in my time as an artist i have used a whole TROVE of devices to draw. i started off on a bulky original ipad, armed with my stubby 10 year-old fingers. fast forward 10 years and here i am again, at 20, with my (rose gold!) ipad pro. i suppose i’ve come full circle. and i have to wonder if i’ll ever use anything else, because by far, the ipad pro has become my favorite device ever to use for art. (and procreate has also improved vastly since i was a child, but that’s another story)
i could ramble on about all the wacom tablets i’ve scratched to death, but i started writing this entry with one particular piece of hardware in mind: my surface pro (the 2017 model in particular). in fact, it was the thing which led me to realize i much preferred the screen tablet setup over anything i’d used before.
i loved that thing so much, but i also honest to god hated it at points.
the surface pro was a thing that was wonderful in concept but fell short in execution. it was coming along pretty great, and from what i know of them, was miles better than the models that came before it. but it was still rough around the edges. and dangerous around them too! i got electric shocks from that thing more times than i can count on both hands.
i only ever really intended for my surface to become an art only device, but ended up using it as my main computer. i may as well have, since it had a full install of regular ol windows and did everything my previous laptop did but in better colors. hell, it made me more likely to draw because i found it so much easier to just.. pick up the pen and start going, instead of having to get out the tablet, plug it in, this, that, etc, etc. maybe a dumb point, but i have untreated depression to thank for that. anyhow. i feel like i have the surface to thank for my quick improvement and for the revival of my drive to draw. i only really considered myself a ‘true artist’, whatever that is, after i got it. i even took it to college with me sometimes, getting commissions done between classes.
however, as i said, it was also a major pain in the ass at times. i believe on at least two separate occasions i lost all touch functionality after *updating windows*. which is like, not really optional in today’s world, since microsoft are so damn pushy. i forever put those off where i could out of fear my pen would straight up stop working again. whenever i called support, they were also fairly useless. i don’t quite remember the solution to how i got it working again, this was 3 years ago and i have the memory of a rock, but i never trusted another windows update again.
the pen had plenty of other issues, as well. the details are lost to time, but i managed to break my whole surface pen while drawing, rendering it useless while i had to fork out a whole 70 quid for a new one. maybe i’m biased, but looking back on it, i also just plain don’t like the pen design. it feels way clunkier in the hand than the apple pencil does (and honestly, just felt odd to me and kind of uncomfortable compared to any other tablet pen i’ve used) and the fact that it uses a separate battery not only makes it more expensive to upkeep but also makes it heavier, and slightly jiggly. wasn’t really a fan of that part. maybe sticking the pencil into your ipad every now and then is a pain, but it at least charges pretty quickly - and is honestly a nonissue if you bother to use the adapter. which i admittedly often forget to. oops. (at least even 3% seems to go further than i feel like i should expect)
besides those issues, my life with my surface went on fairly smoothly. i used it with great enthusiasm. i used it everywhere - my room, outside, at college, on trains, once on a bus. it survived the 200 mile train journey i made when moving out. but all things came to an end, and in this scenario, an incredibly awkward and kind of pathetic one.
my surface, unfortunately, just died one day on the spot. what was wrong with it for what happened to have just killed the thing, i’ll never know, but to think that the entire thing went bust thanks to a discord call coupled with me opened 3 deviantart tabs at once to gather commission references feels like some kind of joke. and yes, that’s genuinely how it went out. the harddrive failed and it just kicked the bucket on me just like that. i lost countless things, art pieces, website archives, backups of god-knows-what. all gone in an instant. i asked one of my more tech savvy friends for advice, did countless google searches, etc, you know the drill, but it seemed like there was just nothing i could do. i’d accept defeat, sure, but it still left me without any sort of computer, a useless slab of glass and a pile of resentment.
this all also happened pretty much one month after my warranty ended. so not only was i left without a computer, and little money left after leaving home, but there was not much i could do. i called microsoft anyway, just to see how much a repair would cost. the guy on the call straight up admitted to me that they wouldn’t even repair it, they’d just chuck it (how environmentally friendly of them! yes king!) and would give me a new one for a discounted price of £300. thinking about all of the issues i’d encountered, and not really wanting to go through it all again, i thanked him for his time, told him i’d think about it (i would not) and hung up. i later spent that money on a new macbook instead (from cex, do i look rich?) and have not regretted it for a second.
i tried getting used to my girlfriend’s old but sturdy cintiq (a 20wsx iirc), and i did complete a few pieces on it, but the screen colors just put me off. i can’t fault it too much, since it’s an old piece of tech and still works pretty much perfectly (and was nice to use, honestly) but having no idea what my art was meant to look like was a pain, and since i’m so particular about colors i put a lot of time onto my process. i ended up just blocking out colors and shading layers on the cintiq and then sending the psd to my macbook to edit, which was awkward at best.
