This Blog Has Moved To My New Website

After years of talking about it I finally hunkered down and built a shiny new website to showcase my illustration work. The “trusty rusty” site was six years old, which equals about 100 internet years. It looked old, it felt old, and it was getting a little cranky—it just wasn’t playing well with the search engines. It was time to send it to the old website home and bring in an energetic, fresh-faced, young punk website.

One of the biggest changes is that this blog has now been rolled into the new site at So all you loyal blog subscribers will have to update your RSS feeds. I know that’s a bit of a hassle and I apologize. One of the main purpose for having a blog is to increase visibility of my work and ultimately land new clients, so it just made sense to have the blog hosted right here side-by-side with my portfolio. It also gives me an extra incentive to make sure each blog post is worth your time and attention.

If you subscribe to this blog via email I’m pretty sure I’ve set it up so that you’ll continue to receive blog posts automatically. So you shouldn’t have to do anything.

The site still needs a little tinkering but for the most part it’s ready to strut it’s stuff. If you run into any problems while browsing or have any suggestions for improving the site please let me know. I’d be happy to hear from you. And thanks again very much for your interest in my humble little blog.

Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad: My Review

Wacom Bamboo stylus

(4.5 out of 5 stars.)

In the world of digital hardware for artists Wacom is the undisputed king. Just about everyone who sketches or paints in the computer does so with a Wacom product. So it was no surprise when, a few weeks ago, Wacom finally jumped onto the iPad bandwagon by creating their own iPad “Bamboo” stylus.

Before I give my review I need to make a few comments about drawing on the iPad:

The iPad does many things remarkably well. Unfortunately creating artwork isn’t one of them. Yes, there are a lot of apps that let you draw on the iPad and I’ve tried most of them. But because of the iPad’s limitations they all feel like the developers were forced to keep one hand tied behind their backs.

Houdini gets ready to draw on his iPad.

For instance, the iPad’s touch-screen technology makes it impossible to put a fine tip on the end of a stylus. The touch screen won’t recognize anything finer than a Q-tip. The iPad also has no pressure sensitivity making it impossible to get a natural thick-to-thin line. For some reason most images are kept at a low resolution so (with few exceptions) its difficult to create hi-res, print-quality artwork. If, like me, your hand rests on the paper when you draw then you’ll have to wear a glove when you sketch lest the iPad get confused and think the side of your palm is another finger making a stroke.

Yes, with great patience and a lot of practice you can create some wonderful artwork on the iPad. But for a busy illustrator who needs to work quickly and efficiently as a drawing tool the iPad just feels clumsy and half-baked. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to doodle on it now and then but each time I try it the novelty quickly fades. Maybe I’m just spoiled by the raw awesomeness of my Cintiq but after a few minutes I start longing for a real pen and paper. I can’t see myself ever using the iPad to create final artwork for a client. I still hold out hope that someday a future version will overcome these limitations but for now, I really hate to say it but the iPad is just a fancy sketchbook toy.

Now, back to my review…

For those time when you do want to sketch on the iPad you need a good stylus. Yes, you can use your finger but a stylus is just so much more natural to draw with. Not all styluses are created equal and Wacom’s Bamboo stylus for iPad is definitely the best one I’ve tried so far (pictured).

My first iPad stylus was a typical generic model, so generic that the company didn’t even bother to put their name on it. Like all iPad styluses it had a rubber stump on the tip instead of a fine point which made it difficult to do detail work.

Then I heard about the Dagi Stylus which was a clever attempt at working around this limitation. The tip of the pen is a flat transparent disc with a red dot in the middle. The red dot shows you precisely where your lines will appear while tricking the iPad into thinking you are drawing with a broad tip. It’s an ingenious solution except for one fatal flaw: the tip is too rigid. If you tilt the pen too much the disc looses contact and the strokes don’t register. The tip also makes a loud clacking noise each time it taps the glass which can get a little annoying for others nearby.

