It’s been nearly two years since I’ve updated this blog, and it’s been a hell of a ride; and continues to be so, as there’s currently the COVID-19 pandemic getting some serious traction in LA (and thus the entertainment industry), forcing some major (hopefully temporary) shifts in what constitutes business as usual for myself and others.
But it’s not like I’m unaccustomed to adapting to adversity. Sometimes shit happens and you have to go with a different strategy. That’s survival. This post is about how my career and life were nearly derailed by a worst-case absolute nightmare scenario, and will delve deep into my personal life.
Shortly after my last post in June 2018, my daughter, Kiki, who was just 14 months old at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 4 High-Risk Neuroblastoma (Nb). This is a rare-upon-rare cancer, and there’s only 700 cases of Nb in the US every year. The Stage 4 designation is a 50/50 prognosis, which is very grim, and came as an absolute shock to be revealed by ultrasound in our seemingly perfectly healthy daughter.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of immature nerve cells. It’s almost exclusively pediatric and originates on the adrenal glands in most cases. It’s also one of the most aggressive cancers out there, and combating it requires equally aggressive countermeasures: an 18-month continuous gauntlet of chemo (6 cycles), surgery, two (2) stem-cell transplants with high-dose chemo, 18 rounds of radiation, and 6 months of immunotherapy. Obviously, my heart, my mind, my soul sank after hearing everything my precious baby would have to be put through in order to try and save her.
After essentially signing my daughter’s life away on countless medical releases and watching her become a human pincushion, something happened that I couldn’t have anticipated. All my mental constructs of what was right and wrong, what mattered and what didn’t, and my personal sense of self were destroyed. No pride, no walls, no ego anymore. I was defeated. And it was liberating. With nothing left of myself to hold onto, or defend, I became inexplicably empowered, to do anything and everything necessary to save my family. Success or failure, no one who knew my situation could judge me, turn a deaf ear, tell me no, or limit my resolve, including myself. As my wife focused on our daughter, I made sure I was focused on my wife, and then by extension, I reached out to literally everyone I knew, and asked them to help support ME, and to further spread the word if possible. Thus we swiftly had a giant pyramid of support rallied to our cause, with work colleagues, friends of friends, extended family at the bottom, and close friends in the middle, immediate family near the top, and my daughter at the pinnacle.
I had to make some big career moves. I needed all the help I could get. I incorporated, which meant opening up my work and personal finances to professional CPAs, something I’d been anxious about for a while. I joined the union, so I’m now a card-carrying member of the Art Directors Guild Local 800, something I’d never thought I’d bother with, but now I can work on union projects and access those benefits, most crucially the healthcare. There was no guarantee for my wife to continue with her work’s health benefits, so I had to make sure I could cover us, should the worst happen. It was all so daunting, and mind you, while I’m literally running around LA going to jobs, working my ass off, wading through traffic and making calls, spending 3-4 hours a day in the hospital visiting my suffering family, and then crashing into bed, utterly alone, in my clothes, lights still on, for maybe 3 hours of sleep, back up at 5 am to race to the hospital and help any way I can before work, and repeat. For 18 months. It was hard. I was hard focusing on work and providing for my family while my daughter was being poisoned by chemo, blasted by radiation, recovering from surgery, nearly dying twice, and whimpering through the pain of immunotherapy for so long. It was the hardest thing I hope I ever have to endure.
But it wasn’t all bad. I saw the “good” in humanity every day, with people reaching out endlessly to voice their support, sending prayers and good vibes and helping prop us up wherever things seemed to falter. I owe a lot to the kindness of strangers. I did a lot of growing, getting to know the real me, and learning how to be human, specifically, how to be more empathic with people. I realized that everyone is going through something, and we’ve all had to persevere through hard times, and have had to rely on others for help. I used to think it was best to hide whatever problems I had in my life, because showing weakness would result in others viewing me as a liability, but it turned out that sharing our weaknesses with others is an important part of social bonding, and by opening up to my clients and colleagues, I bonded to them in a way that made my work and personal life far more meaningful than it ever had before. It’s completely changed the way I approach my work relationships now. And it was GOOD for business. I actually had my best year ever, amazingly, and though it required me to leverage every ounce of social and work credit we had, we got through this dark period intact.
As of February 2020, My daughter Kiki is nearly 3, and nearly 6 months out of treatment. We don’t use terms like “cured” yet, it’s just too soon to know. But her oncologist is pleased so far, and we are slowly but surely phasing her into as normal a life as we can manage, enrolling her in dance classes and preschool, and still taking it one day at a time. We’ve recently additionally been blessed with the birth of our new son Robbie, a treasure and hope for new beginnings.
So far, 2020 is off to a rocky start, but not just for us, but for the whole world it seems. Fear of COVID-19 is spreading faster and farther than the disease itself, like a cancer, if you will, causing widespread severe repercussions in every industry, and time will tell how this will shake out. I hope that sharing my story might provide some inspiration to those reading, to find inner resilience, and courage to reach out for support when needed, and strength to adapt and change and grow accordingly to the needs of what may come next.
