I mocked up my Little Women set in Sketchup!  So far I’ve just set up the kitchen and the living room.  Sketchup’s been a great help – I can export images at any angle I want, then load those images into MangaStudio and use them as a quick reference to help set up perspective lines and such.  It’s been a great help when it comes to keeping things where they’re supposed to be and with elements I tend to have a difficult  time drawing, like windows and doors.


Sometimes I think this graphic novel is mainly an excuse to draw sweaters. Lots and lots of sweaters. Because dear God I love sweaters, and drawing sweaters, and looking at reference photos of sweaters.


Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 vs. Wacom’s Cintiq Companion


Mentioned in this article:
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 | Wacom Cintiq Companion

Which portable drawing tablet reigns supreme for digital artists?

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.

I just received a review unit Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft. My Wacom Cintiq Companion is my most used art device. It’s my entire studio stuffed into a bag. It’s going to take a fantastic piece of hardware to unseat the Companion’s position as my alpha dog for art creation.

The Surface Pro 3 is a fantastic piece of hardware.

I won’t be delving too far into the specs of the machines in this first impression write-up, but I will boil down the differences between the two that have an impact in your workflow. What are the practical realities of using these devices? Why should I get one or the other?

A few years ago, no device akin to either of these options was mature enough to even consider for professional work. These two hardware juggernauts slugging it out spur innovation. No matter which device “wins,” ultimately we, as artists, are in a better place. But let me ease your mind. No matter which piece of art hardware you choose, you haven’t made a bad choice. Both are good in different, complimentary ways.

The Companion is a workhorse. I’ve beaten the crap out of it for months. I regularly draw files north of 18"x24" at 350-600dpi for as many as eighteen hours a day.

I’ve assigned my most frequently utilized shortcut keys and tools to its hotkeys and seldom use a bluetooth keyboard while working. Zooming, panning, rotating, color picking, brush resizing, undoing and redoing are all accounted for using the hardware hotkeys.

An example of work created entirely on a Cintiq Companion.

The matte screen is relatively high PPI. At 13" and 1920×1080, it’s one of the clearest screens I own. It isn’t reflective and colors are accurate with a wide gamut. The matte screen feels more like drawing on paper than glass.

The matte nature of the screen is provided by a thin layer of adhesive, anti-glare protection which is prone to scratches. From normal use, my screen has noticeable marks in my most stylus-scraped areas. I suspect that one could peel off this coating (as I did on older, desktop Cintiq models), but then you’re left with a glass, slick surface to draw on.

Distance between the glass and the screen causes cursor offset and parallax. All Wacom Cintiqs exhibit this behavior, but the Companion has the smallest gap of all of them. If it bothers you here, there are scant alternative options with less severe parallax.

Strokes are smooth with a bit of lag, but that’s the case with all Cintiq hardware. There’s little to no jitter in slow strokes. The 2048 levels of pressure are an industry leading figure. After breaking in the stylus, the first half of the pressure levels are met within a quarter of pressure applied to the stylus. Made less technical, that means that drawing feels a bit loose at light pressure. Ratcheting up your firmness at the driver level, or using app-specific pressure curve tweaking, ameliorates the problem, however.

The battery life could be better. The Cintiq Companion uses a slightly aged Intel processor that’s less energy efficient than its newer brethren. Heavy use in intensive art apps saps the battery in a few hours, tops. I carry a portable charger in my laptop bag and resign myself to charging the Cintiq whenever and wherever I can manage.

The Companion is sized akin to a powerful laptop that doubles as a tablet monitor with a level of portability to match. When I travel, it’s in a bag with some accompanying accessories. When you do unpack and plug in that required kit, however, you have a fully capable studio on the move. It’s no more or less portable than a mid-sized laptop. It’s no MacBook Air, but it’s not a 17" behemoth either. I split my time this year between two locations and was able to carry my whole studio in one laptop bag.

The Surface is more akin to an iPad that you can draw on while using full featured art apps with extreme portability. It feels like a sketchbook in form, function, and potential capability.

The screen is an astounding 12" at 2160×1440. Pixels are entirely indiscernible. This clarity is nice, but comes at a price. At times, you can feel the Surface sputter and chug as it attempts to zoom in on a canvas of a large art file. Rendering those pixels taxes my middle specification i5 model. As an art guy, I’d rather have performance than pixel density if I could only choose between the two. Both the Surface and Companion have beautiful displays with wide viewing angles and accurate color.

The, er, surface of the Surface is a glossy, slick glass. Drawing feels slightly less accurate than on a matte surface. A screen protector would likely fix the issue. The glass isn’t prone to scratches like the Companion. This category is pretty much a draw.

The 3:2 aspect ratio of the Surface is a lot more accommodating of portrait oriented drawing than the 16:9 of the Companion. The Companion is nearly too large and cumbersome to hold in your off-hand while you draw with your dominant one. The aspect ratio of the screen, and the lighter, smaller shape of the Pro, all contribute to the digital, portable sketchbook nature of the device.

Vertical drawing on the Companion is less than ideal.

When working with the Companion I sit the device on my table or lap using the provided stand and draw in a landscape orientation. When drawing on the Surface I tend to hold the device with one hand, portrait, while drawing with the other.

The lack of hotkeys impedes production workflows with the Surface. In much the same way that the aspect ratio and weight of the device lend it the air of a digital sketchbook, so does the lack of hardware bound shortcut keys.

I forced myself to use the Surface without a keyboard and clumsily plodded my way through tool selection, brush resizing, and color picking with my free hand using the touch screen. Apps that embrace the tablet based nature of the Surface work best. Manga Studio allows for a tablet forward interface option and it’s warranted here. Even with some apps making concessions for use on tablets, I was still slower on the Surface than the Companion while drawing. The hotkeys matter if you’re doing serious arting and the Companion has them in spades.

The most controversial aspect of the Surface ended up being one of the least worth remark. Ditching Wacom’s tablet technology, the Surface instead uses Ntrig’s art digitizer. I found touch input more reliable on the Surface than the Companion and stylus navigation outside of art apps less laggy on the Companion and slightly floaty on the Surface.

Pen pressure is reported as 256 levels but you’d never know it. I never left wanting for more pressure fidelity. The actuation pressure for the stylus feels steeper than comparable Wacom hardware. You’re lightest marks can sometimes be lost if you’re extremely light of touch.

The distance between the glass and stylus is lesser here than in the case of the Companion. Gains of accuracy that the lessened parallax might provide are lost by overall less accurate tracking of the pen tip. There’s jitter with slow strokes and a smidge more lag when drawing with the Ntrig than a Wacom digtizer. I have very steady hands. I make fast, fluid strokes. If your working style skews towards slow, deliberate mark making, bear the caveat of the jitter in mind.

Art app compatibility is a concern with the alternative hardware. Ntrig’s website has a driver update that adds WinTab compatibility to the Surface. At time of writing, I haven’t thrown a heap of apps at the Surface, but none have failed so far after installing the optional WinTab update.

The Surface Pro 3 would be better with a Wacom digitizer, but, in practice, I didn’t find the Ntrig to be a terrible detriment. Its inclusion is not reason alone to dismiss the Surface.

The Surface battery lasts for ages and uses a newer, more energy efficient processor than the Companion. I don’t bother to bring a bag when I take the Surface out with me. It, its type cover, and its pen are all I need to art on the go. It’s only slightly more of a burden than carrying an iPad and the portability trumps the more laptop-esque nature of the Companion if that’s your primary concern.

If you have a primary art workstation already and are looking solely for a digital sketchbook that’s easy to transport, has a stout battery, and runs full featured art applications, the Surface is a no brainer. If it were the only tablet monitor I had, I’d make due. It’s perfectly functional for production work.

The Companion is heavier. Its battery life gets lesser seemingly by the day. Its screen scratches easily. But it’s my personal choice for my primary art making device. The singular nature of the Companion overlaps in more areas with my needs as an artist. The pen digtizer is slightly better. The hotkeys speed up my workflow. It’s that simple.

However, you’d have to pry my Surface from my cold dead hands. It’s a sexy piece of hardware. It’s heaps more portable than the Companion and lasts longer to boot. Where I’ve taken the Companion to a coffee shop to work in the past, I’m almost certainly going to take the Surface now.

Each is a good choice. They just service slightly different use cases. If portability trumps efficiency, get the Surface. If you don’t mind losing a bit of freedom of movement and ease of toting to and fro, but need a full desktop replacement, get the Companion.

This is exactly the sort of use case where I’d rather be toting the Surface.

I’ll be offering a full review of the hardware mentioned in this article soon. In the meantime, you can support my digital art hardware reviews by purchasing Amazon products using my referral link.

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The Schweizer Guide to Spotting Tangents


I do compositional lectures a lot in my classes, as well as at the occasional convention.  I’ve been asked to post them, so here’s part one: The Schweizer Guide to Spotting Tangents!

Comic art is, as a general rule, a line-based medium.  I know, I know, there are plenty of artists whose work is painted, or who depict their subject in ink using solely light and shadow.   But these folks are unquestioningly in the minority, as the history of printing technology originally dictated the use of line to depict form in the early days of comics.  This became a stylistic expectation, and it’s an expectation that I enthusiastically embrace, as have many others.  But using line to draw the world invites chances for that cardinal sin of composition: the tangent.

A tangent is when two or more lines interact in a way that insinuates a relationship between them that the artist did not intend.

It can create confusion on the part of the audience as to what it is that they’re looking at.  It can cause the spatial depth that one attempts to cultivate through the use of planes to become flattened.  Most of all, it creates a decidedly unwelcome aesthetic response: tangents are just plain ugly.

There are a lot of different types of tangents, as least according to the way I define them.  In order to make it easier on my students when giving critiques, I’ve categorized them and named them.  This may have been done before, but I’ve not encountered it.  My hope is that, by making this “spot-the-enemy” guide, fewer artists will fall into the tangent trap by knowing what to look for.
1. The Long Line

The long line is when a line from one object runs directly into the line of another
This is the tangent that everybody knows.  The one that’s easiest to spot, easiest to avoid.  For a lot of folks, this is the only thing meant when one refers to a “tangent.”
Even in the work of the very best comic artists, a vigilant eye can find the occasional tangent.  Even when a cartoonist is constantly on the lookout, a tangent can slip through.  But, as each of strive to better ourselves and the quality of our work and our medium,

2. The Parallel

The parallel tangent is when the containing lines of two objects run alongside each other.  This causes one of two negative outcomes.  Either one object becomes “lost,” as the other overpowers it (figure 1), or one object feels strangely contained by another (figure 2).
This can be avoided by ensuring that any object that COULD run alongside another is angled at least 45 degrees from the first.
The next two are REALLY tough to spot, and most artists have fallen victim to them before.

3. The Corner

The corner tangent is when two lines in an object meet in a way intended by the artist, but another (accidental) line runs directly into the place where they meet.

4. The Bump-Up

A bump-up tangent is when the containing line of one object “bumps up” against the containing line of another object.   When these two lines touch, it creates a bump-up tangent (and even when they don’t technically touch, if it’s close enough to raise eyebrows, they might as well).
The bump-up gives the impression of containment.  In figure 1, it seems as though her ponytail is physically unable to enter the space occupied by the pole.  In figure 2, it feels as though her elbow is unable to LEAVE that space.


Also, be careful not to let elements of the drawing bump up against your panel borders!  Either give them room to breathe or decisively crop them.  Same goes for letting figures “stand” on the bottom panel border.

5. The Directional

A directional tangent is basically just a long-line tangent that’s been broken by empty space.  Now, this one isn’t always bad – it can, on occasion, be used to draw the reader’s eye through the image on a specifically determined path.

6. The Panel-to-Panel

This one is exactly the same thing as the directional (in fact, I shouldn’t even classify it as its own thing), save that instead of empty space dividing a long-line it’s a panel gutter.
My gutters are crazy wide, but with normal-sized gutters this can be a real problem.
One more thing…
This ain’t a tangent, but it is a compositional no-no.

Fake Panels

Comics generally have panel borders, so readers are used to having images contained by straight lines.  Some artists don’t allow gutters between their borders.  Though I believe that, as a rule, this can make it harder for new comics readers to follow the story (and new readers are always important), it’s done with enough regularity that we must expect the audience to feel comfortable with gutterless pages.
What does this mean?  It means that we can’t draw a straight line in any panel, either vertical or horizontal, without having some object overlap it.  If we do, readers may think that it is a panel border, incorrectly breaking one moment into two.


See how the overlap of the elbow causes there to be no question?

That’s it for Lesson #1.  Lesson #2 will come around in the next few days. Feel free to use any terminology that I’ve laid down in this one, or feel free to abandon it in favor of better, more accurate terminology.

How My iPad Changed My Life

Last year a good friend of the family gave me an iPad Mini (more specs) as a reward for getting a book published. I trotted around happily with this iPad, reading library e-books on it, surfing the web, all that good stuff. I’m almost embarrassed at how long it took me to realize I could download sketching programs (Autodesk Sketchbook and Procreate are the two I finally settled on), and I didn’t really focus in on using the iPad as a sketchbook until a coworker bought me a Sensu brush stylus.

Now, this is the point where I’ll admit that I’m a serial sketchbook abandoner. I start a sketchbook, fill a couple pages, decide everything I draw is terrible and that I’m “wasting paper”, and abandon the sketchbook.

¼ of the abandoned sketchbooks:

Sketchbook Stack

Seriously, look at this! It’s embarrassing!

The point is, I wasn’t drawing as much as I should have.

I do have a Cintiq, which I cracked and purchased after TEN YEARS of hoping and praying Wacom would create a portable Cintiq.  That’s what I REALLY wanted – a portable digital sketchbook.  After sitting in front of a computer at work all day, the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit in front of another workstation for an additional 3-4 hours.  I wanted something I could toss into my bag!  Something I could curl up with on the couch or set up shop in a cafe or use on the train!

You can imagine my delight when, THE SAME FRIGGING YEAR I purchased my Cintiq, Wacom released the Cintiq Companion. >:P

No, I'm not bitter.  Not bitter at all.

No, I’m not bitter. Not bitter at all.

So when I installed Sketchbook and Procreate on the iPad, it was a bit of a revelation, and a huge relief.   There was no way I could justify getting a Cintiq Companion with a barely one-year-old Cintiq standing on my desk.  The iPad was pretty close to being exactly what I’d been hoping for, especially after I inherited my relative’s iPad Air 2 (more specs), which had a lot of increased power compared to the Mini, and let me create much larger canvases.  The absolute best thing about using the iPad is that it shut up the stupid paper-waster voice in my head.  I’ve found myself sketching much for regularly and with a lot less angst because there’s no paper to waste, there’s always an undo button, and I have a limitless amount of cat-free storage space.

I will admit that at first it felt weird to dump the sketchbooks and switch entirely to digital.  Most of my friends were using Procreate for loose sketches, or they were using their iPad as a kind of portable portfolio.  I didn’t personally know anyone who was using an iPad as their primary sketchbook.  But then I stumbled across the SketcherMan Blog, which was a revelation.  There ARE other artists using iPads as their full time sketchbooks!  I also I have access to a Surface 3, and it’s a great work-surface, but I prefer the iPad for the following reasons: 1) It’s LIGHT.  I can throw it in my bag and I barely notice the extra weight.  2) It’s never run hot, which makes for a VERY comfortable drawing surface.  The Surface 3 can run hot sometimes.  At this point, the only real complaints I have about the iPad are the size of my stylus’s tip (which I get into below) and the maximum canvas size limits I’m currently running into in Procreate and Sketchbook (I would love to be able to create a full size, full resolution page of comic pencils on the iPad.  Right now I’m still a couple hundred pixels shy).  I save all my sketches directly to the iCloud or Dropbox which offers great peace of mind in case my iPad’s stolen or I lose it.

Initially the size of the stylus’ pen tip bothered me.  I was used to a Cintiq or Wacom stylus, and it felt very awkward at first to use a such a large nib.  So I did a ton of research.  Was it worth investing in a high-end iPad stylus, like Studio 53’s Pencil, the Adonit Jot, or the Intuos Creative Stylus 2? Could I find one with a small nib?  The Jot has the smallest tip of any of the styluses I looked at, weren’t crushingly expensive, and had decent reviews.  There were just enough complaints to give me pause, however.  After all, I didn’t want to drop nearly $30 to end up with something I wasn’t going to use.  Most of the styluses I looked at range from $40 to almost $100 and that didn’t encourage a lot of risk-taking on my part, especially considering I already had one.  To complicate things, for awhile I just couldn’t understand why all the styluses had such freaking huge tips!  Why couldn’t I use my old Intuos, or Cintiq, or Surface 3 pens on the iPad or my Android phone?

Sensu tip size compared to a Cintiq stylus

Sensu tip size compared to a Cintiq stylus

Look at this!  The Sensu tip is HUGE compared to the Cintiq’s!  WTF?!

Theeeeeen…I read this article explaining the difference between capacitive screens (such as on smart phones and iPads) and regular touch screens (Cintiq, Surface 3).

At the end of the day, I decided to stick with the Sensu, which is all fairness is an excellent stylus.  I don’t use the brush as often as I should, but it really does feel like painting with a real brush, and the company has excellent customer service and made it very easy for me to order replacement stylus tips.  They also offer the Buddy stylus tip, which you can shove onto any pen or pencil, is great in a pinch, and only costs $5.  In the meantime, I’m keeping a close eye on articles about the iPad Pro and keeping my fingers crossed.

How My iPad Changed My Life was originally published on Leigh’s Art & Writing Blog

Comics Math!

I’m currently working out the maximum size canvases I can get away with in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Procreate on my iPad Air 2.  I love drawing on my iPad, so I’m trying to get as much penciling done on there as possible before I switch over to working in MangaStudio on the desktop.

The default page template I’ve been given by my publisher is 6.25 x 9.25 @ 600 dpi, with a live art area of 5.25 x 8.25.  For the most part I’m not working full bleed, but within that live art area, which equals 3150 x 4950 pixels.  The largest size canvas I can create in Sketchbook is 2227 x 3500, which is pretty good.  However, I can get a couple hundred pixels closer in Procreate: 2603 x 4090.  I’m going to try switching over to Procreate a for a bit and see how
that goes.

The truth is that you can work on pencils at a slightly lower resolution, then size them up and they’ll mostly look all right, and have more than enough detail to allow you to do your inking.  However, the Little Women graphic novel is going to be 100% digital, and I like having the resolution as high as I can reasonably get it for most of the production stages on this kind of project.  You never know when those extra pixels will come in handy!

At the end of the day, what I’d really love is to be able to
do a full size, full resolution page of pencils entirely on my iPad and
then import into MangaStudio for final clean ups.  I’m keeping a close watch on the iPad Pro announcements/specs, so here’s hoping!