Dienstag, 8. März 2016

Professional Online Whiteboarding

My job involves explaining and discussing all sorts of things to people who are almost always situated remotely. Particularly, I like sketching and drawing - that's what we software people do at the end of the day: planing, discussing and implementing boxes and arrows between them.

Shortcomings Of Builtin Tools
For a while I tried to use the builtin whiteboard tools together with the mouse as drawing device. This was inconvenient for a couple of reasons:
  • drawn lines where usually quite edgy and appeared not natural
  • Microsoft Lync (nowedays Skype for Business) had some lag when I tried the whiteboard there
  • I never managed to freehand draw nicely with the mouse

Inspired By A Worldwide Math Trainer
At the end, I never used the builtin drawing facilities because I felt so limited. To overcome this I had a look what other people where doing. I ended up with a similar setup like the Khan Academy:
Note: The Wacom Bamboo series of tablet is discontinued and is succeeded by the Intuos series.

Since I wasn't sure if this whole tablet drawing thing works out for me I went for a cheap used Wacom Bamboo One tablet which I bought for 15 € off ebay.

A Cheap Wacom Bamboo Tablet Is All To Get You Started
Using The Drawing Tools
Software wise I kicked off with SmoothDraw which is not a bad choice since it is free and it doesn't require admin rights for its installation.

These days I use the free edition of Autodesk Sketchbook more often. Compared to SmoothDraw the same (limited) drawings of mine look much nicer here. Also the editing tools are way better with Sketchbook. For example, they have a Lasso selection which lets you draw the selected area and than easily move, turn or resize it.

Pressing TAB toogles between the blank canvas and the tool bars. This is nice when presenting: To get the audiences full attention I usually present inside the blank canvas. Only when I need to change a tool or setting plus I can't remember the hotkey I quickly press TAB to get all the menus and then TAB again to return to the blank canvas.

Talking about hotkeys or keyboard shortcuts: To become a fluent presenter it is advisable to know how to change between tools and colors by only using the keyboard. When I present, I draw with my right hand and use the left hand for pressing the hotkeys.

Airbrush For Visual Quick Wins
Beside the pressure sensitive pen tip I really do love the airbrush tool. Once I am done with my boxes and arrows I highlight the important parts with a subtle colored airbrush. These makes to end result much more appealing and it is so simple to do.

Post Production With Gimp
No matter what drawing tool I am using, I never use the full size of the canvas. Actually, I like to get started with a large canvas just to be sure I don't need to limit myself later on.

When I want to share the results of a drawing session I usually export the images to png and then import it into Gimp. There I cut the canvas to the actual size of the image. Also I downscale the image to a size usable for online purposes.

For this I zoom the image to a satisfying size (in percent). I then go to "Image > Scale Image". There I change the size unit from px to percent. I then enter the desired percentage I previously found out by zooming into the image.

When I am done I usually use the "Export to original image" option (can't remember the right name) to overwrite my png with a version of the right size.

I started my drawing experiment over a year ago. When I got the tablet I spend some evenings at home listening to good music and drawing (not only) boxes and arrows. This is also an advice for you: drawing with a tablet needs some time to get used to it. For enough self confidence for your free drawing presentation you better spend some time training which by the way is good fun anyway.

For me these 15 € together with the evenings of good music and drawing training have paid off more than once. In a world of over designed Powerpoint presentations it makes a difference when you build up a topic just with the power of a pen.