Roseann Cima

Bert Monroy, giant of the graphics world, is Macworld's featured artist this year. He's giving a Tech Talk on Thursday on his techniques in Illustrator and Photoshop. To give you a sense of what this will be like: do you remember The Joy of Painting?

I'm sure many people actually learned to paint by watching the show's host, Bob Ross: a soft-spoken, smiling, bearded white man with a friendly afro. In fact, imagining them standing with their easels before their television sets, nodding away, added a lot to my viewing experience as an 8-year-old taking breathers between cartoons.

I didn't have to paint to appreciate the show. I'd just sit back and watch Ross crank out trees with a twist of a brush, cut canyons with a few darts of a painter's knife, explaining each step in words even I could understand. It left me with a singular feeling of tingly stupefaction: so this is what the world is made of. It's the same feeling I get, now, watching Bert Monroy at work.

Monroy might trump Ross in mastery. Though he's a digital artist, he calls himself a “hyper-realist painter.” His pieces are not photo collages nor composites. They're all built from scratch out of shapes, textures, colors and filters.

"I use the word 'paint' for lack of a better word," Monroy says on his website. "My medium is actually light." He 'paints' in pixels.

Monroy was working in advertising when he “discovered” computers in the 1980s. “I was there from the beginning,” he said in an interview. Somebody told him about a computer he could actually do his layouts on -- the Macintosh 128. He did a few sketches, and then he zoomed in to clean it up. “And then something clicked inside me.”

By establishing himself as a digital artist early on, he became a pioneer in the field, and a valued consultant. “Anybody doing things with graphics would send me their product. I got to advise them.” He was part of the original Macworld advisory board.

Given that history, Monroy has plans to display a timeline of selected pieces from his career at Macworld 2012, to educate the “young people” (he's an easy-going, scratchy-voiced New-Yorker, though he now lives in Berkeley). Two big watersheds for Monroy included the Macintosh II, which allowed him to work in color for the first time, and the Wacom Cintiq, a pressure-sensitive tablet screen. “It brought me back full cycle to the way I was trained.”

In recent years he's appreciated Adobe's advancements in 3-D technology, and the iPad as a mobile work platform and presentation tool. He also added, with a twinkle, “there are some really cool things coming up very soon.”

Even his early work on the Mac 128 is impressive: highly detailed black and white pixel illustrations of science fiction landscapes and broken-down alleyways. But his more recent work is eerily realistic. He used to consider himself a photo-realist, but the digital medium has let him go beyond the limitations of a single lens. By making everything in his paintings clear, they're explorable, inquirable, “wherever you look everything comes into focus.”

“People these days are really into game-playing. Learning to use any program should be a game, just a little more productive than giving yourself arthritis in your thumbs. Technology has given people the tools to do whatever we want. You can make your own game worlds to explore.”

Whether or not you're coming to Macworld, you can explore Monroy's work for yourself at his website, and you can find his Photoshop and Illustrator tutorials on Lynda.

For more of Allvoices' coverage of Macworld | iWorld 2012, check out