If my story had you compelled, oh man, this is just the index card version. Our entire saga played out publicly with regular updates on social media via gofundme, facebook, and Instagram. If you would like learn more about that incredible journey, I encourage you to visit our gofundme page (no obligation to donate) for the complete story, and certainly connect on facebook as well, where I like to post about my personal life and interact with our friends and supporters. My Instagram is more art-oriented, but a good third option if that’s your preference in social media.
I wish you and your loved ones well. Stay healthy as best you can.
My New Mobile Studio: Wacom MobileStudio Pro and MacBook Pro
This is a post about my new digital studio, but to put the excitement I have for this setup in context, I think it’s a great idea to backtrack a bit. A couple of years ago, I posted about my ‘new’ Cintiq companion – new, at least, when I got it, and worked well for onsite work – now, though still functioning, feeling a bit left behind, since nowadays too many colleagues are sporting newer Cintiq Companion 2’s and leaving me feeling ancient and crusty. Additionally, I’d STILL been using my old stable workhorse, my trusty Cintiq 20WSX, as a ‘home’ setup (with my 2008 Mac Pro) – I loved this thing and can’t imagine where I’d be in my career without it. Thus I want to take a moment to honor these great tools, which technically are still with us, and great testimonials for the usefulness and longevity of Wacom devices, though now formally decommissioned and placed into storage.
Part 1 – The Past
Not all digital artists love Cintiqs. Drawing on a Wacom display screen, whether 10 years ago or today, apparently isn’t for everyone. But 10 years ago, I was in a place where I was all of a sudden drawing very regularly for more than 8 hours a day on an original 6×9 Intuos tablet (another device that served me so well in it’s time) and it became clear that I would need to upgrade my hardware for the sake of my neck and back, if nothing else. So plunked down the $2000 I barely had to make that leap into true professional hardware, and I’m so glad I did. Not only did my aches and pains swiftly become alleviated due to a more supportive drawing posture (the large Cintiqs are akin to ye artiste’s draughting desques of olde and thus more compatible with classic drawing ergonomics) but I noticed something that I didn’t anticipate – as I would (because I could) take my Cintiq (connected to my MacBook) along with me, via a large suitcase for transport, to onsite commercial storyboarding day-jobs, I would often be the only artist in a building of artists who had one, and other artists noticed, and would wander over, and gush over it, and ask about it, and ask to try it, and man, that’s such a great feeling. Producers, even ones on other projects, could instantly and easily see that I was a serious professional, because, hey, look at all his gear. This guy came to draw.Nobody else we hire brings their own high-powered weaponry like this.
Aside from aesthetics, this setup really allowed me to comfortably crank out drawings, whether onsite or at home, and thus, my career flourished. But, with time, newer options became available, and the shine on my Cintiq faded, and though my setup still worked fine, nobody was commenting on how cool my stuff was – it was my turn to ask questions about their gear – some artists were working on Tablet PCs, and then Microsoft Surfaces. I needed a leg up. And, a break from the constant packing and unpacking my 30 pounds of gear everyday when working onsite. Also, my suitcase transport worked fine in most circumstances, but not so elegant when going up 3 flights of stairs when the elevator goes out. Or legging it 3 blocks when convenient parking is unavailable. As it was, I went through 3 suitcases in 5 years because the rubber wheels kept wearing down to nubs. I no longer had an elegant solution. It was also clear that the color gamut available on this screen was inadequate for accurate color work, the accuracy of the pointer was always a bit off, and the thick glass provided as much parallax as it did screen protection – surely the tech had advanced by now?
At about this point, luckily, a promising development arose – the Cintiq companion. Wacom already had been producing 13-inch Cintiqs (my mother made use of one for years) but as these were still encumbered by large arrays of connecting cords and power supplies, they never seemed to be much of an upgrade. Now, there was something different – a battery-powered, self-sufficient drawing tablet, with touch input – you didn’t even need a keyboard! I ordered one straight away – again, about $2000 – but money well spent.
The promise of the Cintiq Companion was true: Portable and Powerful (faster in many ways than my previous mobile and even my Mac Pro setup), and I’ve done some of my best work on the device, but in full retrospect there were many issues that hampered my productivity enough to keep me always looking out of the corner of my eye for another solution. For one, the small form of the device made it less comfortable for drawing over long periods of time. I found myself drawing ‘small’ with my more strain on my wrist and fingers than on my shoulder and elbows. I felt cramped and less at ease with the drawing postures I had to adapt. Another drawback- it solely ran on Windows and thus was outside of my usual comfort of a mac workflow. Windows has some advantages but none that I required- mostly I didn’t really trust it- my attempts to keep the computer updated seemed to cause turmoil with the various drivers needed for stylus input. So, I had to keep it at base factory settings- meaning it was stuck in a time capsule of operation- newer apps wouldn’t run on the outdated system. The greater pressure sensitivity really didn’t have any affect on my workflow. And though the pen was more accurate, and had far better tilt support than my larger older Cintiq, there were still ‘dead zones’ that seemed to send cursor wildly off course, or nullify the effect of the pen tilt, meaning accuracy was only achievable on certain areas of the screen, and none of them were in my natural drawing position. It was not to be. True, it was a step in the right direction- and I was grateful for it’s small size on the few occasions I made use of it in bed or on an airplane- and it was very quick to flip out of a messenger bag and get right to work. But nobody ever gushed over it- it was too small and subtle to catch the eye of anybody who wasn’t already right next to it. And by now, drawing tablet PCs were all over the place- we had already entered the era of the modern iPad and equivalents.
