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The uDraw Fans You've Never Heard About

uDraw may not have become the phenomenon THQ was hoping for, but that doesn't mean it didn't find an audience of appreciative owners.

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A painting by Connie Deng, partially made with the uDraw, then polished up on Deng's computer.
A painting by Connie Deng, partially made with the uDraw, then polished up on Deng's computer.

If THQ doesn’t exist a year from now, it won’t be uDraw’s fault. But it may have been enough to teeter it, a $100 million bet that spectacularly backfired as THQ finally turned around creatively.

Worse, the uDraw actually seems neat, if hobbled and misguided.

Based on headlines alone, it would seem logical to assume nobody is using a uDraw, except sites like us discovering we’ve had one buried in the office for weeks. But just like anything else in the world, the uDraw has fans, and despite recent events, THQ has continued to highlight that community, especially on Facebook.

World of uDraw is the central hub for uDraw on Facebook, and currently has 136,783 fans.

The uDraw launched on Wii in fall 2010, and experienced enough success for THQ to produce more content for its quirky peripheral on Nintendo’s platform, and to work out plans for a version of the simple, cheap tablet to debut on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

The accessory launched in November, no one bought it, and THQ has 1.4 million unsold uDraw tablets in warehouses, now forced to ponder how to get rid of them. The device is responsible for turning what should have been a promising THQ financial quarter into a disastrous one. Poor Saints Row: The Third.

But there are surprising uses for the uDraw, such as a controller for players with physical disabilities.

"As a tool for therapeutic use I would recommend it if person enjoys drawing, it’s a simpler interface than software like Coreldraw," wrote assistive technology reviewer Kati Lea, after evaluating the original uDraw on Wii. "I don’t think I will be producing masterpieces but if it keeps the connections working between my hands and my brain I think it would have been worth the money (if I had bought it myself!)."

There are less surprising but no less interesting uses, like engaging very young children.

"At aged two and four this proved to be the best game from our selection and he kids happily took turns and played with it," said an unnamed blogger at Being A Mummy, also talking about the Wii version. "In fact they have been playing at at every opportunity since. I thought it looked very basic but they loved it. It's hard to find a game which is so suitable for this age group and requires very little adult intervention. This is that game."

And, of course, there are artists.

Connie Deng is a senior illustration student at the Art Institute of Boston, and I found her by through the World of uDraw community. She does own a uDraw, though she didn’t pay for it. Speaking over email, Deng told me she found a uDraw ad on Facebook, which was promoting a contest to win free uDraws. As she’s about to graduate, the prospect of getting free games sounded pretty great, doubly so if the hardware itself could integrate into her work.

“The commercial for it was pretty cool,” she said, “and while it looked like it was for kids/folks that like to draw or make art, I saw a lot of potential for it to become a professional artist medium, like Adobe Creative Suite.”

For example, since the uDraw connects to a television, the screen size is much bigger, which would allow Deng to have a closer view of her work without having to always zoom in and out, ala Photoshop.

When the tablet showed up, she put the device through its paces and came away impressed for what it actually could accomplish, despite her experience with much more advanced (and much more expensive) tablets from companies like Wacom. It edges close enough that she has some pretty nuanced criticisms about the uDraw.

“I have an issue with it being sensitive to ‘finger painting,’” she said. “It can be fun, but it also has a drawback for when I want to use my pinky to rest or help pivot the motion of my hand when I draw. The pinky thing is a classical technique and many artists use it so you could imagine it can become annoying.”

One of the more common complaints on the Facebook page are related to the pen being tethered to the tablet, but as someone who has lost countless DS styluses over the years, I can see a good argument for it. So can Deng.

“Even sometimes I lose my pen form my Wacom Bamboo tablet and I get a mini heart attack trying to find it,” she said.

Since uDraw places a limit on drawing time--35 minutes--Deng finds herself using the tablet on simpler pieces, despite her traditional attention to detail in her work. Often, she’ll leverage a uDraw for sketching and blocking, then bring what she’s worked on into software like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Corel Painter to touch up.

Great drawing of Scorpion using a uDraw, or greatest drawing of Scorpion using a uDraw?
Great drawing of Scorpion using a uDraw, or greatest drawing of Scorpion using a uDraw?

While Deng’s training to become a professional artist, she had advice for wanna-be painters that find themselves with a uDraw, such as collectors buying up the soon-to-be-cheap devices.

She happily recommended uDraw as an entry level tablet, and pointed to art history books as a stepping stone. Next, pick a piece to imitate and treat the 35-minute limit as an exercise. If you’re looking for tutorials outside of uDraw, knowing that uDraw’s tools focus on a “painterly” style will point you in the right direction.

“The only other art tablet/digital art stuff is really expensive compared to the uDraw game and tablet,“ she said, “so unless that person really likes art or is a professional artist then I'd tell them to stick to uDraw.”

Given how much funding is drying up for arts education, Deng wishes there were more online tutorials provided by THQ, but with the company already saying it won't produce anymore uDraw games, that seems unlikely.

I’ve collected some of the best stuff from uDraw’s Facebook page into a gallery below. You can continue to follow Deng's work over at her personal blog. If you’ve made any of your own pieces with a uDraw, let me know.

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Patrick Klepek on Google+