The SECOND most common “how do I do this” email I get (the first is “how do I start a webcomic, discussed previously) is “hey Jeph! I heard you do all your art digitally! I am thinking about buying a Wacom tablet, is this a good idea?”
WELL HERE IS THE ANSWER.
First of all, I don’t use a tablet anymore. I use one of the big fancy displays you can draw on because they are roughly 1000 times better than a standard Wacom tablet. However they are also much more expensive! If you don’t have $2000 to just drop willy-nilly on an art tool, they are probably out of your reach.
“What about the smaller 12” Cintiq?” you ask. The smaller 12” Cintiq sucks compared to the big one. You’re better off saving the $999 or whatever and waiting till you can afford the 21ux. But it’s up to you. I had the 12” one for a year before I invested in the big one and I consider that a year wasted.
BUT I DIGRESS.
Here’s the thing with drawing on a tablet. It’s NOT AT ALL LIKE DRAWING ON PAPER. For one thing, you’re drawing on one surface (the tablet) and seeing the output on another (your monitor). So you can’t look at what your hand is doing, you have to watch what the cursor in Photoshop (or whatever) is doing. This is a fundamental disconnect that takes some getting used to.
Second, a Wacom tablet’s surface is plastic, and the tip of the stylus is also plastic. “Slippery” is not a strong enough word to describe the drawing sensation. It’s more like ice-skating on glass. If you’re used to drawing in pencil or ink on paper this will be UTTERLY ALIEN TO YOU. You can tape a piece of paper over your tablet and draw on that, but the feeling is still NOTHING LIKE DRAWING ON PAPER. This is important, because you would be amazed at how much of your muscle memory is dedicated to the resistance generated by a pencil or pen or brush on paper.
This, combined with the hand/eye disconnect I mentioned before, makes drawing using a graphics tablet a COMPLETELY NEW MEDIUM if you’re used to working on paper. It is, quite literally, an entire new way of drawing you have to learn. I have to say that a big reason the art in early QC was so bad is that I was not only learning how to draw, but learning how to draw using inherently difficult hardware.
I say all this, but you shouldn’t necessarily let it discourage you! Plenty of artists create ridiculously great work (far, far better than I can manage on my fancy $2000 Cintiq) using Wacom tablets. If you’re already comfortable with the fundamentals of drawing, the transition isn’t so bad. My buddy John can do amazing things with a Wacom, but that is because he is already really good at drawing in the first place.
But even if you’re a drawing novice, don’t be completely discouraged. The learning curve to getting good with a Wacom is ridiculously steep, but it IS SURMOUNTABLE. The trick, as with anything else involving drawing, is PRACTICE. You just gotta keep at it, a couple hours a day every day, until you get comfortable. Take art classes, do figure drawing at your local community college, whatever. It will all help. You WILL get the hang of things. Drawing is a SKILL, not a TALENT. It can be learned by virtually anybody with the patience and will to do it.
So let’s say you’ve made it this far into this post and you still want to buy a Wacom tablet to do digital art. Great! Good job! You’re a brave soul, and if you can maintain that persistance you stand a good chance of getting handy with the medium. HERE ARE SOME TIPS ON WHAT TO BUY:
I’ve used everything from the cheapest, tiniest Graphire (they call them “Bamboo” now, but they’re the cheapo bargain-priced Wacom tablets) to the fanciest, biggest Intuos. Let me tell you- until you’re ready to make the jump to the big ol’ Cintiqs, save your money. The Bamboos are PERFECTLY GREAT FOR DIGITAL ART. Back when I used tablets, I had a fancy $500 Intuos for my main tablet and a cheap little $99 Graphire for travel and honestly the Graphire was just as useful for 1/5 the price. Sure, it had less “pressure sensitivity” but I’m not fucking Michaelangelo, 512 levels of sensitivity is not noticeably inferior to 1024.
So if you’re curious, just get a cheapo Bamboo and mess around! There’s no need to invest in a Big Fancy Tablet, especially if you’re unsure whether the medium is right for you.
As for non-Wacom brands, I’ve never used any of them so I can’t speak for their quality. But I feel like, if you can get a Wacom for less than a hundred bucks, there’s not much point in taking a chance on the (probably inferior) competition.
Anyway, here’s the breakdown in case you’re lazy and didn’t read all of that:
• Tablets are tricky to use
• Cintiqs > tablets but are much more expensive
• If you’re gonna buy a tablet, just get a cheap one
I hope you find this useful! Good luck!