Part 2 – The Problem
So this year, I was on the hunt for the next setup to replace my ancient Cintiq 20wsx at home, and I was at a serious dilemma- There was of course the newer Cintiq 22 HD, a fine machine, but really, it was running on nearly the same tech as my previous device- only a couple inches larger (which I was convinced I didn’t need) and still using the same umbilical cord of DVI (ugh! enough of this shit) and power and USB squid cable all-in-one-kinda. There was even a ‘touch’ version that seems interesting, but in practice is mostly unusable (I have it off most of the time on my Wacom touch devices- it ‘works,’ but only after a few tries, and thus, takes more time than a keyboard shortcut, but they’ll probably get this stuff working right eventually, and I’m looking forward to that day). Then of course there is the leviathan 27 QHD, a mammoth machine that leaves basically no room on your desktop for a keyboard or anything else- its kind of ridiculous actually, I’ve seen other artists using these machines, and I’ve tried them, and they were really no more accurate or functional that anything previous, and sporting a weird floating expresskeys controller, which I guess is a good alternative when you can’t hope to reach the sides of your display. And of course, even that model has a weird display controller hub that becomes a rat nest of cables on your desk. More ugh.
The big hangup for me was the cable connectors- all options were still using the same octopus-tentacle cable solution that they introduced 10 years ago. DVI bullshit- why? Surely there was something better? Why not output to Displayport or Thunderbolt 2 connectors? I already knew from experience that any new Wacom using DVI was going to be impossible to hookup to any model Mac Pro without using display adapters, which I was already doing on my old Cintiq, which coincidentally was failing at the point of the display connectors- setting up and tearing down my setup day after day was straining and bending the DOZENS of fucking pins on those DVI connectors. Who the hell thought up that crappy tech? Wouldn’t it have been better to simply line up six USB connectors in a row? Anyway, the connectors were failing and I wasn’t about to just buy fresh new shit connectors. That’s simply going to put me in the same spot I am now, looking for a more elegant and future-ready solution. I resolved I wouldn’t buy any new Wacom Tech until I knew that they had a new solution for their display connectors.
THEN – a few months later, no warning at all, I saw a random tweet about the new Mobile Studio Pro- seems like something was leaked perhaps, because the unveiling to the ‘press’ overall for this device was pretty haphazard, with poor documentation online and not really much of an attempt to tease to the audience with a sexy promo video. Nevertheless, I poured over the specs and liked what I saw, in a big way. Bigger screen, higher resolution, faster processors, more memory, etc etc – a big leap forward in hardware, sporting an independent windows 10 os in tablet mode, AND the ability to charge AND connect to an external Mac via the fancy new USB C. Finally! I resolved to buy one as soon as I could, but they weren’t going to be available to ship until mid November. Even though there wasn’t a Mac out yet to hook up via USB C directly, I knew that eventually there would be, and I had gotten used to Windows enough recently to bridge that gap.
Sooo, I stuck with my deteriorating systems and fantasized all the while about the new device. Meanwhile some additional developments cropped up– Microsoft OUT OF THE FUCKING BLUE released the Microsoft Surface Studio and MAN does that thing look awesome! A Cintiq-like screen but more like an iMac in many ways. I got chills looking at the demo videos. Some great PR movements there- completely stole the show from Apple, who next day released their newest Macbooks, with the optional touch-bar. Man, who gives a crud about that touch bar? BUT it has USB C… and only USB C… well, looks like I’ll be needing some dongles!
UNLESS… could I just go with the Surface Studio and make it my SOLE machine? At 20 pounds and however big it is wide, I could easily fit it into a suitcase and take it to gigs- why not? I did that for years with my older Cintiq 20WSX. It would have all the power I needed and be top of the line! People online were tossing around phrases like ‘cintiq killer’ and ‘wacom killer.’ And of course I’d turn heads with it, nobody else would have one (at least for a little bit). Big problem though, is that they weren’t shipping until early 2017. That’s months away! My current systems are sucking now! For example, my 2008 Mac Pro was recently unable to support the latest operating system update to Mac OS Sierra. I got a LOT of use out of the system- a great testament to the longevity of Macs, at least of that era- but it couldn’t keep up now. Technically it was functioning but the bad outweighed the good- It was an incredibly heavy, bulky machine, with ungodly amounts of peripheral wires flailing out in every direction, no less than 4 external hard drives for my haphazard backup system, blasting heat all day long, burning tons of electricity, CD tray was jammed, and recently the usb ports and video card began intermittently failing- sometimes it would fail to boot, and just give a flashing power light, but then boot just fine on restart. These are not good signs. I needed to act!
THE NEXT DAY Apple released their 2016 Macbook Pros, and I was pleased to see that if nothing else, it would be available about the same time as the Mobile Studio Pro (MSP), and sported USB C connectors, which means I could use it to power the MSP, much like I did my Cintiq. Was I impressed with the specs? Chips? Processors, RAM? Being a former Certified Mac Tech, I’m savvy enough to know why these things are important, but I actually don’t tend to pay attention to that kind of stuff anymore when making purchases- since I really only needed to look at my good ol’ 2010 Macbook Pro, and how not-so good it was, and how old it was, to get an estimate of how much more likely better the NEW computer is going to function. There’s no guarantees of course, but I tend to feel more at ease with Apple purchases, and right when I needed one, they came out with one. And no, I didn’t care for the optional touchbar, it looks useless.
