Wacom Cintiq Companion pro artists and designers' reviews – week 1: initial impressions and first creations

Read about our contestants' first impressions with the Cintiq Companion and see what they've been working on.

Welcome to the first in our regular updates for Wacom's 'Show Your Creativity’ contest.

Each week we’ll be giving an update on the progress of our contestants – each of whom are vying to win a fantastic Wacom Cintiq Companion.

To do this they'll be need supplying us with a weekly round-up of their device use and screenshots of their progress as they create or add to a project with the Cintiq Companion.

This first week, our creative contestants have been getting used to the Cintiq Companion. Most have previously used Wacom tablets and are familiar with the whole concept of pressure-sensitive tablets and pen devices. None of them however have experienced the workflow of the Cintiq Companion before. Keep reading to see how they got on.

Image: Kalopsia, by Gidi Meir Morris

Illustrator and animator Liam Brazier was swiftly up and running.

“The touch-centric front end to the latest Windows on these things is not a bad thing to use at all,” he reports. “Drawing within my primary bit of software, Photoshop, feels amazing, and I don’t use that word lightly. With some custom pressure-sensitive brushes it’s as near as I’d ever expect to do on paper at least.”

Liam also found the matte screen bright enough to work outside, and took the opportunity for some ‘live’ studies.

“I had to draw a graveyard,” he explains. “Instead of doing the usual hop, skip and jump around Google Image Search, I walked 30 seconds to the end of my road to an actual graveyard, with Photoshop still in front of me, with no break in my workflow. That kind of thing is truly liberating.”

Brazier finds the stand included with the Companion to be limited to use on flat surfaces, but prefers the device to his previous Wacom tools. “Drawing directly on the screen is a massive, intuitive improvement over the alternative,” he explains. “To such an extent that I'm now making smug eyes at the humble [Wacom] Bamboo from the comfort of the sofa wondering why anyone ever thought scrawling without looking at your hands was a good idea.”

Liam is now pushing forward with several projects using the device. “I have some hand-drawn Photoshop animation that is made all the easier with the Companion and some plugin toolbars, all being incorporated into a pretty out there After Effects project, with director Meat Grinder,” he reveals. "Another project currently on the go is a poster for all of the 5,300 Nascar sites for the Sunoco company, an image of whooshing cars...turning left, as they do."

"I also have a large scale illustration partially started on the theme of childhood, or basically a bunch of stuff from the 80s I remember and thought was cool, which I'm working on when I can," he adds. "The major plus point of the Wacom is having it there to hand, always ready with it’s almost instant-on SSD, aiding productivity."

Heta Dobrowolski is a senior designer for Vivienne Westwood and was really excited to receive the tablet.

“I could not wait to start using it,” Heta reveals. “I did expect it to be a bit more tricky to use, as it's not just a Wacom tablet, but a fully flexed Windows computer as well.”

Heta’s usual setup at home for working on Illustrator or Photoshop is an iMac with a Wacom Intuos4M tablet. “Setting up the controls is easy enough, the same as for my Intuos4,” she says. “The tablet is heavy, and feels sturdy and expensive.”

Heta has experienced a few teething problems with the device, but Wacom has been helping iron them out.

“I was a bit dismayed at the widescreen format,” she explains. “It's very long and narrow, so it seemed the only way it might be useful for me [for fashion illustration] would be to use it in portrait format.”

This turned out to be a good move: “My artwork (an existing one) looked so wonderful in Illustrator when I turned the tablet to portrait orientation! I get the full body and it’s so big, much bigger that on any monitors I’ve worked so far. Really thrilled and excited!”

Heta wants to use the Cintiq to work on her next project, inspired by the golden age of couture and designers like Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Madeleine Vionnet among others. “It was a time when sales and marketing weren't driving the haute couture houses and wider fashion as strongly as today, and I want to create work that doesn't consider the sales, but satisfies the designer instead.”

“I'm loving the Wacom Companion,” says illustrator and author Jason Chapman. “It’s very impressive. It's the piece of kit I've been waiting for: a professional Wacom pressure-sensitive tablet that can use Photoshop.”

Chapman’s usual weapons of choice are a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet and pen with an iMac.

“I mainly use Photoshop,” he says. “My version is not so up to date so there was getting used to that. The swatches and tools seem quite small after the large iMac screen.”

He sees a lot of benefits though: “[I’ll be inspired] to leave the home workspace and use cafes, libraries and bars as work locations. It's good to be able to get away from sitting at the desk for long hours and work elsewhere.”

Jason will be developing a children's book story with the Companion and also using it for sketching on location. “I do want familiarise myself further with it,” he says. “I've done some initial drawing sessions but I'm so excited about getting to grips with the fabulous piece of kit.”

Motion design director Estelle Baylis took a little time to get used to the new experience of working directly onto the screen.

“I think I may have also been getting used to the PC environment,” said this experienced Wacom tablet and Mac user. “Still, I love the fact that it feels so much more natural working directly onto a screen/canvas . I also thought the packaging for the product was fantastic and impressed to see a pen with many spare nibs plus a protective sleeve. You seem to get a lot for your money whereas other devices on the market aren't always as generous.”

