Graphics Software – Expressing yourself visually

Not being an artist, I wondered at first how useful the Tablet PC and particularly graphics software was going to be. It turns out that you don’t have to be an artist to enjoy tools like these for visual expression of ideas. Here are a few pieces of software that I find myself using on a regular basis to share concepts with others.

If you have ever used to cocktail napkin to jot down more than a telephone number; perhaps to do a quick sketch of a concept, share a idea about how something physical should be positioned, or even draw a map, then you might find yourself using some of these tools.

Alias Sketchbook Pro

This is simply brilliant. I use it for doing quick sketches of ideas. I have been using the non-pro version up until now, and found it very useful, but somewhat limited. The licenced Pro version gives me everything I need in this kind of tool. Layers was a new concept for me, and it takes the idea of sketching to a whole new level.

I use this to help me share ideas and concepts with others during live presentations. At first I was concerned that the very casual nature Sketchbook Pro would seem unprofessional in these situations but thinking back a couple of decades (to the days before PowerPoint) this is the way I did things with overhead transparencies  (screen acetates or for some “foils“):

  • Start with a very basic drawing with minimal labelling and usually bereft of colour. These “foundation“ drawings are prepared in advance.
  • During the presentation, I would add detail, labels.
  • Perhaps most importantly for the participants, I would add lines and concepts that denoted sequence, context and the overall sense of flow and connectedness.

Alias Sketchbook Pro (as would many other programs) makes it very easy to work this way. Using the Tablet PC allows me to do this live, incorporating input from participants, and to save the results. Think back to the days of flipcharts and overheads when it was relatively easy to flip back to an idea or step back for a sense of context and sequence. The ability to work with Layers is very similar to working with transparent overlays. You can non-destructively add and then remove content in the layers.

When doing lectures, I will often distribute the initial versions (the foundation drawings I referred to above) to all the participants. Then I invite them to mark them up as we go along, but assure them in advance that the “finished” versions will be available at the end of the lecture. I often print them or make them available on the web.

Here are some thumbnails to give you a rough idea of what I mean. 

Web Request foundation drawing Web Request after discussion
Web Service foundation drawing Web Service after discussion


mandolin done in Artrage

This software is for me, more personal. The simulations of brushes and pencil are wonderful for little excursions into expressive art. Nothing I would share with others, but terrific for personal explorations of the medium.

This is not tool that I use while others are present simply because it takes me much longer to create something, and when I do, it is usually a personal exploration rather than any kind of explanation. 

Adobe Photoshop

I find this terrific for editing and refining things I create in Alias Sketchbook Pro, ArtRage, or other prior existing media. I may also use it to create more formal versions of things that may have started as a sketch, but may be kept for reference. 

This is a stage layout / wiring diagram done in Photoshop. This could have also have been done in Microsoft Visio
This stage layout was done in Photoshop

MacroMedia Flash

I’ve been exploring animation for things that I build in Alias Sketchbook Pro.

  • Use Windows Media Encoder to record a drawing session in Alias Sketchbook Pro
  • Convert the resulting .avi file to Flash using the built-in utility in Flash to import the .avi file
  • The resulting Flash file is small enough to share on the web.

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