Above: My cintiq visible on its arm, in my old rented room in San Francisco
I get a lot of questions about the tools I use, or how I get drawings onto the computer. The problem with this is: I don’t. I draw directly into a Cintiq. I use one at work that belongs to my workplace, and one at home. Both are 21ux, (an older model, but the newest equivalent model is available here) and at home I keep mine on an Ergotron arm, which I HIGHLY recommend (available here).
Above: My work cintiq with a sticker my producer gave me
I like the big model because, well, you’d be shocked how fast a drawing area gets crowded when you have to share it with the user interfaces of the most commonly used programs. I recommend that if you get a Cintiq to just go ahead and get the biggun. It’s worth the extra cash to not have to feel like you want to upgrade later. That’s just me, though, and I love drawing big and with plenty of freedom. I know lots of artists who love the smaller models.
I have no experience with them, but I’ve also heard pretty good things about the Yiyinovas, and other alternatives have been popping up lately. I’m probably going to stick with Wacom because I trust the brand, but I’m optimistic about the competition and hope they’ll bring prices down.
I get a lot of questions about the Cintiq. I can understand why. It’s an expensive, mysterious thing that a lot of professionals use. You can find out a lot about the technical details or the feel of the Cintiq, but there isn’t a lot about the human stories that bring these behemoth pieces of technology into an artist’s life. So here is mine! It will be sort of long and sprinkled with some pathos, but bear with me, it’s purposeful.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a cartoonist, but I grew up not so well-off. My mom was a veteran but didn’t get a degree, and we lived with my grandparents for a long time. I didn’t know my dad and he didn’t pay child support. However, my mom is GREAT and supportive and I am very grateful for that.
When we got the internet, I was introduced to digital art and it completely lit me up. How do people get those bright, saturated, even colors? Those clear lines? Those cool SPARKLIES?! Before long I found out that what many artists were using tablets. I knew I wanted one and immediately an Intuous was all I cared about in life. Thankfully, my very large extended family makes a big deal out of events like 8th grade graduation and confirmation, which coincided fortuitously with my 14th birthday. I took every dime I got, plus saved money from many a lunch un-eaten (which I do not recommend), and bought an Intuous 1. (You can buy modern equivalents— which I also highly recommend-- here). I acknowledge not every poor kid is so lucky as to have a huge extended family (my mom had 13 living siblings at the time!) with de facto mandate on card-giving for kids.
Anyway, so I used my Intuous happily for about ten years before I upgraded to the Cintiq. To spell out the investment: I spent about $400 on a fairly sizeable Intuous in 2001, and it lasted me until nearly 2011. I owe so much of my growth to an investment that cost, ultimately, about $40 a year, or about $3.33 a month. With this tablet, I was able to develop a HUGE number of invaluable skills. It helped to cement what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and gave me a huge edge in school, and ultimately when looking for work later.
Of course, well before I stopped using the Intuous, I had heard about the Cintiq. It blew my mind to think about drawing directly on the screen. How much faster I’d be, how much better the work I could churn out would be, how much less I’d have to wrestle with that weird gap in hand-eye feedback. So I decided it would be What I’d Do With My Money for the next few years.
Below: my Cintiq asleep in the afternoon sun
I worked a part-time job for 3 years at a cafe/bookstore in college, for minimum wage (in Ohio, this was 6.50 and then 7.30 at the time, I think). It stressed me the heck out. I hated working in college. I was a strung-out mess. But I had bills to pay, and goals to reach. I don’t really recommend that experience, per se, but it did stretch the limitations of my time management, ability to handle stress, ability to work with people, etc. It wasn’t my first part-time job, and there were periods within this period where I worked second part-time jobs, house-sat, and did extra freelance in addition to school.
Like I said, it took 3 years to do it, which averages out to saving about $666.66 (heh heh) a year. I made the decision to commit to being an artist with a huge financial step. $2,000 was a BIG DEAL to me. I can’t explain how big of a deal it was to me. I had never spent that kind of money before. My friends teased me (lovingly) for how stingey I was in school.
I say this not to say “oh, poor me!” but to tell you: if you commit to it, it is possible. You may have to think in long-term, but if you really want to be a professional artist who uses digital media, you can do it. It is worth it. If you are serious and READY, THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD BE PUTTING ANY MONEY YOU HAVE.
When I finally got my Cintiq, I had been out of school for about 6 months. I wasn’t so much giddy for the thing as I was terrified. What if I broke it? What if someone came and stole it? Oh god, what if all that stress and money was for nothing?!? Etc. I’d stay awake at night staring at this huge liability in my bedroom.
However, once I got used to it and began to take it for granted, it changed everything. I was able to work much faster, experiment with more techniques and art forms, and work freelance gigs I couldn’t have handled before. I saw it as one of the big steps I needed to take to make my dreams come true (which were, btw: Graduate College, Buy a Cintiq, and Move to California— all of which have happened, now, by the way! Now all I have to contend with is gargantuan student loans. :P)
I want to emphasize, though, that one of the best parts of the Cintiq was what it represented to me. It was an investment and commitment— it was saying to myself and the world, "I AM A PROFESSIONAL ARTIST! I AM READY!" To me it was an unrevokable statement (which it actually isn’t— resell value on Cintiq is pretty good).
Above: My Cintiq in its current home— my apartment in LA doesn’t have air conditioning, which actually kinda blows on a Cintiq. It gets hot. Don’t do this
My Cintiq has easily paid for itself in freelance jobs since I bought it. Many times over. And it has allowed me to have fast turn-around on tests in the animation industry, too. Like I said, you can do it with an intuous, but it is just plum easier with this basic piece of professional equipment. If you want to be a professional artist who uses digital tools, this thing or something like it should be on your priorities list. Honestly, investing in the right equipment and mindset have meant a lot more to me professionally than going to college has even come close to.
This is not an advertisement for the Cintiq, though. I don’t want to say that you can’t be remarkably successful without one. I know LOTS of great artists who do not use Cintiq. Heck, one of my heroes, Shmorky, doesn’t use a tablet at all— ever— even when animating. But for those of us who can’t hack that and thrive when they get the sort of instant feedback the Cintiq provides— it is a hell of a favor to yourself and a worthwhile investment.
AND NEVER WHINE TO ME— OR OTHERS WHO WENT AHEAD AND BOUGHT A CINTIQ— ABOUT HOW YOU ARE “NOT RICH ENOUGH” TO GET A TABLET/CINTIQ. (Later note: I mean this literally. Do not send messages to me about it or implicate me in conversation. Feel free to whine away privately or on your own blog, etc., obviously). It is hella rude and presumptuous. If my career fails, I can’t go back home and live with my mom because she currently shares an apartment with my aunt. I had no choice but to make shit happen so I did. I am still in huge debt and don’t live some luxurious lifestyle because I made this IMPORTANT, long-planned-for investment.
I get it, to a point. I was that person until I bought the dang thing. It is REALLY FRUSTRATING that your peers with wealthier parents can get such a leg up on you, just because they have the money. BUT FRANKLY IMPLICATIONS OF WEALTH FOR BUYING AN IMPORTANT AND PRACTICAL PIECE OF EQUIPMENT ARE A SENSITIVE SUBJECT FOR ME AND MANY OTHERS WHO HAVE STRUGGLED FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OR CONTINUE TO HAVE A HUMBLE PRESENT. BYE.
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