Now I had a few paths in front of me- I knew in any case that I would get the MSP, and possibly that would suffice solely for drawing purposes. The side decision was, do I additionally get the Microsoft Surface Studio (MSS), or the new Macbook Pro (MBP)? I already knew I would be good with the MBP- but was the MSS better? There were some great testimonials online, and many artists discussing whether this could simply replace their Cintiqs. That’s a bold statement! The machine looked sexy as hell, had a cool dial that seemed promising, shockingly inexpensive for what it was, and was super thin and light. Theoretically, a machine that light could be considered a contender for onsite jobs. But how did it ‘draw’? It wasn’t using Wacom tech, so was it using an upgraded surface stylus? I knew those were accurate at the tip, but had NO pen tilt function, and lower sensitivity. AND the screen had no buttons on the side, just a multifunction dial, which likely would not substitute for my Cintiq Expresskeys. I did some snooping around and found that one MSS was ON DISPLAY in Glendale (fairly near my house) so I could actually go in person to evaluate it!
Finally I had a day off and I bolted out to the Microsoft Store (more of a Kiosk in this location) to investigate, SAW the darn thing from all the way across the mall, and met a friendly but tad inelegant sales team who was happy to take me through a demo, point out features, and deflect any pointed questions I had. I tried it out myself too. Some things I will point out.
The machine is beautiful, and I am really impressed. Formidable and eye-catching, but not overly so. The Display is simultaneously bright, crisp, clean, and with deep dark blacks, the best I’ve seen anywhere. It’s ‘optically bonded’ which means there are no air gaps between the composite layers of the screen leading to the eye, and thus, it appears at least, that the pixels and the glass covering them are imperceptibly overlapped. Amazingly thin and light- I did lift the unit and it’s about 20 lbs. It looks like it could fit into a large suitcase, which pleased me. It does look a little fragile but I could only speculate on that. It appears that it cannot collapse to a completely flat, portable mode, but neither could my old Cintiq.
The ‘Touch’ of the touchscreen excedes the responsiveness of my experiences with any device previous. Likely due to the ‘optical bonding’ of the screen, the touch sensitivity feels immediate in a very eerie way. More intuitive as well- previously on touch-enabled windows devices, I’ve found it to be unwieldy and unpredictable, but now it is incredible.
The raising/lowering action of the display feels natural and fast. I tried leaning on it too, and it appeared plenty sturdy for drafting purposes, though it seems too good to be true.
The Stylus/Pen feels good enough in my hand (I prefer a Wacom Classic Pen myself) but a tad heavy (it’s battery powered, which is awkward). It has a neat feature where you can remotely ‘click’ the ‘eraser/clicker’ on the back of the stylus and it can execute commands like, switching to a new slide in a presentation. Useful for that at least. Presumably it could also be an eraser in Photoshop. It had buttons on the side, or seemed to, like a Wacom stylus. I don’t remember using them at the time, but these are also presumably programmable per application. It is also magnetic- it stuck to the side of the screen in many possible places, and that seemed very handy.
When testing in Photoshop, and I only made a few strokes and circles with a generic ‘brush,’ and the lines looked great. I think there is either great digitization or some sort of assiste/corrective digitization, since my circles looked a little more perfect than usual. The pressure sensitivity seems fine but the initial nib-to-screen-stroke-activation seems just a little bit behind. Maybe that is a settings issue. I must compliment the accuracy- it seems to be perfectly pixel-accurate at the tip at all positions on the screen and absolutely no parallax- the best accuracy I’ve seen on any device. But I was disheartened to confirm that it was not sensitive to pen tilt. D’oh!
The Dial is interesting and makes for a great demoing (the demo guy showed it
being good for scrolling, scrubbing through timelines, moving through undo states, etc, but aside from being a decent volume knob, I would probably see very little use for it. It did feel cool. I thought it was VERY cool that it could adhere anywhere to the screen; again, magnetic. WTF. I thought magnets were bad for computer screens! Of course, that was back in the CRT days, kiddies.
The price was relatively immaterial – comparable to a high end Cintiq, yet evidently capable of so much more.
Ultimately I was hung up on two fatal flaws- The lack of pen tilt sensitivity and the Windows OS. Windows has made great strides and I’m sure is outpacing the Mac OS in many ways, but I’m 16 years into Mac and I’m comfortable and familiar, and that’s more important to me right now. Plus, the MobileSP comes with Windows as a tablet computing option, so I could theoretically have both. And as far as the pen tilt- that is a nonstarter- I need that for my workflow. Other artists don’t, but for me it’s essential. Darn! So, I decided it was better to stick with the MobileSP and MacBP option. Sticking with the Mac for now.
