Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illustrators: Get the tools that you need to succeed

Above: the first (rejected) February layout illustration for "The Months"

Before I bought my Cintiq tablet, I had been working on a set-up that basically could not sustain me in my career as a children's illustrator in the 21st century. I was working on a Powerbook G4 and used a 3x5 Wacom Graphire tablet. It was my first lap top. When I bought it, I was under the impression that it would support doing heavyish graphics. Due to the portability factor, I went for it. Well, I was right, It did support graphic files, even really large ones. But what I did not anticipate was how hot the machine would get. That was something I discovered pretty quickly. But a more nervewracking problem with doing artwork on the machine was an issue of camouflage - the screen "trickery". The matte screen just did not show all the lumps and bumps in a working illustration. It read light yellow as white. It read light blue as white. Light grey? White again. And the sad part is that, half the time, I did not even realize it until WAY after the fact. I remember: I would make an update to my web site. Then, next day, I would go look at what I had done on a regular desktop computer monitor, live and online. I'd be absolutely horrified that the graphics had some blatant mistakes in them. Ugh!

I discovered that I hated using my lap top/tiny Wacom tablet for design work. I also discovered that I simply could not get used to illustrating with the small Wacom  with the laptop screen. There was just something completely uncomfortable about the tiny tablet / lap top combo that eas pretty much unbearable. I'd used Wacom tablets (6x8 mostly) for years preceding this point, so it was not a "getting used to it" issue. It was just that the combo was not working, and it wasn't going to start working. If I was going to move forward in my career, I simply had to get the right tools—NO if's, ands or but's!

I had an experience which propelled me quickly to decide to make these major changes. It happened during my work on the book "The Months". Throughout the entire job, things on my end could have gone SO much easier had I had the proper tools and hardware. Not just the Wacom/lap top situation: I desperately needed a large-bed scanner, but I had only a little 8.5 x 11 one, and there was just no time to work on acquiring the larger-sized one that I needed during the working time frame of the job. I completed the project of course, and the book did see the light of day! But I learned some very valuable lessons. One of the most important was to suck it up and get the right tools to do the job right. After so many horrible scans and terrible time trying to retouch my watercolor paintings with the lap top / tiny Wacom Graphire combo, I decided, ENOUGH! I was a professional and I was going to buy the best tools I could. I was worth it, my work was worth it. I was not going to continue to compromise my goals and art career due to the lack of the equipment I needed to function in the present landscape.

Around that time, the Wacom Cintiq was the newest offering. I hemmed and hawed for months, but after chatting with Carlyn Beccia about the Cintiq, I was willing to jump in, sight unseen. I felt that, if I knew that Wacom tablets worked for me in general, then the Cintiq would be a great step up. I knew there would be a big learning curve, but there is a learning curve with everything. Honestly, if there's no learning curve with something new, then where's the challenge, and where's the reward? (A big thanks anain to Carlyn for kindly sharing her Cintiq insights with me when I was at that crossroads.)

Ok, I'm not implying that every artist needs a Cintiq, nor do I want you encourage you to go into major debt. I just think it is important for us to face the fact that, though our tools are expensive investments, they are not optional ones. Without the right tools, you can't compete AND you can't stretch yourself and your knowledge in the ways you NEED to be able to in this business. If you don't invest, you're basically putting up your own (very dense, very heavy) roadblocks to potential success.You're voting with silence, basically. Do what you can, within legal and moral means ;) ,  to get your workspace and tools as up to speed as possible.There are ways to cut corners: I bought my large-bed scanner refurbished. It was still very expensive, but it was a lot cheaper than buying new. The idea is, getting the tools that you NEED TO SUCCEED as an artist is a requirement, not an option.


Ginger*:) said...

Hey Kathy, wise decision. I made a similar one recently. My older wacom was cracked, scratched and the pen nibs were so worn down that I knew I needed new gear. My computer has a really wide screen and I am very comfy with the intuos so I decided to go with the new intuos 4. LARGE.

Since my computer screen is much larger than the largest Cintiq I rationalized that the intuos would be better for me and my budget. That is because my full time job is freelance illustrator and there is no other day job at this point.

