10 April 2014

Analog to Digital: Drawing on the iPad

My mother was an art teacher. On Sunday afternoons she would sit us children down in front of big sheets of news print. Offering us chunky crayons and pots of paints she would test out her new lesson plans. So I have never been afraid of the blank page. As I grew up, my diary and my sketchbook were always in my bag. I understand the world through the words I write and the pictures I draw. Sketching is about taking the time to really look rather than about creating ‘art’.

When I acquired my first iPad a few years ago, things changed. It seemed pointless to carry all these books when I could write, draw, read and play with my iPad. So I gave up buying the newspaper and got an online subscription. I started buying ebooks, and eventually I gave up my beautiful red leather diary and switched to a digital journal. It seems that giving up a sketchbook would be even easier. Because you don’t just carry a notebook, you carry ink pens and cartridges, bundles of coloured pencils and erasers, watercolour brushes and paints and little pots of water.

But for years, every drawing app I tried left me frustrated. David Hockney creates masterpieces with the Brushes app, but all these apps had one thing in common: Every paint mark looked like something a computer had made. The results were lifeless. Until Paper. 53’s digital sketchbook was basic: a limited number of colours and brushes, no layers. But oh, those lines! Finally I could make rough and ready pencil lines and blodgy watercolours. I could just draw without having to first define line width, opacity, radius, intensity…

Art school drummed into us to ‘push the material’. My first acrylic painting was rubbish. I discovered that my iPad was just another medium. It was just like learning to use oil paints. I needed to practice.

I first drew with my fingers, moving on to cheap Chinese styli. I have bought some expensive styli, but found them no better. Recently 53 released the Pencil. It replicates a real pencil: I flip over the pen to use the eraser, I smudge with my fingers. The perfect combination of analog and digital.

Recently I have been asked to make drawings for other people. My Tumblr gets regular feedback, whereas my old sketchbooks sit in a box in the spare room as they have always done. Without the paraphernalia of analog sketching I am liberated to perch in front of a painting at the museum, whip out my sketch book on the Tube, draw in bed. I draw more. I get better. And I make my mother proud.