Deck The Halls: Creating Artwork With A Tablet

Ever since my short career as an art student, I’ve wanted a completely digital drawing environment as good as pencil and paper. While my 4×5 Wacom Art Pad II was fun at the time, it wasn’t the dream setup people like Bert Monroy use. I’ve revisited the concept with things like a Palm Pilot and a Nintendo DS. All were limited by screen resolution, or no screen at all. While not a perfect solution, a modern tablet with the right stylus and the right software comes pretty damn close.

The experiment was simple: Create some sort of holiday themed artwork using nothing but a tablet. I wanted to see how far I could go with the tablet, and how long it took me to bail to the desktop. I already had an image of my trademark Green Zeta with a fish-eye lens effect and thought about using it as a reflection in a Christmas ornament. I did some photographing of my tree with the tablet and was set with all my image assets.

The first key to drawing on a tablet is finding the right stylus. The finer the point the better. There are plenty of pro versions out there for $100 or more but, being Christmas time, I had to do this on a shoestring budget. I settled on a mini-stylus, around the width of a pencil eraser, that I found at a dollar store. It’s not as precise as a pencil point, but I was surprised to find that it worked really well.

The other key to drawing on a tablet is finding the right software. I had been eyeing Adobe Photoshop Touch for months now and I finally had an excuse to pay the $9.99 for it. For the price, PhotoShop Touch is amazing. You get a ton of features, very close to the functionality you’d find in PhotoShop Elements on the desktop. I was able to import my background and add the GreenZeta head reflection in the ornament.

I found PhotoShop Touch to be lacking when it came to freehand drawing. Switching between tools, like brush and eraser, is a multi-step process and the brush and color selection palettes are cumbersome. Fortunately I had a copy of Autodesk SketchBook I picked up as an Amazon Free App of the Day. SketchBook is a great drawing app with a full compliment of pencil and brush tools. I was able to export my background from PhotoShop Touch and import into Sketchbook to draw in the green hand.


The result is the image above. Just for the hell of it I added the animated snow using Google’s Auto-Awesome effect. Total time to create was about 2 hours.

As I said, tablets still aren’t a perfect solution. One of the biggest problems I had was learning to keep the side of my hand off the screen while using the stylus. One trick I learned was to constantly move canvas over to the edge of the screen and use the besel as a hand rest. PhotoShop Touch is also lacking a lot of minor features that make it difficult to use. For example, there are no layer masks so there’s no way to non-destructively remove part of an image. If you move a layer off the edge of the canvas, it gets cropped and you cannot choose to move it back later. This was very frustrating as I tried to get the positioning of the hand correct. You cannot lock layers and move them as a group. The selection tool is also missing a proportion lock making it next to impossible to select a perfect circle.

All of the major problems I found were software issues that will likely be fixed over time. If you have a tablet already it’s a very viable option for graphic art. Since there are some changes workflow, it’s worth becoming familiar with the medium. I’ll still use pad and pencil for quick sketching, but I’ve begun to reconsider the pencil as my starting point for final artwork. I may try going all-tablet in 2014 to see how far I can take it.

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One Response to Deck The Halls: Creating Artwork With A Tablet

  1. dai software says:

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