Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tabula Rasa

(I know.)

I've never been particularly satisfied with using the mouse for digital art; it's not particularly intuitive, and it strains the arm and hand in a way that the pencil/pen doesn't, so I've often looked into the idea of using a graphics tablet. However, I've never taken the plunge because, despite being a gamer for decades, I've always been concerned about how the hand/eye coordination thing is going to work; the very concept of "drawing" at the desk but having the results appear somewhere else bothers me slightly. And I don't know anyone local or well enough that has a tablet that I could borrow and try out. Also, the things have been hideously expensive up until very recently. So it's always been a case of a lot of umming and ahing and not much tabletting.

So birthdays are good, because people can buy you what they like, and you don't have to worry about the burden of buyer's remorse, even if the gift is rubbish (it's not) and will spend the rest of its life shunned at the back of a cupboard (it won't). This year, I got a Wacom Bamboo One, and while I haven't done much with it yet, I've had a bit of a play, and I think I can work with it. It is weird, but not in the insurmountable way I thought it would be. It will take a lot of practice before I'm anywhere near competent with it, but it should be good enough for my purposes; at the moment, I mainly use the computer for colouring and lettering, but I could see myself drawing directly on the screen once I'm more confident with the gear.

One question though: how is the pen powered? It's very light, so I don't think there's a battery in there, yet it has to be powered somehow for the buttons to work. Doesn't it? I'm confused, and the minimal documentation isn't very helpful. This is the kind of thing that occupies my thoughts, so do help if you can.


  1. Can't help with the question - although now it's bugging me too.
    I read an interview with an illustrator who moved over to drawing directly onto computer and he made a brilliant point; he no longer looks at the pen/pencil, just at the results. That made a hell of a lot of sense and totally over rode my problems about the hand/eye co-ordination stuff.
    Doubt I'll go over to fully digital drawing (I like paper), but I'm having a go at digital painting and quite enjoying it.

  2. The power's all in the tablet innit, it can sense where the pen's hovering through its er, pen sensing technology. I've used Wacoms but my el cheapo Trust tablet I bought years ago has a battery in the pen, which annoying keeps coming unscrewed. If the A5 Wacoms are becoming affordable, I may upgrade.

    Like Paul says, watch the cursor onscreen rather than the tablet and pretend it's your pen tip. Some take to it better than others, but I couldn't do without mine these days.

  3. Well, that's the thing. Essentially it's a big laptop mouse pad, and I'm sure the position/pressure sensing works in the same way as those do. But how is it working out that the buttons are being pressed? I don't like the idea that the tablet is broadcasting energy into the air like that thing from the Action Force movie.

  4. You are the battery. You have unwittingly become a tool of the computer.

  5. That's probably not far off. I wouldn't be surprised if it were powered by body heat or movement or something.

  6. According to Wikipedia:

    "Passive tablets, most notably those by Wacom, make use of electromagnetic induction technology, where the horizontal and vertical wires of the tablet operate as both transmitting and receiving coils (as opposed to the wires of the RAND Tablet which only transmit). The tablet generates an electromagnetic signal, which is received by the LC circuit in the pen. The wires in the tablet then change to a receiving mode and read the signal generated by the pen. Modern arrangements also provide pressure sensitivity and one or more switches (similar to the buttons on a mouse), with the electronics for this information present in the pen itself, not the tablet. On older tablets, changing the pressure on the pen nub or pressing a switch changed the properties of the LC circuit, affecting the signal generated by the pen, which modern ones often encode a digital data stream onto the signal. By using electromagnetic signals, the tablet is able to sense the stylus position without the stylus having to even touch the surface, and powering the pen with this signal means that devices used with the tablet never need batteries. Wacom's patents don't permit their competitors to employ such techniques."

    I love my Graphire 4 and use it exclusively to draw my comic (when I work on it at all!) these days. I find apart from anything else it removes the old problem I had of drawing everything in skewed perspective due to the lack of an angled surface as I'm looking at the screen head on.

    Some movements are a bit tricky to do on the tablet, mainly big sweeping arcs etc, but I find it easy enough to zoom in and draw such things in shorter segments with very precise control.