Art Academy Sketchpad - Wii U Review

Wii U Artists Get a Fun New Toy

My girlfriend Laurel looks better than my Art Academy sketch of her, but that's not Nintendo's fault. Charles Herold from a photo by Lynn Redmille


Pros: Nice recreation of sketching tools, compliments from the Miiverse.
Cons: Changing pencils more awkward than in real life, paper stock choices all look basically the same.

Nowadays a drawing program is generally thought of as something where you can make straight lines by setting two points, or copy and repeat an image, or fill an area with color at the click of a button. That’s not what Nintendo’s Art Academy Sketchpad is. Sketchpad patterns itself after the kind of drawing I did in art classes in high school; pencils of various darknesses, a paper tool to smear the graphite, a couple of erasers. This is a true drawing program, and one that lets me see what happens to a promising art student’s skill when he hasn’t drawn in decades.

Developed by: Headstrong Games
Published by: Nintendo
Genre: Drawing app
For ages: All
Platform: Wii U (eShop)
Release Date: August 9, 2013



The Basics: Pre-Computer Art Tool Design

Sketchpad is made up of some of the drawing tools of the Art Academy DS games. While these games were focused on teaching drawing, Sketchpad offers no lessons, although it does offer a few photographs you can display on the television while you draw.

You draw, of course, on the gamepad. Sketchpad has three sets of drawing tools; graphite pencils, colored pencils, and pastels. All offer a choice of thickness. You can use all three sets in one drawing, but when you switch from one tool set to another, everything you've drawn so far is made permanent, which is mildly bothersome.

All tool sets also offer access to two different types of eraser (putty or square) and a tortillon, aka blending stump (Art Academy calls it a smudge stick, which is actually a whole other thing).

With these tools, you draw. There is no copy, there is no paste, there is no undo. It’s just like putting pencil to paper, except that if the base of your hand brushes the touch screen you don’t smear your drawing but instead draw lines on it, which is worse.


Comparison: Sketchpad Versus Old-School Pencil and Paper

In some ways, drawing the old fashioned way is better. You can switch tools more quickly, you have more control over the exact thickness of a line and your tortillon picks up graphite in a way that allows you to smudge far more effectively than with Sketchpad. This last was a big issue for me, as back in high school I spent a lot of time smoothing out my pencil marks. Also, in Sketchpad there is nothing onscreen to remind you of your current tool, and at times I would actually forget whether I was holding a pencil or an eraser or a tortillon.

In other ways drawing on the Wii U is a step up. Erasers never get dirty, pencils never need sharpening, and when you’re finished you can upload your drawing to the Miiverse and bask in the approving glow of your fellow artists. I posted a drawing of my girlfriend (which she says makes her look ugly) on the Miiverse just so I could download it to my PC, but by doing so I gained an audience, and I started getting “yeahs” on the sketch, which made me feel better about it. And looking at the other artwork (which heavily draws on game characters and anime, especially from Japan’s Wii U artists), I realized that there is something really compelling about joining a community and exchanging compliments. It makes me want to draw for the first time in a long time


The Verdict: A Must-Have For Sketch Artists

Eventually Nintendo will release a full version of Art Academy which will include lessons, but if you already know how to draw, or think you can figure it out, then for $4 you can get Sketchpad and draw to your heart’s content. Inspired, I plan to continue working on my skills, hoping that maybe, with time, I can once again be the artist I was at 17.

Update: Nintendo has since released their full art app, Art Academy: Home Studio, and has subsequently withdrawn Sketchpad. I haven't tried Home Studio, but if you want to buy it and own Sketchpad you'll get $4 off the $30 price.


Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.