Drawing by Myfawy tristram. Two goths sit in a bedroom. One holds up a hoodie with a skull design on it.

Technical woes

Last week I’d just started on Page 73 of Satin and Tat; this week I am in exactly the same place. I did say I was going to take some time off the graphic memoir to work on a commission, but I haven’t done that either, because I have technical woes.

I’ve been using Photoshop Elements 13 on my Surface Book quite happily for all the work I’ve done on Satin and Tat so far. Elements is a cut down version of Photoshop and crucially, it’s available as a one-purchase download, so you don’t have to subscribe to Creative Cloud to use it. As a hobbyist who doesn’t make money from her artwork, I just can’t justify the CC subscription cost. Elements 13 is creaky and old: there have been many new versions since, but you know what? It was working for me.

Then suddenly last week, my Surface Book failed. At first I thought it was the charger – I’ve been through three of them, they’re a terrible design and they do have a habit of suddenly not working – but no, it turned out to be the machine as a whole.

THANK GOODNESS I’ve been saving all my work. Can you imagine if I hadn’t? Over two years’ worth of pages, more hours’ work than I can even begin to quantify, gone in a flash. Fortunately I am a worrier, so each time I finished a page I would save it to an external hard drive, both as a jpg and as the Photoshop file with all the layers intact; and for the sake of belt and braces I also upload the jpg to Google Drive.

Quite a few of the early pages are also in my Gmail somewhere, as for a while I was emailing them to myself from my laptop to add the lettering on my desktop PC, but although this is a further safety net I wouldn’t really fancy the job of going through all my attachments to work out which ones were the finished versions. Let’s leave that to the Myfanwy Tristram archivists that I like to fondly, if misguidedly, imagine will be studying my work over the next few millenia.

Now, I really am super lucky in that my workplace shoulder most of the cost of a new laptop when the old one dies. I use it for my day job, and it was a real lightbulb moment four and a bit years ago when I realised I could combine the workplace stipend with a bit of extra money from my own funds and end up with a high performance but affordable drawing device. For those who don’t know – the Surface is a touchscreen laptop, but the screen can be detached and then it becomes a tablet that you can use with a Surface pen, a bit like the Apple iPad.

So far so good: the lush new Surfacebook 3 arrived in my mitts and I started transferring over as much as I could; redownloading Elements from my Adobe profile and scouting out the fonts and brushes I’ve purchased to reinstall them as well.

And then, here’s where the problem became apparent. The Surface Pen just doesn’t work in Elements on the Surface Book 3. You can use it to access all the menus, etc, but if you try to draw with it. the line either shoots out erratically, or it draws somewhere approximately two inches to the right of where the nib is touching the screen.

Ehhh, I will save you all the details, but it’s been the usual modern dystopian scenario of scouring support forums, trying different remedies while worrying about their validity and whether running scripts or disabling various drivers will destroy your brand new machine, chatting to robots and sometimes real people from Adobe and Microsoft, and getting no further.

I did find one tip though. If you’re talking to a chatbot and they say something like ‘That product is no longer supported’, and you answer “aaaaaaaarrrraagaahhhhhh” – they put you through to a human being.

“You seem upset,” says the harried little bot. “Let me pass you off to a sentient being who understands emotion”. OK, it’s a little embarrassing to then sit there while the operator says “I’m just going to scan the conversation so far” but a price worth paying, I think.

So… I’m trying to stay calm. The commission is not at risk: I can use Affinity Photo for that. The Surface Pen is working in every other program, and a couple of months ago Dan Berry recommended Affinity as a cheap way of getting a Photoshop-like program that can export in CMYK, ready for print. I’ve used it for one previous piece of work and I like it; it’s intuitive for anyone who’s already used Photoshop.

Why not switch Satin and Tat over to Affinity too? Well, I might have to, but I’m a bit nervous about the look and feel of my artwork suddenly changing half way through, since I’d be using different brushes (I….think? As I write this I suddenly find myself wondering whether you can actually import PS brushes into Affinity, given they are so alike). I can import my colour palette swatches and fonts, with a small amount of faff, I think. I might just have to try it and see what happens.

So it’s not the end of the world, but it is blinkin’ annoying and has prevented me from doing any artwork at all this week. I mean, yes, I did consider going back to paper for a while there, but paper doesn’t have the undo function, does it?

2 comments

  1. Feel for you. Although I think of you as something more than a hobbyist! I am not a professional but know the frustration and problem solving called out by technical lightning strikes plus the search for a decent level software that is free or affordable or indeed as you say even a one-off purchase these days. (I have freeversion Krita for digital drawing.)
    I hope all of your wheels are over the bump in the road now :)

    • Thank you for your understanding and empathy! I have just followed up my thought about importing all my brushes from Photoshop into Affinity Photo and hallelujah, it appears to have worked! So I’m a happier bunny now.

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