Creating art on tablets remains a work in progress

Kyle Lambert drawing in Egypt Tablet computers offer artists a digital, portable alternative to their traditional tools

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As publisher of San Francisco based technology news site Gotta Be Mobile, Xavier Lanier spends a lot of time at trade shows and away from his office equipment.

His tablet computer means he doesn't have to wait to get back to the office before uploading content onto his site.

"The iPad can be faster at content production in certain circumstances," he says.

Over the past few years, tablet sales have soared. Owners praise the ease with which they can be used to consume media.

New devices are on their way. Microsoft's Surface tablets become available this week; Apple is expected to shortly release an "iPad Mini"; Google is rumoured to be unveiling new Nexus Android tablets at a presentation next week; and Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook HD are about to hit UK shelves.

Beyonce drawing Kyle Lambert took eight hours to create this detailed drawing using an iPad of the singer Beyonce

The devices all make it easy to view magazines, books and movies. But trying to create content on them is a different issue altogether.

Some users find a touch screen and portability a plus for creation, but others lament their tablet's more limited capabilities as being, well, limiting.

Finger painting

Mr Lanier believes the hands-on nature of using a tablet can help processes such as image editing.

"Photography is traditionally a very tactile art," he says, recalling his experience of handling camera film in a darkroom.

Using a tablet - rather than a keyboard and mouse - allows him to alter a photo directly with his fingertips.

"It's just natural," he says. "It's a much more physical, tactile experience and it brings the art back to photography."

UK-based artist Kyle Lambert is known for visual works created using computer equipment, including a portrait of singer Beyonce entirely made with his fingers and an app called Brushes.

His works often begin on his tablet, which he carries around with him, replacing his paper sketchbooks.

"The playful stage for me is on an iPad," he says.

"It's really nice how on the tablet applications are simple and the toolset is limited because it makes you work in a quicker way."

But when it comes to working on his ideas more fully in his studio, he uses more sophisticated equipment.

It's something that comic book illustrator Peter Gross agrees with - he likes being able to sketch on a tablet when travelling.

Peter Gross using Wacom monitor Peter Gross still relies on Wacom's equipment to complete his work for DC Comics

However, he also relies on specialist equipment to develop and refine his work.

Tablets offer limited pressure sensitivity, which can be utilised to make lines finer and thicker.

But for more detailed work, Gross uses a more sensitive pressure-sensitive 21in (53cm) monitor and stylus made by Wacom.

"Comics themselves are generally drawn one and a half times bigger than the printed things," he says, stressing that tablets are simply too small to be used past early ideas.

Touch-created music

The touch-screen nature of tablets also appeals to musicians, but they too highlight problems.

Sam Pluta is a New York-based composer who uses computers, performing alongside classical and jazz ensembles. He uses tablets to tweak a range of factors such as volume, reverb and the amount and intensity of distortion. He likes the fact that the screen can be customised to change between different types of controllers quickly.

However, he complains that he can't feel what he's doing on the flat screen of a tablet. For a musician this can be difficult and even unnatural.

"You very seldom see a violinist look at their fingers while they play," Mr Pluta says, referring to the way the musicians can "feel their way" around their instruments.

"The iPad doesn't have that and I don't think that you can get to that point."

MiniMash screenshot MiniMash allows users to mix together existing songs to create "mash-ups" of their tracks

It's a view shared by another composer and performer, Daniel Iglesia, who also uses computers extensively. "When you're onstage you don't want to be looking at what you're touching," he says.

"I personally prefer something that has physical knobs and faders and buttons to touch, just because I'll be able to feel those things without looking down."

Iglesia created the MiniMash app, which scans the tracks in a user's digital library and then alters them before mixing them together to create "mash-ups".

But he says efforts to create new songs from scratch on a tablet have been less satisfying.

He writes and tinkers with the code of his own software when composing music to get a specific sound. But Apple's restrictions on what software can be installed on the iPad mean that he has had to rely on a laptop computer, he adds.

Beyond computers

Despite these issues, Brooklyn-based design duo the Brothers Mueller believe tablets have a bright future as creative devices.

The two men specialise in computer-made art as well as being part of a team that creates a digital magazine for the lifestyle TV-host Martha Stewart.

Despite their focus on digital, they still rely on pen and paper in the early stages of their projects.

Virus wallpaper The early design of this wallpaper - based on graphics of diseases - was sketched out on a tablet

"That's what we've been trained on for the first 20 years of our lives," they say. "We can sketch things out much faster than we could on a tablet.

They believe the problem is that people view tablets as a replacement for existing tools, either computers or analogue techniques. But they argue people would be better off using them to try to do things they couldn't before.

"They want it to better fit whatever it is they're [already] doing," they say.

"They're a really fascinating device because they have a lot of potential. Therein lies the beauty of them."

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