It is on days when the children are confined to the apartment, gazing through the window to rain-soaked streets, that we parents think we can see a budding Rembrandt. Something in those little eyes tells of a need for creativity and self expression. And so, foolishly, we reach for the paint box. Each time we think it will be different. 'They're older now,' we tell ourselves. But each time, before the afternoon is through, the walls, the child and the dog will all be covered in murky hues that speak only vaguely of the pristine primary colours that they once were. An upturned jar of water will have tested the absorbtion properties of an old newspaper and will be starting on the carpet beneath. Meanwhile, the paper that was to have captured the first masterpiece bears nothing more than a couple of fingerprints and some chocolate stains. The latest software offering from MetaCreations could put an end to all that. The $580 Art Dabbler is a family painting program that doesn't smudge when the dog sticks his nose into it. Like many other programs from MetaCreations, Art Dabbler has an icon-based interface. It is based partly on the much more sophisticated Painter program. But unlike Painter, Art Dabbler is easy for everyone to understand. The tools are kept in pinewood panel doors at the top of the screen. There is a drawer each for textures, colour palettes, stencils and an impressive range of brushes, pens, pencils, spray cans and more. Each has its own sound effect to add to the fun. The work area is a sketch pad that can contain as many or as few pages as the user cares to define. You can work directly on to a clean page or import photographs that can be traced or used for a kind of hi-tech brass rubbing in which any of the Dabbler's tools can be used to create a drawn or painted effect of the picture below. The file types that can be imported (and exported) include RIFF, PICT, TIFF, PCX, Targa, BMP, and Photoshop 2.5. Deleting unwanted pages from a sketch pad is as easy as throwing them in the bin. Once you have mastered the tools you might like to try a little animation. These are created on a Flipbook and take a lot more practice that you might think. Flipbooks can contain up to 100 pages but I suggest beginners start with no more than four or five. Finished animations can be exported as Quicktime movies. There are no printed instructions for Art Dabbler but the CD contains three interactive guides that cover basics, how to draw cartoons, and how to animate. The CD contains versions for Power Macintosh (running system 7.5 or later) and Windows 95. Both platforms require 16 megabytes of Ram and 32 MB of free disk space.