Bamboo vs Q-Tip

Finally I tried the Wacom Bamboo stylus. I think I’ve found a real winner. The tip is still Q-Tip shaped but much narrower than the typical iPad stylus. The front end is also weighted which somehow makes it feel more natural in your hand. Overall it feels like a very solid piece of craftsmanship. It’s not as long typical pencil or pen (it’s about a quarter inch longer than an iPhone is tall) but it’s long enough to rest very comfortably in your hand without feeling like you are drawing with a stump. As sytluses go this is a top-drawer product.

Overall I give the Bamboo stylus 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only reason I didn’t give it five is really not Wacom’s fault. There are just so many limitations to drawing on an iPad that even the best stylus won’t give you a five-star experience. So this is as high as I go.

You can order the Bamboo Stylus from Amazon.

Book Sale Update

I’ve sold several of the art and animation books I listed for sale on Amazon and addd a few more. There’s only twelve books left (well, 11 books and one DVD). I’ve just lowered a couple of the prices further to ensure that I’m currently the best deal on Amazon for books in similar condition. Browse on over to my storefront and see if there’s anything you like.

NCS Chapter Meeting in Omaha

This past weekend I drove all the way to Omaha for the semi-annual meeting of the North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society. In terms of square miles our chapter is by far the largest covering almost a third of the U.S. Our meeting locations rotate throughout the Midwest and almost always involve a long drive. Professional cartoonists are a really fun bunch to hang around so it makes for a refreshing mini-vacation.

NCS Gag Cartoon Judging 2011

In between eating, drinking, and talking shop we took time to judge the winner of the “gag cartoon” category of the 2011 Reuben Awards. The Reubens are the most prestigious honor in American cartooning and will be awarded at a black-tie gathering later this year in Boston. There were a lot of very funny entries this year. If you can make your fellow cartoonists laugh you know you are doing something right.

NCS Chapter Mtg-Omaha 2011

Left to right: Jeff Koterba, Cedric Hohnstadt, Paul Fell, Tom Kerr, Mike Edholm, John Hambrock

This year turnout was lower than usual. Maybe judging the Reuben awards on the same weekend as the Oscars amounted to just too much artistic competition for one weekend. Seriously, a few of the “regulars” faced circumstances beyond their control but we look forward to seeing everyone at our fall gathering—right here in Minneapolis!

Stuff I Can’t Show You

My regular blog readers (all three of you) may have noticed a lack of new client work being posted over the last few months. It’s not because there is none. Quite to the contrary, I’ve had a steady run of projects cross my desk.

One client in particular has kept me very busy doing packaging illustration as well as toy concepts and turnarounds. Unfortunately my contract with that client is quite strict and I’m not allowed to mention or talk about any of the specific work I’ve been doing. So even though I’d love to show you some of the new art I’ve been creating for them, I can’t.

I’ve got other irons in the fire though for other clients and will post what I can as soon as I can.

DC Comics Documentary Coming To DVD Nov. 9

On November 9 Warner Brothers will release Secret Origin, a DVD documentary about the history of DC Comics, the comic book publishing giant that introduced the world to Superman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, and countless other costumed heroes.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with Superman and comic books played a huge role in my early development as an artist. I wouldn’t just read them, I would study them and try to copy the drawings. For some reason I always gravitated towards DC Comics as opposed to Marvel so I’m excited about this documentary. Here’s the official trailer:

I gotta say I’m a little disappointed in the trailer, though. It feels very fluffy and without much substance. I hope that’s not indicative of the film. I’d really like to learn the gritty behind-the-scenes details about the various challenges, struggles, bright ideas, and difficult decisions that the DC Comics editors and creators have grappled with over the years. I’m not an expert on DC Comics but I know that as the comics biz has evolved over the decades DC has faced their fair share of creative challenges and controversies. Walking us through them would be both entertaining and instructive.

Of course you can cut a trailer a thousand different ways to give almost any impression you desire (YouTube mashup trailers, like the one that presents “The Shining” as a romantic comedy, are great examples of this). So here’s hoping the DVD has some real meat and isn’t just a giant smiling commercial from the Warner Brothers PR department (Warner Bros. owns DC Comics).