Still- I plunked down the $100 to reserve a machine when they come out next year (and I get a free dial too!), as insurance against a possible unforseen incompatibility, or dissappointment with my chosen new setup. I may still change my mind about the MSStudio. I want to talk about this for a second. It was an incredible demonstration of intent Microsoft’s part to come out of nowhere with an incredible machine that but for a few small flaws (and inconsequential flaws, to some) I would have paid for in full on the spot. Nobody was predicting this kind of upset into territory that seemed so firmly in the hands of Apple and Wacom, who at times appear as combative entities between themselves. It feels like Microsoft is now beating BOTH companies at their OWN game. This is what I’ve been hoping for, for years now- a major player to start courting the artistic professionals BESIDES Wacom. These past years, we’ve seen what can best be described as Cintiq knockoffs appearing everywhere, but I’ve never seen them in my professional circles, and nobody talks much about them in my experience. People are TALKING about the MSStudio because it is a NEW DEVICE that combines the elegance and charm of a iMac with the drafting capabilities of a Cintiq- times like a bajillion. What an exciting time. I predict that Microsoft will soon surmount the remaining technical hurdles and achieve a drawing experience that surpasses the Cintiq, and that artists will flock to it, and potentially swing the pendulum for Microsoft to take the lead position as the go-to choice for creative professionals in the graphic arts.
Wacom sort of occupies a neutral territory here- being essential compatible with both operating systems and possessing at least for now, superior drawing tech and an incumbent hold on the majority of the market- but for Apple, the ball is in their court. The MSStudio is not yet a Cintiq killer but it IS an iMac killer in my estimation. And I must reiterate, it feels like an actual new kind of device, like the tablet or iPhone before it. This is is different enough to be considered a new evolution, a new kind of computing experience, and now it is to Apple to upgrade the iMac or concede the race. And that’s what I’m hoping for in the next gen iMac- I would definitely prefer to stay with Apple, but in the end, I will go with the best, most versatile drawing tools I can find, whoever the supplier is.
Part 3 – The Present
So, back to Wacom. There were some lucky early artists who got their hands on the MobileSP for online video reviews, and it looked great especially for my purposes, so when they finally became available for order this Thanksgiving, I bought the high end, 16″ model and had it shipped over to one of my clients that I was working at. I got to unbox it at work and that was a delight- always fun to be the first one on the block. I’ll describe it and the overall experience now.
The device is sturdy, solid, impressive, aggressive, but sleek, stylish, and refined. It appears exactly right as an evolution from the cintiq companion. It looks premium. It’s bigger than I expected, which is good, but works against easy of portability. You kind of need two hands to hand it off to someone- it’s nothing like an iPad.
The screen is bright, luminous, rich, dense, colorful. Pixels are imperceptible. The touch sensitivity is far better than on my smaller Cintiq Companion (CC). It has a very very mild screen texture that is familiar and pleasing to me, and similar to my older 20WSX (and different from my CC!) The MobileSP does NOT appear to have a removable screen coat whereas my CC did (which I removed it to reduce the screen texture).
Runs on windows 10, and it’s fast in my estimation- snappy, responsive. I like this version of windows, and I’ve had no trouble using it.
Comes with a Pro Pen 2, which is more sensitive, but not really- near as I can tell, it is more sensitive mostly when you are pushing really hard on the screen, meaning it doesn’t max out as early as the other pens did. But when you push too hard on this screen, it goes wavy on the screen around the cursor, which seems like it isn’t a good thing. So that’s a waste.
But the ACCURACY and TILT SENSITIVITY and NEARLY ZERO PARALLAX of the pen tip are absolutely excellent. This was potentially going to be a sticking point for me – if these were not an improvement on the earlier Cintiqs, I would have sent the device back. But now we have arrived at the era of pixel-perfect accuracy AND tilt. Rejoice!
The screen rotates to whatever position you flip it to- even “Portrait Mode” which I would never use. The Expresskeys on the side work great for lefties and righties- I would prefer if the touch sensitive ‘rocker ring’ was just buttons, like on my Cintiq Companion, but I can live without it. I’m sure some people like dials, but I like buttons more. Works as advertised.
Sports 3 USB-C ports and my verdict is in- USB-C is awesome (no more flipping the damn connectors upside down 3 times to make it fit!), fast, versatile, compact, and it’s the way of the future.
Looks like it’s got a card reader, and cameras and a fingerprint scan thing too. Cool! I mostly have ignored those options.
Power Supply Cable is … fine. Nicely styled, and smaller than my previous Cintiq20WSX, but BIGGER than the one for my Cintiq Companion. Durn! But really, how come the power supplies that Apple makes are so much smaller? I would love to see some progress on miniaturizing power supplies a bit.
The Pen holder it comes with is cool, and very sturdy, but impractical, sorry Wacom.
DOESN’T COME WITH a protective sleeve
DOESN’T COME WITH a stand
DOESN’T COME WITH the Wacom Link, a display adapter for compatibility with other external display inputs
But don’t feel bad, because none of these were even available for purchase at the time of this writing, so don’t miss what you can’t have.
But you know what? It’s OK because the drawing on it feels great, accurate, fast, and the OS is working, and things are updating, and things are not crashing, and it’s wonderful. The Painter and Photoshop programs I use are not exactly blazing fast- but I attribute that to the greater processing demand for driving all those high-res pixels to the new display- and I’m sure this will improve as the software matures to the new hardware. Overall a very solid machine and I’m very happy. A solid REPLACEMENT for my old system. Both my old 20WSX and CC are replaced with this new great tablet. Whew!
And, turns out I can use the Stylus from my older CC on my new MobileSP! Bonus!
