Retro spotlight: Avril Harrison and Deluxe Paint

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Published on 25 January 2024 by Andrew Owen (3 minutes)

Deluxe Paint was a bitmap graphics editor created by Dan Silva and published for the then-new Amiga 1000 by Electronic Arts in 1985. He went on to join the Yost Group with Tom Hudson (who created the Atari ST equivalent package, DEGAS) which created the software that became Autodesk 3ds Max. Deluxe Paint became the standard graphics editor for video games in the 16-bit era. But what initially popularized the software was the art of Avril Harrison, in particular an iconic image of Tutankhamen, which became part of the Deluxe Paint brand.

“The first version of DeluxePaint that I got going on the Amiga had no menus. I basically got the skeleton of the program going, and it was all keystrokes. You could do anything. The first paintings on that program were done by Avril Harrison. As I recall she did them without any menus, using the PICK command to pick colors out of the screen, and it worked fine."—Dan Silva

Avril was an artist at Electronic Arts and would likely have become familiar with Deluxe Paint in its earlier incarnation as an in-house tool. Yet she doesn’t get a mention in the Wikipedia article on the software. Or credit on the Andy Warhol site for painstakingly reproducing Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” with a mouse before Warhol copy-pasted a third eye onto the image and took credit for the whole thing. You can still see her initials on the resulting image.

Many of the other images she created were distributed with various versions of Deluxe Paint. While at Electronic Arts, she also created the cover image for “Adventure Construction Set”. Avril isn’t a public person, and information about her career after Electronic Arts comes entirely from her in-game credits. It’s been reported she joined LucasArts, but she has credits on titles from other studios around the same time. So it’s possible she was entirely freelance, or that she was doing freelance work in addition to her work for LucasArts.

At LucasArts she worked mainly on games using the SCUMM engine including “Monkey Island” and its sequels “LeChuck’s Revenge” and “The Secret of Monkey Island” (the hero Guybrush is named for Deluxe Paint’s brush feature). Her credits also include “The Dig”, “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis”, “Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe”, “Super Star Wars” and “Zombies Ate My Neighbors”.

For Brøderbund Software she worked on “Prince of Persia”, three “Carmen Sandiego” titles, “Math Workshop” and appropriately, an art program for children called “Kid Pix Studio Deluxe”. She is also credited on “ToeJan & Earl”, “Madden NFL 98”, “NBA 2K” and “NFL 2K”. After 1999 there are no further credits and there are no known photographs of Avril online.

So, to stretch this article out a bit, I’m going to indulge in some wild speculation. Artists are known to use themselves as studies from time to time. And if you look at the images of the Celtic woman from Deluxe Paint and Elaine Marley from Monkey Island 2, there are some similarities. Could these be based on self-portraits? We’ll probably never know, but hopefully history will remember Avril Harrison and her contribution to computer art.