Artist's studio on a desktop—but without the mess!

Posted by barbara on August 19, 2011


The Blue Mountain's Three Sisters, sketched on a graphic tablet in a chalk 'paintbrush' linked to a computer and Corel Painter Essentials software.  

Barely have enough room at home to swing a cat, let alone set up a painting corner? No more excuses for not exploring your creativity. Linked to a computer, a graphic tablet is the ultimate in convenience tools. A complete artist’s toolkit, this compact device allows you to draw and paint to your heart’s content, minus the mess and bother of having to clean up afterwards.


Using a digital acrylic style 'paintbrush' on a WACOM graphic tablet, this image has been created with the help of layers and percentage tones of the mutiple paint swatches on offer via Corel Painter Essentials. 

It’s all too hard trying to set up a temporary painting station in the corner of a room that may just happen to be your bedroom! And doesn’t the drudgery of having to set up your painting gear and pack it away afterwards take much of the enjoyment and spontaneity out of the creative process?

The worst is having to clean your brushes, especially if you are using oil paints and facing the risk of getting paint on the carpet or brushing against a drying canvas in your best outfit. And speaking of which, where do you store finished paintings if they’re not exactly walking out the door?

So what’s the solution for part time artists who want to paint as time permits, minus the muck and all that mucking around? If renting a studio is beyond your price range, investing in a graphic tablet may be the answer.



A rough 'chalk' sketch created in Corell Painter looks a lot better when put through a Photoshop watercolour filter. 

What’s a graphic tablet? It’s a tool of trade for designers who are into computer graphics, not to mention cartoonists, illustrators and people fortunate enough to paint for a living. This artist’s ‘kit and caboodle’ sits on the desk in front of your computer. Size and shape wise, it vaguely resembled the old style chalk slates on which kindergarten children used to write their ABCs. Sleekness aside, the key difference between a graphic tablet and a slate is that whatever you inscribe on the latter ends up in a new window on your computer screen! It’s WYDIWYG, as in What You Do Is What You Get on the screen.

You ‘draw’, ‘pen’ or ‘paint’ with a special cordless pen-like tool and ‘Voila!’, with the help of a graphics software program such as Photoshop or the more affordable Corel Draw, your creation is transferred onto the screen. Of course, many people are quite happy creating artwork in such software programs using their computer mouse. But it’s a blunt instrument by comparison, and far less flexible than using a pen-like pressure sensitive tool that better simulates actual drawing and painting.

Will using a graphic tablet help you to create a masterpiece? You don’t have to be a Picasso or a Leonardo da Vinci to use a graphic tablet, but you do need some artistic ability to make the most out of this versatile digital tool. While the limitations of your ability are the limitations of what you can do on the tablet, there’s little doubt that the former can be enhanced by practice, practice and more practice!

There are so many good reasons to consider honing your skills using a tablet and specialised art pen. Firstly, you can practice to your hearts content without the inconvenience, chemical fumes and mess factor.

Secondly, using the tablet, you no longer have to scan artwork you create by hand into a digital file. From the moment you create it, it’s not only digital, but ‘live’, allowing you to rework it in multiple different ways.

And thirdly, the graphics tablet and supporting software allow you to try your hand across the whole range of artist supplies, using different types of material in all manner of sizes and shapes. Such as? Art pen brushes, pencils, charcoal, chalks, pastels, palette knives, tinting, crayons, digital watercolours, airbrushes, acrylics, oil paints, to name a few. All that diversity to choose from, and at no extra cost, plus access to an unlimited colour palette when using the eyedropper tool.

Sure, you need a computer, but most households have them today. Sure you need the graphics software, but cheaper versions are available, with hefty reductions for anyone who qualifies for a student discount. And then of course, you’re up for the digital pen and tablet set, with the latter coming in a range of sizes that increase in price the larger they are.

Do your sums if you’re the type who tends to impulse buy at the art supply shop. It’s worth adding up what you might save in a year on artist supplies by investing in virtual drawing and painting, at least until your circumstances change and you can set up a studio.

And if this isn’t enough to get you thinking about adopting digital drawing and painting, think of the convenience. On a reasonable sized computer screen, you can open your starting point reference image, a colour photograph for example, on one side and your new ‘canvas’ on the other. That allows you to work with them side-by-side, zooming in and out as necessary, as you master your chosen metier of representational or abstract art, or both.

Even artists who have studio space to burn get their value for money out of a graphic tablet. Why? It offers them a quick, easy and cheap way to plan their actual painting. By creating a new file proportional to their canvas size, they can experiment with different types of composition—for example, the ‘golden section’, the ‘steelyard’ or the ‘tunnel’ composition. You can also readily experiment with how your subject matter might look in a range of colour relationships, complementary harmony, split complementary and so on. With the aid of a colour wheel, you can sketch up a rough ‘thumbnail’ of your composition, use orange and its shades or tints as a starting point, and then add in complementary blues.

Once that’s done, you can resave the file and see how it looks by replacing the orange with yellow and its complementary violet hues. Quick and easy to do by highlighting the colour you want to change and using the eyedropper tool to ring in the new colours.

It’s a great way to keep your hand in when space is the issue without the fuss and bother, not to mention the cost of replenishing expensive artist materials.



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