The final piece of the pie, the Macbook Pro, was ordered shortly after my MSP arrived and we have been a great threesome since. Amazingly, incredibly, it works as advertised, and I’m loving this thing. Yes you need dongles to plug stuff in, but they really are so small, and for my purposes, it makes no difference. Its more important to me what DOESN’T need a dongle, or adapter, or connector- the single, basic USB-C cable that plugs my New MacBook into my New Mobile Studio Pro! THIS SHIT WORKS!
I was very, very, very pleased that I needed only to install wacom drivers on the MBP and plug in the wacom- and that was all that I needed to do to make them work! A single-cable-cintiq!! YES!!! That’s what I had been waiting for! Now I have it! Yay!!!
What’s also really cool is you can even run both of the devices of their independent batteries- so in the event of a power outage, you will have no stoppage of work! And I’d say that counts to portability, though I doubt either of these things are great on battery life. Still, nice to know a blown fuse won’t stop my workflow! It happens!
Because of the lack of basic accessories from wacom, I had to get creative, and after some trial and error, I have a setup I really like now. I used some older items I had from earlier setups, and ordered a bunch of accessories off Amazon to fill the gaps.
Here’s everything in my Mobile Studio connected, put together and working, big and small.
Mouse is from Amazon Basics
The keyboard (also ordered off Amazon) is an older GearHead micro thing- it’s proved versatile as it has a built in trackpad (hey, mice die too) and works cross-platform.
Mobile Studio Pro 16″ i7 – Top of the Line
Interesting new Z-Stand (what I call it) I found on Amazon by Uncaged Ergonomics. Lightweight, work as advertised. I’m worried about durability- its mostly plastic. Works for now- easy to adjust angles and heights, so that’s great. I like to draw high up and just a little bit tilted. I would love to find a sturdier design but this works great. I used kneaded eraser to adhere it to the table surface- makes it every stable, but also easy to remove.
This Folding Angle Stand goes on the Z-Stand-it’s what actually props up the MobileSP to the angle I like- has good options for angles for me. I do fret about the possibility of the MSP from slipping off it. For now, it’s also adhered with kneaded eraser. The whole assembly feels very sturdy.
On top of that goes ANOTHER smaller folding stand that works great to keep the Macbook pro at the perfect angle for a second monitor and also to maximize desk space! Remember, often work onsite in very cramped spaces, and it’s common for me to share desks with other artists too!
MacBook Pro 2016 13″
Older USB hub- easy to replace with something better but works. Connecting with a USB-C to USB3 dongle.
Under the whole assembly is a new Lacie Porsche 8TB. Storage is such a deal these days! One drive to rule them all. This device is USB-C!
Simple, elegant, and compact. It even all fits into a basic backpack from Amazon basics! I think that’s pretty darn good, except I look more like an art student when I wear a backpack like this. But that’s only because I have such a youthful appearance, I’m sure. Maybe I can find a something that looks more slick.
There you have it, the long tale of having the best gear, losing it, and getting it back again. I thank you for sticking with it and hope you found it informative. If you are considering upgrading your gear as well and have any questions regarding my setup, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to respond.
The other day I received a very nice email from a reader of this blog, which expressed his interest in beginning work in the field of commercial storyboarding, and it briefly described the common frustrations one faces at the outset of one’s artistic career- “breaking in,” seemed, as he put it, a Catch-22 situation. How do you put together a storyboarding portfolio, when you have yet to actually work on any storyboarding projects? And so, after a lot of self-reflection, I crafted what turned out to be a bit of a lengthy response, and then decided that it contained enough good advice and interest to be merit an official blog post, so here we go!
Breaking in is a lot like a Catch-22. But as far as the early portfolio- it doesn’t either have to strictly be storyboards- how about a series of simple sample drawings, that show your ability to draw a range of subjects that feel applicable to multiple “types” of commercials? Like:
A mother shopping in a market with her toddler in the shopping cart, and talking to a lady giving free samples of yogurt
A coach giving inspiration to a team of professional athletes
Best friends sharing a popsicle on a warm summer evening after losing a baseball game
A woman ecstatic as she finds out she has won the lottery
A woman who is annoyed that her boyfriend is ignoring her and checking his fantasy football scores on a date
A grandpa amazed at his young grandson beating him at chess
Draw these scenes (or ones similar- i think you get the idea) from your imagination- and find the magical appeal that instantly communicates the context, and makes the viewer interested in seeing more of what they have just seen- as if the drawing has implied a greater story beyond the borders of the drawing. Something that resonates with the collective consciousness of humanity- that we can all relate to. One simple drawing to sum up each scene and instantly connects to the view succinctly and powerfully. If you can do that with QUICKLY with one image, the client will know you can do it with 10, or 20, or sometimes 30- and that’s a great storyboard: when each image can communicate not only the moment but the whole story as well.
