Monday, April 30, 2012

The Sensu Brush: A Stroke Of Genius

Many iPad and iPhone stylus designers try to inspire. And most of them come up short. The Cregle iPen comes to mind. The iPen is one step above junk. The low-tech Targus Stylus beats it.

So it only stands to reason that when someone came up with an idea even more ambitious — to create a better paint brush that works with the iPad — we set our expectations appropriately low. It turns out that we never needed to settle. The Sensu Brush will change the way you think about art apps.

The Sensu Brush as a well-designed stylus.

The Sensu Brush is a stylus is housed in a chrome-plated container reminiscent of the Fisher Space Pen bullet as conceived by the late Paul C. Fisher. The housing has several practical benefits: it protects the brush, makes the stylus smaller for portability, and extends the length of the brush for balance.

Closed, it can be employed as a traditional malleable rubber-tipped stylus, similar to the Targus and other stylus designs. While the Targus tip has more density, creating more intuitive, resistent, and precise lines, the Sensu tip comes very close to perfect.

Once you have a feel for how much pressure to apply, it works as well as any of the better stylus designs on the market. So, other than density, the quality is nearly identical. It won't tear, rip, or become deformed like many cheap models are known to do. And overall, the Sensu Brush feels right with a little more weight and the cool, graceful curve of an elongated chrome bullet.

The magic begins when you use it as a brush.  

With three easy steps, the stylus transforms into the best paint brush on the market. Open the bullet, flip the brush, and reattach to the base. The balance and overall feeling of the brush is perfect, a testament to the experience that Artist Hardware has in designing and inventing traditional art supplies.

The soft, fine bristles of the Sensu Brush look indistinguishable to a fine arts paint brush with a tapered, sightly rounded end. This also creates a little more precision than the Nomad Brush design did last year, evolving the concept of a digital brush to the next generation. The silicone grip is a nice touch too.

The brush glides effortlessly over the iPad screen, without any concern for pressure. And while it cannot duplicate the feel of a brush (e.g., the weight of paint or coarse resistance of some canvas), the Sensu Brush is about as close at it gets to a traditional fine arts feel in the digital age.

When used in conjunction with art applications ranging from our favorites like ArtRage or SketchBook Pro, the experience is as close as you can get to the real thing. In addition to the video put out by artist Matt Lynaugh and Artist Hardware (above) using ArtRage, I was also struck by one of the first illustrations shared by artist Raul Allen (below).

Allen is a fine artist living in Spain who does illustration work for a number of select book publishers and magazines, including Rolling Stone. He initially did a series of quick portrait sketches as soon as his Sensu Brush arrived and tweeted them. His favorite, Vanessa Grimes, was shared on this blog.

Like more artists and illustrators, Allen doesn't expect that his digital illustrations will replace fine arts in entirety. But he admits not having to clean up after painting a portrait is definite benefit. His work speaks for itself, including those subtle lines that look even more like a brush.

The story of the Sensu Brush was not without suspense.

Many developers, especially those that launch on Kickstarter, create striking prototypes that need adjustments during manufacturing. And the story of the Sensu Brush, like many of them, was not perfect. It took six months to modify the prototype during production, much longer than anyone wanted.

In this case, however, backers didn't mind so much because Artist Hardware kept everyone up to date. The first issue was the quality of the conductive brush hair. The second issue was the silicone grip. And the third issue, which was heartbreak on Valentine's Day, caused the company to reject the first 3,200 brushes.

While the brushes themselves had worked, some came loose at the junction of the silicone handle and cuff. Artist Hardware did feel some pressure to deliver, but everyone agrees the wait was worth it. I mention some of the setbacks because it demonstrates Artist Hardware's commitment to quality.

Many developers simply pass along products that are less than perfect with a shrug. Artist Hardware wasn't willing to pass along less than perfect and we're grateful. This is a fine artist instrument that happens to be made for the iPad and other touchscreen tablets. Amazing.

The Sensu Brush By Artist Hardware Paints 9.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Sensu Brush is expected to make its general public debut in May. It was developed by Artist Hardware, which is a design consultancy that creates consumer products for artists. It takes great care in the products it delivers, and the Sensu Brush is one of the first it owns for itself.

As part of the initial launch, the Sensu Brush will be sold exclusively on the consultancy's Sensu website. It will retail for about $40. As more retail outlets are added, we'll update the page. Do take care putting the brush back in its housing. The last thing you will want to do is bend the bristles.

I received one of the early Sensu Brushes as a Kickstater backer. My only regret is that I didn't order more than one. The Sensu Brush is an exceptional example of inventiveness and innovation.
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