Can This Gadget Revive the Lost Art of Doodling?

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
June 26 2014 10:59 AM

The Lost Art of Doodling

A new stylus that promises to make sketching on an iPad better—and more fun.

Adobe Ink and Slide.
The Adobe Ink and Slide expand the creative possibilities of your iPad.

Product shot via Adobe

When the Apple iPad debuted, many observers fretted that it was better suited for consumption than creation. The Awl dismissed the device as “post-literate” and declared it was “designed to encourage you not to create at all.” Toshiba’s CEO agreed. I personally recall hashing out this notion as a guest on the Slate Culture Gabfest in 2010, when we unboxed the brand new product on-air. Without any keyboard or mouse or USB ports, went the critique, the iPad would turn us into passive gobblers of commercial content. We’d read stuff, watch stuff, and listen to stuff that was spoon-fed to us. But we’d never make any stuff of our own.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

I can now attest that these concerns were ill-founded. I’ve used iPads to record original songs, to edit my own photos, and yes, to write Slate articles. But if there’s one creative medium that tablets seem an ideal match for, it’s drawing. The newer, lighter tablets fit comfortably into your hand like a sketchpad. Their capacitive, touch-sensing screens can register your every contour line and crosshatch. Their software offers countless choices of color palettes, textures, and templates. And—no small matter—you can undo an errant unsightly mistake with the press of a button, as though it never happened.

Painters and illustrators have worked with iPads for years. Jorge Colombo and David Hockney have both drawn New Yorker covers using the device. Hockney told the New Yorker he finds it “especially good for luminous subjects.”

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When I attended an exhibit of Hockney’s iPad drawings at Denmark’s Louisiana museum a few years ago, I loved the way the technology let museumgoers watch animations retracing Hockney’s sequence of strokes, so we could observe the way they coalesced into a finished work. Try that with oil and canvas.

But while the iPad functions as a superb sketchpad, it has mostly lacked the companionship of equally superb drawing implements. This is due in part to the surprising anti-stylus fervor of calligraphy enthusiast Steve Jobs. “Who wants a stylus?” Jobs once asked rhetorically. “You have to get ‘em, put ‘em away. You lose ‘em. Yuck.” Jobs preferred “the best pointing device in the world”: the fingertip.  

While fingertips are great for clicking hyperlinks and scrolling through text, they are not so great for drawing. I remember the legendary Draw Something craze of 2012, when I suddenly found myself attempting to sketch recognizable portraits of cows, spaceships, and the occasional abstract, idiomatic phrase. My sausage-y index finger was far too fat for any sort of fine detail. I found it frustrating. In retrospect, I should have employed a stylus. But Steve Jobs had brainwashed me. The iPad didn’t come packaged with a stylus, and it never occurred to me to buy one.

Now comes a new product from Adobe that aspires to make the stylus a vital accessory for any iPad owner. The Adobe Ink was released last week, along with its partner, a ruler-like device called the Adobe Slide. I’ve been playing around with them for the past several days. They’ve convinced me that Steve Jobs was wrong. (Take that, Jobs. Though he wasn’t wrong about Adobe’s Flash—sorry Adobe, he’s still got you there.) They’ve also rekindled my childhood enthusiasm for doodling. I’d forgotten how delightful it is to draw.

These are the first hardware products from Adobe, maker of major software stalwarts like Photoshop and Acrobat. The Ink stylus is light in your hand, and it’s shaped like a pencil that’s been fitted with one of those rubbery, triangular grips that they give to elementary school kids with subpar motor skills. The Slide is a rectangle about the length of a finger. They’re both meant to work with two new apps from Adobe—a simple drawing app called Sketch and a more complicated one called Line—but the stylus will work with any iOS app.

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