When I went back to school, I knew that the most successful way for me to approach lectures and note taking was by incorporating old school writing with modern technology. I am not a fast typist, but I do want to do my part and reduce waste wherever possible. I knew that most of my teachers would use Power Point presentations in their lectures and make the slides available for us. In university, I would print out the slides and write my notes on the paper so that I had the information from the teacher directly reinforced by my own notes all in one place. Technology has advanced to the point where I could write on a tablet and achieve the same ends without wasting paper.
Malcolm and I shopped around for a tablet that would work for me without breaking the bank. We chose a Samsung tablet and I used a program called Squid Ink to write on my notes once they were converted to PDF. It worked alright, but I had to be careful not to write too fast or too small or the tablet wouldn’t be able to make sense of my pen strokes. I also found that it was hard to use that tablet for typing out essays or for working on group projects and as the semester progressed I began having to bring both my tablet and my five year old gaming laptop to school in order to keep up.
Malcolm and I started discussing options that would replace both my tablet and laptop for school, and that would last me a good 6 years until I’m done school. That way my gaming laptop can become more of a desktop machine. It has a good amount of life left in it, but it needs to stay put. We started looking at the Microsoft Surface Pro tablets and I had a friend at school who has one and she let me play around with it a bit so I got a much better feeling for it than I could with the castrated Demo OS at Best Buy. We also took our time reading and watching reviews and comparing the Surface guy Pro to other tablets on the market. We decided that it was probably the best choice for my needs. This summer, we decided to get me a Surface Pro so that I have a bit of time to used it and for it to get used to me. This also meant that my Samsung Galaxy tablet could be repurposed as a replacement audio book reader for my mom whose Blackberry Playbook was dying most sadly.
So, one of the first things Malcolm suggested I do to get a feeling for the pressure sensitivity of the stylus was to try and draw a picture. I am not an artist. I did take a drawing course as an elective but I never felt that I was much good at it. But to get a feel for my tablet and the pressure sensitivity and stroke responsiveness I decided to doodle. I had an idea for a cover image for my blog posts about the TAC that’s been rattling inside my head for a while and I decided to see if I could draw that. I used a few different programs and with a reference image I was able to start a decent sketch using Paint 3D. I ran into roadblocks when it came to resizing and moving things without disturbing the rest of the image.
When Malcolm saw what I was doing he did a quick Google search and suggested I try a program called Autodesk Sketchbook. I imported the Paint3D image into Sketchbook and then traced over the different parts of the baby on different layers so that I could resize them and move them around. It was a finicky process but I was much happier with the end result.
I moved on to shading, texture, and details and I was quite happy with the process. I changed the background back to the peach I had in my original so that even the highlights of the skin took on a warm glow. I would work on one feature then start a new layer for the next. When I was satisfied I’d merge the layers and blend. Sometimes I would forget about the layers and draw on the wrong one which would sometimes mean erasing hours of work or having to accept a boo-boo. When I was satisfied with my main image, I merged all the layers and moved on to the background.
The first piece of the background that I worked on was the balloon. I didn’t want to do anything like an anatomical womb, but I wanted to have the baby surrounded and protected by something that would grow with it and that depended on a knot like the TAC. I knew that I wanted to keep the balloon in the same colour family as the baby, but I also wanted to keep it obviously separate. I used the darkest brown that I had used in drawing the baby and used it for the out line of the balloon. I used a circle tool and a straight line tool to make the basic balloon shape and then I free handed over it on a new layer. I brought the baby layer back in and moved and resized both pieces until they fit together. I then used the airbrush feature on a different layer to fill in the balloon around the baby with some depth and texture. I felt like it was lacking and showed it to Malcolm. He agreed, and I added a flat fuschia colour underneath, but lightened it in certain areas to keep it from getting too muddy.
Next, I wanted to create a rainbow radiating out from the balloon. The symbolism here is that a baby that is born and survives after a loss is called a rainbow baby, like a rainbow after a storm. I put each colour on a separate layer and used the airbrush to achieve the effect I wanted. I had to layer the colours in the correct order so that the bands would have a comparable width. While navigating around the app, sometimes I would accidentally drag a layer to a different position. You can see that in the image I have included of this step. The orange layer is lower than it is supposed to be and the yellow is higher, making the bands all look uneven.
I added a black background around it to symbolize the grief parents experience in contrast to the hope that a TAC can provide. I showed the image to Malcolm and he suggested that I add some stars. I questioned him and he said “Where is Heaven?” and I pointed up. Then I understood. I made a bunch of stars and resized and blurred them. I kept two bigger to represent our angels Lily and Anika. This is extra special because the school where I was working when we lost our girls actually got stars named for them.
Next I worked on a bow to tie around the knot of the balloon to directly represent a TAC suture. I first tried a thin ribbon idea like you would expect to see tied to a balloon with a bow that was floppy and thin. It didn’t have the right impact. I showed it to Malcolm and together we googled images of bows. I found one I liked better and on a new layer I began to sketch it out. I added shading and besides drawing the baby itself, this was the hardest part of the drawing to do. I resized it and rotated to fit the rest of my image. It didn’t look right. I decided to play around with some of the stretching and image manipulation features. Eventually I made the bow work.
I put all the layers together then I signed the piece and dated it. I am extremely happy with the finished product. It is far better than I would have thought myself capable of doing.
From start to finish this picture took me about 2 weeks to complete. I know that without the ability to use layers, resize, manipulate, undo, and play with the image in ways that paper would never let me do, I wouldn’t have ended up with anything anywhere close to the quality that I have. In fact, without those features, I wouldn’t have even tried. I now have a couple of other visual imaginings I would like to try to create with the use of this device.
So, is the final product the result my artistic ability or the accessibility of the digital medium?
And just a final fun feature: I wrote this entire blog post using the ink to text feature on my Surface Pro. It does a pretty decent job of deciphering what I’m trying to say. There are still some glitches to work out, it doesn’t like my “I”s sometimes but on the whole it’s a pretty painless process.