The Slate Iskn Review

The Slate Iskn Review

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The Slate Iskn Review

The Slate Iskn Review

They say that art is subjective. That has probably never been more true than in the 21st century, when the process of drawing and painting has been revolutionized by technology.

Iskn’s “Slate” is a relatively new invention that brings the traditional process of making marks on paper or canvas and the direct translation of those marks into a technological “computer copy” together in one device.

There are philosophical questions galore that come from that idea, and as Iskn is a French company, it has probably already pondered them. Which is the “real” artwork if the paper copy and the computer copy are created for all intents and purposes simultaneously?

Weirdly enough, this artistic question has never seemed to apply to writing – in the dark days before computers, there was a technology that made instantaneous ‘in the moment’ copies of typed manuscripts.

It was called carbon paper, and there was never any philosophical confusion of which was more “real” than the other.

In all fairness, there probably won’t be any such philosophical concerns with the Slate either – it’s simply a way of dual-creating a paper and a computer version of the same work, without the use of photography.

It’s not the first example of this kind of technology – the Wacom Inkling used a clip-on device to mirror what was written or drawn on paper directly and exactly to the computer, so an artist’s style could be precisely represented in the computer version.

Other contenders have followed. So how does the Slate measure up, and what does it bring to artists and note-takers that advances the state of the… erm… art?

At first glance, possibly not very much. The Slate looks much like any other tablet, but look closer and you start to get the idea. There’s a slot for a micro SD card, which can store your images.

There are markers to help align your sheet of paper. And it has buttons that let you create new pages in its memory, like turning over the leaves of a sketchbook.

Clip a sheet of paper in place, download the Imagink software that comes with the Slate, and you’re more or less ready to go.

The Imagink software is not going to set the world on fire with its dazzling sophistication, but then, arguably, sophistication is overrated when you’re launching something relatively new.

It’s pretty usable out of the box, and what you get is a combination of physical art and computer art.

But… is it any good?

It’s certainly an interesting development, but there are issues with it. In the first instance, you can’t record pressure sensitivity with the Slate, which loses you some significant artistic flair and impression.

Compared to the likes of the Wacom, or even the iPencil, that doesn’t feel like a great step forward.

As yet at least, using some of the effects in the Slate don’t deliver genuinely acceptable results – pencil work, for instance, misses out on the subtlety of pressure and shading.

Some others though have an intuitive feel – if you use it in spray paint mode, you do get a difference in color density if you hold the stylus closer to the paper, as you would with a real spray gun.

And in terms of replicating a pen and ink drawing style, the Slate is more successful, because what it will give you is an accurate replication of the thinness or thickness of drawn lines. That makes for an easier style to reproduce.

You don’t have to use the Slate for long to realize all that philosophical meandering was meaningless because crucially, the Slate is not yet sophisticated enough to give you an exact computer replication of what’s on your paper.

At which point, you’re within your rights to wonder whether Iskn has really thought its product through. If you don’t get an exact replication of your art, what is the point?

Oh no. More philosophy.

Of course, on the other hand, it’s arguable that if you wanted an exact carbon copy, you could simply take a print or a photograph and go about your busy artistic day.

So are there advantages to the Slate over, say, just drawing on paper?

Well, yes – it’s much easier to use the slate in ‘screenless mode’ and record your drawings, for uploading to a device later, than it would be to simply sketch on paper and then scan in the drawings.

Remember scanners? Probably, artists are more likely to have one than anyone else in the world, but still – using the Slate saved you from the potential sulks of an ageing technology.

We mentioned note-taking as another example of what the Slate could be useful for, but it’s important to understand that the ability to turn handwriting into data and then replicate it is not a function supported by the Slate, at least on launch.

That’s pretty bizarre, given the increasing state of the art in products like Livescribe, ReMarkable and others.

That said, if you need to take minutes or notes in a hurry, for a lecture or some other purpose, it would probably be easier to do on the Slate than it would on most digital products.

Even thumb-typing on your phone, you’re going to miss a lot of the context simply by virtue of the speed you’d have to go at, and the focus on the screen in front of you, rather than the speaker.

It might be a pain finding the way to translate your notes from the Slate to a digital version, and you’re probably be looking at using a third-party app, rather than the Slate itself to do any uploading, but the simplicity of the intuitive paper-based process would probably get you better and more thorough notes at the end.

Let’s talk about the practicality carrying the Slate around.


Well, it’s not a behemoth of a tablet, but in the days of superlight 2-in-1 machines, the Slate would have to offer distinct paper-based advantages to stop you taking, say, your iPad Air instead, and while there are certain circumstances in which it does offer those advantages, it fails to convince that you’d need it often enough to carry it around with you.

At which point, you again run into the philosophical question of what is it all for?

Well, there are at least a couple of answers to that one. Practical answers, rather than philosophical ones. One of the things that Imagink does better than its predecessor softwares is output.

Once you’ve done your drawings or made your notes, Imagink will give you access to them in any one of a handful of standard digital file formats, which is useful, especially as some formats allow you to further tinker with your images.

That can add new layers to the artistic process, so that’s certainly something in the Slate’s favor – adding a new, technologically-assisted dimension to creation and expression.

That’s ultimately where things stand with the Slate. If you want a technology that will give you an exact carbon copy of your artistic expression, this isn’t it.

But if you want an artistic aid that can potentially give you more options to go beneath the surface of your initial artistic impressions, to merge the in-the-moment mark-making process with the later, considered manipulation of those marks, then the Slate might well have something to offer in the ongoing evolution of art.

Is the Slate perfect? Not by a long way. But it does offer both a creative and almost a romantic tool that can be of use to artists, designers, and even potentially architects.

The traditional notion of sketching your dream house on a cocktail napkin and keeping it till you can recreate it has a certain inevitability in Slate – sketch it on that and it’ll be ready to have layers added when you get home, or to the office!

Further developments of the Slate might well remove some of the clunkiness of this version – pre-set buttons, definable tools, more speed in translating screenless mode images to electronic ones would help its target audience of users right now.

With the ironing out of some bugs – like the lack of support for translating notes into electronic formats – the initial version of the Slate could broaden its appeal significantly.

And to end on a suitably philosophical note, further developments that make it easier for artists to truly render their visions in both paper and digital formats more or less simultaneously would not detract from the purpose of individual art.

It would help those who already create art to have new ways to deepen and expand what they can do with their skills.  

These developments – and others that are maybe three generations of the Slate from being realized, would help to turn it from what is currently a good idea that’s perhaps just a little ahead of its potential and dogged with some clunkiness of application, into something that would be a genuine, regular, easy-to-use help to artists, note-takers, designers, and more.

We may not know much about art, but that’s a development that probably the whole of several creative communities would like.