How good is the new Apple Pencil? An illustrator tries it out
It may not feel exactly like using a pencil and paper, but the Apple Pencil is accessible, intuitive and easy to use. Draw your own conclusions
The Apple Pencil is a cursed product, haunted by a single Steve Jobs quote from 2010: “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”
Jobs thought that the stylus, a pen-like device used to write or draw directly on a digital screen, was a useless appendage. If you couldn’t operate a device with only your fingertips, the design was flawed. This may be the real reason behind the very literal design of the Apple Pencil. Apple seems to have deliberately designed its latest accessory to look, feel and function like a creative tool – and not the technological appendage that Jobs famously hated.
The new Pencil is exclusive to the iPad Pro, introduced last year with a 12.9-inch screen – Apple has since announced a 9.7-inch version. The Pencil is intended to let everyone from amateur artists to creative professionals draw on their tablets as freely as if they were putting pencil to paper.
I tested it out and discovered that despite its simple purpose, the Pencil could not be more complex; in its attempt to harness the effortless beauty of the elementary writing and drawing instrument, Apple has crafted its own magic wand.
In order to mirror the process of illustration, the Pencil has to interpret the hand of the artist for the computer. Its job is to digitally replicate the act of drawing itself, which depends on a seamless connection between the hand, the instrument and the page (or the screen).
It doesn’t feel like drawing with a pencil. It feels a lot like drawing on an iPad, which is like drawing on a sheet of glass with a piece of plastic while having bright light beamed into your eyes.
It’s not even the best tool for digital illustration – that’d be the Wacom tablet, used by professional artists and illustrators. But that doesn’t mean the Pencil is useless. For many amateur artists, Wacom is out of reach. It’s too expensive and intricate. Apple’s Pencil, in contrast, is accessible, intuitive and easy to use.
Apple’s Pencil is very impressive and precise, but at the end of the day, it’s a secondary tool designed to work with the latest incarnation of one of its most profitable products.
Which brings me to my biggest problem with the Apple Pencil, which isn’t the Pencil at all, it’s the gigantic expensive iPad Pro you need in order to use it. For me, the iPad Pro is the breaking point in an endless parade of incrementally sized rectangles I need to resist buying. Looking at my iMac, beside my MacBook, beside my iPad mini, beside my iPhone, I cannot bear the thought of saving up to add one more step to this ridiculous Russian doll collection of Apple products. Not until, once again, they magically convince me that it is absolutely necessary.
The important caveat to all of this is that, yes, I did draw illustrations with a loaner iPad Pro and Apple Pencil right out of the box, having never touched one before. If Apple’s new stylus was not at least close to the responsiveness I’m used to with my Wacom, this assignment would have been a total disaster.
That said, whenever I consider adding a new digital tool to my arsenal I’m careful to think about what I’m trying to replace and why.
I’m not a luddite, and I don’t believe in any real hierarchy between traditional and digital artwork. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think man has ever made another tool as humanly responsive as the paintbrush, and maybe never will. It’s possible Jobs would agree.
Chloe Cushman is an illustrator based in Toronto