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Instant Digital Art Class

Tablet notebooks may be a great way to marry the convenience of the keyboard with the power of the pen in a computer, but schools and districts have found them to be budget-busters. A financially realistic approach for many districts is to team a standalone tablet pad with drawing software. Even though the two are sold separately, Adesso’s $50 CyberTablet 6400 and Ambient Design’s $25 Art Rage program can create a digital art room on a tight budget.

CyberTablet%206400 The tablet package includes a 6- by 4-inch digital pad, a mouse and digital pen. It works with either recent versions of Windows or Mac OSX, connects with a USB cable and takes about 10 minutes to set up. Along the top are a dozen instant launch buttons for bringing up your favorite applications.

While the two-button mouse is accurate and is sized for smaller hands, it lacks a scroll wheel for whizzing through long documents or Web pages. The pen is supple, smooth and my favorite. It can detect 512 different levels of pressure to create thin or thick lines. It works just as well for sketching a drawing as for pointing out the subject, object and verb in a sentence or drawing a geometric figure. Both require one triple A battery.

A big bonus is the tablet’s clear plastic cover that lifts up so that you can put a photo or map underneath for accurate tracing. Just go over the lines of the original with a pen and any student, regardless of talent, can feel like an artist.

The pad comes with software for creating and editing images, handwritten notes, presentations, turning handwritten notes into editable text and melds well with a variety of programs. The tablet really comes into its own with Art Rage 2.5, an inexpensive drawing and image editing program that puts the emphasis on creativity.

Jamie art rage While Photoshop can take a lifetime to learn, just about any teacher or student can familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of Art Rage and create a sophisticated art project in about 10 minutes. In addition to a traditional menu structure, the program’s central workspace is surrounded by tools for choosing the type of pen, brush or spray gun, adjust the pen’s pressure, pick a color and add a new layer.

In other words, it can get a little cramped because the program can do so much. On the other hand, as the artwork starts to encroach on a tool, it temporarily disappears and returns later.

For younger children, Art Rage 2.5 has a cool tracing feature that ghosts any image on screen so that budding artists can fill in the image as if it were a coloring book. It’s perfect for filling in the details of a map. At any time, you can bring up a ruler or series of stencils to encourage a class’s creative juices to flow.

A big bonus for teachers having trouble creating new lesson plans, Art Rage’s online forum has a multitude of tips as well as dozens of suggested projects. In fact, as kids create their artwork, they can post them online for others to see and comment on.

The pad and software work surprisingly together well, but it takes a little eye-hand coordination to work the pad while looking at the system’s screen. Still, it quickly becomes an intuitive way to draw and color. The best part is price. Downloadable copies of ArtRage go for $25 (a boxed version sells for $50) while Adesso’s tablet adds another $50. At $75 per seat, it’s the art deal of the century.

Adesso CyberTablet 6400

     + Inexpensive  
     + Includes mouse and pen
     + Excellent control and sensitivity
     + Nice assortment of software

     - Pen and mouse require batteries
     - Mouse doesn’t have scroll wheel

Ambient Design Art Rage 2.5

     + Best bargain in image creating and editing
     + Excellent assortment of tools and color control
     + Innovative interface

     - Cramped workspace
     - Boxed version doubles price


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