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The Musing Meerkat

Many artists I know have multiple shelves full of art books. I only have about a dozen of this type of book. Any more than that and some would probably never get opened more than once. As it is now, the ones I have only leave the shelves about once a year. But I’m still tempted to buy every time I see a new one.

Some notables include The Art of Tangled, a favourite animated movie, Drew Struzan’s Oeuvre, and Sebastian Kruger’s Stones. And I’m not even a Rolling Stones fan, I just enjoy Kruger’s study of them.

One of the things I love is the sketches and smaller illustrations peppered throughout these books. They’re usually unfinished doodles, sometimes chicken scratches, often looking like last-minute additions to fill up too much white space. But this accent art is deliberately and carefully chosen to compliment an illustration or story.

I enjoy seeing the bones of an illustration, the gestures, the rough idea, where the artist might have begun and what changed between the concept and finished piece. You can learn quite a bit from what the artist discarded.

I’ve long wanted to do an art book, but it’s always over the next hill.  You readers that have been with me for years (thank you!) will recall my mentioning this once or twice (probably more). I could make any number of excuses, but it’s a pretty easy truth to admit — I haven’t made it a priority. There are plenty of stories in my more than a decade of blogging about my art, and I’ve got much more finished work than I need to fill a book. Hell, I even have a publisher who wants to make it happen.

So the failure to launch is all mine, a victim of fear, perfectionism and procrastination. I have visions of boxes of books in my garage, gathering dust for years.

However, even if I conquer the imposter syndrome, one ingredient that is still missing is all of those little sketches and rough illustrations that I enjoy so much in other art books. I barely have any.

Even though sketching for fun, drawing from life and for practice has long been proven to make an artist’s skills better, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so for many years.

Almost all my work ends up being a finished painting. I spend a lot of time beforehand planning it out and choosing the correct reference. I experiment while I’m painting, but all of it leads to having a fully rendered piece done at the end of each beginning.

One of the reasons I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil was that I wanted to do more digital sketching. The procreate app is an incredible bit of software. It’s better for digital drawing and painting than Photoshop was for most of my early career. Plenty of artists are doing finished work on it, some impressive stuff.

But I haven’t been using it as often as I thought I would, at least not for drawing.

I recently went through my photo archives and grabbed a bunch of reference I liked, but not enough to contribute to a finished production print. I uploaded many of these to the iPad and promised myself that I would make more time for sketching, drawing and painting that I may or may not show to people, but eventually, they might be good accent pieces for an art book.

I started on this meerkat earlier this week. I got it to a point where it was a decent sketch, and I could have put it away and started something else. But I was having so much fun with it (dammit!), I didn’t want to stop.

Before I knew it, I was painting in little hairs around the ears and muzzle, adding finer detail work,  and experimenting with a different brush style. While not quite as refined as some of my other work, this could be a production piece.

And because procreate has a great feature where you can record every brushstroke, I could export that, edit it, add some music and voila — a high-speed short video with some fun music to go along with the brush strokes.

Once again, I have failed at creating some rough sketches but succeeded in having some more fun rendering a funny-looking animal painting. I’ll call that a win.

As for sketching, I’m probably going to have to set a time limit — 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and I have to stop when the buzzer goes off.

Otherwise, I’m just going to keep painting.

© Patrick LaMontagne
Follow me on Instagram @LaMontagneArt

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Painting a Lion on the iPad

At one time, I experimented quite a bit with painting on the original iPad. When it would no longer support new updates, I replaced it with the iPad Mini with Retina Display, which is a horrible name, so it’s now just referred to as the iPad Mini 2.

Having tried a number of apps over the years and more than a few styli, I finally settled on the combo I liked best, which was the procreate app and the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2, another unwieldy moniker. So, let’s just call it the ICS2.

While you’d be hard pressed to hear me say anything negative about Wacom’s Intuos tablets or Cintiq displays, the ICS2 has had some issues. Complaints of poor tracking and cursor alignment aren’t hard to find. It works well with some apps, not with others. I’ll simply say that there are plenty of people unhappy with the stylus, especially if they have the full-sized iPad 2.

I haven’t done much iPad painting lately because I’ve been busy working. In my home office, I have Wacom’s Cintiq 24HD display and when I want to draw elsewhere in the house, I have the more portable 13HD display. With these two professional options and my constant deadlines, drawing on the iPad hasn’t been a priority.

Recently, however, I stopped by the Apple store in Calgary and took the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for a test drive. A little later, I found myself in the Microsoft store comparing it to the Surface Pro 4.

I quite liked the iPad Pro and Pencil, easily the best stylus I’ve ever used on a device. It felt fine in my hand, had a contact feel I liked, was flawless in its accuracy and I wanted to use it more. While I didn’t get to try it with procreate on the store model, the sketch program they had on the tablet was good enough. I didn’t really like the Surface Pro drawing experience, but many people do.

