3 Ways To Use Your iPad For Your Art

Ikh Nart argali head study
1. Ikh Nart argali head study

An iPad is not a substitute for traditional media. It’s its own media and can let you make images that wouldn’t be possible any other way. But it can also be used for some of the same things as pencils or pens and paper. Here are three ideas on how to do that, all using my current favorite app ArtRage.

1. Color and detail studies- One can do a fairly finished study drawing to learn a subject, its form, structure, proportions and colors. If I do a painting of this argali, I’ll already know it pretty well and can concentrate on my brushwork. I like how easy it is to make corrections, zoom in and out and keep working layer after layer until I get what I’m after.

Mongol horse running
Mongol horse running

2. Preliminary study sketches- The iPad is great for sketching and finding out if a reference animal draws well. This is a horse I saw last year. I did one sketch of the whole animal,then zoomed in to do a close-up of the head and finally moved down to do the two front legs. Once again, it’s not that this can’t be done with pencil and paper, but the iPad offers other tools like a watercolor brush that would easily let me, for example, add a watercolor wash for the shadow areas. There’s also an eraser tool for making changes or cleaning up lines. It’s also convenient not to have to scan anything. The drawings are already digitized.

Mongol bokh thumbnails
Mongol bokh thumbnails

3. Thumbnails- ArtRage works just fine for doing thumbnail sketches for working out composition ideas, like these two bokh, or Mongol elk species, fighting it out during the rut. They were way up on a hillside and as they bugled and sparred, with cows and calves  running past them. It took only a few minutes to do these six ideas, using the pencil tool with a light warm grey color for the marks. That’s another nice feature. You can do drawings like this in any color and easily change the color.

New iPad Drawings Using A New App, ArtRage!

An artist friend and colleague, Guy Combes, just told me about a iPad art app called ArtRage. So of course I had to buy it and try it. Below are a few of my first pieces using it.

ArtRage provides tools that correspond to all the regular media and tools artists use…pencils, brushes, pastels, pens, palette knife, airbrush and also chalk and crayons. You can also pick your “paper”. The app is designed for the tools to make the same kind of marks on the different virtual papers that they would on real papers and canvas.

I think it’s a good complement to Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, which is more illustration oriented in terms of the tools it offers. ArtRage is definitely targeted towards fine artists. But both can be easily and productively used by either depending on what one wants to do. I like having both! Here’s what I’ve done using Sketchbook Pro.

So far, I’ve only messed with the watercolor brush on watercolor “paper”. I’m interested in being able to use my iPad for location painting in addition to sketching and I think this will work, once I get the hang of it.

Young horse
Neighborhood sheep
White-napped crane, Bronx Zoo

Mongolia Monday- New iPad Drawings Of Mongolian Animals

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the Sketchbook Pro app for my iPad. It works well for fast location sketching, but I’ve been wanting to see how I could use it for more finished work.

I keep the iPad with me in the living room and I have a lot of photos from my latest Mongolia trip on my MacBook Pro. So it’s easy to sit and work while a football game is on.

I’ve settled on just a couple of the drawing tools to keep it simple for now as I learn how to use other features like the size of the line and how opaque or transparent it is.

The one thing I have found is that it is difficult to do animal heads that are small because the size of the stylus end makes it hard to do small strokes for features like eyes. But I managed. I’ll definitely be taking the iPad to Mongolia again next year for location work.

Juvenile cinereous vulture, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, August 2011
Cashmere goat, Khan Khentii Mountains, August 2011
Yak, Burget Uul, August 2011
Argali ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, August 2010

Mongolia 2011 Location Sketches

Little by little I’m getting caught up, but there are a couple of really interesting irons in the fire that I’ll be posting about in the weeks ahead that have taken a fair amount of email time.

In the meantime, there’s this trip I just took, during which I managed to find some sketching time, both in my journal and in my iPad.

