A number of years ago I unofficially “quit” as an artist. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It just stopped being fun, there was just too much “non art” related things to do that really complicated something that used to be so natural for me.
I sold my first piece of art when I was in 4th or 5th grade. I was riding on a school bus at the time and another student really liked something I had drawn and wanted to buy it. I think I sold my first piece for around $20. I have no idea to this day why he had that much money on him.
I drew constantly. When I was bored, (which happened often) my go to activity was art. At church I would draw pictures of castles with airplanes and little stick people on the castle and then place the page on the carpet and “bomb” the page with my pencil repeatedly until the pencil tip had decimated all the targets.
As a highschool student I was our school’s art prodigy. Almost every piece of art I did was featured in a display down by the lunch room. We had about 1600 students in my school, but my sneaker picture was by far the best in the display case.
I still have countless sketchbooks filled with the art I did in those times. My favorite store was Dick Blick a name that still makes me chuckle even to this day. I spent hours pouring over different mechanical pencils, my weapon of choice. My “excalibur” was a 0.3mm mechanical drafting tool like the one below.
The colors corresponded to the size of the pencil lead, so you were sure to grab the right one for the job. 0.3mm used to be white. My white mechanical pencil was the equivalent to our current “z” hotkey. It allowed me to “zoom” in and do the fine detail work that wasn’t possible with a lesser tool. I also preferred a very fine grain paper. The rougher paper muddled my sniper like accuracy to that of a shotgun spread. Not my style.
I had hundreds of colored pencils and toyed with watercolors and paints, but if it was messy and hard to tote… it was out. I was a kid on the move, mobility was number one. I valued being able to pick up and go in a moments notice. Something inside me believed that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, I would need to be able to pack up all my supplies quickly and get to shelter. Lord knows how terrible living in a bunker for years on canned food and dehydrated beverages would be, especially with only half my art supplies. Somewhere early on, I decided if I wasn’t going to be able to have something in an emergency, no matter what it was, I wasn’t going to train myself to crave it. Ergo, oil paints and watercolors were out. Yes, I was a strange child.
It was for a number of these reasons that when Tablet Pc’s were introduced I was fascinated. I want to say that I was in love, but that has yet to happen. I would say I have a strong to moderately intense “crush” on Tablet PC’s. Sometimes they annoy the crap out of me but I still keep going back to them. Okay, so maybe it is love. Amazing how being married for a while changes a person’s perspective on what love is. =)
Having a Tablet PC with immeasurable tools available to me everywhere I went was very appealing. Pen tip tracking sucked, reaching the corners of the screen was a constant challenge. I remember being really excited when I figured out how to do more than the 16 point calibration process. 81 points… hell yeah! I wasted days if not weeks of my life with poorly aligned digitizers and calibration procedures. I had one tablet that I consistently offset my calibration by about 1/2 an inch to get it to line up “close” to properly.
I loved being able to work on artwork with layers. But the concept created challenges I didn’t want to have to face, it also opened the doors for many new abilities. It was a trade off. I gain something and lost something at the same time. Drawing was complicated. I was searching for something now. Instead of drawing I was becoming more compelled with how to draw. The tools were broken as far as I was concerned. It wasn’t me. It couldn’t be me.
I’ve had at least 9 Tablet PC’s. One of my first Tablet PC’s was a Toshiba Satellite, great tracking, no touch screen at all. I think that pen tracking with Wacom started to get really complicated with the introduction of touch screens on top of the pen digitizer. I had a few HP 2740p Elitebooks. I skipped the 2760p for a few reasons. I tried a Fujitsu and immediately returned it because the one I bought was as slow as mud.
I tried an HP Touchsmart TX2. It was my introduction to N-Trig and I hated it. In my immaturity I had a two month email battle with N-Trig. I spammed their support page and made sure I was very vocal about not using their products. N-Trig for those youngsters out there did not support pen pressure in photoshop for a long time. There was a problem with a driver (wintab) that wouldn’t allow support for legal reasons (or so I believed at the end of that quest). I grew past that stage and despised N-Trig from then forward. I returned my TX2 and got a new machine.
When the Surface line was introduced I was ecstatic. I bought the Surface Pro shortly after it was introduced and was really in love with the machine. Ran great, did almost everything I wanted it to do. It was portable and easy to use. I knew what it could do, and what it couldn’t. The Surface Pro 2 came out and it was more of the same. I love Microsoft 90%. I think they are doing a terrific job and are heading the right direction. Surface Pro 2 was the best machine I’ve ever owned. I used my entire Adobe suite on that machine. After Effects, Photoshop, and Premiere being my mainstay. Artrage, Autodesk Sketchbook and a few others. I also played Starcraft 2 and did some light gaming. It was during this time that I fell back into the trap of searching for speed.