Although I know that someday I may want a Cintiq... the new intuos 4 is dreamy. It comes with 10 extra pen nibs and a really sleek new design.

As a digital artist I also sprung for a wide body printer with archival inks. The tools we use are really integral to our happiness at work and our happiness at work is integral to our ultimate success.

Enjoy your "toys" *:)

Kathy Weller said...

Hi Ginger! Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your own story. The new Wacom Intuos 4 sounds sweet! Good for you for upgrading your tools.

I totally agree that the Cintiq is really spendy. Hey there are totally other options-whatever works for the individual. If what you are currently using feels right then why fix it, if it ain't broke. It takes such a lot of trial and error to get comfortable with a digital workspace plan - finding the right set up for the individual is so imperative to productivity. If I hadn't been in such a bad place with my set-up at that particular time, I probably would not have splurged on the Cintiq...but I was, and I did, and I'm very happy with it!

I'm really glad you got the printer too! I did not mention this because it was not really relevant to any of the experiences I shared in my post, but I also upgraded my printer to a printer that could print up to 13 x 19. Just having the right tools that you need, when you need them, makes a huge difference. Congrats on your toys as well!! :)

Jim Hill said...

Kathy, great post and better insight into the mind of a successful illustrator.

I'd like to see the full breakdown of gear that you're now using, computer, printer, scanner, etc. too to put it all in perspective.

My full time job is graphic designer/web developer. I use a 15" MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM. I connect to a 23" Apple Cinema Display and use a 9x12 Wacom Intuos 3. My scanner and printer aren't worth mentioning as they're on the "Upgrade next" list.

I like the portability of the MBP, but have been considering getting one of the new 27" iMacs with more CPU horsepower and way more RAM.

Thanks, again.

Tigz said...

I'm going through this process as the moment actually. Got a great wacom tablet but need a better macbook and definitely a better scanner! What model scanner did you get? I'm also considering a new printer but I hear it works out cheaper to print elsewhere in most cases...

Kathy Weller said...

Hi Jim, Hi Tigz, Hope you don't mind but it makes sense to answer both of your questions in one reply. Here is my current set-up:

-Imac 24" Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06 Ghz, 4 GB RAM
I first looked into the Mac Pro but quickly realized that it was not for me. Not only was it extremely expensive but it was more computer than I needed. (I'm not making video games.) Not only that but I'd chatted with several designer/illo friends who just loved the imac and said that it worked great for them. I've been very happy with mine and I think it's a lot of computer for the money.

-2 external hard drives
(one for Time Machine, one which I actually work off of)

-Subscription to Mozy (off-site back up service -- backs up all files regularly)

Right before I purchased the imac I had a hard drive failure in my Macbook Pro (this was my next computer right after my Powerbook G4 - I still stuck to getting a laptop - hadn't learned my lessons yet completely ;-) But with the Cintiq screen, I no longer had to use my computer screen for visuals, so it was no longer an issue. I've since moved on to my imac (early 2009), and I use laptop strictly for goofing off or answering emails. :) )

-Cintiq 21" monitor/tablet

-Epson R1800 printer
My printer was $400 new. It is a great printer and it did not cost a lot as far as printers go. What costs a lot is the Epson ink. That's life!
I've had printer for a couple years at least and it still works great.

-Epson Expression 1640 XL scanner (discontinued). I bought this model on recommendation from my step-mom who is also a graphic designer. She loves this scanner and I see why. I bought one for 1K refurbished. It's an excellent scanner. I've had it about three years so far and no problems. Epson has similar models on their site.

Hope this helps paint a better picture for you guys! :) Thanks for your comments and for visiting!!

Korey Scott said...

Hello! I too want to get a Cintiq and have been thinking about it off and on for a while. I haven't tried one yet, but as I have started to draw/sketch all on the computer, I would like to try one.

The only thing I am worried about is that the lines I draw match up with the motion. I have the 6x8 tablet now and it has worked good, but I want more control of where I start/stop my lines without having to adjust points all the time. How has your experience so far been with this? I am kind of picky when it comes to nice fluid lines (lately have done more loose line work) but overall for the spot illustration stuff, I prefer a nice flowing line with my set of brushes.