My desktop computer is robust, I’ve got a powerful laptop, the Wacom displays I mentioned and an iPad Mini 2. I currently can’t justify buying an iPad Pro. It’s quite expensive and so is the pencil. It’s a want, not a need.

Playing around with it, though, got me itching to try some more iPad painting with the device and stylus I do have. This lion is the result.

At first, having not used procreate in quite some time; I was still having some issues with accuracy. I had to paint while holding the iPad in portrait mode. Whenever I tried to paint in landscape mode, the registration would be off. The same thing happens with Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile, another impressive app. From what I’ve read, it seems to be a flaw in the ICS2 software or hardware, not playing nice with third party apps. It’s frustrating.

Not one to easily give up, I started going through the settings again and found the Writing Style options. By trying different ones, I found the right setting for me and the accuracy came back! Painting this lion suddenly became a lot more fun when I didn’t have to fight the technology.
SettingsThe procreate app not only comes with an excellent selection of brushes for many different art styles, but their brush engine is quite good. I’ve always been one to design my own brushes, especially for hair, and procreate allows me to do that. It involves just as much trial and error experimentation as Photoshop brush design does, but by continually tweaking, I managed some pretty impressive results.

The downside of painting on the iPad…

Palm rejection does not seem to be flawless on any device with any stylus. I rest my hand on the screen when I draw and paint. Had I gone to art school or been professionally trained, they would have broken me of that, no doubt. The problem is that the device registers the palm/heel touch as an intentional brush stroke on many devices/apps so you end up with digital smudges and poor pen strokes from the stylus because the app is trying to interpret two points of contact.

My workaround is that I bought a pair of glove inserts, cut the index, middle, and thumb from it. This allows me to still use the touch features, but rest my hand on the screen without a problem. Fair warning, a very thin costume glove won’t work. The iPad will still sense the contact of your palm or heel of your hand.

Here’s a photo. Disregard the blown-out screen image as that’s not how it actually looks when I’m painting.

The second thing is that whenever I paint on the iPad, I have the display brightness set in the middle of the slider or lower. My Cintiq displays are set quite low as well, both the display brightness and backlight. It’s just easier on my eyes, especially since I can spend many hours in a day in front of a screen.

As a consequence, I usually have to do some colour and light adjustments to anything I paint on the iPad, or it will look far too dark when it’s done. For this, I use Snapseed and the relatively new Photoshop Fix, which are both quality image editing apps.

Even still, when this was as close to done as I could get it; I opened it in Photoshop on my desktop and did a couple more small lighting adjustments. All of the painting, however, was done on the iPad.

So, what’s the verdict?

It’s unlikely I’m going to be doing a lot more iPad painting with the tools I’ve got. It took longer to paint this than it would have on my professional displays and the result is not as nice or detailed as that which would have been achieved had I painted it all on my desktop or laptop.

Would that change if I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil? I don’t know, but honestly, I kind of doubt it, even with the larger surface area to work with. I would still like to spend more time with it, though. In all things, however, it pays to experiment, especially with art. You never know until you try and this was worth doing, just for the experience.


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Weighing Which Wacom

Sometimes having too many choices is just as bad as having too few, especially when it comes to technology.  What works for one person may not work for somebody else.

While I’m primarily a PC user, one piece of Apple tech that I really enjoy is my iPad, a first-gen device I bought in the summer of 2010 that I’m still using today.  With each new iOS, it gets a little twitchier and temperamental, but I have definitely got my money’s worth from it.

I’ve also been using Wacom devices for well over a decade now, from the early first generation Intuos and Graphire tablets to the Cintiq 24HD display that I use today, and I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do without one.

One of those fortunate souls who works at home every day, I have a dedicated office and spend the majority of my time at my desk, drawing and painting on my Cintiq 24HD, a display I’m very happy with.  Everything I need to be productive on a daily basis is in my office.  In the evenings, however, I like to sketch the next day’s cartoons or other images with pencil on paper while relaxing on the couch in front of the TV.  Sometimes I’ll do rough paintings and sketches on my iPad as well.

But lately, I’ve wanted to paint more detailed work or move on to the digital ink and paint stage of a cartoon without having to go upstairs to sequester myself in the office that I’ve already been in all day.


The newer Cintiq 13HD has abandoned the power brick of the previous 12wx, and while you still have to plug it in and connect it to a laptop, it has the resolution and screen space I want, and the ability to just prop it up on my knees to paint.  So I figured this would be my next portable device.

But then, Wacom recently announced the Cintiq Companion and Cintiq Companion Hybrid Devices.  The first is a stand-alone 13” Cintiq with all of the functionality and power of a laptop.  The Hybrid device works as a fully functional Cintiq 13HD when it’s plugged into a desktop or laptop, but becomes a portable Android device when it’s unplugged.