First are the ones I did in my Moleskin sketch journal. They were pretty much all done in five minutes or less for the small ones and maybe twenty for the one that crosses both pages. Some were done during lunch stops, some at camp between drives. The cows and sheep were done at the home ger of my driver, where I got to stay overnight. That wonderful experience will rate its own post:

...we're going and that's ok.

Since no one pestered me while I did the above sketch, I got out my iPad and did a couple more quick studies.

Parliament Building
Three of a large group of women who were meeting on the square, some wearing beautiful del

Before we left on our “wildlife tour”, Pokey and I had time to wander around UB. I took her to the Museum of the Chojin Lama. Since I had been in the temples before, I got out my iPad and did a little sketching of a few of the statues flanking the entry stairs of the main temple.

New iPad Sketches From The Oakland Zoo

I was down in the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend and got a chance to spend a couple of hours at the Oakland Zoo with family. This was my first chance to use the iPad for drawing live, wild animals. It was sunny and warm. In fact, I believe San Francisco hit a new record high, 80F.

The only drawback I found to using the iPad is that I still just have a basic folder cover, so it wasn’t very secure. And I found it a distraction to have to worry about it falling into the tiger enclosure or being jostled and dropping it. I’ve got some ideas about what kind of carrier would solve those problems, though.

In the meantime, here’s the results. I really liked being able to quickly change colors, line width, etc. without fumbling around in my pockets. These were all done very quickly, one to three minutes or so. The granddaughters were along, so I needed to be ready to move on. Good practice.

I started with the flamingos because they weren't moving much
There were also a couple of spoonbills
It was fun doing them in pink
Thought I'd try to capture the bird in shadow with rim light against the dark background
Macaw and gibbon ape
American alligator; when there was time, I added a second color
I love bats! It was such a treat to sketch them
Just hangin' around
I had about 30 seconds to have a go at this pot-bellied pig

I used the Ten Design Pogo Sketch stylus for all the drawings. It worked fine, but the foam is starting to fray a little. Definitely will be experimenting with DIY options.

My “first look” at the iPad is here.

The iPad As A Digital Sketchbook….A Big WIN! But Not Epic. Yet.

I’ve had my iPad for about three weeks and am already wondering how I got along without it.

It’s easy for me to read on it and I’ve downloaded my first book, Isaac Asimov’s Memoirs, if you must know.

I’ve played to the end of Graffiti Ball. I’ve got Solitaire, Cro-Mag Race and Paper Toss. David and I have found that we like playing Scrabble with it.

I’ve downloaded the iPad version of the Monglian language app that I have on the iPhone and also found a English-Mongolian dictionary.

Google Earth looks really good.

I plan to use Keynote for a virtual portfolio of my work and a presentation about the women’s crafts collective that I work with in Mongolia.

The battery life is terrific. The glossy screen is lovely. The keyboard, well, it’s functional, but will take some getting used to. I wouldn’t write the Great American Novel with it, but would certainly do short blog posts or longish emails.

But, I wondered, having bought Autodesk’s Sketchbook for the iPhone, could I use the iPad as a real, functional, I just need to get some work done, sketchbook? I bought Sketchbook Pro first thing. With some caveats, which I will cover at the end, the answer is a resounding “YES!!!” I had to force myself to stop drawing and get this post done.

The iPad should be viewed as simply another way to create images. A different media, if you will. And one that takes the same kind of futzing around, experimenting and practice that would be required to get the hang of any new way of working. Except that it’s a whole bunch of ways in one app that can be endlessly combined.

I’ve barely scratched the surface as this point, but thought that I would share some of what I’ve drawn and “painted” over the last week or so.

I first had to decide what tool to draw with and what color. I decided to see if I could replicate David Rankin’s fast sketching technique because, if I could, then the iPad would be all I would need for field sketching at zoos and such. Here’s some experiments, the ones I considered reasonably successful. The others have gone to the big wastebasket in teh interwebs.

Gobi Monastery gate, from July 2010 trip to Mongolia; this was the first keeper
Herder's dog; started to see how to add color

These next ones are all done really fast. Maybe a minute or so.