I used this approach myself, when I was just starting out. It bypassed the Catch-22 paradox via substitution method- You don’t need actual storyboards to start out, just samples to show that you can ideate and draw quickly, simply, and communicate clearly. Keep them somewhat loose- show that you can get an idea across quickly and move on to the next one. It’s very important that you don’t get carried away because clients often need changes! Show some restraint. Below are the actual original sketches I included as drawing samples in my first online portfolio:
As you can see, they were not storyboards- but they were still story moments, and they showed a range of body types and ages, personalities, actions, humor, friendships, romance, sex appeal, and demonstrated a competent shorthand illustration style for well suited for sketching out story ideas. I look back on these drawings with a lot of emotions- mostly intense gratitude. I spent two hours on them and they essentially spawned my career. I don’t draw in this style anymore but their underlying appeal still exists in my drawings today:
These most recent random sampling of works above are pulled from much larger distinct storyboard sequences, but you can see that I never let go of the need to clearly communicate the appeal to our common everyday humanity in each frame. That’s a core skill in advertising.
If you are far on the outside and don’t have many leads for clients, I have a few suggestions, entirely based on my personal experience.
It turns out, many potential clients who are in need of storyboards are really quite desperate and will search for artists on Craigslist to do last-minute work or revisions for presentations. They may be “wannabes” themselves, but usually they still have some cash to spend. Or sometimes they are more established, but for whatever reason, their client’s clients made 11th hour creative changes and have demanded an unreasonable turnaround- and they need an artist in a hurry, but the original artist is out drinking or giving birth or something. So they go on Craigslist and look at artists who post “Artist for Hire” ads. Most of these artists aren’t that great, so if you can put up a link to a decent looking portfolio or sample artworks (please try to actually put together your own website and not rely on deviantart) you can have a good chance at them hitting you up. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be the best available.
If you do a good job, they may decide you are their new go-to guy. If, over time, you get enough of those clients, you will have enough work for an actual professional portfolio, and you can use THAT as leverage to prove to a storyboarding agency that you can hang in the big leagues and THEN in a few years of that you look up and you realize you’re in- and then people will start asking you for career advice! Ha! Such is essentially my story, and the lessons may apply to some out there reading this post right now.
My first storyboarding gig (10 years ago) was for a Craigslist client (still a regular client to this day) and he was just starting out as a producer/director himself. He saw my ad, looked at my drawings, and was he desperate! It was 11pm and I couldn’t believe this random guy needed 9 frames before 6am. Utterly ridiculous! I was about to tell him off and he followed up with “and I can pay you $300”. Boy, that got my attention! All night I worked hard and did my best, and got the job done. It was a win-win; He made his presentation deadline, and I made a very decent payday for myself. He was very grateful and I felt like a superhero. I had done a dozen of gigs off craigslist at this point, but this was my first storyboarding gig- and it was hard, intense work, but it paid very well and most importantly: he came back again and again with more jobs- and each one was different and had new challenges!
I did a lot of other kinds of small freelance art gigs starting out but it was the storyboarding jobs that kept coming back and needing more- and it just built up! For about 4 years I made a decent living at just posting ads on Craigslist and taking a stab at whatever project promised to pay (and I rarely had a problem collecting payments, but your mileage may vary). Craigslist work is definitely small-time, but it comes with its advantages- all most all my income was under the table, naturally, and I worked from home, with a moderately lax schedule, and good amount of free time to practice. When I felt ready, in 2007, I submitted to an agency (Frameworks-LA, it so happens) and although my drawing style was “a little cartoony” they could quickly tell from my now well-stocked portfolio that I could handle clients, so they gave me a shot. We’ve been working together 7 years now and going strong.
The other day, my agent took me out to a very nice lunch and let me know I had become their most requested artist at the agency. That’s an amazing milestone for me to reflect on but I don’t want to let it go to my head- it’s a very fluid metric and I know there are many amazing artists out there who are eager to break in. 10 years in, 1000+ commercials later, the formula for success is still the same- One client, one project, one drawing at a time- do your best and slowly build your career. It’s the only way I know how.
I’ve got a new addition to my work setup- my Cintiq Companion! It’s a handsome little device- Wacom-made, so of course it’s driven primarily though a pressure-sensitive screen. It’s touch sensitive as well, and with the Windows OS driving it, it’s similar to the Microsoft Surface tablet- but the form is different and the biggest difference being the programmable buttons on the side of the screen. It’s not very heavy, and has a kickstand/screen cover that works pretty well, and a soft protective case.
I bought this guy because I got sick of dragging my bigger, older Cintiq 20WSX around in a suitcase from job to job. Wear and tear was beginning to take it’s toll: the weight of the 25 lb Cintiq rolling across miles of crumbling streets and parking lots had me going through 4 sets of luggage wheels in 4 years. Setting up and breaking down my system twice a day, altogether could take up to 45 minutes or longer every workday. That’s a major waste of time- I could spend that time better drawing, or even better, sleeping in!
Now, I have only to do grab my Cintiq Companion and go. It’s very liberating to be able to roll up and set up anywhere- I’m completely comfortable using it at bars, in the hotel lobbies, in bed, wherever I need to. It can run for a few hours on battery power, so I don’t even need to be plugged in all the time.
