Saturday, January 03, 2009

Digital Test

As you might know, I'm an old-school guy when it comes to art and illustrations. I prefer to work on paper, using brushes and inks, and don't really dig the slick-photoshop look of some of the art being produced today. That doesn't mean I hate computers, of course, despite what I may have posted in the past. I still like to experiment with how to incorporate digital techniques into my process, trying to find ways to save time and enhance creativity. Essentially, I view computers as just another tool in my toolbox, not as a replacement for anything.

With that in mind, I was test-driving a cintiq 12wx digital tablet over the holidays. For those who don't know, the cintiq is kinda like a souped-up touchscreen for artists. Because you can draw right on the display surface, it more closely mimics the feel of drawing on paper than a mouse or a regular drawing tablet. I was curious to see how my style would translate to working digitally, as I've seen friends of mine work exclusively with the cintiq with excellent results. However, their drawing styles were obviously different from mine, and I wondered if I could get that same fluidity of line I like while working on the cintiq.

My results, I have to say, were a bit mixed. The cintiq does an adequate job of imitating a brushline, but some of the dry-brush and thick-to-thin feathering I do were quite difficult to replicate while using it. For example, drawing foliage the way I do is much faster and more precise using real brushes. However, the cintiq is great for doing patch-ups or corrections to existing artwork. And it's about as close to drawing on paper as you can get with the current generation of digital hardware. The best moment for me was when I was able to slap a ruler on top of the surface and drag the stylus across it for a nice-hand drawn thick-and-thin ruler-line. That was cool. The other cool part of the design was that the cintiq can be laid flat on my drawing table, so I can rotate it around like I would a piece of paper while drawing on it. That clearly showed that it was designed with artists in mind.

One great drawback to the cintiq though is all the cables and cords that it needs. You'd think that having a touchscreen to draw on would mean you could just lay back on your couch and doodle away, but the amount of cables attached to it limits its portability. Also, you really need a keyboard nearby, since all software is going to require you to hit keys or type in filenames at some point. Maybe in a couple of generations, they'll make this thing wireless and then it'll really take off.

In the meantime, I still haven't decided whether I'd want to purchase one for my own use. I doubt it would ever replace drawing on paper for me. The cintiq offers some nice advantages, but it also comes with some limitations -- just like any other tool in my toolbox.

To give you an idea of some of the drawings I did while testing out the cintiq, check out the quick portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer above. I drew it completely in software, in about 15 minutes. I think it would have taken about 30 minutes using ink and guoache.

Edit: Because I am a bit obsessive, I thought the original sketch was a bit 'flat' looking. So I did some additional work on it and added some textures, which I think make it look a bit more complete. You can see the results below. Which do you prefer?