002Decisions, decisions.

First Option: Having just bought a very powerful laptop I eliminated the Windows 8 Companion quite quickly.  I like to write, which is one of the reasons I wanted the laptop, rather than a portable device with a peripheral keyboard.  The Cintiq Companion Hybrid, however, would allow me to work on the couch and also give me an untethered portable device to take with me on the go.

Second Option: Provided Apple doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with the pending iPad 5, I could pair that with the standard Cintiq 13HD.  This would give me the portability I want for painting outside my office while still tethered to a laptop, plus allow me to keep using the iPad, which has many apps I rely on.  Wacom’s new Intuos Creative Stylus for the iPad (not first-gen) allows pressure sensitivity and palm rejection in some of the apps I already use for iPad painting, which means you can rest your hand on the screen and it won’t be confused with a pen stroke.  Currently, I have to wear a fingerless glove when I paint on the iPad to prevent that problem.

003Break it down, now.

Portability: The Companion and Companion Hybrid are being marketed that you can take them anywhere.  While I do enjoy working in a coffee shop once in a while and have to travel on rare occasions, most of my portable sketching is done with a pencil and sketchbook, especially since I’m usually out in the woods or in a creek canyon somewhere while I’m doing it.  The thought of taking a digital device with me to these wild places is unappealing.  Worrying about charged batteries, dirt and moisture on an expensive device, not to mention that I don’t want to be connected when I’m out in nature, is unappealing to me, which is why I even turn my phone off.  Whether it’s on a hike, camping, or out at a buddy’s cabin, I still prefer to draw in a traditional sketchbook.

When I do want a portable digital device, I already know that an iPad works very well for me and the Hybrid is too big to be a suitable replacement. With the new Creative Stylus, painting/sketching on the iPad when I’m in a coffee shop or other urban setting will do the trick nicely.

004If I lived in a city, had to commute, was constantly out and about and in need of all of the full tools I enjoy on my desktop, an argument could be made for the Cintiq Companion or Hybrid, and I’m sure it will appeal to folks who find themselves in that daily environment.  Living in the mountains, working at home, and wanting to be away from electronics when I’m out in the woods, however, I wouldn’t use this device to its full potential.

Cost: A lot of people are complaining about the cost of these new Wacom devices, but when you own the market, are leading the way in the technology and have put the R&D into creating the tech that every digital creative wants, to give it away is just bad business.  Supply and demand is as old as the hills.

That being said, budget is a factor.  Living in Canada, I have to buy from a reseller since only U.S. residents can buy from the Wacom site.  Despite the U.S. and Canadian dollars being at or near equal the last few years, Canadian prices are significantly higher than in the U.S., an angry reality that Canadians live with on clothing, books, technology, cars, and many other products.

The best price I can find on a Companion Hybrid in Canada is $1749.  That’s more than I just paid for my laptop.  The price on the Cintiq 13HD is $1089.00.

005All weighed and measured, I think I’m going to go with the Cintiq 13HD and a new iPad with the Intuos Creative Stylus.  The cost of all three of those, estimating for the iPad 5 of course, would work out to around $1900.00 and would give me the all-around best solution to fit all of my creative portable needs for a few years to come.

It’s important to understand that the reason I’m explaining all of this is not to tell you what you should buy.  It’s to illustrate the point that we all have individual needs and wants when it comes to technology.  Rather than buy every new phone, TV, tablet, computer or other piece of tech that comes out simply because it’s new, take a step back and ask yourself if what you want is really what you need.  Make a list of what you want to be able to do and buy the devices that fit you best.  Take the time to tailor your tech to your needs and you’ll be a lot happier in your work.

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iPad Painting and the Wacom Bamboo Stylus

Here’s another iPad painting that I just finished.  This is Marcia Gay Harden in character as ‘Mother Carmody’ from the Frank Darabont movie, ‘The Mist,’ based on the novel by Stephen King.  She is one of my favorite movie villains which made this a lot of fun to work on.  Frank Darabont is one of my favorite filmmakers and Stephen King is my favorite author, so it should come as no surprise that The Mist is one of my favorite movies.  How many times can you use ‘favorite’ in a sentence?

Darabont has made movies out of a number of King’s books.  In addition to The Mist, there was The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.  He is also responsible for the breakout miniseries ‘The Walking Dead,’ which is one of the few television shows I would pay extra to see.  And if that weren’t enough, Darabont has used Drew Struzan (one more favorite) to create the posters for a number of his movies, including the ones I’ve mentioned here.  It’s no wonder I’ve chosen two of his characters to paint on the iPad.

