Drawing and Painting on an iPad3

I recently received an iPad3, a thoughtful and quite surprising birthday gift from my lovely wife Stephanie and our daughters Allison and Jessica. That I’ve not yet owned a tablet of any flavor has more to do with shrinking gadgetry budgets, not from a lack of interest.

I’d convinced myself that drawing on an iPad wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding or effective as the wonderful (yet very expensive) Wacom Cintiq line, which I also have not tried out. How wrong was I? Wrong enough to wonder out loud “why didn’t I get one of these sooner?”

I quickly tried out a few of the more popular drawing apps, settling on SketchbookPro and Procreate. Both are powerful enough to let me cut loose with some speed paintings, which allow me to learn the tools quickly while not getting bogged down in fine details that would otherwise derail my efforts.

The trick to drawing with a tablet is to find a good stylus, a pen designed to work with the capacitive touch screen. None of these provide nearly the level of control or performance of a decent Wacom tablet of any flavor, but many give you more than enough control to have a lot of fun. And to have such tools in a small, comfortable form-factor like a tablet makes for a highly convenient art studio at your fingertips.

Luckily for me, I work with a group of User Experience Designers who have already tried out a number of stylii for these tablets. Most feel like you’re drawing with an eraser, although it’s much better (in my opinion) than trying to paint with your fingertips. We’ve had fun trying them all out:

So far, I’ve rather liked the Wacom Bamboo stylus, although the spongy rubber tip means that you really cannot be bothered knowing exactly where your marks will land on the screen. Sure, it will be within the 1/4″ or so area that the tip covers, depending on the angle. I find these are best for loose, impressionist styles.

The Adonit Jot line takes a different approach, giving you a clear disc on the end of the pen. You can see much more of your drawing contact point, making it a far better tool for precise drawing.

In both cases, the more traditional pen-sized stylii work better for drawing than the smaller, more portable ones. Next I will be trying one of the new, pressure-sensitive Pogo Connect Stylii but the price is making me hold off while I spend more time with the Bamboo and Jot.

Drawing and Illustrating on a tablet isn’t perfect, but I’m finding that it’s pushing my learning curve in a good way. I’ve set myself a series of goals, starting with “once good speed painting a day”, meaning something I’m willing to share. I spend between 20 and 90 minutes on any one of these, with some turning out better than others. Already I’ve noticed a tendency to stick with similar color tones and patterns, as well as drawing tools provided by the apps. I don’t mind so much that the theme remains science fiction / astronomy related for now, I’ll be tackling other subjects once I detect that I’m slowing down.

Speed Sketch – some spacecraft

I’m even happy with flat-out copying artwork that I’ve enjoyed – like the image above, which was painted using the cover of the book SPACE ART by Starlog Press (old, old book). I’ve always enjoyed the book’s Saturn painting, and needed a break from blue-tones (didn’t get away from them entirely, but it was a good way to learn some new tricks).

For now I’m sticking with these sketch-level paintings, and having fun with the process. But I’m feeling the need to tackle some of the pieces I’ve listed for the next level – something I’d be happy to print and/or sell.

* UPDATED – I’m finding that I turn to SketchbookPro with the Adonit Jot Pro Stylus for more technical illustrations, and Procreate with the Wacom Bamboo for free-form illustrations. For both the apps, and the pens, each seems suited to a specific role, meaning I’ll be toting both along for a while.

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