I am convinced that spending time learning how to build an efficient workflow would pay off in the end. Maybe not for me, but the artist that shoves my rotting corpse out of the chair and starts drawing at my desk. They will appreciate my legacy of a perfected workflow. There was months and months that would go by where I would do nothing but a couple doodles of the exact same things over and over. I was obsessed with process and not with art. Give me new tools and then I will be inspired to create.
The Surface Pro 3 had come out and I decided to skip Microsoft’s fusion with the spawn of satan’s pen digitizer abomination. In truth, I really think the Surface Pro 3 is a good machine. I was waiting for my dream machine. The wacom based Surface Pro 4. I was sure Microsoft would have seen the error of their ways and moved past their mistake back to my beloved Wacom. Wacom was clearly better because number 1, they weren’t N-Trig. 2, you could map the pen button to the hotkey for “undo” or “stepback”. This made so much sense when drawing. I could easily make mistakes drawing a line and just as easily make it a thing of the past. 3. Why not let us customize our pen button? … but why? 4. It only had 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. (tbh not something that ever was a real selling point for me) 5. Still N-Trig
I tried to make my Tablet PC do all sorts of things that it should do. Terrible things. Things that should not be spoken of in the light. Okay, they weren’t those types of things. But I would use Splashtop remote desktop to stream my computer screen to my phone where I would remotely play StarCraft 2 against an AI set to hard difficulty…. successfully defeating the AI opponent from inside Target. This is an example of a moment in my life that was muddled with glory and shame all rolled together. I also remapped an xbox controller to play musical notes with the buttons and then remapped the whole thing to play Starcraft 2 with the controller, I believe I had over 45 different key combinations. It was during my time using splashtop that I started trying to find programmers to create that same “on screen trackpad” functionality that was being done using my phone screen.
As it turns out my obsession led me to a programmer by the name of Takashi Yamamoto. It was a two year hunt. Hundreds of keywords failed. I looked for forums that talked about keywords so I could search synonyms for those new keywords. Nothing for years…. Those were dark days….
Then the glorious day arrived when I found touchmousepointer. Touchmousepointer was a little app that allowed you to move the cursor around the screen like the screen was a trackpad. EXACTLY like what I had wanted to create myself. It also allowed for about 16 custom gestures to be programmed to do a variety of tasks. I immediately emailed the programmer. 7 rapid fire questions. Can I? How do I? If I could… Takashi was so patient and helpful. “Yes you can do that.” “No you can’t do that, but perhaps I could add it.”
The webpage was not pretty. Takashi speaks mainly Japanese and a very little english. The app was hard to understand and boring to look at. I had a mission. I would update the graphics on the app and help make it more usable. I really wanted to be able to use it minus a few features and with a few more. We started working together. Hotkeys, assistivetouch, shortcuts, on screen buttons, mappable buttons, transparent on screen keyboard and mouse emulation became my new canvas. I knew that with time and help from other artists we could make something beautiful.
We made the “Artist Pad” after about 5 months of working together. After we had been working on the Artist Pad for a few months I heard about Artdock and Radial Menu. Both had great features and we didn’t want to just be another substitute. I have a strong belief that to make Tablet Pro into the quality of tool that we wanted it to be for ALL artists we needed to step up our game. Hobbyist tools have limitations that we want to surpass. We want to be the Art tool to end all art tools. The utility that no digital artist can live without. We wanted to do more than even the Wacom Cintiq expresskeys would afford an artist. I contacted some of the makers of both Artdock and Radial Menu. Rick Rodriguez from www.surfaceproartists.com gave us our first real featured article and a number of excellent connections to amazing artists. I then contacted Clint from Radial Menu and asked if if he could share with us his “secret sauce”, how to get pen and touch to work at the same time. I was blown away with his quick and extremely helpful reply back of “yes”, this is what you need to do! Without help from these two guys we would be ages behind where we are today!
I tried my best to make friends with anyone starting to use the Artist Pad. If we were going to be as good as I had dreamed, we were gonna need help. And Thank God, we got help.
Artists started to flock to our custom tool for artists. We have artists from Sony, Codemasters, MGM Studios, Disney, LucasArts, Industrial Light and Magic, Blizzard and many others that have had massive impact on how and what Tablet Pro can do for artists.
We have officially launched on the Windows Store as Tablet Pro after a full year of trial and error, wins and losses and a whole lot of gains.
Today January 17th, 2016 feels like a brand new “day one” in a new house. Moved from a rental into something that we can really invest into and build into a great software product for wonderful artists, creatives and tablet users be they “pro” or not. =)
A lot of work ahead of us but I’m looking forward to it!
co-creator with Takashi Yamamoto