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Psion: A Sketch in Time

An article on creating artwork on a Psion Series 5 device, written by Carl Reader


If you've ever read Palmtop Magazine, you may have noticed my artwork cropping up between the pages. You may be surprised to learn that these pictures, including the 'Psimon & Psion' cartoon strip, are all crafted using a Psion Series 5. You may be even more surprised to learn that by getting to grips with the Sketch application, you can produce detailed and useful images.

Psion and Simon Comic Strip

It may surprise you, or possibly horrify you, to learn that each episode of 'Psimon & Psion' takes between 5 to 8 hours to draw, although in some cases, the hardest and most time-consuming factor is getting the initial inspiration.

By popular request, in this short article, I'll share some tips on how to make the best use of Sketch to create your own piece of Psion Art with nothing more than a Psion, a modicum of talent, and a little patience.

What can I use Sketch for?

Well, other than the obvious (Sketching), you can also produce some very detailed and effective headers or logos. Admittedly, unless you have a Series 7 or netBook, they'll be monochrome, but for faxes and letterheads, this needn't be a problem. We'll look at creating your first picture a little later in this article, but first, it's worth taking a look at the tools available to the 'sketcher:

Getting to grips with the tools

Sketch Drawing Tools

The drawing tools

Sketch icon1. The Select area tool is used to select a section of a picture that you may wish to edit or move in some manner. It's very handy for deleting large mistakes in a hurry.

Sketch icon2. The Eraser switches from pen to eraser, letting you remove mistakes. The size of the erasure can be changed so the area affected can be broad or precise, to enable precision alterations. The size can be changed by selecting a different sized square from the options that appear in the bottom right of the screen, known as the Width palette.

Sketch icon3. The Spray tool is used for fast, but not accurate, shading and colouring. Again, when this option is chosen, you will notice further options appear in the Width palette. Not only is there a choice of three different sizes of spray, but there are also four different shades available in the Colour palette.

Sketch icon4. The Freehand tool is basically the pencil. This is what I recommend you start any sketch with, at least to draw the initial outline, unless your diagram is going to consist purely of symmetrical shapes. This also has two further options to be considered when you're using it: the nib size, which affects the width of the lines you draw, and the shade/colour palette.

Sketch icon5.  The Rectangle outline tool is a very useful option. When I initially started using this package, I didn't consider either this or the Filled rectangle tools to be particularly useful. There are two fundamental reasons for this. Firstly, anyone who has studied art at school or anywhere else will be aware that all line are supposed to be drawn using freehand, so this tool could be seen as 'art blasphemy'. The second was that I felt I didn't need such a tool, let alone two such similar tools. Obviously I was wrong. In reply to the first argument, I now tell myself "this is not Art - it's Sketch" and secondly "Come on. How stupid and na´ve can a guy be?". For both time and accuracy they are Godsends. Again, they have further options available: shade/colour and five variations on how bold you desire the outline of your box to be. 

Sketch icon6.  The Oval outline. I didn't make the same mistake with this tool. Basically, exactly the same as the above, only guess what? It's an oval. Very useful for me as I was never any good at freehand circles.  Using this is very simple: just select it, put the pen on the screen approximately where you want the top or bottom of the circle then slide the pen to the desired finishing point. Note how if you drag the stylus diagonally, the circle becomes oval.

Sketch icon7. The Line tool is very accommodating. Using the stylus, you can select the starting point of your line, drag it to the desired finishing point, and then take the pen off. Hey presto, the line is drawn. This is fantastic because so long as you don't remove the pen from the screen, you can change the angle of the line from vertical to any variation of diagonal to horizontal. Be sure to have selected the correct width and shade of your line from Width palette before you start - it saves a lot of time.

Sketch icon8. The Filled rectangle. As above, when using this tool, you select the start point and drag over to the point at which you want the box to end, then release. Note how the form of the square changes through variations of rectangles to perfect squares. The same options for Rectangle apply, although I feel that the width of the nib is somewhat irrelevant with this particular tool.

Sketch icon9. The Filled oval. With what I've said above, this should be a breeze. Have fun.

