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?


Bob Flynn said...

Your digital test looks pretty impressive to me...especially for only 15 minutes! I've been debating about getting a Cintiq myself, though I still haven't taken one for a test drive.

I currently do most of my digital work in Flash with a regular Wacom tablet. I'm happy with the line quality for the most part (vector, too...which is cool). But it still feels very different from pen on paper...which I would think a Cintiq would more closely mimic.

Thanks for your review! And again, great image.

Josh said...

There is a wacom that you can draw, however, it’s smaller and there are fewer cords to worry about. I own the Cintiq 21uk and I’ve had it for years and it is quite handy. It won't replace drawing pages on paper, penciling them and inking them for me, but it's great for corrections and I do all my coloring with the Cintiq and photoshop. I also do lettering for my web comic, but I only used the Cintiq to create my own font, which can be done on paper too and then scanned into the computer.

From what I can see of your work it would help you with speed, but it would be limited to coloring and corrections as it is for me, therefore, buying the large one might not be helpful for you.

I did ink a full comic with the Wacom for Control Alt Delete Productions and the first six pages were inked with a brush. You cannot tell the difference. This was due to creating custom brushes to help create the brush feel you get with a real brushes. Having done this I would say I won’t be inking on my Wacom in the future. For instance, to save time, I pencil and ink my web comic on paper, but I don’t draw in the boarders and simply add them in after I’ve scanned the art into the computer. Naturally, I make my corrections with it and color it.

Wow, I really do like to ramble. Sorry! Thanks for posing your experience and art. As always your work is wonderful.

Michael Cho said...

Bob: thanks for the comment. I might try using Flash too -- that vector line is handy to have.

Josh: Thanks, Josh. Actually, if you check the post, my review was for the cintiq 12wx you mention. I haven't really used the larger cintiq much, and probably wouldn't get it since its a standup model and a bit more limited in how much I can rotate it -- I'd wanna do a full 360, you know? But I agree with you re: using it for patches and corrections -- its definitely very very handy for that.

Brian Churilla said...

Stay analog! Destroy all robots!!!
Die! Die! Die!

Nice piece, BTW.


Michael Cho said...

Word. Fear not, I ain't converting to all-digital anytime soon. Not until they make a stylus with a brushy tip. And a screen that has a paper-tooth to it.

Brian Churilla said...

Give it five years and it'll happen.

Josh said...

Yeah, I read it and then came back and wrote my response, so clearly I forgot certain details.

By the way, they do have a stylus, that I've wanted to get since I got my wacom, that can turn on the wacom so it acts more like a brush. That way you can create brushes that are oval shape and turn them to make thick to thin lines and along with it's pressure sensitivity is very helpful.

I'm happy that you're at least considering using a wacom in the future, as it really is a nice tool. Digital painting is great too. I converted my nintendo DS into a smaller version of a tablet with a program called COLORS.

Marc Hudgins said...

I've found that line quality with Cintiqs, specifically ink-lines are highly dependent on the software being used. Photoshop seems kind of so-so, whereas Sketchbook Pro I found to have a very good ink line.

Drazen said...

I've only used the larger cintiq and I think its fantastic, better than a wacom tablet if you like drawing by hand..I still draw everything by hand on paper but the larger cintiq is the next best thing.
The smaller cintiq, because of what i heard about the chords, didn't seem to have much benefit.
I've used a tablet pc which is great for portablilty, sketching and flat colour but
sucked when doing any layered photoshop work.
So for sketching I still prefer the old fashioned sketchbook.
So theres my thoughts Mr. Cho.

NIce DrawiNG!

alan said...

Don't the cables you mention limit the rotation factor? I'd love a Wacom but can't justify it.

Great drawing btw -amazing for such a short drawing time

Michael Cho said...

Brian: I think it'll probably happen in 2 or less. Either way, I really really don't think I'd give up traditional media. For one thing, I think working digitally too much will ruin my touch for regular inking. I found I pressed harder on the stylus than I would with a brush, and the last thing I'd ever want to lose are my trad. inking skills.

Josh: You paint on a Nintendo DS?? That's crazy! And pretty cool.

