iPad Pro Art

13 December 2015

Apple Pencil is a cool accessory but in the absence of any serious drawing first party software1, it’s left up to third party apps to make the hardware sing. Watercolour and big brush art doesn’t fit the Pencil well, so I’ve focused on pen and pencil sketching. Paper is decent but my standout favourite is Procreate. The reproduction of the pencil strokes are incredibly realistic. I’ve sent several friends pictures of my sketches and they assumed it was a scan of physical paper, not digital stylus art. The digital brushes are that good.

Layers support is crucial for doing ‘tracing sketches’. The premise is simple. For people who can’t draw great freehand, you can draw over the top of an image from a website to get the outlines of the object in question. Then, you fill in the details as you see fit. I used this technique for most of the objects in the above photo. In Procreate, this is very easy to do. Import/paste an image from a website, reduce the opacity of the layer, and draw on top within a separate layer. Delete the image layer once you are finished tracing.

There’s no getting around it: Procreate is a complicated app. The menus offer a lot of customisation but they also get in the way. You can easily get lost in the various popovers and make destructive modifications to brushes, where the only out is to reset it completely and start over. Cut-Copy-Paste requires an awkward three-finger swipe gesture that I only discovered through googling for help. Paper is straightforward whereas Procreate requires some learning and experimentation. It’s frustrating because I think the app could improve usability significantly with a few interface refinements. Ultimately, though, Procreate yields a better end result so that has to be my recommendation.

Procreate has another killer feature — the Instant Replay mode. It pushes iPad art into a realm of its own. You can see the creation of the final product as well as the development from early-stage doodles into the final design. That video is interesting for me as much as it is for others. It acts as a reminder for me about what direction I was exploring before I ended up with the world theme; I apparently started this shot by doodling a bicycle.

Recreating what physical pens and pencils can do is great but enabling media that could not be created in the physical world is the best justification for digital art. I believe that’s why pixel art is so popular: there’s a beauty to the precision of the electronic grid. Making a video of the production is another one of these breakthroughs. Street-side caricaturists could draw their subject and then send them a video of the drawing over Facebook, in addition to the physical print.

1 The Notes sketching experience is fine for notes but falls short for actual painting and drawing.