Digital Art Workout

Self Portrait - Limited PaletteI really stink at certain things – artistically speaking. Color theory and I have never been friends. Likenesses too have never been a strong suit for me.

So, when I saw this month’s “Draw Yourself As…” limited palette option, I thought: What the hell? Why not?

I did it in Open Canvas 5.5 and with only one brush (though I did vary the size of the brush). It was a good experiment, I learned a lot, and it also showed me areas where I need to focus in future practice. I’m not terribly thrilled with the results, but as I said – it was a hell of a learning experience.

How about you? What’s the strangest self portrait you ever did?

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Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Note 8My Note 10.1 broke. I’m not sure how or when – it seemed to happen quite literally overnight one night – but it’s as if the layer in the tablet which interacts with the stylus has been disconnected. It no longer recognizes the stylus at all. The capacitive elements still work normally, so it’s a great Android 10″ tablet, but I can’t (really) use it for a digital sketchbook.

Add to this my concept of “if you’re going to go portable – go extremely portable” and I found myself picking up the Note 8. I wanted something to replace the ‘sketchbook’ that had been my 10.1, and didn’t require the pull it out/set it up of the Cintiq. This fits perfectly.

For the Day Job, I keep it in the front of the van with me – playing audio books and podcasts through a bluetooth adapter for the stereo. When I stop to eat, I can pick it up, throw it in a pocket, and check my mail and facebook while dining. Stop to stretch my legs? It’s instantly on and ready for me to sketch something while I walk around the park.

It suffers (like its big brother) from a lack of apps that really do the heavy lifting, but again – that’s not what I bought the Note 8 for.

Like the LS800, the Note 8 seems like it’s the perfect combination of inexpensive, convenient, and functional enough for a digital sketchbook. It also has the added advantage of being better at a lot of other things (which the LS800 really wasn’t).

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Wacom Cintiq Companion – Windows 8

Wacom Companion

Another leap out into the void that is ‘going pro’. Since Wacom finally made the leap into full blown PCs, and with my life now consisting of carrying everything I own in two bags and moving pretty much every day, I decided to bite the (giant) bullet and buy a Companion – the Windows 8 model – not the Hybrid.

First – the cons:

  1. Cost. These things are still ridiculously pricey. Look – I get it. You’re the industry leader, and it costs to play with the industry leader. Still – at more than double the nearest competitor, this seems just goofy.
  2. Design flaws. This one would be funny if it wasn’t so frustrating. Flaws in the design of this device seem painfully obvious to me. A power button in the lower right corner – where you’re most likely to grab the device to move it on the tabletop has had me swearing out loud on more than one occasion. Don’t get me started on the piss poor speaker(s?) in the back of the device.  Add those to the wonky (at best) ‘stand’ that is a separate piece on the back – requiring both hands and the agility of an acrobat to maneuver, and I’m just… frustrated. I mean – we’re not talking about Microsoft here. We’re talking about a company whose product is used by designers all over the world. You  would think that they could have come up with something better – even their first time out.
  3. Size/weight. This has a bit of that sense of “lugging it out” that I mentioned I had when using my Intuos. It’s not nearly as bad, and I’m happy to have the screen real estate when I’m working, but it seems a bit much. Between the 13″ working area and the programmable buttons on the one edge I need to shop for 15-17″ laptop cases when I go looking. This is probably a minor thing for a lot of folks (after all – there’s a lot of people who like 15-17″ laptops) but I’ve always believed that if you’re looking to be portable, be really portable.
  4. Service. I’ve already had a problem with mine which required I send it back to Wacom. I’ll write that experience out in another post (it’s warranted) but for now, let me just say that Wacom is clearly new to the “supporting PCs” world, and they’re not very good at it.

Now, the pros:

  1. It’s Wacom. I’m not going to lie. Working with the Cintiq – like the Intuos before it – is really a leap away from the other devices I’ve used. Now, being able to work directly on the screen I’m looking at as well as having the fluidity / functionality of a Wacom? That’s a little bit of love right there.
  2. It’s a full PC. As mentioned, I live on the road. When I pack up and I don’t have to pack both a laptop and a tablet, I’m very happy.
  3. Everything works (pretty much). While I did have a bad experience (mentioned above), for the most part, I find the tablet screamingly fast and happy to do what I want it to. I’ve always been a guy who frankensteined together his machines from bits and pieces and having something that just says “how high?” whenever you say jump is really nice.
  4. It’s Wacom. If / when I’m ever ready to make the jump into full time artist, it’s nice to know that I’m already working with industry standard equipment. Is it a requirement? No – of course not – good art is the requirement, not the right tool. But it’s nice.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Samsung Note 10.1Along came the Note series. I had no interest in a Note phone. Too small a surface area to do any real drawing. Amusing, I think, since they were probably about the same surface area as that original Graphire.

Still – the fact that Samsung was smart enough to try a real digitizer device hardware solution in a (relatively) cheap Android OS device was enough to pique my interest. I figured I had a replacement for my LS800 without the weight and heat.

For the most part, I was right. I bought the original 10.1 (not the 2014 edition) and I loved it. There were only two real negatives, and both were fairly minor:

  1. It didn’t have the resources to do large scale images. This wasn’t really a big deal to me. I only wanted a portable digital sketchbook (a full blown finished-image device seemed unrealistic when it came to costs) and I was used to this sort of thing from my LS800. Give me something simple, to do sketch work with, and I would be happy.
  2. Lack of environment. Android is great in general. I’ve played with iOS a bunch, and I genuinely don’t feel like there’s much difference in the two ecosystems. I’m not looking to prosthelytize here – I’m just saying that I had no need to move to iOS. That said, there wasn’t much in the way of apps that would function well for my new tool. I finally found Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, bought it, and have been using it ever since. It’s somewhat limited, but again – the idea is a sketchbook and SBP works great for that.

One last note about this one. (See what I did there?) I highly recommend picking up one of these specialty styluses (stylii?)  if you are going to use a Note tablet. It gives you the ability to flip it around and erase without changing tools in the app. This nod to ‘traditional media’ has made me very happy over time, and mimics real Wacom Stylus tech. Well worth the few additional bucks.

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Wacom Intuos 4 – XL

Wacom Intuos4Finally, I decided it was time to spend some money and ‘go pro’. My LS800 was great, but wasn’t really for doing finished work, and I wanted something that could handle just that. I’d finally bought myself a PC that could handle the work load, and it was time to get a digitizer tablet to match.

Wacom was (and really still is) the only solid name when it comes to pro level gear, so I went to their site and did some shopping. Looking through the options, I decided that I couldn’t afford the Cintiqs. The cheapest they had was over $1000 and you still needed a separate PC to run the programs on. I wanted one, but it was unrealistic. Art was still only a ‘side job’ and I didn’t feel like I could validate the expense.

The Intuos line was much more reasonably priced, and I decided to go big. Really big. I got the largest they had.

My reasoning was sound – I thought: “I’m a big dude. If I want to make large, gestural strokes of my arm, I can’t do that on an 8.5×11 form factor. While that was true, I did find in the end that it was too much tablet for me. It sat beside my computer way too much – in part because it felt like I had to “lug it out” every time. Takeaway: keep it down to something that at least fits on your desktop unless you’re really a person who needs those broad gestures – often.

Still – it needs to be said here that working on a real Wacom Intuos was a beautiful thing. Applications did what I wanted them to when I wanted them to do it. It felt… natural. I know that sounds strange when talking about digital art hardware, but it’s also true. There was a great flow to working with this device, and I sometimes miss it. I still have this one despite not being able to take it with me on the road – it’s sitting at my parents’ place. Want to buy it? Let me know.

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