Marc: I'd heard that too. I'm curious to use software like Painter with it too, as other people tell me it reacts better to the wacom. I found that in order to have a smooth line, like a gentle curve, I had to work in zoom quite a bit in Pshop. That's not really my thing, as I prefer seeing the whole image at once, not just a big zoomed in area.

Drazen: I've used the larger cintiq, but as far as I understood, you couldn't spin it 360 and lay it flat on a table: that's something I'd absolutely need, since my inking habits require me to constantly rotate the paper around while I work.

Alan: there's a big box that goes between the wacom and the computer, which has all the cables plugged into it. Then there's only one fat cable that goes to the tablet itself. It does get a bit awkward to rotate because of that cable, but its still workable.

Desiree Cassidy said...

I am traditional media all the way but its nice to have the hardware incase you ever get the itch to play or if a client requests so, plus when time is money its nice to have a tool that speeds things up when needed.
Options are nice.

Great site by the way! It's my first visit here ;)

Michael Cho said...

Thanks, Desiree. I agree with you there. I'm a traditional guy, but I found the cintiq very useful for patches, pasteups and corrections.

Drazen said...

you could always rotate the picture.
tho I know thats a lot less natural.
I usually don't flip my paper around too much when I ink with a pen or brush so
that never bothered me, laying it flat is a problem can sure do that with
tablet pc.
Cool new drawing.

Vee (Scratch) said...

"highly dependent on the software being used" is very, very true. I don't own a Cintiq (yet), I use a regular Wacom to draw, ink, whatever. It does take practice. I have really loose quick examples throughout my blog I posted 2 examples below. I prefer Painter all the way. I haven't really explored what you can really do with Painter yet. You really have to press harder with Photoshop. Besides Photoshop is an image-editing application with some painting, drawing features. Painter is a painting program with some image editing features, distinct difference. I haven't tried Sketchbook Pro yet. I can not tell the difference between my digital pencil sketches or a scanned drawing on paper. It took a while to get really comfortable but the same thing goes with any tool, like an airbrush.

I still draw on with pencil and paper, but a tool is a tool is a tool. The fact that I can avoid scanning altogether saves time. The fact that I can get really clean rich black lines WITHOUT any clean-ups, help.

Note, inking in Adobe Illustrator is probably an acquired taste but really helps for some projects. There's also the many benefits to using vector based lines . . . another story.

Drawing on a Nintendo DS is really FUN. COLORS is the real reason why I purchased my DS, although I do enjoy some Mario games.

Wireless SOlution? You don't have to wait. SOme people have already created solutions on a MAC and I'm sure you can do it on a PC. Here's a quick resource that has more information.

REALLY GREAT WORK and STYLE!! I re-read the Atomic Bomb piece from time to time. And sorry for the extra long comment. I figured I might as well contribute something useful instead of lurking from afar. Happy New Year and stuff.


Vee (Scratch) said...

I don't mind the flat look but I prefer the 2nd interpretation.

Michael Cho said...

Vee: thanks for the comments and tips -- the info is much appreciated.

Roberto Zaghi said...

Hi Michael, thanks for your detailed review of the Cintiq, I have always wanted to try one myself. It's hard to choose my favorite version because I do like both, but if I had do say one it's the first. I love the way you put shadows on these portratis, it's so realistic and stilish at the same time.

Anthony said...

How did you go about testing one out, if you don't mind me asking? I would love to try one for a week or so, but havn't found any answers so far. I'd like to make sure it would be a tool that would stick before shelling out the cold hard cash. Thanks-

Michael Cho said...

Anthony: My brother-in-law has a bunch of them at the college he teaches at, hence I was able to borrow one over the holiday break. Not much help to you, I know. Some of the shops I've seen them at will let you try them out while they're on display. Maybe you could try that?

Tom Dell'Aringa said...

There's a clarity to the first one that I really like. It almost seems like the additions to it muddied it up. They are both great, but I think I actually prefer the first. But I guess it would really depend on how it gets used.

Generic Viagra said...

The digital test is good because is more perfectionist, however the old school is the best, the designs never will be like those ones.

Dylanio21 said...

Definitely prefer the bottom one, I loved this blog, addresses a lot of my thoughts...