Bactrian camel; trying different tool and value
Another experiment
I like this one. Used a chisel point for thick and thin lines.
My thought here was to see if I could do a prelimary quick sketch for a painting. Two guys riding a yak.

Then we went to the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I took the iPad with me. I realized that I didn’t know it well enough to do much, but I did do this one sketch that turned out ok. It’s from up on Table Bluff looking east across the bay.

First location sketch

When we got home I decided to try something finished in full color from a photo I’d taken that day. I beat this thing to death adding layer after layer and, you know what, it didn’t matter. I could just keep going as long as I wanted to.

Trees at the refuge

So I had a scribbling good time on that one. But how about a “real” drawing of an animal. A couple of false starts, I did the lemur and realized that this app was for real. It probably took me somewhat over an hour because of picking my way through all the choices of tool and colors.  At this point, I also started to really use the “Radius” setting, which is the diameter of the tool and “Opacity” which is how solid the color is. And that function is what really makes this go for me more than anything else, I think.

Lemur, Bronx Zoo

I started an argali drawing, got it almost done, leaned forward, accidentally pushed the button at the bottom of the iPad, which closed the app, unfortunately having not saved about an hour’s worth of work. All gone. Oops. Lesson learned. But here’s the starting drawing, which is pretty much the same as what I do with a brush or pencil.

Start of argali drawing; and the end, as it turned out.

This morning I did the following drawing of a yak, wanting to have something more finished to go with the lemur. I did my saves this time, so I can show you the whole sequence from start to finish. It took about an hour and a half. I used the same procedure as usual.

Shapes of shadows
Laying in the darkest darks
Putting in a layer of color all over
The process of refining shape, values, drawing begins
More layers of color
Thought I was done and, anyway, it was lunchtime.
But came back and realized that the highlights on the hide were too bright.

I could keep going on this guy, smoothing the transitions between areas and doing more with the ground, but I’ve gotten all I need from this one, so time to move on. It was fun though, especially adding the squiggles on the head.

Now, the caveats:

The first eight drawings, up to the lemur, were done with my finger. I was surprised at what a decent result I got, but I needed something with finer control and which was a wee bit thinner because said finger blocked my view of what I was working on.  We went by the local Apple affiliate store and I bought a Ten One Design Pogo Sketch because….it was the only stylus they had. As it turned out, it works pretty well. But I would still like something with a smaller tip. There doesn’t seem to be anything out there at the moment. The stylus tips have to be a special kind of foam that will conduct electricity, which is how the touch screens work. There is some DIY info. on the web that shows you how to make your own and I’m thinking I might try that.

Moving the foam tip around on the screen doesn’t have a great tactile quality. It’s kind of smooshy and draggy. And I wonder how long the foam will hold up with the kind of use I intend to give it. I still need to put a removable clear film on the screen, so maybe I can find something that is slicker. Someone needs to make a special clear film for artists that has the right amount of friction.

Overall the functionality of Sketchbook Pro is really good and pretty intuitive. I’ve read the documentation and don’t recall seeing any of these addressed: I would like to have a side bar, like in Photoshop, that let’s me keep the tools and color selector in view. Having to toggle back and forth can get a little old. But it does give one the maximum real estate for drawing. I’d like an auto-save option (imagine that) that can be set to a choice of intervals. I want an eraser. Right now, I have to change colors and select white to erase.

I’d like to be able to directly import all or a selection of drawings into Aperture without having to export them to Photos on the iPad first. But the whole process was easy and worked well, except for the part where every image was re-named “Susan on the camel.jpg” (a previous project) when I exported them to my blog folder instead of the names I took the time to give each drawing in Sketchbook. Aperture also insisted on creating a new Project for the images instead of letting me import them into the album I had created for them. The two apps need to learn to communicate better.

I’d like the images to be in a format other than jpg so that I can process them in Photoshop if I want to without losing image quality.

I would like to be able to access the user manual in one click.

In conclusion:

The combination of the iPad and Sketchbook Pro is very close to being a serious product for serious working fine artists. I absolutely recommend it.