I'm a PRO (Surface Pro)
The iPad wasn't a good art tool for me, but a refurbished Surface Pro 6 turned by Adobe Illustrator-powered art workflow into a magic, on the go wonder.
The iPad is a frustrating tool for me as an artist. Some background first: Most of my art I make in Adobe Illustrator. For zines, I use InDesign. And sometimes I open Photoshop (usually by accident). Adobe is... a company... that I don't really agree with... but these apps are the best at what they do (for me, at least) and they have all the tools I need. Apps like the Affinity suite or other vector programs don't offer all the tools I need to make my art, so I stick with Illustrator. My Adobe rant is for another day though.
Back to the iPad. I want to make art on the iPad! Or more specifically, I want to make art when I'm not at home and with a touch screen. When Adobe Illustrator for iPad came out, I was hyped to the moon! Until I realized that it was a very sparse implementation without gradient mesh or gaussian blur support (among other things). And gradient meshes aren't on the public roadmap, even a year+ after launch.
So my 3rd gen iPad Pro sat in the closet. Sometimes I'd get it out, but it never got much use, and I often went back to my MacBook Pro. When I'd go to an art museum, the iPad (for me) was like an oil painter using a sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper and a stubby pencil. Now, don't get me wrong, for some, the iPad is THE ultimate art tool. But it wasn't for me.
A few weeks ago I was at the High Museum of Art here in Atlanta and left frustrated because I was all inspired but had to go home to my laptop to do anything. But then it occurred to me! Windows tablets! I can run a full-blown copy of Adobe CC on a Windows tablet and it would have a touch screen and pen input. So I bought a refurbished Microsoft Surface Pro 6 from Backmarket. Don't get me wrong, I was nervous as hell it wasn't going to work out, but I was going to try it out.
The Surface came and almost instantly I was... annoyed. As a long-time macOS user, I forgot how FRUSTRATING Windows is. Everything looks different, from the basic OS, to more deep configurations, to every single app. There's a total lack of experience and aesthetic continuity. My Wi-Fi didn't work until I did a few hours worth of updates. Blah blah blah. I finally got everything up and running and upgraded to Windows 11. (Windows 11 is gorgeous by the way. Until you start to dig, then you get some Windows 9x-esque shit real quick.) My Windows qualms slowly started to dissipate some as I continued to work. I installed Adobe CC and was off to the races.
Within a few days, I had fallen deeply in love with the Surface, and even with Windows 11. Now, this device won't replace my 14" M1 Pro MacBook Pro anytime soon. I'm still deeply in Apple's ecosystem and, to be frank, the ghost of Steve Jobs owns my soul.
But damn. This thing is amazing. Pen input with the Surface Pen is incredible. It's responsive and the ability to hover, hold to right-click, and the extra buttons on the stylus are so wonderful to have. Illustrator isn't the fastest on a Surface Pro 6, and the graphic performance is lacking compared to the M1 Pro's power, but for the ability to make my art, in full, on the go? Priceless.
I sold my iPad within four days of the Surface arriving at my front door.
There was one thing though that I was struggling with when it came to pen + touch input with Adobe Illustrator. Keyboard shortcuts. Now kids, I'm a keyboard shortcut empress 👑 and without keyboard shortcuts, I was kind of at a loss in some situations. But some Google-fu quickly led me to an open source C# app called TabletFriend. Now, TabletFriend isn't in development anymore but it works like MAGIC for me. With full customization via a YAML file, I was able to quickly get a sidebar with all my most-used keyboard shortcuts. From undo and redo, to a shift and ctrl toggle, to a delete button and arrow keys for nudging – I was back in business. (Download my YAML config file for TabletFriend here!)
Gotta say, I haven't done much art on my MacBook Pro since I got this bad boy. To any artists who need full desktop power on the go... the Surface Pro might be the way.
With love, until next time,
Hannah A. Patellis
Apple, please make an iPad with macOS. Windows 11 is pretty, but I miss iMessage.