Interview: Psykopaint developers explain how the iPad has led to the birth of a new art form

Software developers Psykosoft took to the stage at Reasons to be Creative in Brighton this week, where they spilled the secrets about their "evil plan to break the barriers of creativity" by making Psykopaint, an app that is about to launch on iPad.

Psykopaint is an application that can be used to turn photographs into paintings, and can also be used to create paintings from scratch. As well as enabling users to produce some surprisingly impressive works of art thanks to its tools and styles, it's also excellent fun.

During Psykosoft's Reasons to be Creative talk, the masterminds behind the application (which is already available as a web app and Mac app) said that they believe devices such as the iPad have led to the birth of a new art form.

"I feel like maybe we're on the verge of a new explosion," said Psykosoft founder Matheiu Gosselin, who explained that he always wanted to be a painter but felt that he wasn't very good at it, so he built his own tool to solve the problem.

We sat down with Matheiu and Psykosoft's self-proclaimed Jedi coding master, David Lenaerts, to find out more about the app, how they developed it and what it could mean for digital artists in the future.

Three Psykosoft team members delivered the Reasons to be Creative talk, and were later joined by the rest of the team who performed a rendition of La Bamba while Matheiu (middle) demonstrated how fast it is to create a painting using the Psykopaint app.

AA: Was the Psykopaint app the first solution you came up with to solve your problem of wanting to be a painter?

MG: "No, I tried lots of things. This is one of the experiments that I've done but I did so many experiments. But you can only focus on so much and I was particularly fascinated by this idea.

"A photo can be worked from to become what looks like a traditional, real painting. But we can move the art forward and create things that you've never seen before because it's digital, it's a new medium."

AA: What type of people are currently using Psykopaint? Would you say there are more hobbyists than professional artists?

MG: "The current app is for hobbyists but we have a strong community tied to it and semi-professionals want to use it and have a showcase.

"It's actually very widespread. We will take you from very easy in the beginning when you can do great paintings from a photo, to normal painting where you can create amazing paintings from scratch."

DL: "It doesn't change much, it's just the way you grab colour. Because when you use the app, you either grab a colour from the picture or you just select a colour if you're starting from scratch. It doesn’t technically change much, it's just an added functionality. Users already know the tools so they can just go straight in to a new canvas and start working."

MG: "At the beginning of the app, it was only photo painting, but as it grew people wanted more free painting. As soon as we introduced painting from scratch, it went through the roof. The photo painting part is kind of the entry.

We had a play with the free web version of Psykopaint at, and will be exploring the app's capabilities further soon and will be keeping out for the new iPad app, due out in October.

"What's interesting with Psykopaint there are some very specific niches that you wouldn't have expected, such as hospitals, prisons and rehab centres. They use it as a therapeutic tool.

"And it can be an educational tool. They use it to make a composition, and it has the magic property that, because people can make some great work, they feel a bit like an expert, and it boosts their self confidence.

"The first emails I received from people using it like that made me feel really touched. It's something I'd like to focus on, but it's not something that could provide a massive income and help us survive as a company.

"There was a guy who didn't paint for 15 years and then went back to painting thanks to Psykopaint.

"We have older demographics who are retired and have some free time. They dig it. Even though it's quite young and we try to make it cool, a big majority of teenagers love to use the gallery and social parts."

AA: How important would you say collaboration has been in creating Psykopaint?

MG: "I could have done it on my own but it wouldn't be as great as it is. I have no clue what this guy [points at David] does. It's just way above my head."

DL: "I think it's important that it's not just the implementation that you need other people for. Especially when dealing with a creative application, you need multiple inputs and not just one vision and you just get better results if you take bits from everyone's experience in the past. They can always lead to something else that wasn't even expected."

MG: "I'm really happy about the people we have. It's one of the strongest teams."

AA: Did it take you a long time to find the right people?

MG: "Yeah, because I was super anal about that. I don't want to settle for less. This is the most important thing in the universe – the people. Because sometimes the market condition can change but if you have good people who can solve problems and get on well you can go anywhere and be successful."

AA: How do you think Psykopaint might adapt in the future as technology improves?

DL: "I think there will be different ways of input, so you don't have to rub a finger on the screen. I think that's changing already. On every sort of device people are very into different ways of interacting with devices. Maybe LeapMotion type stuff will be a twist."

MG: "I think it would be good to use something more precise than fingers. I had this idea that, maybe on the tip of your finger, you have a very tiny thing that will allow you to make more precise work.

"I was at my place and I took a pen and attached to my finger to see if I could draw and actually you can. To draw with your finger is actually almost even better than a pen."

DL: "With this app, there are no limits. If there's something to do with photo painting or painting, we can probably get that in there and not make it feel like an unnecessary feature. As developers, for us, it's like the same playground to make it that we expect from people using it. For us we're just painting with code."

AA: You mentioned in your talk that you're happy to help others who are planning a personal project, and to offer them your support and advice. Can you tell us more?

MG: "It's good for my ego. Anyone can drop me an email. When we were starting out, we used Techstars and we met lots of people who had already made it. For instance, the people who made Rockband put some money in the company and helped me and once a month I would call them and they would give me advice. And it was huge value to get that.

"If you can just speak to someone for 20 minutes it opens your mind. And I'm really happy to work with people. It makes me feel useful.

"I do already receive some emails from people who want some advice, and I do my best to try to help if I think they're genuine and passionate. If you want to bring your passion to the world I'm here to help."

The Reasons to be Creative conference in Brighton brought together the likes of Stefan Sagmeister, Jon Burgerman, Geri Coady, Erik Spiekermann, Naomi Atkinson, Fabio Sasso, Mr Bingo and more to discuss topics dear to most creatives' hearts: from finding happiness and creative success and failure, to how to motivate yourself and change what you do for the better. It even got attendees singing in unison.

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