Pogo Sketch Impressions

I recently picked up a Pogo Sketch and the Inklet application for my MacBook Pro, and I’m prepared to offer some early thoughts on it. I haven’t used it extensively, but what I have experienced is worth mentioning in my mind, so here its:

The basic premise, if you’re unfamiliar with the website that I just linked you to that you should have clicked on (there will be a quiz as well), is that the little cylinder carries some elctro thermo magickumal signal from my hand down onto my touchpad and makes it think my finger is on there. It also enables pressure sensitivity I’m guessing by measuring the amount of charge being conferred down the device. I don’t know, it happens. Basically, it makes your MacBook’s touchpad, iPad or iPhone touchscreens, or your Magic TrackPad into a pressure sensitive drawing or writing surface. Sort of.

What it does is map an area from the device that’s taking the input (either external touch pad or the integrated touch pad/screen) onto the screen. With an iPad iPhone or iPod Touch this is super easy, because the tracked surface is identical to the screen, so it just maps one to one. With a touchpad on a MacBook, it maps a zone, which is actually a really cool feature. Some simple multitouch gestures allow the resizing, reshaping, and repositioning of the zone, giving you the ability to create a drawing surface as wide or precise as you need.

The idea for me was that it would be a rough equivalent to a Wacom tablet for $30. And it’s not. Not even close. It is touch sensitive, and the sensitivity is configurable, but there’s a lot wrong. First off, go look at the Pogo Sketch pen required to keep it touch sensitive. I’ll wait. Ok, did you see the end of it? that spongy dongle? That is not a drawing surface for any kind of precision drawing. It reminds me of using a grease pencil in figure drawing, and I’ve got that covered with a real pen and paper. I don’t believe in the all-digital surfacing idea either, yet. I really enjoy the feel of paper: there’s so much configuration for so many different tasks! You can choose the tooth, the grain, a million different options on paper purchases. And don’t even get me started on the ease of use with a pencil versus a Photoshop brush. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all digital. I know it’s the future. I’m just not ready for it yet. I really, really love drawing with my hands and real instruments, feeling the graphite sliding off the pencil and onto the page is very satisfying. I don’t have to have anything  plugged in for any of that, and the freedom to put paper in any position gives me a lot of flexibility to be creative and gestural and just go a little wild.

In short, I dig traditional composition. But when it comes time to present someone,  anyone with completed works, it does result in quite a long process. Because my roughs are…erm… super rough, covered in experimental lines and mistakes and test sketches, often overlapping on the same page just because they all shared the same basic idea, whenever I actually want to “finish” a drawing, I lay a bit of tracing paper over and redraw (note: redraw. Not trace) over top of the composition, trusting my (not always great) artist’s eye to find the right lines on the paper underneath. I think of it much the same as writing good, well-rounded characters: the lines (dialogue or actual lines on a page) are already there in the mess I’ve presented myself. If I’m patient and diligent I’ll be able to find them and show other people. If I try to trace or rush, I’ll force lines onto the page and wind up with something half-formed and poorly wrought.

That cleaned-up, refined tracing paper sketch is then scanned, cropped, and saved so that I can ink it in Photoshop. It takes me about a week of solid work to successful ink a drawing, because I’ve only ever had a mouse at my disposal. Well, I have a Wacom tablet that’s a little busted and not super accurate and doesn’t work with dual monitors anyway, but that’s neither here nor there. The mouse has been my friend and standby forever, and because I’m a huge nerd, I know that a curvilinear line with proper segmentation appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a curved line. When you get right down to it, all pixel-based art is made up of blocks created lines, so no matter how beautiful and perfect your curve is, it’s still made up of a bunch of segmented lines. I just cheat and do it again. When I need to make a curve, I’ll mentally plan out between 16 and 20 breakpoints (sometimes as few as twelve) along a given section of the curve and then shift click my way around it. I’ll do this a couple times to get nice, fat lines. Then I grab my handy dandy eraser tool and rinse and repeat, thinning out the lines in areas where I feel like think sells better, leaving it thick in places were appropriate, and adding even more curvature by not identical matching the established curvilinear segments – basically, I cut off the hard edges, so where I started with maybe 16 segments, I’ll actually wind up with between 32 and 64, depending on how many passes with the eraser I do.

This, as you could imagine, is time consuming, but I always feel super proud of the work. I get nice, clean inking done. The only times it gets really frustrating are when I butt heads with a powerfully detailed, curvy object, like a shoe. I know you don’t think of shoes as powerfully detailed, but they definitely can be. This is where a lot of my time gets sunk, because I spend that much time just trying to get all the curves to play right together.

Once the entire drawing is inked in this way, I normally go back in and tighten things up – thicken lines here, thin them there, make sure it looks more “pen drawn”, which is funny, because if I just drew it with a pen, I could get the same effect. But I like the digital version for its impermanence in that regard – when I make one mistake I haven’t fucked a whole drawing full of good lines. I’m just an Alt/Ctrl Z or Option-Command Z or whatever the hell it is (I changed my keys to match the order of Windows keys: Command on the outside, alt in the middle, extra button on the inside. I’m no convert)

So, all that said, we understand a bit about my process with the mouse, how does PogoSketch come into play? Well, with all that mouse clicking, I’m used to nice, clean lines and a lot of precision when it comes it that. The Pogo Sketch is only as precise as the drawing surface it’s used on, besides being a fat sack of crap at the tip. It’s not pen shaped, so when you hold it too angled, you don’t get the proper contact and don’t get a line. It’s not long enough to be a pen because it was thought of as a portable first, so it’s more the size of an old PocketPC stylus, except a bit thicker.

Worse yet, I’m left handed. Inklet says it can tell the difference between my palm and my sketch, but I’m endlessly getting flickered down to whatever side of touch surface my palm is closely resting to. So, basically, for big, broad strokes, I think it sucks, and I’d rather use a (gasp) mouse.

For fine work, though, it’s a god send. Because you can customize the drawing surface, you can zoom in crazy close on large-resolution images and make your sketch space relatively small – now you’re working with real precision in a pre-defined space. FInish it up, grab two finger scroll and scoot your workspace over.

It’s really just the idea of using it all the time I find a little deplorable. Maybe with more practice, it’ll be second nature, but it seems awfully finicky to be used as a Wacom replacement. And, really, on a touchpad, it’s not.

I am, however, super curious about an iPad and the Pogo as a Cintiq stand in. Now it’s as simple as “put your pen down on the spot you’re looking at.” Particularly, I’d be interested in snagging an iPad as a desktop extension and just using it for its capability as a touchscreen monitor for my MacBook (or, in a world of dreams, for my dedicated working PC. But that world of dreams is distant). With the right time and effort, that could be a real winner, but I suspect I’d have many of the same problems regarding the left-handed palm-pressing. Damn you, sinistral laterality!