There has never been so many ways to draw and paint digitally as there are today. Whether you’re drawing on an industry standard pen display tablet like the Wacom Cintiq, inking your comic using Manga Studio on a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, or using the Procreate app on an iPad Pro the last few years have seen an explosion in potential applications and hardware geared towards direct manipulation of your art with a stylus on a screen.
How did we get here? What was it like for the digital arts pioneers in the earliest days as these tools and technologies were being developed? Let’s take a brief look at two of the highlights of digital drawing and painting history: the Rand Tablet and how it led the way for the development of the Quantel Paintbox.
The Rand Tablet: 1964
This early stylus based computer interface was developed at the Rand Corporation in the 1960s. In the 1987 video above Alan Kay reminisces and shares a snippet of late ’60s footage demonstrating the Rand Tablet.
The Quantel Paintbox: 1981
Do you have your CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor powered on? What about your Quantel Paintbox system? Make sure that the cable that runs from the system to your stylus doesn’t get tangled in your desk chair.
It took quite a while for the technology demonstrated with the Rand Tablet to show up in the type of hardware that people outside of well funded university computer science departments and major computer research & development divisions could actually use. The Quantel Paintbox was introduced in 1981 and was originally used primarily for creating broadcast television graphics.
The distinctive look of early television video graphics of the ’80s comes from the Quantel paintbox. In the image below you can see how a graphic artist could use maps printed in a book to trace the outline of continents for a television graphic:
Later in the 80s a version of the system was developed to create print quality graphics.
In the video below artist David Hockney uses the Paintbox Workstation for the first time:
The Paintbox fell out of favor in the early 1990s as accessories and peripherals made by other manufacturers could be connected with a standard Windows PC or Apple Mac and achieve the same results.