Sketch icon10. The Undo tool. If the shapes were a Godsend, this is divine. By tapping this, the last thing you did is deleted. The added bonus is that it will work not once, not twice, but up to five times, so you can delete things you probably never realised were a problem. This works in a reverse order so the last thing you've drawn is the first to go, and so on.

Sketch icon11. The Text tool is a very practical and useful tool that is excellent for labelling diagrams or just titling pictures. Very easy to use, when you select this option, you can select the colour, size and style of the text from the 'Font' option. Then simply type in the words and tap 'Insert'. The words will appear in the top left hand corner with a highlighted box around them you can then place them using the cursors. When you are happy, simply press [Enter]. 

Sketch Text Tool

The Text tool

Sketch icon12. Clipart. For those of you familiar with this particular option, you will know this is a variety of pre-drawn pictures, symbols and logos which can be utilised to make such things as greeting cards, maps or just pictures of your own. The selection available is very useful, although a little limited. These can be manipulated in the same way as anything you draw on screen.

Over to you

Now it's your turn to create something, with this simplified four-step lesson:

Step 1

Before you start attempting perfection, I would strongly recommend that you experiment with the tools available in Sketch. in other words. Play! Having seen the effects of each of the tools, you can then appreciate the advantages and limitations of this package. I must point out at this stage that as with most things, the only real limitations (other than the lack of colour), are down to you, the operator. More importantly you will observe what you need to achieve steps 2 to 4 successfully.

As you draw, take a mental note as to how shapes are formed by the program. For example, a circle is a series of diagonal lines made up of varying multiples of pixels in a symmetrical fashion. This can be observed more closely by using the zoom function. On close examination, all curved shapes/objects take on a very clinical and straight form and the quicker you get to understand this very mathematical and straightedge process, the better your results become.

Step 2

There is an artist in all of us. what kind of an artist is the answer in question. I think I would be correct in saying that everyone can draw at least one thing reasonably well (hopefully something other than the curtains!), be it a three dimensional shape such as a cube, or a two dimensional character. Whatever you are talented enough to achieve on paper, you now have the opportunity to experiment with the same picture using Sketch. Don't worry how long this takes, and don't settle for anything less than you can achieve on paper. Start by drawing the outline of your picture, or if you like, copy my example of a house, with roof, chimney, windows and doors.

Drawing a house

Getting started

This is a simple case of using the Rectangle outline from the toolbar and two diagonal lines. For the chimney stack, I have utilised the thinnest nib, for the diagonal lines of the roof and for the main square of the house, I have used the second thickness down. For the doors and windows, I've used a different technique. Initially, I draw them in the thinnest nib, but then I zoom into each one individually and reinforce the line with a second. This is because the first thickness of nib is one single line and the second is three. Here is a classic example of a limitation of the Sketch application, but it's not something you can't work around with a little patience.

Step 3

Now that you have created something that people can identify, it's time to add detail. Sticking with our example of a house, add features such as crossing the window pains, and maybe a letter box, knocker and handle to the door.

Extra Detail

More detail

Concentrate on getting the proportions visually correct. The best way of drawing the smaller details is by using the zoom function and drawing them pixel by pixel, but be sure to zoom out to check the sizes of your objects.

Zooming in to show extra detail

Zooming in to show more detail

Step 4

Finally it's time for colouring and shading. If it is a brick house you are going to want, then express that by colouring or using a different shade for the bricks from that of the cement, giving your house texture. Shading the window frames will add depth to your picture, and shading the roof gives the appearance of different materials.

Sketch - Finished house

The finished house

Zooming in to extra detail

Zoomed detail

Maximum zoom

Even more detail

Once you have created your artwork, you can of course print it out for posterity, or embed it into a Word, Data or Agenda file, or maybe email or beam it to another Psion user. You can also copy it for use on a PC (in BMP file format) using the BMCONV utility found on the PsiWin CD (PsiWin Information).

Revo / Revo Plus users should note that Sketch is not built-in to the Revo family, but can be downloaded as an add-on application. Psion Software Availability.

Hopefully, this has given you a few ideas, and maybe the incentive to spend some time with Sketch for something other than scribbling. Take the time to explore this application, and by paying attention to detail, you'll be able to create your own works of art yourself.

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