After my MAMA talk a few days ago, many people were curious how I made my slides. The short version: I drew them with a tablet in an SVG editor, and I recommend it! Details below.


I use an Intuos Art, medium size, which I got specifically for this purpose. Its only fancy feature is pressure sensitivity, but this is enough for my simple drawings. Drawing on the tablet while looking at the computer screen takes some getting used to. The tablet has a grid of dots that make it feasible to draw while looking at the tablet rather than the screen, which I found easier for shapes with lots of right angles. I’d consider getting a Surface or iPad Pro in the future to be able to see more directly what I’m drawing.


There are two steps to making the slides: drawing pictures and assembling them with text as a presentation. I did not find any tool that was good at both, but I did find a pair that works well.

I use Autodesk Graphic for drawing and Keynote for slides. The key feature of this pair is that you can copy and paste any selected part of a drawing directly from Graphic into Keynote—no exporting or importing required! This is invaluable for iterating quickly. I would have needed maybe 50 files if I had to export and import each animated component individually, plus an extra 10 or so from slides that got cut.

Here are some other programs I tried.

  • PowerPoint seems to work with Graphic well, too.
  • I actually found the most paper-like drawing experience in raster (pixel-by-pixel) art programs like Corel Painter (a version of which comes bundled with the Intuos Art), but I’m willing to put up with a little clunkiness to produce SVGs (scalable vector graphics).
  • Inkscape could maybe replace Graphic on Windows or Linux, but on my Mac, I could only copy-paste raster images from it. I think this is some sort of Pateboard-CLIPBOARD incompatibility.
  • Curiously, OneNote creates vector graphics while feeling as natural as the raster programs. However, I couldn’t copy-paste vector drawings from OneNote into Keynote, PowerPoint, Preview, or anything else I tried. For instance, when pasting into PowerPoint, the image gets rasterized. The workaround is clunky and involves exporting and importing.
  • Xournal also creates vector graphics and has a good drawing feel, but it doesn’t use smooth curves in its paths, which makes it look worse than Graphic and OneNote.

Here are some more details about how I use Graphic.

  • I use the brush tool in Graphic with 10% smoothing. This works pretty well, but I have to try drawing each shape a few times. When a shape comes out well except for a small part, I sometimes manually tweak it with the path tool.
  • I use lots of layers in Graphic to break up drawings into pieces. If a complicated drawing has a complicated animation, each stage of the animation gets its own layer at the very least.
    • Graphic makes it very easy to select all objects that live in an arbitrary subset of layers, so parts of the drawing that are common to multiple animation stages each get their own layer, too.
    • For example, the animation on slide 2 has 7 layers. In order: the queue, jobs, speech bubbles, one for each of the red, green, and blue distributions, and the coordinate axes.
    • Some of my layers collect many small utility drawings. One of them has several arrows and curly braces, for instance.
  • I made a previous presentation by drawing each slide individually in Graphic. This worked okay, but each slide being a separate file made it too cumbersome to make animations.


I find that tablet-drawn slides give a presentation a friendly vibe while keeping a crisp look. Perhaps more importantly, it reduces the activation energy (for me, at least) of including pictures and animations. After finding the right setup, I’m now faster drawing pictures in Graphic than building similar diagrams directly in PowerPoint or Keynote (or—shudder—TikZ). If you give this approach a try, let me know how it goes!