I’ve already written a great deal about the process for painting on the iPad and the ArtStudio app, which is still preferred over all others.  If you’d like to see other iPad paintings and posts, there are links at the end of this entry.  The process is very much like other digital painting, with some limitations due to the nature of the iPad.

What made this current painting different is that I was taking a new stylus for a test drive.  Up until now, I had been using (and recommending) the Targus stylus, but I recently got my hands on the new Bamboo Stylus for iPad by none other than Wacom.  I’ll be honest, I had REALLY high expectations for this stylus.  Wacom has long been established as the go-to company for drawing tablets, and having owned more than a few of them, I’m a pretty big fan.  I couldn’t do my work without a Wacom tablet.

I already knew that the stylus wasn’t going to be reinventing the wheel.  Anybody expecting pressure sensitivity (something Wacom tablets are very well known for) should dismiss it now, no matter what stylus you’re using.   The iPad currently does not support pressure sensitivity, so that discussion ends pretty darn quick.

Without going into great boring technical details, I can sum up the Wacom Bamboo Stylus pretty easily.  It is the best stylus I’ve used so far.  Every other stylus I’ve tried, and there have been four of them, has been a little like drawing with a piece of chalk.  A large surface area with the tip, because the iPad is built to register a finger, not a pen.   What it looks like Wacom did, however, was take that tip size to the ultimate minimum.  The contact surface is significantly smaller than any other stylus I’ve seen so far.  It’s still not fine point tip, but it’s a definite improvement over all others I’ve tried.

What else did they get right?  Well, it’s longer than any other stylus I’ve used, so it feels better in my hand.  It has better balance, too.  They included a clip (something others have failed to do) and it looks good, too.  While I’m sure a lot of work went into the research and development of this stylus, it’s not a complicated device.  It’s a pen that allows you to write, draw, and paint on the iPad.

Many people will recall that I liked the Targus stylus, and up until now, it was all I needed.  Wacom, however, raised the bar with the Bamboo Stylus and it’s now my primary drawing device for the iPad.  I still have to use the glove so I can rest my hand while drawing without activating the app with the heel of my hand, but that’s a compensation for the iPad, not the stylus.

As with all of the stylus products out there, there are metal parts on them, so a little bit of care for your iPad is warranted.  Don’t leave your stylus sitting on the screen or push really hard at a very steep angle as there is always the risk of slipping and possibly scratching the iPad.  You don’t need to push hard with ANY stylus, and if you use the Bamboo Stylus properly, you should have no issues.

I do not have a screen protector on my iPad, so I can’t say how it works with one, but I used my iPad a LOT, do a lot of painting with it, and the only scratches I’ve ever got were from a brief test of the Dagi stylus which put three nice little scars on the screen.  Even those are hard to find, but it was enough for me to abandon it.  The Apple case is all I’ve ever needed for the iPad, so I don’t see the need for a screen protector.

Bottom line, I would highly recommend buying the Wacom Bamboo Stylus.  Yes, at $29.95, it costs a little more than others on the market, but I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for, and this one is worth it.  It’s a joy to paint with and after the first few minutes, I didn’t think about the pen at all, which is the best endorsement I can offer.  I find the best products (hardware and software) are the ones that allow you to think about your work, not the tools you use to create it.

As for those who are demanding pressure sensitivity, talk to Apple about it.  In the meantime, you can easily fake pressure sensitivity with most apps on the market by varying the opacity of the brush in the app itself.  That’s what I did throughout this whole painting and it worked very well.  I rarely use full brush opacity when painting, even in Photoshop.

One final note about painting with the iPad in general…

The iPad has limitations that prevent me from producing ready-for-market paintings.  Just the color calibration and resolution limitations are enough to put the brakes on creating finished work.  This ‘actual pixels’ image is as close as you can zoom in on the first-gen iPad.  Were I to import this into Photoshop, it would serve as a sketch for a painting, with many more hours required to create a finished piece.  Had I painted this in Photoshop, I would consider this to be about half done at this stage.

With that in mind, you might wonder why I bother painting with the iPad at all, when I can get much more detail and a tighter rendering with Photoshop and a traditional Wacom tablet.  The reasons are simple.  With the right app, and the right stylus, the iPad is a great sketchbook.  I also enjoy the challenge of seeing how far I can take a painting, and it’s just great overall painting practice.  Another reason is simply to show that you can create quality artwork on the iPad, despite the critics (fewer all the time) that say it’s of no practical use to artists.  One thing I’ve learned over the years by watching what talented and creative people do with all sorts of mediums in this world is that artists will decide for themselves what is and isn’t of practical use for their own creativity.

If you’d like to see other iPad painting posts I’ve written along and images I’ve painted, here are some links.

iPad Cartooning: An Ongoing Experiment

iPad Painting: Billy Connolly

iPad Painting: James Whitmore

iPad Painting: Daniel Day-Lewis