Thursday, January 02, 2014

Drawing rocks with Bamboo Paper - review of the Wacom app

When I first bought my iPad mini I of course immediately started looking at drawing or sketching apps and tools.

It's mainly for drawing in circumstances where I wouldn't carry a sketchbook. If I'm out and about doing work but non-drawing things and suddenly want to jot down an idea. Or if I am intending to draw a bit but just have too much to carry that day and don't want a sketchbook in my bag along with the iPad I'm already taking for technology reasons.

Back when I was testing apps I knew I wanted something very specific: an app that was line drawing that looked like pencil.

In the end Bamboo Paper by Wacom won my heart. (iOS and Android)

What's included:
  • One notebook with variety of cover colours and 9 paper styles including plain, grid, lines, dots, etc. But your notebook can only have one paper type.
  • 2 pens: Pen and highlighter, each in 3 weights
  • 36 colours
  • Eraser
  • Saving and import/export tools
Paid upgrades:
  • More notebooks, but you can put everything in one book for free if you like.
  • Maker paper: grids of all kinds including storyboarding templates.
  • Artist paper: 4 shades of white, off-white, grey paper
  • Writer paper: Shades of white and brown paper, and different lined papers.
  • More pens: Pencil, brush pen, watercolour brush, crayon. (each sold individually)
  • Creative pack: all tools and artist notebooks

What I'd like to see:
  • More colours, especially a white
  • More weights of pens

Most of what is included is sufficient for me. And to be fair, Wacom seems to take suggestions very seriously. When I first bought the app there were 9 colours and I requested they add greys to give more of a pencil look. Now I have 5 greys! yay!


What I like most: the simplicity. Basically there are 3 buttons you'll use all the time.
  1. Pen choice, click and pick your pen and weight
  2. Colour, click and pick
  3. Eraser

That's it. No overload of buttons and options and palettes. No complex menus. Nowhere to get lost desperately trying to find if it does what you want.

The page does what you'd expect. You can zoom in to make finer marks with your stylus. Turn and the menus move. You can undo repeatedly to step backwards. You can export as an image to your photos, Dropbox, email, Evernote, Facebook, etc. You can import any image from your photo albums and draw over it. (I take notes on landscape geology this way.)

What there isn't? Layers. Complex layering of colours - they are all transparent so you can only build up so much. (unlike colour layering in something like iPastel)


This week I tested it in the fabulous minerals room at the Natural History Museum in London. A few things I learned from the rocks...

  • The highlighter (not sure if that's the real name!) is a transparent colour tool. It lays down the colour so that your pen marks (lines) stay on top. I loved this! It meant I could draw shapes and structure but still shade in areas afterwards. (These drawings are really my very first use of colour with the app so total beginner stuff with trying to layer. Previously I've only done black line drawings.)

  • If colour layering gets you down, cheat. I did export the azurite image (top of the blog) to my photos, opened the image in iPastels and re-coloured. The problem was that those layers obscured the line drawing, so I exported from iPastels, then reimported to Bamboo and redrew some of the line work. So for this reason, there's no shame in having multiple apps. More pure bright colours in Bamboo would solve this problem for me.

  • The eraser. Why oh why have I not used the eraser as an actual drawing tool? I've only used it to correct handwriting. In the Hsianghualite and Fayalite, my last drawings, I worked backwards and did a large area of colour, then erased back. So I was able to precisely shape the black obsidian outer edge, and get clean sides on the brown long crystals. Then I could fill in lighter colours and draw lines.


After this drawing trip I will probably splash out for the creative pack upgrade just for the other pens/brushes for a bit more control.

I wanted to be able to draw the way I already draw. Just like my paper sketchbook, these sketches are memory aids more than anything. Also I find it nice to do handwritten note-taking in Bamboo, too.

And I believe in mastering limited tools instead of getting something complex. I'd rather do good simpler work and know exactly how to control my marks. This is the reason I have iPastels and almost never touch it. It's pretty powerful, but overwhelming to me.

I give Wacom full marks on this one. Straightforward tools. Very easy interface. Good and affordable upgrades. And they clearly listen to their customer requests.

I leave them with my favourite sparkly rock.

See the coast paintings
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