favorite art tools: high-tech & modern

When I started illustrating again, I sketched out my ideas in pencil–usually on vellum–then transferred them onto heavier paper (Strathmore’s 300 Series Bristol). I used a Huion light board to ink my designs with Rotring Isograph and Sakura micron pens and hoped for no shaky hands, big mistakes or ink malfunctions. My goal was to keep my lines crisp and fluid.

iterations horse

Iterations of a horse: pencil sketch on vellum, India ink illustration, then watercolor pencil

Once I completed an illustration with black ink, I would scan it into my Mac with an Epson Stylus NX625. I spent a lot of time reading articles about how to get the cleanest scan possible and a lot of time fiddling with my scanner settings. Sometimes I got lucky. But more often than not, I had to pull an illustration into Photoshop to further clean it up. In addition to futzing with brightness and contrast adjustments, it also meant using my old Wacom Bamboo tablet and stylus to edit out mysterious shadows and the lines that were botched or strayed off course.

When I bought the Bamboo (a damn long time ago) it was pretty cool. A huge leap from zooming in and cleaning up individual pixels via incessantly clicking my mouse to being able to hold a pen and “draw” on the screen. But it was still awkward and I felt really detached–like I wasn’t really drawing. I could never seem to find a comfortable position for my hand, the pen, the orientation of the tablet to my screen . . . and there was all this space between me and the monitor. And a cord that always seemed to be in the way. It did not feel natural. At all.

Knowing full well I could ever afford one, I researched my dream tablet: the Wacom Cintiq line of “creative pen displays.” These tablets looked amazing and I loved everything they had to offer–except the price. And then someone told me about the iPad Pro and its capabilities with the Apple Pencil. I was skeptical, but it was a far less expensive option than the Cintiq. I eventually had a chance to play around with an iPad Pro at a store, and an hour later I caved and bought the big one. When I got home, I downloaded the Procreate app and charged up my newfangled pencil.

It took very little time to switch from using Photoshop on my Mac (which I have used for over fifteen years) to Procreate, and within a few days, I was flying.

Drawing on the glass screen with the Apple pencil is direct, immediate–so fluid and forgiving. And so much fun! I can use as many layers as I need to sketch out my ideas, resize and move individual pieces around, and use a top layer to complete my final black line illustrations. It is super easy to export illustrations to the cloud so I can pick them up on my Mac in Photoshop, Illustrator or Fireworks for final sizing, printing, creating digital pieces for social media, and backup storage.

My work process has become so much more organized and streamlined, and I can carry my digital sketchbook wherever I go. Moving to the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil has truly been a game-changer, and now I can spend more time focusing on my designs and less time coaxing antiquated technology to do what I need it to do.

I doubt I’ll give up pencils, pens and paper completely (a few of my favorite low-tech, old school tools are touched on in this post), but drawing on the Ipad Pro with the Apple pencil in Procreate feels natural and has been a very enjoyable experience.

While I have been using Procreate exclusively, I know there are other great art apps to explore and would love to hear about your experiences. Always curious–feel free to comment!