Villing & Company

I May Be Married to Technology, but I Sometimes Cheat With a #2 Pencil

As you can tell from my last article, I’m fascinated with the interface between analogue and digital media, especially when it comes to art. And what could be more digital than a high-tech graphics tablet? Or more analogue than a plain, old number two pencil? And the big question: is there room for both in our world?

Wacom currently dominates the graphics tablet market with its impressive line of products geared toward commercial artists. Among digital artists, especially illustrators, these tablets are becoming increasingly common. They are often the tools of choice when creating digital art due to their ability to emulate the pressure sensitivity of traditional media while utilizing the speed of digital art. They’re impressive, no doubt. But are they enough?

Now before I go on, make no mistake that I love my Wacom tablet. I’m totally dependent on it. So much in fact that my mouse has become a lonesome object collecting dust at the back of my desk. When I’m forced to use a mouse it feels odd and cumbersome. The stylus just feels right and I’ll probably never go back. That being said, I have to admit I don’t think the graphics tablet is enough. Often, I still need, and even prefer, a common pencil and paper.

For me, it comes down to thinking of the graphics tablet as one important tool in the toolbox. To invoke a worn-out analogy, you wouldn’t just grab a hammer and think you’re prepared to build a house. Each part of a creative process requires a different tool. Digital art is the same way. The requirements of the job dictate what tool makes the most sense at a given time.

I’ve identified several places in common digital art workflows where a simple pencil still makes more sense than a graphics tablet:

  1. Web Design/Functionality Planning – The computer makes it too easy to get ahead of yourself when planning the design for a website. Grab a sketchpad instead and distance yourself from the digital realm for a moment to clear your head and rough out basic ideas for icons and layout. This will keep you from relying on digital tricks too early in the process instead of solving the important problems first.
  2. Video Storyboards – Storyboards are by their very nature intended to be rough and simple. Their purpose is to work out camera movements and shots before you shoot or animate. Grab a pencil and paper to quickly rough these out. If you need to email it to someone, simply scan it and lay it out in the computer.
  3. Illustration Planning/Thumbnails – This is where I’ve especially noticed other artists using pencils the most. Often you will find digital paintings labeled “Digital Over Pencil” to indicate that the painting was created digitally using a graphics tablet working from a file scanned from a hand-drawn pencil sketch. This is a great marriage of the strengths of the two media. A good argument could be made that the under-sketch of a digital painting looks better if started with pencil. The power of the graphics tablet is to digitally create a beautiful painting overtop using the sketch as a guide.
  4. When You Need (Or Want) To Be Mobile – If you're traveling or are just sick of sitting in front of a backlit rectangle, what could be better than finding a comfortable chair or shady spot under a tree to rock out your ideas. Or sometimes the creative thunderbolt will find its way onto the back of a dinner napkin. The beauty is, no matter how simple or elaborate your pencil sketches are, they can always be digitized later.

It’s true that new gizmos come out all the time trying to give the pencil a run for its money. But for now, I think the old technology of graphite wrapped in wood still has some mileage.

Filed Under: creative

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