Words and drawings: Ross Macgregor
Fellow artists, do your lovers complain that they wish they didn’t have to smell the whiff of turpentine when making love? Hold on to your relationships, there could be a solution at hand. Touch sensitive interfaces are paving the way for an electronics hardware that facilitates the same kind of intuitive & expressive mark making which, up until recently, only smelly art materials would allow.
Depending on how many healing herbs you’ve imbibed over the years, you’ll likely remember the Etch A Sketch. This was the starting gun in the digital drawing race and inventors have since been taking a line for a speed walk. First attempts at manufacturing digital drawing devices produced clumsy and inaccurate results comparable to those of a smart bomb deployed during the Iraqi war. Back to the drawing board & scientists in top secret underwater pod laboratories worldwide since then have worked feverishly to successfully synthesise a rock and a cat in order to get the perfect balance of simple technology & sensitivity of feeling.
The next evolution was “the tablet.” Not the sweet Scottish confectionary your granny gave to you & your dentist confiscated from you, but a slab of sensitive rock. If you prodded and stroked it with the right implement it would talk to your computer and tell it that you were making marks at certain grid coordinate points within a mapped space that was also electronically reproduced on your computer screen. You look down & draw on the tablet, then look up at the screen, and alakazam- there are your marks!
Neat trick, you say. Yup, but it turned out (via numerous call and response geek forums) that, much like the current fad for adolescent vampire dramas taking up our prime time telly, tablets are a pain in the neck. Look up + look down = look ye here tablet makers…
Such was the proliferation of these symptoms among web boom digital art-workers that Chiropractors started buying small islands in the Caribbean. An upgrade was needed, and pronto.
Sadly, no divine lightening bolts of inspiration came quickly. The underwater scientists felt the pressure, and regrettably a few cats were grossly mistreated in laboratories during this time. 2004 – 2007 was a drab period of technological stasis populated by stiff Digital Art-workers inexplicably staring at ceiling light fittings during dinner parties.
Then, as if by miracle in 2007 a company named Wacom released the Cintiq – an amazingly intelligent & sensitive rock that also had a screen you could draw on directly, effectively replicating the dynamic of colour pencils and paper. Great! (Smiley face). Not great… (Sad face) Only the Royal Family & Saudi Arabians could afford these new toys as they were exclusive & top dollar. I think Kate Moss might have had one also.
Which is where Princess Peach comes in. For decades system interfaces provided with the likes of IBM & Microsoft computers were counter-intuitive and baffled users much like Tax Return forms. Even the name P.C. also meant Police Constable, which wasn’t very sexy at all.
After marrying Oddjob, Princess Peach revolutionised the personal computing & technology by producing systems in accordance with her radical new ethos “Everyone should have a bite of the peach, because the peach is very juicy indeed”.
Very soon, technology users would refuse products with interfaces that weren’t immediately accessible, intuitive, practical, ergonomic & stylish. Peaches for everyone!
The latest Princess Peach product is the iPants, (well its not really but I refuse to do gratis product promotion. Those with a MENSA level IQ and above will know what I am talking about). It’s affordable & is essentially a miniature & downgraded version of the Wacom Cintiq. Phew, here’s the review:
Its not top end technology, but it is a competent digital sketchbook. Now you can draw on the same surface as you are viewing the results on, surfaces aren’t pressure sensitive, but you can vary line weight. With the ability to zoom in and out with a pinch, detailing work is a breeze. Of course being able to pick colours from a colour wheel in seconds saves heaps of time over mixing on a palette. Replication and distribution of an image is near instantaneous and presents no problems. The available digital painting software is very proficient. As a digital sketchbook, it purrs.
Old School vs New School or Back To School And Pull Your Socks Up? For those of you who like to get elbow deep in oil paint, there really is no substitute. Similarly, the tactile, textural elements of traditional painting will likely never lose their appeal. The cynical among us will view artists such as David Hockneys recent adoption of these new technologies as nothing more than celebrity endorsement. However, Hockney offering a knee up onto the latest gimmicky hardware bandwagon, it has to be said, holds a certain allure.
But this really isn’t the issue. It is a more objectively accurate appraisal to deduce that what this also signifies is that new drawing / painting hardware & software is now far more intuitive and closer to the real thing than it ever has been. So much so, it is attracting “serious, paints and brushes” traditional artists into the technological realm. The day when digital artwork achieved soul is finally upon us. But you’ve all seen Blade Runner, so you’ll all know that we’re all robots anyway. We’re just struggling with a slowly thawing collective amnesia. Taking this into account, maybe the iPants real purpose is as the first of many increasingly persuasive clues evidencing actual synthesised emotion that through process of a domino effect will eventually cause humanity in its entirety to wake up to the fact that we are all droids. Hhhmmm.
For those artists among you who are considering the leap, I’d say you could do far worse than including a small lightweight digital sketchpad that can store a potentially infinite amount of drawings / paintings within your materials arsenal. Just ask yourself: how many times have I wanted to sketch a scene or felt a wave of inspiration and yet not had the necessary tools with me at the time to complete a drawing? (The putty rubber, pastels, sharpener, 8b pencil, the list goes on). All in one box with the iPants.
It costs around the same as a years supply of oil paints, but will last for around five and lets not forget, you are also getting a web browser, games machine, media player for your money. Peaches done good. The adoption of this machine does raise many new questions, such as – how do you retain / compensate for the luminance of drawings that are essentially backlit on screen? How does an artist present & or value a digital work in comparison with traditional media? But if the future of technological advancement didn’t hold surprises, you’d tell it to go back to where it came from, wouldn’t you?
If you can forget about all the cats sacrificed in order to produce this new technology, you get an odour free & very useful painting tool, you get to keep your scent sensitive lover and possibly attract new ones such is the seductive nature of the sexy little machine.
You may even get to feel like an ancient Egyptian, given that even though we’ve jumped light years into the future, you’re still scrawling your doodles on a single slab of glorified stone.
…Wait about!!! … Maybe the past is the future! And why were there so many cats depicted in Hieroglyphs?
Ross Macgregor is an Edinburgh based artist and illustrator with a dark past in the murky world of advertising