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Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro: Toronto Salutes a Popular, Homegrown App
The app is a favourite of many, including Marvel, Nike, and Pixar, for its infinite artistic potential and idiot-proof interface

Image: Autodesk

On Saturday, a number of Toronto’s most tech-savvy bigwigs gathered at the Autodesk Canada headquarters to celebrate the homegrown SketchBook Pro, a popular and omnipresent drawing app.

This pressure-sensitive SketchBook Pro helps artists draw and create whatever images they like, using their finger. The app is an official tool used in partnership with Nike, Pixar, Virgin Airlines and Marvel artists. A favourite of many in the design community, the app has seemingly infinite artistic potential — limited only to one’s creative imagination — and an idiot-proof interface.  SketchBook Pro is available for use on graphics tablets, tablet computers and smartphones.

The invite-only event featured lectures from a number of creative types, including Marvel VIPs, renowned Toronto chef Susur Lee, and Nick Pagee of TIFF, to speak to the versatility and accessibility of the product.

Skottie Young, famed Marvel comic book artist and illustrator was instrumental in introducing SketchBook Pro to Marvel. Young, who has worked for Marvel for 10 years, now uses the app to ink all of his story outlines and covers, including his New York Times bestselling series, Marvel’s version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

 “Once I started drawing digitally, I heard about [Sketchbook Pro], and I’ve become evangelical about SketchBook,” said Young. “It’s an amazing product, it feels natural to draw with, and it helps with my process. I use it to draw outlines, then ink until a certain point so I make less mistakes.”

Thanks to Young’s endorsement, most Marvel artists use SketchBook. The app also has an ally in Jay Shuster, an art director and character designer for Pixar. Shuster used the product to draw preliminary character sketches for Wall-E, and as a tool to animate last summer’s Cars 2.

The product, which launched in Toronto decades ago through various incarnations of sketching technology, also features a screenshot tool, and a feature to create flipbooks or animations. SketchBook Pro supports various layers in the Photoshop format, and a number of other advanced drawing tools and software.

“SketchBook Pro was actually developed in Toronto,” said Thomas Heermann, Director of Product Manufacturing for Autodesk. “It’s important for us to stay here, to keep the company in Toronto, because so much strong talent is here. Through that, we got our relationship with [Shuster], and that helps give us a lot of personality.”

The halls of Autodesk are lined with curated SketchBook Pro portraits of employees, as well as original art from their corporate collaborations and celebrated international artists.

Debbie Ohi, a Toronto-based illustrator and writer is certainly an example of the “strong local talent” Heermann was talking about.

Ohi’s next collaboration is illustrating for comedian Michael Ian Black’s new children’s book, I’m Bored, due out this fall. Though Ohi is a SketchBook Pro enthusiast, and uses the software regularly for sketching, but balks at some of its limitations towards creating the final version of her publishable artwork.

“SketchBook Pro does not work in high enough resolution,” said Ohi. “It’s also not CMYK compatible, but I love it. All of my early sketches were done on Sketchbook Pro.”

The SketchBook Pro app is available to all iPad, iPhone and other tablet users, for a $4.99 fee. A free version of the app, SketchBook Express, is also available, but with limited functionality.

Still, the product, one of the world’s most popular and easiest to use drawing applications, as evidenced through its famed collaborations, is growing even more prevalent as more artists adopt the digital artistic process.

This swelling of esteem and recognition for the SketchBook Pro will only continue to grow alongside Wednesday’s launch of the iPad 3.

Joanna Adams writes the Morning Cable, and lots more, for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at ‏ @nowstarringTO.

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