Wacom Inkling Review: Rejection, Inspiration And The Dream Of A Digital Moleskine

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As well as writing about Syria and the ghost of Lady Diana for a living, I once was a part-time illustrator.

I did genuine - even paid - illustration work for children's stories, and produced a series of fairly popular online one-page comics about dinosaurs. I developed what I thought was a style. I had ambitions of producing a graphic novel.

Then I received the most brutal rejection letter in the world.

I had submitted a selection of my work to a fairly well-known indie comic book publisher, and I was disappointed, though not crushed, when I read the standard rejection wording on their reply: "your work was not what we needed at this time".

Fair enough. But that was not the whole letter. Below the boilerplate was a review so harsh that I scarce remember it all, save I jump off a building.

My figures were "amateurish", my work was derivative and my stories were unintelligible. It hurt, dammit. It hurt. My confidence totally evaporated and breaking the habit of a lifetime, I didn't draw anything for six months.

The Wacom Inkling, a new digital pen from the world-famous tablet maker (about £160 from Firebox), changed that.

The product is deceptively simple. The basic idea is that you draw onto paper with a real ink pen, but that pen also connects to a clip-on sensor which detects your lines and saves them for editing later on a computer.

That kind of ambition could have spelled disaster. But luckily Wacom know how to design swish products. Everything is finished in Moleskine black, as if specifically intended to sit alongside that particular brand of artisan-hipster notebooks. The pen is heavy but sits comfortably in the hand, and the sensor-clip is just light enough to go unnoticed while you're drawing.

The best thing about the Wacom Inkling is the case - and that's not an insult. The case contains the sensor, the pen, spare nibs, a USB cable and a charger in one neat, portable package, without any need for a power brick, and I found myself carrying it around just because I liked opening it up and gazing at the serenity.

Using the Inkling is also simple - not quite as easy as, say, just using a pen. But it's close.

You simply press once on the sensor and once on the pen to connect the two. Then you draw and it picks up what you create. To make a new layer you press another button. And that's it.

To use the digital file on your computer you connect the sensor by USB, and while the included transfer software (for both Mac and PC) is admittedly a bit clunky, it gets the job done. You can export all layers or just a few, and you get a choice of JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG, SVG and PDF images. You can also export straight into Photoshop and Illustrator. And if you know what that means, you know why it matters. It's a flexible feature, and could make the different for many image pros.

Unfortunately, as has been discussed elsewhere on the web including by the brilliant illustrator Tom Gauld, the Inkling is only accurate to within 2.5 millimetres. That sounds great, until you realise that if you're trying to connect a dinosaur's head to its body you really need it to be pixel-perfect.

Otherwise the poor dino is suddenly turned into a floating-head ghost-a-saur, and that would make children cry.

Worse, the Inkling seems to find it difficult to cope with holding the pen too close to the nib, moving the paper around and accidentally jogging the sensor with your coffee cup - all human error, but all a reality for the average illustrator just trying to find inspiration on a cold January day in the basement of a high-street coffee outlet.

To Wacom's credit they don't advertise the Inkling as a perfect replacement for, say, one of their Intuos professional tablets - which I use every day and love. Rather the Inkling is a workaday inspiration sketch machine - a way to jot down ideas and know that they won't be confined forever just to paper but can life a digital afterlife too. Like the wonderful, if sadly fictional, Microsoft Courier, the Inkling is a way for crazy, madcap artists and designers to find inspiration in the world and keep it. Whatever it is.

Unfortunately, that's not me. When I draw I use ink and paper, and only touch up my work if I have to. When I draw specifically for computers I use a regular graphics tablet - a Wacom Intuos 4 as it happens - because it's quicker and more accurate, and when I paint I use actual paint.

Like my rejection letter told me - this just isn't what I'm looking for, at this time. Thanks, but no thanks.

(Of course I actually mean it. Grumble.)

Overall, then, the Wacom Inkling is a well-intended, well-designed, affordable and delightful product that somebody, somewhere, will probably have a lot of fun using.

For a few days that person was me. But while it was enough to get me drawing again, and lift me out of the mire of rejection, I won't be keeping it in my bag for round two.

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