For a brief period this week I wasn’t able to use my graphics tablet. If you aren’t a digital artist I wouldn’t blame you for not caring what a graphics tablet is or what it does. They are a very niche tool that very few people need, but for those people that need one it is utterly indispensable.
In brief, a graphics tablet is an input device for your computer that looks like a pen and a fancy drawing board. It can detect startlingly precise pressure, tilt, and sometimes even roll information. All this means is, once you get used to it, you can draw or paint as well as you could with a pencil or paintbrush. Graphics tablets won’t ever make you a better artist, but they will convey whatever skill you have developed to the computer accurately. So that’s nice.
The graphics tablet I have now, a huion h610pro is almost 7 years old. I bought it to replace a Wacom intuos 2. The second, and larger, of the two intuos 2 tablets I used for the preceding 12 or so years. Before that I had a Wacom Pen Partner. The pen partner had a drawing surface smaller than a postcard. All together that’s something like 22 years I have been using these devices. Even though I still use a mouse quite often, I really can’t function without a graphics tablet. I use it to draw, paint, sculpt, move points around, copy files, select stuff, press buttons, and just do generally anything you could do with a mouse.
Not having the tablet, even briefly made me think about tools. The computer under this desk can process inputs faster than my nerves can fire. There is an almost zero chance that I could overwhelm it with the speed or subtlety of my own body’s movements. I could have pressure sensitive tools attached to the end of each of my fingers and a regular pc should have no trouble conveying that information to a program for sculpting or painting. A standard mouse can detect movement thousands of times per second. A VR headset with inside out tracking can take stock of the world around it, filter for static objects, and watch for controllers or your hands fast enough that your own proprioception can be fooled making you believe you are in another place entirely. And yet, my interface with an art program is holding a stick in my hand and pressing down more or less hard. Essentially the same root technology people used to draw herds of bovines on cave walls 40-60 thousand years ago.
It’s not like I can think of anything better. Humans use tools in ways that are the most efficient for how our hands and arms and eyes work after all. I just think that with all of this input capacity at our disposal we might be able to come up with something that doesn’t rely on what we know from the real world and instead describes an entirely digital, virtual, way of working and creating art.
But my tablet is working again, so I’m going to go use that and stop this hideously binary typing thing.