Thanks for the story on your experience with buying the cintique. I think we are always dealing with how to improve/further our work...and also be able to purchase stuff. After all, even though it is a tax write off, we still have to pay for it..hahah

Anonymous said...

Hey great post and thanks for your equipment breakdown. I'm in the market for a new printer and scanner-- so how timely and helpful!

Kathy Weller said...

Korey, Cintiq offers you real-time drawing. So you are drawing/painting on a computer monitor. Any lag time a person might experience is a RAM problem or a hard drive issue. the Cintiq is made to draw the line as YOU draw the line, as though you are painting on a canvas. Well, sort of.

andothersuchthings-You're welcome! Glad it helped. :)

Dani Duck said...

I like your post. It's amazing how much easier doing art is when you have the right tools! I was in a similar situation a while ago... actually it was worse I didn't have any kind of graphic pad. I had to do a bit of convincing, so that my husband knew how important a tablet would be to my artwork. I ended up with a Wacom Intuos 3 6"x9". So much easier to draw/paint on a computer with this. I would have loved to have a Cintiq, but it was way out of my budget. Now to buy a computer newer than 8 years old!

I know you aren't using it for artwork now, but there should have been some options on your Powerbook to adjust your screen so it looked a little closer to what it looks on other monitors. Of course every monitor is different, so you can only adjust things to suit other people so much. I once did a really dark drawing, and posted it online, only to find out later there were light circles that appeared on every monitor but mine (my monitor was set too dark, ugh).

I'm glad to see this post because it makes me feel a little more justified in a few of the expensive decisions I've made in the past. I'm not published yet, but I'm hoping to change that soon. It was doubtful it would ever happen without the right tools!

monicalee said...

Wow! This is a great post and the comments are good too. Can I ask, what are you scanning if you are working digitally. Are you still actaully painting with watercolor and just drawing on the computer? My old scanner scanned my watercolor much better than my new one. I have a large Wacom and a large moniter but a really old version of Photoshop and I would hae to upgrade to get a Cintiqu...which I think I will do one step at a time!

Kathy Weller said...

Hi Monica! Thanks for asking.

I scan my pencil sketches when working digitally.
Check this post for a visual:

But I didn't work mainly all-digital when I bought the scanner, and I am very glad that I have it because it gives me a lot of flexibility in however I choose to work. I'm not stuck if I want to do something in traditional watercolor now, and without this scanner, I most definitely would be.

If you had a scanner that worked well with watercolor, could you tell me what the brand/model is? I'm just curious and others might be, too! :)

Leslie said...

What a terrific dialogue you've got going here! Thanks for the thoughtful and informative post, all the comments have been really insightful as well.

You and I had chatted via email before about the process, tools, media, etc. Seeing a spec list of your setup helps immensely. I'm currently working on an aging Powerbook G4 w/PS CS4 that lags because of the lack of sufficient memory. I am looking at an iMac to replace it. I appreciate your scoop on the iMac which supports that choice. I have a gently-used Canon Pixma Pro 9000 still in the box which should give me good quality large prints. I have a low-end scanner that will get 8.5x11 rough drawings but nothing more precise. I have not invested in a graphics tablet yet.

Having the right tools for the right job is incredibly important. In your case, it sounds as if you already had the gig and that upgrading your tools in order to have achieved the best outcome for your time/money/investment would have been best. In my case, I don't have a paying client yet so I'd be looking at setting myself up on a lesser scale possibly. Clearly if I had the money I'd spring for the Cintiq. Like you pointed out, there's already a learning curve. I'm thinking that's a good argument for going for it. But as we all know, that's alot of money, especially when you're in a more speculative situation like I am. I talked with another illustrator who suggested the Adesso or VisTablet as a good startup. I'm wondering if any of your readers have an opinion on either of those?

I picked up a copy of the childrens writers & illustrators market 2009, which I intend to read to educate myself on positioning, etc. I feel like I'm being wishy-washy; do I invest in my illustrating or not? Guess that boils down to confidence, knowing my dreams and trusting myself to succeed. Wow, if they come up with a tool to handle that internal struggle, that would be something! :-)

alina said...
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