On the Surface, it’s pretty dang awesome – a review of the Surface Pro 4 and Sketchbook

In the spring I broke down and admitted I needed a full fledged laptop for client meetings. I also admitted I’d like a tablet for certain games (don’t judge me). And that I should get back into sketching after my flurry of renovations was complete (like they ever are). So after much humming, no hawing, I don’t haw well, I researched the state of convertible laptops with pressure sensitivity high enough to do drawing on.

Eventually, I settled on the Surface Pro 4 and took off running with it. Ok, a slow crawl. habits built over 25 years as a Mac user doesn’t go away overnight. And trust me, I’ve been getting the gears from my mac friends about my choice. In my defence, I wanted one thing that the iPad Pro doesn’t offer, and that’s a full on, tweak as I want, operating system. I do site development after all and occasionally I need things like command lines so the iOS just wasn’t going to cut it. And work considerations came first here for the investment I was looking at laying out.

So the learning crawl happened slowly. The kids and I played with Cortana (ask if she likes dogs). I used the built-in drawing program. I connected to my network, etc., etc. Then a novel thing happened in my life, I had four days to myself on a train. Suddenly I had time to really try it out! I wrote a comic script, I drew, I drew some more, I DELVED into it. And you know what? I sorta, cautiously, fell in love with it.

I love the weight and feel of it. I love the stand. Even the expensive absolutely mandatory detachable keyboard/cover got into my heart a little ($200 for a keyboard, really??? WTF?). The pen has an eraser on the end that actually FEELS like you’re dragging an eraser across paper. It feels like it’s drawing onto the screen. It’s hard to describe, but it “grabs” the Surface Pro 4’s screen just enough. You’ll have to try it. And apparently, there are different tips for it that drag differently. I haven’t seen those yet but would love to try them out. Also, the powerful magnet on the side of the Surface holds the pen securely for when it’s not in use BUT keep track of the dang thing. It’s a pen and we all tend to lose those. Find a home for it and keep it there. Most covers and cases don’t accommodate the pen stuck on the side so you have to get creative with a loop or something else but I’m warning you, it’s just waiting to be lost, and at $60+ you don’t want that to happen. Yes, it happened to me. I ordered a new one, turned out to be a dud, and Microsoft is sending me a replacement. Final note, Microsoft support has been VERY impressive. Practically no wait time for chats or calls and instant, actual help with techs who are friendly and knowledgeable and willing to get it done. Kudos to them.

BUT, here’s what threw the Surface Pro 4 over the edge for me, Autodesk Sketchbook. At the suggestion of fellow and better artist, Anthony Hary, I installed Sketchbook and have been burning through the paper. err, screen? Whatever, like crazy drawing everything. Drawing is fun again! This program has so many thoughtful artistic features that you wonder how any drawing program doesn’t have them. From the perspective tool to the mirror tool, and now the recent flipbook tool (don’t know if I’ll ever get there), it’s a joy to wander through.

Bad points? The power cord isn’t a generic USB like other tablets. I would like it charging over a standard USB plug for the times I forget the charging cable, but, having said that, the battery life is pretty darn respectable on a full charge. Also bad, did I mention the price tag on the keyboard? That’s about it for bad. I can’t even diss Windows 10 much, it feels like it’s a modern operating system, like it’s finally shed some of the baggage that’s always dragged it down in my opinion. And because it is a full operating system, there’s many programs and years of tutorials out there to help me with the learning curve of a new os. Only occasionally does it remind you that lurking deep below the beautiful veneer are years of Windows hubris still there. Occasionally.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some recent drawing efforts with you. First up, a purple pencil sketch of my oldest daughter based on a photo outside of Laura Secord school.

purple pencil portrait

In this one, I was playing with the recently added perspective tool. No excuses for lazy background drawings now. There’s one, two, and three-point perspective grids you can manipulate and then it helps you draw to them. Also a fisheye one, but haven’t found a use for that yet. perspective sketching And the Copic marker brushes that look like actual markers hitting the paper, soaking in and overlapping quite well. And a whole Copic colour library to choose from. That’s what I used on the Catwoman drawing.

copic atwoman sketch

While talking brushes, Sketchbook has a whole bunch of free brushes developed by artists, not programmers, that can satisfy everyone’s artistic urges. Such as inking quill brushes that taper and can pull off close to real style inking (with undo’s and no mess afterwards). pen and ink pen and ink

Looks like a pencil on paper sketch of Warrant from S17.ca, but it’s not, it’s with the pencil “brush” tool. pencil

Look for more drawings here from me, the Surface, and Sketchbook, as we explore each others limits and new worlds.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sandy says:

    That’s some really nice drawings, esp. of your daughter. Kudos!

    Just got a Surface Book, and am trying to figure out best practices. It’s fun, but there is a learning curve.

    1. RodSalm says:

      Little bit of a learning curve, especially coming off of a mouse driven Mac world. Would work great for webcomics.

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