This morning, June Howie of Victoria, BC, Canada wrote, “Do you have any advice on the pros and cons of using the iPad for painting? The subject seems not to be mentioned in some circles, but as a novice painter, I’m curious. I often wonder if I’m really behind the times. Have you used this sort of thing and what were your reactions?”
Thanks, June. Many of us knuckle-dragging brush-painters think that “behind the times” is part of our job description. Why deny ourselves the authentic journey of a time-honoured form? Traditional painters point out that painting with gadgets is like a four-year-old with a Guitar-Hero. “Your kid can be a regular Chet Atkins in twenty minutes.”
For pint-sized Picassos there’s Nintendo DS (Dual Screen) and its art apps. All so impermanent — but then again, maybe that delete button is a good thing.
IPad apps like Sketchbook Pro, Procreate, ArtRage ArtStudio, Brushes, Zen Brush, Inspire Pro and others are great for the ageless instant gratification needy. And like other new technology, the cutting-edgers are putting the things to work. David Hockney recently exhibited a bunch of florals on wall-hung iPads. Such a curious feeling when passing along the wall — so up in the clouds and easy does it. Batteries not included.
“Nevertheless, Bunky, it’s art.”
Virtual and actual are like chalk and cheese. If pushing paint turns your crank, get out your sharps and filberts. If iPadding floats your boat, I say Pad like mad. There’s room for us all.
Like you, June, I’ve a Photoshop function that turns ordinary photos into watercolours. The technology is so marvelous it knocks my socks off. But it’s not me. To me, making paintings is a doing thing, a communion with nature, an attempt to refine my own sensibilities and understand my processes, a lifelong puzzle of delight and a membership card in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. My app is the same juicy paint used by Vincent Van Gogh; my screen is the woven canvas of Titian. Painting by hand, I’ve come to figure, is a certain kind of love.
PS: “With a Wacom tablet and a PC, a middling artist could create a work that is more refined than Hockney’s flowers. Even when finished, his images look more like doodles than polished works.” (Dan Costa)
Esoterica: Now familiar with my own particular voice and accent, my Dragon app prints out exactly what I speak into my iPad. Twenty years ago this miracle would be unthinkable. You can be assured that painting apps will get better and better. The current clunky line and substandard gradation will be history. Artists may only need to think of something and the app will make a masterpiece. In the meantime, for my buck, the iPad and other devices for painting are useful learning and testing tools. And like that old hog’s bristle lying half-dried-up on my palette, those new-fangled gadgets can let you down.
Not the same feel
by James Moritz, New York City area, NY, USA
Painting with the iPad is like comparing a drive-through window at a fast food chain to your favorite chef-owned, local restaurant. They are two very different experiences but they both feed a person in the end. The physical texture on canvas and dimension in brush strokes can’t be done on an iPad or even Wacom’s Cintque. The blending, brush strokes, texture and such are missing. I enjoy them both, although painting is almost meditational while I don’t get the same feel from iPads and Cintique.
Work in progress checked by iPad
by Jakki Kouffman, Santa Fe, NM, USA
I currently employ my spiffy new iPad in rather old fashioned ways: for study purposes. At the end of each painting day, I snap a picture of the piece with the device. Originally I relied solely on reversing the image with a hand mirror to judge its progress. I still use a mirror every few minutes, but the iPad gives me an additional tool. Take a quick picture and see it at a different, usually smaller scale. Value and compositional issues that may have gone overlooked by tired eyes stand out immediately. What’s even more useful is to save all the variations, in case you want to retrieve something you did on Tuesday.
Praise for the Wacom Cintque
by Bryan Johnson
My Dad is an old time traditional paint artist and I am a digital artist painting textures for film & TV in the cg world. I also fall back on my photography skills (film — still shoot it — and digital) for reference and textures. Along with the neat software out there (Photoshop, Painter, Artrage, etc.,) as you mentioned, that combined with a Wacom tablet is amazing. I’d like to add another notch by suggesting a look at the Wacom Cintque. It is a LCD monitor as well as a tablet. Some artists I’ve worked with (be it painters or modelers, sculptors, story board artists) love it. Not for everyone that uses a tablet but very interesting artistic technology nevertheless.
Older mediums never replaced
by Jean Wilson, Des Moines, IA, USA
You did not mention the other sensory experiences that you get with an actual brush and paint. The smell of paint is part of the experience and the tactile sensation of pushing and pulling a gooey 3D medium will never be replicated by buttons and touch pads. And most of all… the look of real paint on a surface cannot be replicated. When you see gouache sitting on the surface of arches paper, the particles of pigment have a completely unique appearance. Each medium is unique. Electronic art is its own medium and is welcome to stand alongside all the others, but it will never replace any of the older mediums.
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Masters of digital media
by Kit Miracle, Jasper, IN, USA
You may wish to check out Gary Stearly. He’s a painter with twenty years of history who has now transitioned to a WACOM. It’s very impressive work. I do not know him personally but have only seen his work in a portfolio submission.
(RG note) Thanks, Kit. And thanks to everyone who sent examples of what they thought were modern masters of digital media. There were quite a few.