It feels good to draw on. Its got a little more friction than my bigger Cintiq, which is a shame, but it’s fine when you get used to it. Some people dig that friction stuff more. Myself, I find it induces hand cramps. Of course, you can adjust the pressure sensitivity, so that helps. The drawing screen isn’t huge, but really, it can’t get any bigger and still function as a portable setup, so no complaints there. The screen is nice and bright, and the pixel resolution is very high- too high for my eyes- I found it more comfortable to set the resolution a little lower, so that text and icons were larger to see (and easier to click on!). The pen tracking and calibration was very very precise- far more precise than my bigger, older Cintiq. But, like the bigger one, it loses precision towards the edges of the screen, which doesn’t hamper drawing, but it’s interesting and I wonder why this seems to happen on all Cintiqs, but not to the Intuos line of USB drawing tablets. Also, it’s “tilt” sensitivity is pretty high- wish there was some way to tweak that. It came with one of those Wacom trademark unusable fat “grip” pens that they push for no clear reason- if anybody from Wacom is reading this, please, for the love of god, discontinue packaging these bizarre pens with your otherwise good products. I kept it for an emergency backup and ordered an infinitely more usable and grip-able “classic” pen from Wacom, which feels, basically, like a pen in your hand, as it should.
It’s got a cool touchscreen feature, and gestural inputs, but to be honest, I had to deactivate these pretty early on. It’s not so good at differentiating my fingertips from my palm- and sometimes these features would disappear on their own, temporarily, leaving me poking at the screen with nothing happening for a couple minutes, until suddenly they came back again. Weird… I’m not sure either if that’s a Windows issue, or a Wacom issue. So I turned them off altogether, and I’m happy just to use the stylus for input. You can even type with the stylus on it’s popup virtual keyboard, but it’s a little tedious, so I pack up a little mini keyboard to use when I need to write emails. To it’s credit, it’s constantly self-improving, trying to download the latest updates and security fixes and patches. But that’s a bit of a double-edged sword- one time, I fired it up in front of a client, and instead of taking me to the desktop so that I could start working, it starting downloading a major upgrade, locking me out while it spun it’s wheels, which was a little embarrassing as it took almost 15 minutes to complete. Awkward!
The Cintiq Companion came with a special code to download drawing applications- a trial version of Painter X3, and some others that I haven’t had time to experiment with. The Painter X3 trial is a full 90 days, which is nice, since I have no intentions of purchasing it. To be clear, I use Painter every day, and love many things about it compared to Photoshop, but it’s just such a cruel joke to be a fan of this software, it’s extremely buggy, bloated, and poorly supported (I’ve been waiting for a 64-bit Mac version for about 4 years now- it was promised to us in Painter 12 and they’ve gone on to release 2 upgrades since then, but still no Mac 64-bit. I see no reason to pay for any new release of this software until features previously promised but not delivered are finally included). Anyway, I use Painter X3, it’s a free trial, it works fine, and when it runs out of time, I just use the “reset to factory settings” option that’s built into the OS, and it goes back to it’s fresh-out-of-the-box state, and forgets that I ever installed the Painter X3 trial, and so I install it again and it’s off to the races for another 90 days.
Another amazing feature that I’m pretty jealous that I can’t do on my Mac, is that the Windows OS has the ability to recover the work files when Painter crashes! Every time, the files have been able to be recovered, and I only lose about 5 minutes of downtime while I wait for the OS to process the recovery. So far, it has worked like a charm every time. This is incredibly useful, and Apple, I’m baffled that Windows has this feature but the Mac OS doesn’t.
But, it being a Windows machine, it’s gonna be far more susceptible to viruses. So, I’m pretty much keeping this thing pristine and virginal- not using it for anything other than work and some very light email and web browsing. I won’t be installing any games or downloading any warez or torrents or surfing 4chan. It’s gotta be sober and ready to go at a moment’s notice!
There’s other features too, but I haven’t had occasion to discover them yet. I might amend this post if I come across something cool!
I use this puppy for storyboarding, and even comic book work, which, if you’ve ever seen my webcomic Three Minute Max, you’ll see that it’s comfortable with very large, layer-heavy PSD (300MB+) files, and its still pretty swift! I haven’t found this to be a “slow” computer, despite it’s smaller size.
Overall, I highly recommend this guy to anybody who likes working on the bigger Cintiq and wants to go mobile, but finds the offerings of the iPad and Surface Pro to be limited in their application. I’ve used this setup for work a few dozen times since I got it in October 2014, and it hasn’t let me down so far. I do recommend you use it with a riser or some kind of lap desk- it’s small enough to be portable but the reality is, you must be conscious of your drawing posture when you make your living as an artist. I use a lapdesk to elevate the Cintiq a few inches higher up, which prevents my head from tilting down too much, or leaning over too much. You want a straight spine and level head and feet on the floor and elbows bent at as close to 90 degrees as possible. It’s tough but if you slouch you’ll regret it later. For anybody experiencing neck and back pain from long hours of drawing, first check your posture, and then go to a few yoga classes to stretch out your spine and get some core strength in your abs. That’s what I do.
So, now I’ve got two setups, and I love them both. My older Cintiq is now a permanent fixture on my desk, where it’s enjoying a slower pace of life, and the more nimble Cintiq Companion is my trusty tool for on-the-go jobs and trips. I’m excited to bring this with me to Iceland next month- my goal is to take it outside at night and do a little night painting- if I don’t freeze first!!
PS- Wacom has updated the Cintiq Companion line since my purchase- check out Wacom.com for information on what new features they are offering. From what I can tell, it appears to be a fairly modest bump in specs, and apparently you can now plug them into your Mac as an external monitor. Cool!