Monday 5 March 2012

iPad art and the making of the mark

Technology is a wonderful thing, and occasionally a gadget comes on the market which is a real game-changer, and the latest of these to arrive at Paleo Illustrata is the iPad.  I've had it for around six months now and it's become a vital tool that makes doing art, work and science productive when away from the desktop. I'm typing this post on it now.

As an old-school graphic designer I've never really been that taken with the input devices available for drawing and painting on computers. I like pen and paper (see this post on sketch books for more). The mouse is fine for pointing and clicking, works great with bezier curves but makes a poor drawing tool. Tablets are better but still seem to make the drawing or painting process feel slightly detached from the artist. The iPad changes all this however. Combined with a stylus the iPad makes for an excellent painting and drawing too. Painting directly on the screen makes the experience seem very immediate, and it's positively pleasurable to be able to punish paint around on the screen. One of the device's leading advocates is the English painter David Hockney, who paints on his iPad and then prints the results out in large format.

Valley of Fire, Nevada. Painted by the author on an iPad2 using Procreate.

There are several painting and drawing apps on the market that are worth looking at. Brushes (£5.49) is Hockney's app of choice and indeed it is a very capable application, featuring layers and blending modes. Inspire pro (£5.49) is popular, again featuring layers and a wide range of brushes. My personal favourite is Procreate (69p at the moment - grab it now!), which allows HD size painting, includes layers and a wide range of brushes. However, Procreate is given a run for its money by the excellent Sketchbook Pro (£2.99) made by Autodesk. This app has a superb range of drawing and painting tools and is capable of high-quality results. Giant graphic sauropod Adobe have also weighed in recently with their tablet version of Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Touch (£6.99). I havent tried this yet so cant comment but hopefully the app avoids the bloatware behemoth syndrome of its desktop cousins.

3D modelling application 123d Sculpt (free) takes the iPad's tactile approach to interaction and allows the user to pull geometry around as if was clay. This approach works very well and whilst it's not in the same league as professional desktop 3D apps it is ideal as a sort of 3D doodler, and what's more is it's free.

There are many photography apps available from the AppStore, and in truth I tend to process images on my desktop in Photoshop. I mentioned earlier that Adobe has Photoshop Touch available, but I use Snapseed (£2.99) which has a range of effects and enhancement options, and is more than enough for tablet use, although I suspect that will change as the iPad develops.

Art is about making a mark. The marks an artist makes are how they define themselves, how they communicate. The iPad makes you feel like you are making a mark because of the immediacy of it's feedback; as you paint the colour appears under your stylus or finger. You can organize colour palettes quickly, get down big daubs of paint to block out composition and tonal range. Its far from perfect, but for the first time a piece of technology has come along that complements the other tools I use in my research, art and day job.


  1. I received an iPad as part of a promotion about a week ago, and the first thing I wanted to do was see what kind of art applications were available. After reading a bunch of reviews, I went with ArtRage ($6.99 until March 11), and I like it fairly well. But for 99¢ (and with your endorsement) I'll give Procreate a go. And 123d Sculpt seems like a no brainer. Thanks for the reviews!

  2. I've never used ArtRage, and would be interested in your opinion after using it.

  3. I'm really enjoying it so far. The interface is easy to use, and different tools (paintbrush, watercolor, chalks, etc.) act and can be manipulated like they would in real life. There are some other neat little features, like allowing for reference images to be "pinned" to your virtual work space, and the option of painting on canvases of different texture. The only downside is that it doesn't do high definition, so when you try to do details, your working with individual pixels. All and all, I'm still satisfied with the purchase.