ScienceOnline2010 tablet workshop; or, playing with Bora's face

Click on the scio10tablet label to see all posts. Many thanks to Darren of the Park Research Center for the enthusiastic help setting up Gimp and the drivers on the session laptop!(picture by Ben Young Landis and tweeted during the session. Thanks Ben!)


After a mad dash from the airport, I settled in at ScienceOnline2010 to do a workshop about digital tablet technology. Bringing two tablets through customs wasn't hard, though I had to explain what they were a number of times.

The two models we played with were a Wacom Bamboo and a Wacom Intuos 3. The Bamboo had been solemnly lent to me by my 8-year old sk8tr nephew who said he was "giving you -no, lending you this on one condition: you bring it back." Fair enough.

Our workshop attendance was relatively small, which was perfect. After a quick introduction to tablets, the group split into two groups of three and began to play. We used Gimp, which as an astonishingly versatile free program able to do many of the things Photoshop and similar programs can do. My hope was that the group would enjoy the pressure sensitivity of the pen and tablet, and begin to think of how that could be fun to make images.

Here are the results of the workshop! (And apologies for the long wait! Has it been 2+ weeks already?These exercises were to allow everyone to get a fee for the pen and tablet, and try a bit with how the sensitivity responds. The initial drawings above were cautious and careful, as it can be disconcerting to move your drawing-hand while looking elsewhere at a screen at the result. This technique however, is a one made popular by the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, a traditional pencil and paper book. It includes exercises doing just this: follow the contours of the object you're drawing, and don't look at the page you are drawing on. It allows your eyes to have time to practice moving in unison with your hand.
Here's the examples when we tried varying the line pressure:

We played with Bora's image a bit. Everyone took a turn on separate layers, including Bora himself adding a dapper aviator's scarf (later made hard to see by the Magic Wand tool).

Original photo:


Completed image:

Many thanks to Janet, Ben, Evelyn, Bora, Allie and John! And Bora's dinosaur.
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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.
Work above by conference attendees - thanks for playing everybody!


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ScienceOnline2010 - Digital Tablet intro

This year at ScienceOnline2010, I'll be doing a workshop about using a digital tablet. You can follow along in this series by clicking on the label, scio10tablet, below.

Most of my work is done in analog oil paint, but increasingly I am using a tablet to tweak, fix and outright paint my work. It's a fun tool, really intuitive, and I think children and adults can benefit from their use.

So what are they? Graphic tablets (aka digital tablets) are essentially a touch sensitive surface that plugs into a USB port. It usually has a few buttons you can use as hot-keys, meaning you can assign functions to them (like "undo"). The surface doesn't respond to your fingers, like an iPod Touch or iPhone - it responds to a spooky mouse and spookier pen. I say they're spooky because neither one has batteries or plugs into anything. (Click to enlarge photo) The postcard size grey rectangle on the tablet is the sensitive area, and it maps straight to your screen, even if the aspect ratio is different.

After spending months drooling over tablets er, doing research, I finally bought one in the spring. There are a lot of brands out there, and I really favour Wacom. I have a last-gen (bought in the waning days) Intuos 3. It has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and can sense the angle of the pen. After loading the drivers, it works with something like 80 programs. (Wacom has recently put out the Intuos 4, which doubles the sensitivity, has more buttons, and comes pre-loaded with da Vinci's brain.)

The touch-sensitive surface used with the pen can do extraordinary things. Using the image program Photoshop Elements 6, here are some lines using a traditional mouse. I used the pencil setting, 100% opacity, black:

Using Photoshop Elements again, here are some similar lines using a tablet. Can you spot the difference?

Using the mouse, the lines have a consistent thickness. Using the tablet, the thickness varies. Let's try the same thing using a translucent pale colour over top of a darker colour. I'm using a digital painting program called ArtRage 2.5 this time. (For those who are interested, I'm using the oil paint setting, thinners set to 75% to increase translucency.)
Mouse:Tablet:

You can see the pressure-sensitive tablet varied not only the thickness of the line, but the opacity of the colour. Hm. It's really noticeable comparing both sides of the circle. Two words: Neat. O.

Next tutorial, I think we'll add some more colours and play with some programs using layers. Any questions? Requests?
Let me know!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
*** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***