When digital tablets came onto the scene many saw their potential as a portable canvas for budding Rembrandts, Picassos, and Monets. Apps for sketching and painting showed up in the App Store almost immediately. In using the apps, people figured out pretty quickly that painting using fingers was not as artsy as they remembered their Kindergarden efforts being. Many styli (aka “styluses”) came on the market in response to the need for a more precise, grown-up way to digitally create. While those devices were fine for sketching, people who preferred painting wanted something less pencil-ly, more paintbrusher-ly.
What they wished for was a brush that would work on a capacitive touchscreen. The folks at Sensu, Inc saw the need, but were unclear as to how to solve the technical problem of creating the conductive hair needed for such a brush. The breakthrough came when a brush-making friend of theirs in Japan introduced them to a hair technology being developed for the cosmetic industry: traditional synthetic brush hair infused with conductive properties to help fine powder release from make-up brushes as they came in contact with skin. This synthetic hair could be made in the diameters and tapersrequired for an artist “brush.”
And like anyone with an interesting but untested product idea, the Sensu folks went to Kickstarter to see if they could drum up some funding. Their initial projection was, if we can raise $7,500, we can get a batch out in six months. What they got was 1,800 backers and $65K of funding. This was more than enough to get the Sensu brush out the door, and spoke to the pent-up desire for a digital paintbrush.
We have had the Sensu for a while and have experimented with the brush on a variety of apps. The Sensu does everything a fingertip or non-pressure-sensitive stylus does. What sets the Sensu apart, though, is that it offers the closest feel of actually “painting” compared to all other stylus/instruments currently available. That being said, painting with the Sensu on a tablet is similar to but distinctively different from painting with a regular brush on regular paper. Is it worth getting? ABSOLUTELY!!!
The Sensu is worth every penny is because it completes the impression that one is actually painting on the screen. The brush has a nice weight, a balanced feel, and its components are made from quality materials. The flex is springy and gives good feedback. Of course, it doesn’t really matter how hard we pressed as the amount of paint applied is controlled by the software, not the brush. The only real-time control is the length of the stroke. This can be a little disorienting at first. However, after using it for just a few times, our brain ignored the disconnect of the lack of response due to pressure, and completely bought into the illusion. Once we got “there,” the whole painting-on-a-tablet experience became amazingly enjoyable.
When starting off with the Sensu, we found it easier to work from a photo (landscape, still life) instead of a live scene. Many apps will let you grab an image with the tablet’s camera and use that as a guide. Our earlier attempts had brush stokes that were blockyand choppy. It took a while before we realized we needed to compensate for the lack of pressure-sensitivity by frequently varying the brush’s “digital diameter” and the paint’s transparency, which was easier to do with some apps than with others. While it can get a bit tedious, changing to different digital brush sizes and varying the paint’s transparency levels definitely made a difference. By employing that technique, the digital brush effects became less uniform, especially when attempting to create a watercolor effect.
The iPad and Sensu pair is easy to slip into bag and take out into the wild. We did just that the other day when we headed to the MFA, where we did a few quick sketches of the building, the inner couryard, and one or two paintings. The thing about doing anything quick is sometimes “mistakes” get made. In real life watercolor painting you can’t really fix “mistakes” like you can with oils and other opaque pigments. A HUGE advantage to digital watercolor painting which we quickly came to appreciate is the ability to “undo” something we didn’t like or go back to a saved version and start again.
There is something relaxing about sitting around on a nice day and making some sketches or watercolors. Artists have been enjoying that for centuries. The great thing about digital watercolor painting over a traditional setup is it is easy to pack, doesn’t make a mess, will never run out of paint, and is ready whenever inspiration strikes!!!