Digital Finger Painting is an Animator's Dream
Samsung generated a lot of excitement at last week's Consumer Electronics Show with its new Galaxy Note. Aside from the impressive/overwhelming 5.3-inch screen, this smartphone-cum-tablet includes Samsung's new Zen Sketch and OmniBrush software. And reminiscent of an old Palm Pilot, it includes a stylus for the screen.
To demonstrate what it can do beyond amateur scribbles by convention-goers, Samsung brought in a cadre of pro animators, many of whom have worked on tablets, to produce a flurry of beautiful and entertaining sketches.
Based on the big splash, it would seem that the stylus and big screen are a breakthrough for digital drawing on the go.
But not for one respected mobile animator, Eric Molinsky, who actually prefers a bare finger and the smallish screen of his iPhone. "I like using my finger because it's so much more direct and kind of tactile," he said, noting that it transforms the way someone draws. "If you could turn your finger into a pencil, wouldn’t we all want to use that?"
Molinsky, a 40-year old radio journalist with NPR affiliate WNYC, specializes in candid, surreptitious portraits of fellow subway riders. "I was a student at Cal Arts [near Los Angeles] studying animation … and one of the things that you had to do for your portfolio was drawing in the real world—the art of the social sketch," he said. "And it brought me back to the training that I'd had."
The small screen is best for two reasons. One, of course, is to keep a low profile. It also allows him to work faster, because he often reaches over to tap the menu to select new brush tools or change settings, and the distance is simply smaller. "I find that when I do it on the iPad I feel like I have to use my entire arm [to reach across the screen]."
Molinsky's work was featured on the local NBC TV affiliate, as well as in a 2010 New York Times article. The Times piece in particular has brought him some fame. For example, he recently heard from the maker of a German sketching app. "I guess he Googled me," Molinsky said.
But he's very loyal to the app Autodesk SketchBook Mobile (also available for Android) which he came across by chance two years ago. "Every so often I have some time where I get tired of whatever app I have and go scouting through the App Store." Thus began a new artistic pursuit. What about other apps? "I think I have tried other ones. But I seriously don’t remember what they were, because I didn't like them and deleted them."
Molinsky has posted his trove of sketches in an impressive online gallery blog, but he's unlikely to sell them or do a formal art show. "I talked to a lot of lawyers about this. I would have to have people sign written consent forms for me to represent their likenesses."
That would kill the candid look of his portraits, which don’t come out as well when he's tried sketching someone posing for him.
"I like capturing people in these unguarded moments on the subway," he explained. "Sketching is like hunting in a way. When you come back with a great sketch, you feel like you've come back with game."