You can pre-order Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics from

Why I Haven’t Bought An iPad…Yet.

I’m a big fan of Apple products and, like many digital artists, I see a lot of potential in the iPad. It’s sleek, fun, stylish, practical, and best of all you can draw and paint with it. Quite a few digital artists have already posted work online that was created with the iPad and some of it is amazing. So what’s not to love?

Unfortunately, there are a few things:

Low Image Resolution. The iPad’s screen makes images look amazing but the resolution is currently capped at 768×1024. For me as an illustrator that’s a concern. To create a quality image for print you need at least 300dpi. That means that on an iPad you won’t be able to create a truly professional print-ready image that is much bigger than a baseball card.

Sure, you can create some terrific low-res sketches and then bump them up on your desktop computer. But for me as a professional illustrator it means the iPad can really only be a fancy sketchbook, not a true art-making machine. I certainly wouldn’t be able to create much client work with it.

Lack of Pressure Sensitivity. When you draw on a Wacom tablet or a Cintiq the pen responds to the pressure of your hand. Push down hard and you get a thicker, darker line. Sketch lightly and your lines will stay thin and light. It makes for a very natural way of drawing but unfortunately the iPad currently lacks this feature. When you draw a line on the iPad it stays the same thickness no matter how hard you press. For some artists that might be fine but for my particular drawing style that would be frustrating and problematic.

Lack of a Good Stylus. The beauty of the iPhone and iPad is that all the power is concentrated in the tip of your finger. For most apps that’s terrific but when it comes to sketching I find it awkward. I’ve done some finger sketching on my iPhone and my hand always feels clumsy. Also, my finger tip is too blunt making it hard to be very precise when putting down a line.

There are a couple of companies that make styluses for the iPad but so far the ones I’ve seen are too wide and blunt. It’s like drawing with lipstick. I want something that tapers to a point so I can see exactly where I’m putting down my line.

Also, when I draw I tend to rest my hand on the page. I imagine that the side of my palm pressing all over the screen like that would wreck havoc on an iPad. I suppose I could wear a fingerless glove but that feels to me like more trouble than its worth.

The folks at Ten One Design have written some impressive-looking software to get around some of these issues. Unfortunately the software uses something called private frameworks which is against Apple’s policy. That means you won’t be seeing this in the App store any time soon:

It’s a 1st Gen Apple Product. There’s no question that Apple makes amazing products. When they’ve introduced new products in the past (iPod, iPhone, etc.) the 2nd generation model has usually been vastly superior to the original version. To a point that just makes sense. Technology is always advancing and improvements are to be expected. But with Apple I always have the nagging feeling that they are purposefully “dumbing down” their 1st gen models so that when the 2nd generation model is released it will look so much more amazing that all the early adopters will immediately want to replace their now-clunky hardware. More money in Apple’s pocket.

Of course if the product is amazing enough then even the 1st gen version is worth the cost. I bought a 1st gen iPhone only a week after they went on sale and it was worth every penny. But for me the current iPad isn’t quite in the same league. In this economy I’m choosing to hold onto my cash a little longer until I can get a better value with the next version of iPad. I’m also hoping the next model will address at least some of the issues I’ve raised here. If it doesn’t, I may wait even longer.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not knocking the iPad. Far from it! In a lot of ways its an amazing device and I’d certainly love to have one. But for me the current model isn’t quite awesome enough to justify the cost, especially when I’m sure the next model will be that much better. For now my iPhone does the job just fine.

What Do You Think? Since I don’t own an iPad (though I do own an iPhone) much of what I’ve written in this post is gleaned from other articles I’ve read online. If you have a different opinion, or if I’m flat out wrong on anything, please leave a comment and let me know. Likewise, if you’ve had success drawing on the iPad and want to extol its virtues by all means go right ahead. I’d welcome your input.