Back-to-School Gadgets for the Young Art Student

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If my eleven-year-old son weren’t already a budding manga artist, three months of quarantine certainly pushed him in that direction. Fortunately, we had purchased a tablet and pen for him just as school-from-home was becoming a reality, and he took full advantage of his new gadgets, drawing his favorite characters from Naruto and Demon Slayer and creating his own. Seeing him embrace this talent was a point of bright light in all the recent darkness and it has me considering tablet upgrades and possible accessories and apps to encourage his artistic interests. With that in mind, let’s have a look at a few options for the young art student.

A good place to start is the Microsoft Surface Go 2, an affordable, Wi-Fi enabled tablet with a 10.5" PixelSense display, 1920 x 1280 resolution, and 10-point touch support. Of course, the Surface Go, which also has models available with LTE connectivity and in a range of memory and storage capacities, is more than just a drawing tablet. This recommended model has a 1.7 GHz Intel® Pentium™ Gold 4425Y dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB eMMC storage. For drawing, a Surface Pen is required and there are many kits available with pens included.

Microsoft 10.5" Multi-Touch Surface Go 2
Microsoft 10.5" Multi-Touch Surface Go 2

If you have a very young artist, or one who still prefers the tactile nature of paper, an interesting budget option is the Wacom Bamboo Slate Smartpad. This hybrid device converts your handwritten notes and drawings into digital files at the push of a button. A hardy and compact design enables placing a sheet of paper on its surface and, with the use of a standard ballpoint pen, converts drawings to digital files that can be saved and worked on later on one’s phone or computer.

Wacom Bamboo Slate Smartpad
Wacom Bamboo Slate Smartpad

Wacom is the name most associated with graphics tablets, from compact beginner models to tools for professional graphic designers. A graphic tablet plugs into computers and enables kids to draw and paint naturally. They are usually more affordable than tablet devices, but many do not display what's being drawn—the drawings appear on the computer. This can be tricky for kids at first but is a skill to learn if graphic arts are in their future. A medium-size model is the Intuos Pro Creative Pen Tablet, whose active drawing area measures just 8.8 x 5.8". Wacom also makes a portable starter model with a drawing area of 6.3 x 3.9”.

Wacom Intuos Pro Creative Pen Tablet
Wacom Intuos Pro Creative Pen Tablet

If your child is already practiced and ready to dedicate to their talent, the next step might be to go for an Apple iPad, of which there is a range of options and sizes. My son made it clear that he is ready to go all-in on the Apple 12.9" iPad Pro, but I suggested he start with an Apple 10.2" iPad, which saves me a few dollars but enables connectivity, has fast processing speeds, and includes an updated Retina display with 2160 x 1620 resolution for crisp details and vivid colors. Of course, it is also compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil.

Apple 10.2" iPad
Apple 10.2" iPad

Accessories

The fundamental accessory for drawing tablets is the compatible pen or pencil. For Apple products, the most recent version is the 2nd-Generation Apple Pencil. The second-generation pencil is compatible with the 11" iPad Pro (1st and 2nd Gen) and 12.9" iPad Pro (3rd and 4th Gen) and for others, there is the above-mentioned, first-gen pencil. These pencils are as smooth and well designed as any Apple product and will expand any young artist’s skill set. They attach magnetically to the side of your iPad Pro, start to charge, and automatically pair with your device via Bluetooth when attached. They also allow the user to change tools, brush sizes, or modes by simply double-tapping right where their finger rests. Replacement Apple Pencil Tips are available in a 4-pack set and are compatible with both generation pencils. They easily screw directly into the pencil.

Apple Pencil
Apple Pencil

Wacom offers a range of pens for its various graphic tablets, including the Wacom Intuos Pen for the Creative Pen Tablets. Check compatibility with your device before purchase, but the many pen options from Wacom include the Art Pen with Stand and Replacement Nibs. With unique 360° rotation sensitivity, the Art Pen replicates the feel and experience of a classical felt marker. Pressure and tilt sensitivities allow adjustments in line weight, brush size, image opacity, or exposure, and included are the pen stand and various replacement nibs. If, due to normal use, you need to replace pen nibs or want varied shapes and sizes, Wacom has that covered.

Wacom Art Pen with Stand and Replacement Nibs
Wacom Art Pen with Stand and Replacement Nibs

Although we haven’t yet mentioned the Galaxy Tabs, Samsung markets a line of tablets that are also price and function friendly for the young artist. For the new Tab S6 Lite, there are stylus pens available in several colors. Finally, the TIPS Sticker Stylus is a small tool that turns any pencil or pen into a stylus and still lets you write on paper. Compatible with any capacitive touchscreen, simply stick this stylus onto your preferred writing tool and it's good to go—no pairing or wireless connectivity needed.

TIPS Sticker Stylus
TIPS Sticker Stylus

An interesting accessory for the Microsoft Surface Pro is the Microsoft Surface Dial, which uses Bluetooth 4.0 to pair with the device and simplifies actions, allowing you to scroll and click without a mouse or keyboard and, combined with the Surface Pen, provides quick and easy access to shortcuts, controls, drawing tools, and more.

Microsoft Surface Dial
Microsoft Surface Dial

Screen protectors for tablets are an important accessory, especially for the young artist. I don’t think that reasoning needs to be explained any further and fortunately many manufacturers make clear screen protectors for iPad, Microsoft Surface, and other tablets. The same goes for covers and shell cases—a cracked tablet screen is particularly problematic when using the tablet for drawing. Tablet stands and mounts are also available from numerous manufacturers and finding the right one for an artist is a subjective enterprise, but the K&M Tablet PC Table Stand is a good place to start. It is compatible with a wide range of tablets and enables tilt, swivel, and rotation movements to accommodate many drawing angles. Finally, to protect and transport your Apple Pencil, have a look at the Twelve South PencilSnap for Apple Pencil, which is a handsome leather carrier with a series of small, hidden magnets that snap your Apple Pencil to your optional Apple Smart Cover, Apple Smart Keyboard, or Twelve South SurfacePad case.

K&M Tablet PC Table Stand
K&M Tablet PC Table Stand

Applications

All of the tablets mentioned above are fitted with proprietary drawing software, but there are a few options that are preferable for the young artist (of any age). Corel and Adobe offer a range of options. A one-stop shop for Adobe software is the Adobe Creative Cloud Student and Teacher Edition, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Illustrator Draw, as well as almost twenty other applications. Free and affordable apps include Sketchbook, Ibis Paint X, Artflow, and, as my son reminds me, Procreate, which he will get when I agree to “finally buy me an iPad Pro!” Maybe I will.

Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe Creative Cloud

If you have any suggestions for tablets, accessories, and programs that have helped your child develop their digital art skills, please share in the Comments section, below.

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