Tag Archives: digital art

Learning to Infographic and Adobe Illustrator on Surface Pro 3

Here I’ll share my first experiences with learning to use the touchscreen interface of the Surface Pro 3, Adobe Illustrator, and a digital pen all for the first time — all at the same time.  Going full tilt with learning them simultaneously was probably my first mistake.  Don’t worry, there are more mistakes to learn from below!

After the sweat-filled, harrowing experience of putting down all that money for the SP3 at the Microsoft store, I took her home, and gently tore her apart.  I let shitloads of updates run and even updated the N-trig Wintab driver for good measure.

That was Mistake #2.

DO NOT UPDATE THE N-trig Wintab Driver.  DO NOT!

At least not for as long as this guy:


says:  “Illustrator 18.0.0 x64 (CC 2014) – runs (intermittent pen with N-Trig Wintab R16, R17)”

I found out that “intermittent pen” is code for “totally fucks up everything” — at least in conjunction with Adobe Illustrator.  I even went to the Microsoft store to find out why my pen would complete a stroke with the paint tool and then not for the next 7 attempts, and then draw a line and then give up again.  After giving trouble shooting an exceptionally thorough go, the Microsoft pro offered, “Erin, do you like wine?”

Me: “well, yes, yes I do.  Why?”

MSDude: “Does your Surface Pro 3 like wine?”

Me: “…uhhh…”

MSDude:    ” … I think it’s drunk.”

Thank God Rick Rodriguez, the author at surfaceproartist.com was able to explain that it was the N-trig Wintab driver and how to fix it!  (BTW, if you find the info on Rick’s site valuable, be sure to show him with a lil donation.)

My first objective was to learn Adobe Illustrator and the art of creating Infographics — at the same time, as I stated earlier.  This was also before I had figured out my driver issue, so there was that extra frustration to contend with.  I was about to pick up 1 more clusterfuck to complete the trifecta…

I went over to Lynda.com and jumped into the Creating Infographics with Illustrator course by Mordy Golding.

Mordy Golding's Lynda.com Infographics Course
Mordy Golding’s Lynda.com Infographics Course

Now, before I go on — this course is great.  Mordy Golding?  Also great!  What wasn’t great was trying to deal with all the other things I was learning + driver problems when drill Sergeant Golding was shouting out Mac commands on the regular.  That extra brain-processing half-second step of converting Mac to Windows speak on the occasions when the Mordster didn’t call out both would frequently squeeze out my last drop of patience.

In the end, I learned a lot from Mordy about Infographics and Illustrator and I’m glad I took it.  I just wish I’d taken this other course first — a real, live, in-person “Beginning Illustrator” course at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago with Cameron Keleher.  The easy-going, “no worries” Aussie gave us plenty of playing around time and was happy to answer any question that popped up.  And a bonus — the center had Macs for everyone so we were all speaking the same language.  After a lot of practice during those 12 uninterrupted  hours of Illustratorness, I feel tons more comfortable with the drawing capabilities in Illustrator.  I mean, just look at this amazing artwork I shat out during part of the last class:

Warholesque Thug Spock
Warholesque Thug Spock

Don’t be jealous.  Just go visit Cameron’s class at Lillstreet!

I’m definitely glad I took both courses, though, because they made it seem like I learned 2 completely different programs.  The capabilities and applications of Illustrator are that broad!

Some other quirks I’ve noticed:

1. Even without the Wintab N-trig driver update installed, the pen is glitchy with Adobe Illustrator.  It still works intermittently, but not to the point I’m happy for the insurance that protects me whether or not I throw it through a window.  It’s workable.  Just know it may not be you.  This is especially true with the brand new Touch Workspace in CC which I imagine is still having the kinks worked out of it.

2.  The pen is also glitchy with Chrome.  The scroll feature usually doesn’t work and sometimes drop-down menus can only be used with the trackpad.  Zooming and panning in Google Maps can get beyond weird, too.

3. While Microsoft programs like Live Paint seem to do a pretty good job of not picking up paw prints if you rest the side of your hand on the screen while drawing with the pen, Adobe Illustrator is pretty shit at it.  Looks like a half-mitten like people use with a Cintiq to keep the screen from getting goobery — like this Kickstarter glove:

— is advisable for now.  I hope this is something getting looked at by Adobe/Microsoft.

Good luck and if you have your own advice/experiences, please share!

