pen, she draws on a tablet as the image appears on the screen.
"It looks a lot like when you teach people to draw and not look," she said.
"Your tools aren't quite as set as they are with traditional methods. If I want to draw a point, I know the computer will draw just one point. There's no worry about my hand slipping.
"To make a straight line I mark the beginning and ending points. For a circle I push down at the center and take it out as large as I want it. I can do a frame, and get the computer to fill it in."
There is even an air brush with adjustable spray, and if the artist gets the paint too thick in places, she can command the computer to thin it out.
Phyllis can stretch prints horizontally or vertically using the "rubber band" effect. She can compress or crop pictures. She can do overlays, draw lines behind existing ones, and erase what she doesn't want.
"It's like a word processor for artists," David said. "The artist has the ability to 'edit' her work. Phyllis' color wax pencils have a lot of dust on them now. With the pencils she couldn't erase layer number 23."
"With the newer programs I can simulate some of the work I used to do," said Phyllis. "But the computer gives the artist the ability to work faster. Artists can stretch their heads, try all those things that come into the mind.
"It takes some of the monotony and repetition away, which is nice.
You can get an instant response to what you're thinking about."
On an Apple IIe screen she has drawn a coastal scene with a gull poised in mid-air, approaching a pier. Using a program called Fantavision she sets the gull in motion. Another bird appears, then a half-dozen, then more. They all fly to the pier.
"I only drew one bird," she said. And I only had to draw one out of every eight frames. The computer did the rest.
"Animation used to be so time-consuming and expensive but now one artist can sit at a screen and do animation. It saves thousands of hours and you don't have to have a crew."
The cost of the software:Between $49 and $79. The color ink jet printer costs $1,200.
"Until the last few years, if you didn't have the budget of General Motors you couldn't do graphics," David said. "You would have to spend $100,000.
Phyllis' art was featured at the Commodore Amiga Launch Event at Lincoln Center in New York. Her "Monarch Butterfly" appeared in Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, USA Today and other leading publications as part of Apple Computer's 1985 Christmas promotion.
Still lifes, wildlife, portraits and landscapes are included in her portfolio, some in vibrant colors and others in black and white with an Ansel Adams photographic quality. Ballerinas are a favorite topic for Phyllis, who is also a dancer.
The quality of her art holds such interest, the fact that it was done with a computer becomes secondary.
"I think one reason my work has gone over so well is that I'm an artist, and a lot of people doing computer art used to be engineers," Phyllis said.
"The computer is a medium for artists to use. It has its own quality. It has more tools, more things you can do with it than ever before.
"I worked eight hours a day at least and often seven days a week.
I just love to do it. I'm driven to do it. It feels just as though you're working on an oil painting. You have to see it finished."
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