eventually i moved on from that, ending up with an xp-pen g430. to some it may seem like a shitty tablet, and i guess in some respects it was, but i actually grew really fond of it despite its tiny size and shaky drivers. i preferred it over some of the early wacom tablets i’d used, and i made many pretty banging pieces with it. eventually, frustrations grew in me and i missed my surface’s screen, along with the fact that i could use it anytime, anywhere.
i retrieved my basically unused cintiq from my family at some point, but still hadn’t done much with it. longing for the screen tablet feeling once again, i decided to set it up and give it a go - i’d only drawn with it on two occasions or so before. but it never really grew on me. maybe it was just me, but i was never fond of it, not from the first moment i tried it. i feel some kind of bad admitting it, since i always assumed from what i’d read in my kind of artist circles that a cintiq was any artist’s DREAM, and that having one meant you’d made it as artist and were set for life. but i just didn’t like it.
it was a fine piece of equipment, don’t get me wrong, and i did a whole painting on it, but between the screen texture, the pretty washed out colors and the bulk of it, it just wasn’t my thing. it also frustrated me since i was still in such a massive slump, and also didn’t have any desk space - you try using this thing on your lap. it’s not comfy - obviously, since that’s absolutely not what it was designed for. (i still need to sell the thing, but keep forgetting to check it over. hmu if you’re interested. just kidding. unless?)
the whole thing of not being able to use it on my mac since i never got a damn adapter for the cables was also annoying, since my only computer capable of running it was getting old, ran incredibly hot and also had washed out colors. between the two monitors i had a hard time envisioning what a final piece would look like. etc etc. you get the deal. it was close to what i wanted, but lowkey frustrating.
a lot of the artists i liked the work of used various ipads, and after seeing them be vocal about it, and seeing many posts hyping up procreate and its features, i grew curious. could it really be that good? i’d used procreate back in the days of its origin. it wasn’t bad, but left a lot to be desired, however, it had been almost 10 years.
i’m admittedly a big fan of sitting in the apple stores at any given city i visit literally just to draw on the ipads. i was somewhat familiar with them, after going out a couple times just to visit the local apple store while i still had my surface but no working pen. i even completed a few full drawings in store, but of course, could never get decent pictures of my work since screenshots were disabled. a cruel world we live in.
once i get an idea of getting something in my head, i usually do end up getting it, and having more money than sense, i caved and got myself a second gen ipad pro. i didn’t actually expect to like it as much as i do, but it turned out to be my most favorite thing to draw with in my entire art history. it ticks all the boxes for the things i miss about my surface, except not having a full computer os, but by now that’s fairly irrelevant to me - who wanted that since i specifically dislike mobile discord, but now have no need to use it, and have my macbook to cover for any other functions - and it does everything the surface did, but better.
right off the bat, i can say that it’s a much more comfortable device to use. it hardly weighs a thing, and the pencil feels incredibly natural in the hand. the screen is bright, with vivid colors that aren’t misleadingly oversaturated like that of the surface (oh let me tell you i was disappointed when i realized how desaturated my works from that thing actually were), and the refresh rate (pro motion or whatever) feels snappy and pencil input is virtually lag free. and airdrop? don’t get me started on it, i could write a post on that one feature alone. it’s a godsend.
i admittedly also didn’t think i’d be quite as fond of procreate as i am. i ended up having to use clip studio paint thanks to nothing else besides ms paint functioning quite right on my bitch of a surface, but it grew to be my favorite art program. i didn’t expect this to change any time soon, and despite my disliking of csp’s ipad version being a monthly subscription, i was prepared to grit my teeth and deal with it so i could continue to use the program i liked the most. but upon trying procreate and seeing how much it improved, and how natural it feels, it quickly ended up becoming my favorite.
procreate is a way more simple program at first glance than clip studio, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. it’s unobtrusive and allows for better focus on your actual work, and the brush engine is wonderful, as well as there being many cool and intuitive brushes out there made by various users of the program. on top of that, it supports photoshop brushes, so the pool is resources available is pretty much infinite. while clip studio had some pretty banging brushes out there, they felt samey and most of the better tools won’t be found on english speaking sites, with those found on deviantart and such leaving a lot to be desired (no shade, but it’s true..). as well as all this, procreate’s inbuilt timelapse function is not only interesting but allows you to make quick process videos, which you can totally just upload as is, or you can quickly throw into imovie to make a bigger spectacle of. the ipad also has built in screen recording, if you want more of a traditional speed paint feel.
the ipad pro is certainly a device that has served me well, and i have a lot to thank it for. the surface did what it could and served its purpose, but there are just so many things i can nitpick at with it that i struggle to remember it completely fondly. if you’re reading this and you’re considering one or the other, i would tell you to opt for the ipad any day, but i’m not here to tell you what to do, just to ramble about long lasting frustrations that resurfaced (heh) as soon as i opened my eyes this morning for some absolute reason.
if you have any further questions about anything talked about here, feel free to ask! i’m most easy to grab through twitter DM @neoxytoxin.
and let me just leave you with two of my favorite brush sets: