Drawing Tablet Reviews – iPad Pro & Wacom

Wacom have by far been the most popular and pretty much uncontested brand of digital art/drawing tablets for artists. I myself own a relatively cheap Wacom Bamboo Fun plug-in USB tablet but found that it didn’t really add up to the hype surrounding the quality of Wacom products. Don’t get me wrong, when the tablet worked it was great – however, it only ran smoothly a fraction of the time. Despite having the most up to date driver (because they haven’t updated their driver for my tablet in years) and the relevant computer requirements my tablet driver would frequently have issues that would result in a number of errors. Some symptoms included the pen pressure only working sporadically, meaning that the opacity and shape dynamics became non-variant and these two components are two of the most important and advantageous aspects of using a tablet for digital art. Needles to say, I was not impressed and the customer service was not helpful. After countless google searches and browsing forums it seems that others have also had the same problem as me and none of the solutions suggested corrected the problem.

For a while I wanted to try a stand alone drawing tablet where you draw directly on to the screen and have the artwork directly below the tip of the pen rather than on a separate monitor but there isn’t such a thing as a cheap or rentable tablet such as this. Prices range from approximately £300 to £2000 (for the high end professional quality ones) and I was reluctant to spend that amount of money for something I just wanted to try and wasn’t guaranteed to persist with and enjoy.

As luck would have it I’ve been able to borrow an iPad Pro for a few weeks and have been pretty impressed with it. Obviously it has tonnes of other features besides the digital art aspect but that’s the only thing that I’ll be reviewing it for.

The pen is nice and smooth and fits the hand comfortably. I have no issue with the levels of pressure it has and you can also use the side of the pen as well as the tip which is a nice if unusual feature. The charging of the pen is a little odd. You have to remove the lid (the magnetic lid is a little too tempting to play with) and hope you don’t end up accidentally losing it before sticking the pen USB stick fashion into the charging port of the iPad. It charges very quickly – about 10 seconds of charge will give the pen at least an hour – but the way that it’s charging seems very precarious as one accidental nudge could damage both the pen and the iPad. It doesn’t have an eraser at the top of the pen unlike Wacom’s pens. The nib is able to be screwed off an replaced with a new tip if need be and it’s worth noting that there is no place on the iPad to store the pen, only with the cover cases is there a place for it and you really don’t want to lose your pen considering that a replacement is approximately £50.

A slightly more well thought out pen design is my only issue with the iPad Pro, apart from my wistful wishing for it to be slightly less expensive. Procreate is one of the most popular apps for digital artists using an apple product to use (and it’s only around £3) and the program is great. There’s a whole multitude of brushes from pencils, more traditional types, heavily textures brushes, pens, airbrushes, traditional media and some nice textured brushes for things like water, wood and metal as well as glowing lights and nebula. The brushes are very easy to modify and create your own as well and you can always reset the brush if need be. The tools within Procreate are pretty similar to digital art programs like Photoshop, Corel Painter and Paint Tool SAI with the layers, layer options, layer locking, pallets, colour wheel, image transform, tools like blending and erasing  and so on. It also has a really nifty feature that is automatically (unless you go into setting and change this option) creates a video of the brush strokes on the screen and makes a speed-painting of the whole process that you can watch and export. Surprisingly, this doesn’t appear to slow the app down at all and there isn’t a lag. You have the ability to export your artwork in a range of file formats, including a Photoshop file which is nice. There’s a nice tool to allow you to flip your canvas as well.

My minor critiques with the program is that there isn’t a feature for drawing straight lines (and also vector drawing coming to think of it) and that the transform options are a bit limited – you can change the scale and rotate it but there’s so warping option currently. But apart from that I really enjoy using the app and the iPad Pro pencil.

Unfortunately I can’t compare it to other high end drawing tablets like Wacom’s Cintiq tablet so I don’t know how it compares to those. This is in no way a fair comparison between Wacom’s products and Apple’s, just my own personal experience of the two.

In terms of having a tablet that I can draw directly onto rather than having to hook it up to a computer, it’s been a really nice way of working. I can paint in comfort wherever I want – the portability is great and has made a lot of difference for me personally. I like the direct interactivity with the screen and feel a lot more in control that I do with a USB drawing tablet. It’s made a huge change in how motivated I am to paint and how much more productive I have been because of it. It’s made me want to get a non-USB tablet which may or may not be a good thing. I’m planning to look into other less expensive tablets as I don’t need all the functions something like an iPad has, I only want to use it for the purposes of digital art.


Networked Narrative: Northern Powerhouse Review

I took a visit to Liverpool FACT gallery for the first time, remembering the last exhibition of theirs I had seen online but unfortunately missed seeing in person  (‘No Such Thing As Gravity’ looked incredible). Admittedly my timing was not great as none of their main galleries were currently open/exhibiting due to them preparing for the upcoming ‘How Much of This is Fiction’ exhibition opening in March but they still had some artwork in the foyer on display; that being Northern Powerhouse: Last Towns Standing.

The exhibition is based on various different futuristic dystopian tropes and is set in the year 2065. The focus is on three northern towns; Wigan, Burnley and Hull. Wigan has a crisis of technology being unusable, Burnley has a robot infestation with issues involving said robots enslaving the human race and Hull has nefarious plots involving robotics and bio-engineering.

Placed in glass cases, in a similar vein to museum cases, are the artifacts or ‘artefakes’ from the imagined 2065. The objects are generally well made – as in many of them pass for manufactured products – and there is a large variety of the pretend artifacts to examine, each accompanied by an explanatory text. Some of the objects are more amusing, for example the ’emoji-gloves’ (‘the resistance’s way of secretly communicating with each other’), others more intriguing – such as an old book in Q&A format except all the answers are streams of emo-jis, and others less convincing – for instance, the origami dog shape that was supposedly a ‘cyborg unfolding fox’.

Behind the ‘artifakes’ there stands a large television/computer screen which contains the interactive text adventure that’s also available online here where a multitude of different scenarios and plot-lines can be explored. It’s within some of these plot-lines that the ages of the creators begins to show (it was made by young people aged between 13-25) when you find yourself repeatedly playing a character who still attends high school and where death can be arbitrarily assigned to you on such mundane decisions such as whether you decide to turn left or right.

Whether or not the exhibition is intended as a serious warning about the dangers of technology and what it could do to humanity, the fact remains that this exhibition is still essentially a very fun one to see. Whilst many of the science fiction tropes are hardly groundbreaking, they are still presented in a context that makes them appear as fresh and interesting. The artwork is lively, humorous and imaginative and the interactive story, whilst not being close to anything novel standard (and why should it have to be?) really makes Northern Powerhouse memorable. Considering the ages of the creators of this project it really isn’t a bad exhibition.


Frank Turner Review

The venue is inside of a theatre hall situated in Warrington (it’s more amusing than it should be hearing bands scream “HELLO WARRINGTON!” as they enter on stage) and although most of the audience don’t arrive to join the queue until the time of the doors opening or later, there’s not a single person in sight who doesn’t look like they’re not into it.

The first act is Esme Patterson, a singer-songwriter and guitarist with an ethereal voice and unmistakably unique sound that’s slightly trippy and meanders from alternative rock to new wave. She’s not quite as lost in the music as she could be, there’s too much fiddling with equipment for that and although she’s hardly shy it’s still apparent that performing to an audience of this size is still something that is relatively new to her. The following act; Felix Hagen and the Family, take to the stage in a sheen of sweat and glitter. They’re like something from The Rocky Horror Picture Show brought to life, complete with incredibly catchy melodies, dancers, and unshakeable confidence from the band’s front-man. In short; they’re one of the most flamboyant bands around. They’re almost irritatingly likeable and technical issues with the mixing of the microphones aside, there’s something inherently enjoyable in the cheesiness about them as an act.

The man himself, Frank Turner, complete with The Sleeping Souls, appears on stage not before too long. Too often at concerts the suspense is dragged out until when the light go down and when the band appears on stage the haze of excitement is slightly degraded by a sense of ‘finally’. This time it isn’t like that. He appears some time before anticipated and the unnecessary wait is cut short but in a way that doesn’t have any dampening on his reception; the crowd is as welcoming and enthusiastic as ever.

Frank Turner’s music attracts an eclectic range of people; from the approximate age of six, sitting upon a father’s shoulders, to sixty year olds and there are just as many middle aged adults as there are teenagers and students. Despite the age and gender differences, they all act as one when it comes to Frank Turner’s music. His control over his voice is so skilled that there is hardly any audible difference between his live vocals and the studio versions of the songs. The band look delighted to be there and even with a face literally dripping with sweat, the man still does nothing halfheartedly, beating away at his acoustic, stamping his legs and even climbing over the barrier and into the audience. At one point Turner spots a fan holding up a ‘safe gigs for women’ sign and launches into a speech supporting the project and goes as far to challenge the audience (with the fan’s consent) to carry her through the vehicle that is crowd-surfing, only without any inappropriate behaviour. It’s a success.

There’s a tension filled moment when Turner commands the standing crowd to split in half (particularly with a clear view of the child sat on his father’s shoulders) and go to opposite sides of the room. But it turns out that he intends to create a wall of hugs as opposed to a wall of death as he challenges each person to hug a stranger during the interlude of Photosynthesis. He succeeds in his mission.

It would be a stretch to claim that the concert was something life changing and the cheesiness of it is filled with such sincerity that it’s forgivable but there is no doubt that Frank Turner knows how to give his fans one hell of a good time. Not a single person who attended will be forgetting this night any time soon.


Parachutes by Frank Iero and the Patience Review

First off – a disclaimer. Yes, I am incredibly biased. I am by no means an objective first time listener to Frank Iero’s music and have been a fan of the guy for more years than I care to count. Being a person who happens to greatly appreciate his music I thought I’d try to articulate and share why and have taken the opportunity with his latest album.

I pre-ordered my copy of Parachutes despite only hearing the two songs that had been released prior to its release date (did I mention that I’m a big fan?) and Parachutes did not disappoint. What I don’t want to do is make this review a comparison to stomachaches (2014 album with the same band only under the name frnkiero andthe cellabration) because that wouldn’t do the album justice. If the band has gone to the lengths of changing their name from album to album then it’s not an unreasonable assumption that they’ve changed as a band too.

There are many words that could describe Parachutes overall as an album; reckless, guttural, fearless and intimate are just a few of them. Frank Iero has a very specific and distinct lyrical style – confessional, brutally honest and often tragic mingled with a strange sense of the poetic that is not quite poetry. It’s not an album for the lighthearted, nor could it in any way be described as a happy album. In fact, what’s probably the most cheerful song on the album is pop-punk influenced I’m A Mess and that pretty much sets the standard for the level of self-depreciation throughout the entirety of the album. Despite its often at times dark lyrics (“I lie on the floor taking pills to keep me warm until I’m not sure I exist anymore”“It’s the truth not lies that hurt the ones we love”“This is the face of a pig who cares too damn much about what others think”) it’s still somehow an uplifting experience because instead of it being whiny and wallowy it is somehow composed into something much greater than the angst that fuelled it. Rather than weeping along to lyrics it makes you want to scream them as loudly as possible. It is a fine example of catharticism both surely for its creators as well as its audience. It is a soundtrack for the alive and fighting.

Of course within Parachutes there is an element of punk rock, of that pure unyielding driven force of music, and Frank Iero’s vocals may be something of an acquired taste. If you’re after a perfectly well trained voice with nice vocal range and professional refinement then his voice probably isn’t for you. That’s not to say that he doesn’t know what he’s doing with his voice; without a doubt he does. Emotions fuel his voice and his vocals convey this very well. His voice can go from singing that sounds like he’s trying not to sob to ascending into grief filled screaming, aggressive, melancholic, to incredibly catchy melodies and even gentler singing on the acoustic song Miss Me that’s thrown in the middle of the album and somehow still works in conjunction to the rest of the songs.

Parachutes, the title a metaphor for how in life we are falling towards our inevitable demise but there are some things in lift that slow us down and help keep us afloat, is an album that gets better with every listen and one where your favourite tracks are constantly in flux. There’s self-depreciating humour, the grief of losing his grandfather, the desire to be missed when he’s not alive anymore, the desire to be able to truly alive and in the moment, self-directed frustration/anger, not being sure what his purpose is anymore and the sense of finally feeling proud to be himself. Parachutes is no easy listen but it’s filled with a sense of accomplishment and purpose even in the purposeless. It’s a triumphant honest album that’s somehow very real and is a great companion to anyone who identifies with any of the themes listed above.