Surface Pro 3, Digital Art and Conquering the Universe

Ok, so maybe this is really just about the first 2 things…

I’ve noticed there’s been a lot of search traffic lately to my site for Surface Pro 3 + Digital Art + insert synonyms.  Maybe people are researching last-minute Christmas gifts, or writing some last-minute Christmas lists, or something else for whatever other holiday around now where people get cool stuff.  Whatever the case, it seems now is a good time to give a review after I’ve played with my Surface Pro 3 for a few months.

To give an idea of where I started — I’d never created any digital media before.  Not really.  …at least not to the scale of the real paint paintings I’ve spent months or years on.  I’m an accomplished artist, but going digital was a scary and completely alien universe.  So, of course, I was set on conquering it.  Like a boss.

Boss, Mouse, Whatever

I finally decided on the Surface Pro 3 as my gateway drug for a few key reasons:

  1. Despite the reportedly unparalleled performance, the Wacom Cintiq Companion is comparatively clunky and not built for several hours of public transportation every day, plus it’s even more expensive.  Later in my research, I learned that users found the Cintiq’s screen would get hazy from scratches after a while of use, but SP3 has Gorilla Glass.  Not Gorilla Glass 1, not Gorilla Glass 2 like on my Galaxy phone, but instead, No Screwing Around Gorilla Glass 3.
  2. Apple doesn’t make any product like this yet, so no contenders there.
  3. Every other product, despite advantages did not compare to performance overall.

The only real sticking point left was the flimsy keyboard cover on the SP3.  I was afraid that when the bus or train I was on rolled over a body, the machine might detach itself from the keyboard on my lap and go flying.  Now that I own it and have used it a while, I know this is a real concern (more for the computer than the bodies, but only slightly).  After spending hours researching covers and trying to visualize the bus thump-thumping over a carcass with the SP3 on my lap, I decided on this – the ESR Intelligent Series Case:


I theorized that as long as I kept the keyboard firmly against the case when open, nothing should go flying*.  The clips around the screen are surprisingly snug and don’t get in the way of buttons, ports or swiping motions around the perimeter like a lot of the other cases did.  Another bonus: the pen is also a lot less vulnerable tucked away inside the case when placed on top of the screen instead in the hanging-offy-in-the-wind tab Microsoft gives you.  The only noteworthy drawback is you can’t access the micro SD slot on the back of the machine, but it was a small price to pay.

*Use this shit at your own risk.

Here is an exceptionally clear photo of the case and SP3 in action:

Photography Skillz Set to IHaveAFluThisIsGoodEnough Mode
Photography Skillz Set to IHaveAFluThisIsGoodEnough Mode

I ended up choosing the Core i5 with 8 GB RAM.  The 4 GB would have probably been just fine for learning to digital art and word processing/browsing type stuff, but I wanted this thing to last a while.  I also wanted the option of being able to run optical simulation software at some point, and for that 4 GB would be a sad, paltry excuse for adequate processing power.  I’m an experienced pc murderer, so I know, having driven more than one machine into the ground with optical software.

Next post will be on my adventures with actually trying to use the thing with Adobe Illustrator and such.  Spoiler Alert: It’s proven to be a great little wonder-machine but I definitely have some tips I’ve learned the hard way to help you avoid headaches and fury.



Surface Pro 3: I Can Haz Digital Art?

This week, I had the privilege of dining with some tech celebs in Chicago (no really, they were stopped on the way out by a fan), and afterward, we walked by a billboard for the Surface Pro 3 — “The tablet that can replace your laptop”.  They mocked the Microsoft product for its ability to run horrible Microsoft Office programs, and perhaps their tech snob tastes were as refined as their excellent tastes in beer, but I had to defend the 3.  Secretly, I’ve been lusting over that little machine since it was unveiled, and on June 20th, when it was first available to purchase in stores, I even went to drool over it in person.

Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft Store
Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft Store in Chitown


I’d been searching for a lightweight laptop that could also create digital art well.  Like a cat to its first cheezburger, I was (and am) a total newb in the digital art arena, so I first turned to my friend Marc Grunert for some expert advice.  Marc is not only someone I’ve known for many years to be a talented artist, he also makes his dough that way!  You can check out some of his amazing illustrations here:  http://marc-the-upstart.deviantart.com/  Marc directed me to Wacom’s Cintiq Companion which soon became my first digital art hardware crush:

Wacom’s Cintiq Companion


Wacom’s products are widely known to be in the Cadillac class of digital art hardware and reviewers commonly remark on the realistic feel and responsiveness of the drawing tools.  I knew if I were aiming for the best product for creating art, Marc had steered me straight. Unfortunately, along with being crazy-expensive (over $2k for the higher memory version + keyboard accessory), it was also a bit heavy and bulky for lugging on the trains and buses during my 3+ hour daily commute.  I needed something powerful but lighter and smaller, and I’d be willing to sacrifice a bit on drawing performance to get there…

And then the Surface Pro 3 was announced, and I dropped my Cintiq Companion crush faster than Romeo dropped his obsession with that Rosaline bitch.

However, it became clear before it even was available, the Surface Pro 3 had its own flaws.  There was the immediate concern that the drawing capabilities would be a little more than a little shittier than that of Wacom’s Companion or even that of its own earlier version.   The previous Surface Pro actually used Wacom technology in its pen and it came with 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity.  The Surface Pro 3 moves to N-Trig technology with only 256 levels of sensitivity.  I was largely skeptical that a human needed over 1,000 levels of pressure measurement.  As an engineer with a bunch of experience under her belt in several industries, I thought it all smelled like a lot of marketing B.S..  And based on this lengthy explanation from a Microsoft scientist, that assumption was probably correct: http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2014/5/27/microsoft-addresses-n-trig-concerns-in-reddit-response

The other big concerns came from this awesomely candid review by Gabe, artist from Penny Arcade:  http://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2014/05/23/surface-pro-3

I was most alarmed by the lag Gabe noticed while drawing and the fact that the HOME BUTTON was PERFECTLY LOCATED to KICK THE ARTIST BACK to the HOME SCREEN.  REPEATEDLY.  That’s just aces, Microsoft.

Luckily and surprisingly, Microsoft brought the gemba to them by inviting Gabe over to observe him (trying to) draw:  http://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2014/06/16/surface-pro-3-update   After a couple rounds, the engineers had a fix for the home button problem — it would be disabled while the pen was in contact with the screen.   Unfortunately, the drawing lag issue appears to remain unsolved for the moment.

Here’s what I found from my personal observation of the Surface Pro 3 in downtown Chicago:

1. After a week of being on display for the public’s grubby fingers, there was some significant wear.  The type cover was already approaching filthy, and take a look at the pen’s already worn nib (pardon my shitty phone pics, I was feeling too self-conscious to pull out my camera under the watch of an already raised MS employee’s eyebrow):

Surface Pro 3 Worn Pen Nib


2.  I love mechanical keyboards.  I have these awesome fingernails that I can use for peeling oranges, opening packages and attacking assailants like the mutherfucking Wolverine.  They’re not going anywhere just so I can use a shitty touch keypad.  Nope, screw you, Apple.  I’m really happy the Surface Pro line is continuing with physically moving keys!

Even Clawed Animals Can Use Surface Pro 3's Keyboard
Even Clawed Animals Can Use Surface Pro 3’s Keyboard


3.  The FreshPaint app is stupid-addictive.  I read this warning in other reviews, but I Had No Idea How Bad it really was.  I kept telling the MS salespeople, “yeah, yeah…uhh…I’ll be right off of this…thing…ooohh, wow…”.   Check out my modern art!

Surface Pro 3 FreshPaint App
Yeah, I Made This. Hard to believe, I know.


4.  See that screen?  It’s pretty shiny.  Not sure how much of an issue the veiling glare would be in different ambient light conditions.

5.  The software fix for the home button location issue seemed to be already in place!  It still kicked me back to the home screen once though, when one of my drawing strokes continued a tick after the pen left the surface.  It was an extremely irritating moment.  Grrr.  I feel you, Gabe.

So for now, I’m holding off on purchasing anything to see if Microsoft finds a good fix for the drawing lag and also to see what the competition might have to add to the better-than-decent-drawing-plus-better-than-decent-computing arena.  I hope my tech pro friends and art pro friends will forgive me, whatever choice I ultimately make.

I don’t want to disappoint anyone who may have been expecting a cat pic in this post based on the title — even though cats really, really aren’t my thing.  So, here.  I present to you, The Ranger, my roommate’s saber-toothed mountain lion of a cat who is:

The Ranger