The benefit I most enjoy from my Twitter feed is the opportunity to interact with talented creatives from all around the world. And thanks to a random tweet I made a week or two ago, I encountered the talented duo behind Paintberri.com, a new online art community featuring an elegantly designed browser-based paint tool.
Intrigued, I had to find out more and the Tung sisters agreed to this Q&A. Enjoy!
Who are the principals behind Paintberri.com?
Katherine Tung, neurotic code monkey
Frances Tung, product designer
What are your respective backgrounds?
Katherine - I am a full-stack engineer who previously worked at travel company Expedia for many years. At 16 I dropped out of high school to enter college early and graduated from the University of Washington’s prestigious computer science program in 2011. PaintBerri began as a side project in mid 2014, and I was frenetically coding it whenever I wasn’t working or sleeping. In late 2015 I finally took the plunge to work on it full-time. Drawing is my hobby and I occasionally sell my art at anime conventions.
Frances - I am a user experience designer with a background in industrial design. I graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington’s design program in 2013 and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for a few years at enterprise SaaS company Workday and later at the hot online learning startup Udemy. My creative efforts have spanned many mediums from acrylic paint to vector illustration. I’ve helped out with the designs for PaintBerri from the start and joined full-time in early 2016. (francestung.com)
We are fraternal twin sisters who both love cats, especially the cuddly ragdoll breed.
What inspired you to create your site?
PaintBerri is inspired by Japanese oekaki boards, which are online art journals with posts and comments usually drawn with a simple in-browser painter. While oekaki culture in America has since moved past its heyday in the 2000s, the team saw an opportunity to provide a community-focused drawing experience for artists seeking an alternative to impersonal and intimidating major art sites.
As creative people who have careers in non-art fields, we’ve always wanted to apply our skills to something we would want to use ourselves as artists. Ironically, since beginning work on PaintBerri, we have both been drawing less—there’s too much stuff to do!
There are a lot of art communities, including some from major companies like Adobe and Autodesk, what makes Paintberri special?
The ways artists can interact with each other on PaintBerri is very different. It’s less of a portfolio site and more of a casual social site where communication is core to the experience. The ability to reply to people not just with text but with drawn images results in much more vivid interactions and lends itself well to storytelling. PaintBerri is for having fun, doodling, and creating collaborative stories with friends and artists you meet on the site. There is no pressure to be serious and becoming a better artist is a natural result of just having fun and drawing frequently with friends!
PaintBerri artists say it better: “An awesome art site that you can draw and interact at the same time”, “Fun drawing site with fun people!”, “A really good art program and an easy place to share [art] “
How would you describe your current user base?
Most of PaintBerri’s artists are college students or recent graduates who enjoy drawing as a hobby or aspire to become creative professionals in the entertainment industry. They are anime, manga, videogame, and movie fans that are fun-loving, friendly, and immensely creative. Many PaintBerri artists have a knack for storytelling, writing, and character design, which shows in the elaborate art roleplay stories and groups that have formed on the site.
The browser-based paint applications seems very unique and robust. How did it come about? What has been the reaction to it?
Many existing browser-based painting apps use Flash or Java. With Flash and Java browser support being phased out, we knew we weren’t going to use those technologies. We first considered HTML5 <canvas>, but after a few weeks of development realized it wasn’t going to cut it. Color accuracy is crucial for art but HTML5 canvases have alpha blending issues due to how the RGBA values are stored as integers.
We investigated WebGL next and it’s definitely brought the firepower we needed, though learning shaders/framebuffers/etc was quite a headache for Katherine, who had no graphics programming background. This painting app became the “Full Painter”, with all the bells and whistles including pen pressure controls, automatic backup, and line stabilization.
The “Lite Painter” is a simple HTML5 painting app for the users who can’t use the Full Painter or those desiring a simpler painting experience, and can be used for quick doodles on mobile devices.
A browser-based painting application will inherently be more limited and underpowered compared to a desktop application due to the restrictions of existing within a browser. We strive to minimize this gap as much as we can, though, and users who’ve used other browser-based painting apps have been very appreciative of our extra features and polish.
What plans are there to increase its functionality?
We plan on improving usability and compatibility of the painter before increasing functionality. Users with older computers sometimes experience graphical issues or lag in the Full Painter. We want PaintBerri artists to have the best painting experience they can get, and with the painting apps being a core part of the social experience, they need to be super intuitive to use and run smoothly even for users with older hardware.
However, it’s important to note that we don’t ever plan on ever having Photoshop-levels of options. Part of the appeal of the painters is how they make it easy to draw by providing the essential tools for painting without the paralyzing panoply of options that desktop art applications have.
Your first tweet to me mentioned the Surface Pro. Which one(s) do you own and how is it involved in the site's development?
Katherine purchased a Surface Pro 3 (i5 256gb) on release day after researching how good it was for art on SurfaceProArtist.com—thanks for the great resources! Very little art actually got done on it though, as the project that would become PaintBerri began soon after and it became a development machine. The website is built on the MEANjs stack and fairly lightweight and ran well on the SP3. The N-trig pen made it very convenient to test the painting app once we figured out how to get N-trig pen pressure data in a browser. No more lugging around a Wacom tablet!
However, the keyboard cover and general “lapability” wasn’t optimal for long hours spent coding and eventually she got a Surface Book. Unfortunately it’s been less of a positive experience due to various bugs such as shutting down while sleeping. The pen’s soft nib has also worn down quickly.
I understand that you were artists first who are now trying to figure out a revenue model. What are some of the features you're considering rolling out to drive revenue?
We want PaintBerri to always be a free site and have bonus features drive the revenue (essentially a freemium model). We will soon roll out a monthly subscription for artists who want more options (such as adjustable comment heights) on top of what already comes free. We are also looking into alternate sources of revenue like affiliate programs.
Why should SurfaceProArtist.com readers sign up for Paintberri.com?
For the readers that already have a Surface, their machines are just the right specs to jump onto PB for some doodling! It’s super convenient to just draw on the screen instead of having to carry a tablet around, so Surface owners are well-equipped to create awesome art and stories on PaintBerri. Protip: Use the Edge or IE 10 browsers to get N-trig pen pressure!
Even if they don’t have a Surface, reading this site that means they have an interest in digital art and would probably enjoy browsing PaintBerri!