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Digital an artist’s godsend
by Bernadine Fox, Vancouver, BC, Canada
The best use of digital technology around painting comes in the form of digital cameras. They are on all the iPads, tablets, and cell phones these days. All those ridiculous things that artists used to do to try and get a fresh perspective on their painting (putting it away for a day or two, getting feedback from a fellow artist, looking at it through a mirror, etc.) are now dismissed with one click of a digital-picture-taking device. The image is immediate and it gives an artist the ability to step back from the piece and see the distortions, the bad colours, the improper shadows, and not-enough highlights. I take my phone or my Samsung tablet with me to the studio and will snap a photo every so often just to get that perspective. Not only that, I can take that image home and print it at night. Then, I get to sit down with it while watching my favourite late-night TV show and mark it up circling the areas that need my attention the following day in the studio. When I am done a piece, I can immediately document it. That photo can be uploaded into Photoshop and cropped and used right away in my inventory archives and to send out with exhibition proposals. Gone are the days of slides (OMG, that makes me so happy). Digital technology has been a godsend for artists!
Principles still rule
by Cindi Walton, Boise, ID, USA
I am an artist. I graduated from college with my emphasis in ceramics. So, I’m in love with the smell of clay and the “morning of Christmas” feeling of opening the kiln. I also am a painter. It kind of sneaked up on me. When I had an idea, it seemed like a natural to pick up a brush, squirt out some paint and paint my idea on canvas. But, my day job is making Christmas cards on the computer, so I guess then I’m an illustrator. I use Photoshop and over the years I learned some ways to use that software, my computer, a scanner and a printer to create some good stuff. It’s all art. My printmaking professor embraced the computer and all its marvels. But, his critiques were the same as for non-computer work. The use of color, highlights and shadows, perspective, rhythm, patterns were still the discussion on whether you had created good art or not. Many of us thought that if we did it on the computer it would be easier, but you were still questioned on the same basics of design and composition as a piece with ink or screen-printing, etc. They are all tools to create with and it’s all art. However, the principles of art still rule.
Versatility of the digital process
by John Deckert, Mill Valley, CA, USA
With an iPad and an app and a stylus I’ve been able to keep up my drawing skills and improve my understanding of color mixing and composition all without making a mess on the living room rug.
And there’s more to learn from these apps too. They are excellent teaching tools. The ability to demonstrate in a clear and obvious way the relationship between value saturation and hue has opened more than a few students’ eyes. The ability to UNDO is a bonus. The trial balloons you can send up with layers are a real treat.
These things are not going to replace my painting. They will not replace my sketchbook. But I would no more abandon them than I’d give up working in the evenings by electricity in the studio light or photographs. And check this out. With some of the apps you can play back your entire painting like a movie. Making it interesting to see where things got tied up, where things went wrong, or when it all of a sudden got too fussy. Yes, you can print them out on paper or canvas then put them in a frame or sell them as gicleé prints, but for me these things are most useful in the digital world. I can email the image. I can post it to a website. It doesn’t take up space in my attic. Everyone I know can have an “original.” And the treat of seeing exactly how it was done.
More to it than meets the eye
by Don Lambert, Weatherford, TX, USA
I am a life time artist, painter, illustrator, photographer, giclee printer and as of the last 20 years a digital artist.
If you could spare a minute would you please look at my web site and look at the gallery pages. All of this work is digital. All of this work is original and completed using a high end digital camera, Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter a Wacom tablet and the latest large format printers from Epson. These are all printed on Canvas and stretched. Some are as large as 40×60 inches. I shoot the image, I crop the image for composition, I adjust the image in Photoshop for the look I am after, I PAINT the image in Painter then I print the file. I gotta tell you there are times I just want to yell obscenities when folks dismiss digital art as an iPhone app anyone can download and create something with a push of a computer key. I know this is not what you meant, just saying for serious digital art there is not a button to push that will give you an instant work of art that has a file size you can print.
Twenty years ago I left an art directors position to do my own thing. Did lots of free lance illustration and airbrush work to put food on the table. Picked up some photo restoration from a local lab and all of a sudden my studio was a photo restoration lab. My dear wife, who is a world class software designer and computer genius, mentioned off handily that a computer setup done correctly could really help with my overwhelming work load. Well, being the traditional artist and husband, she would have to prove it to me. At that time I was doing the pickup of the work at labs across town, setting up displays in the PPA doing all the art, retouching all the old photos. Copying the repaired prints then making new prints in my dark room. Then on Fridays delivering and shipping. Oh and when time allowed I sat in front of an easel and painted.
If a computer system could save my life not to mention sanity I would look into this digital crap; just could not believe it could help in any artistic way… Very long story cut short, it revolutionized my work. This all happened when the first pressure sensitive tablets were out, the machines were moving from 16 bit to 24 bit and monitors began to be good enough to work with. As you can imagine it took years of up-grades to finally have a workflow that that was as smooth as it is now.
For me, computers are just another tool for the creative artist, just as a flat or filbert brush is — there was a time I even left a jar of medium open by my work station for that painterly smell.
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oil painting 36 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Rodney Mackay of Lunenburg, NS, Canada, who wrote, “It’s wacky but fun. I think my grandchild will eventually be hanging the changing face of digital art on a very flat monitor.”
And also Roos Schuring of The Netherlands, who wrote, “Everyone can paint, but with all of those people losing their jobs and turning to painting, I think it’s good to have quality to stand out more.”
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