“Once I realised I could also use my Mac's keyboard with it, then I was off!” she adds “I don't think it would be as successful for me without that, as I'm so used to using keyboard shortcuts.”

Estelle sees the contest as a great motivator to create some new artwork as well as take full advantage of a new tool and new way of working.

“At the beginning of the year, I began to learn Processing and have been slowly creating illustrative generative artwork,” she reveals. “Not quite sure where it will take me, but it's something I enjoy doing outside of work. I am also hoping to try out After Effects on the Cintiq.”

Estelle continues: “I liked the idea that I could take a photo of something with the Cintiq and instantly be able to use it. I had some objects I wished to illustrate and was able to do so immediately. I photographed some berries I'd found, then immediately placed them into Illustrator to vectorise them. Finally I used Processing to create some generative replications. Processing allows me to set different parameters for colours/size/rotation etc, so each artwork is never the same.”

Ryan McAllister is a freelance illustrator whose initial impressions of the Wacom concern the build quality. “It seems to be sturdy enough to take a few knocks if it was being used as out and about on a regular basis,” he says. “I'm also impressed that this much computing power can fit into such a compact device. It outspecs my Macbook!”

Ryan is well used to the Wacom way, using an Intuos 2 for several years. “I felt it was pretty easy to get the hang of the Cintiq,” he says. “My only real gripe so far is getting to grips with Windows 8, and this is coming from a previous Windows user. Although when it comes to using Illustrator or Photoshop there's not much difference. The very first thing that came to mind was the possibility of doodling on Illustrator from pretty much anywhere I like!”

Those possibilities have already developed: “I've been working a lot with hand drawn patterns recently, but felt like I couldn't quite get the level of detail I desired with my old tablet,” Ryan reveals. “Because of this a lot of my ideas unfortunately didn't make it further than the page. I feel like the Cintiq will help me bridge that gap and hopefully come up with plenty of new ideas which I can create in the rough and continue to develop all on the same device.”

Ryan supplied two images this week: “The first (top) is a rough line drawing just trying out some detail work,” he explains. “The second (bottom) is a piece I completed on the tablet for illustrationfriday.com. They run a weekly topic illustration contest, and last week's was the word 'repeat'. Unfortunately I didn't win.”

Creative director/photographer Idil Sukan has been using Intuos tablets for nine years, but although she found the Cintiq Companion to be intuitive, she didn’t move to it as seamlessly as she had come to expect from Wacom’s products.

“You want to be doing precision commercial Photoshop work on the Cintiq, and I had to change the calibration of the nib point relative to the screen a dozen times in just the first few hours of using it,” Sukan reports. “When working at 600 percent zoom on a 36 megapixel NEF raw photo file, there is the tiniest lag [on the cursor] when you sweep the brush across.”

Idil is not a fan of the Windows 8.1 OS and interface, nor did she like being bereft of her usual keyboard shortcuts.

“It seems the solution is to not regard this as a replacement for my desktop computer,” she reports. “The best thing about it is precision drawing, zoomed right in, so you minimise the discrepancy between nib area and cursor icon. There is a really lovely relationship that you form with such a large screen, so close up, with a stylus that you've known and loved for so many years."

Sukan continues: "Commercial photography work is too heavy going for it. I don't want to overtax it. So I'm considering working on some of my drawing projects on it, which might work better.”

“I definitely want to be able to use it on the road,” Idil adds. “Perhaps as a sketching pad, or post production of smaller images from a compact camera or my [Nikon]D4.”

Portrait/studio photographer Gidi Meir Morris is another long-term Mac and Wacom user. His first impressions were that the Cintiq Companion was a solid device with a high-end display with reasonable performance.

“The Cintiq was definitely as intuitive as any other Wacom product I've used,” he says.

“I haven't used Windows in many years,” he adds however “The Cintiq has a different interface from the Intuos and I have to find a new way of working, as I'm used to working with the keyboard at hand. It has definitely made my productivity drop, but those are standard teething problems when you replace a key tool in your line up with a new one.”

Gidi spent the first three days doing the post processing for a new portrait series, called Kalopsia: “It required a nice variety of post processing techniques ranging from standard portrait retouching, to compositing and onwards to digital painting,” he explained. “The moment the Cintiq arrived, I stashed my Intuos away and forced myself to use the Cintiq instead, and so it immediately got pushed into my workflow working on an existing project.”

Gidi continues: “After those few days I took a single frame from the Kalopsia shoot, threw it onto a blank canvas on the Cintiq and just started painting to my heart's content. This has led me to a new WIP, which is a mixed media digital painting building on top of one of my photographs.”

“Once I went down the path of taking this photograph to a completely new direction, I definitely found myself lost in inspiration and excitement,” he adds. “I think this is where this kind of tool really shines - I plan on maximising its use for that kind of work over the next few weeks.”