Happy Halloween!

Red wishes you a very happy Halloween!Did a little something in Sketchbook Pro in honor of the season. It’s always been arguably my favorite holiday. Goblins and ghouls, candy and chaos, the harvest? What’s not to love?

I’ll post some thoughts on this soon – but in the meantime, what do you think?

 

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The New AutoDesk Sketchbook Pro for Android

Patch says you made a mistake...

The second drawing I did today. This one was while I chilled at a Starbucks and did some people watching.

So I recently downloaded the new Sketchbook Pro for Android. As the previous edition of Sketchbook was pretty much the only app I use for illustration on my Galaxy Note 8, I jumped at the chance to pick up a new version with the assumption that it was significantly improved. The marketing materials certainly seemed to make it seem so. I wanted to spend a little time with it before I posted/commented on how I feel about it. This is that review. (Don’t let Patch’s commentary fool you…)

First, let’s look at the

Cons

They removed some of the functionality that already existed in previous versions and added it back into a ‘Advanced Pro Tools’ pack which you have to purchase. This means you have to spend more on a product you already purchased. Since the cost is low ($3.99) and the value is high (the selection tools alone would make it worthwhile) I went ahead and bought it. I figured it’s the same in the desktop world – you have to pay for new editions – so why not. Still, it did feel a bit like re-buying something I already own.

  • There appears to be a glitch with the eraser that causes the ‘hover effect’ to stay even once I’ve switched to another tool (say, the pencil) until I actually use the new tool. This is obviously not a big deal, but it can be annoying if I’m working in a small area. This could actually be related to the fact that I use Samsung’s special SPen with an Eraser – I haven’t tested the ‘standard’ SPen to see if it has the same issue.
  • Documentation: This is a personal pet peeve of mine. When your company is on the scale of AutoDesk, I expect to be able to find the information I need on your product somewhere online. Yes, I recognize this product is new. Does’t matter. If I’m able to find an issue with your app? There should be information about it. Specifically, I’d like to see more information on the Transform Tool and the export/share functionality. Why? Well…
    • Transform Tool: They’ve actually given us a far better version of this tool imho, but they don’t explain how it works. Scale and Rotate in the old version was a “grab the handle with your stylus and do what you need to” process. The new version allows you to use a two finger rotate and scale pretty effectively and in a way that feels a bit more like traditional media. I’m a huge fan. But here’s the thing: because I didn’t know about how to use the tool, I thought that it didn’t exist. I almost posted a much worse review because I thought we’d lost some really valuable tools in a ‘newer better version’. Moral? Documentation matters folks.
    • Eport / Share functionality: Here again, it seems that the new version does the things that I want it to do, but frankly I’m still figuring it out. Specifically, I wanted to ‘save to device as a PNG’. While you do almost all other ‘save/share’ functions from within the Gallery View of the app, there seems to be an option for ‘save to device’ in the ‘edit image’ view. Cloodgey. Again – not terrible, but far from intuitive. Annnd since there’s no documentation that I could find on the subject…
  • And lastly (but probably most importantly) is this: It really seems to crash a lot on my Note 8. That said, I will say this: I have had almost zero incidents where I lost much more than a few minutes of work as the app seems to ‘recover’ pretty damn well. It does, however send me into a panic each time because I still think in terms of desktop applications where – if you haven’t saved it, you’re pretty much sunk.
  • Edited to Add: Sadly, I need to add one more item to the ‘con’ list. There are no longer numbers to associate with certain elements of brushes – say, for example, for brush size. The sliders still remain, but you can’t see a number to determine the actual size or to enter for a precise size. This seems like a significant item for the minus column.
TMNT - Turtle Power!

TMNT – Turtle Power! The first drawing I did today – kinda a warm up while I had breakfast.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the

Pros

  • Selection Tools: this is HUGE. You have to pay for it (as mentioned – $3.99 – get over it. Buy that instead of a regular old coffee at Starbucks ONE TIME) but it’s completely worth it. I had figured out a way around the lack of a selection tool in the previous version, but that basically consisted of duplicating a layer and then erasing everything that I did not want to ‘select’. Far from efficient. Seriously? I know that it looks like I posted a lot of cons above, but this makes up for most of them by itself.
  • More Traditional Feel: AutoDesk really seems to be working hard at the idea of making their GUI more like working with traditional media, but with the added functionality of digital art. They’ve worked out a process by which you can zoom/rotate using two fingers. Or, if you’re in ‘Transform Mode’, the same gestures Scales / Rotates the currently selected area or layer. This feels very natural not only because that’s what you would be doing with regular paper, but because it’s how you already work in pretty much every app that is Android or iOS based. While this might seem like a no brainer, it’s a huge welcome to the newest version.

TL;DR

I give the new version a 3.75 out of 5. It has some (minor) bugs/issues, but 1. they’re manageable and 2. I suspect they will go away over time as AutoDesk gets a chance to revise/tweak. It’s going to remain the only app I consistently use for illustration purposes.

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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. What’s more, it works great with the special stylus that I mentioned before. This is important to me because I love the traditional media feel of flipping the stylus around to erase rather than switching tools manually in the app.

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. (Edited to Add: For those who are interested, I use AutoDesk Sketchbook Pro pretty much exclusively for sketching/painting with my Note 8.)

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.

Edited to Add:

It looks like I’m having a new problem with this device (which is already my second unit). There’s a ‘plugged in/not charging’ issue which I’ve found is a common issue. (See examples here, here, and here.) On one hand, I get it – that’s what I get for buying the first model. On the other – this is (by far) the most money I’ve ever spent on a PC, and it’s a niche that you would think Wacom would know well by now. I have to say that I’m pretty frustrated with this device, and yet I certainly do not want to send it back. Again. (Especially since I’m hearing a lot of horror stories from folks who have received multiple replacements with the same issue.)

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