Painting on the phone


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Albert Root of Spokane, Washington sent us some rather good examples of iPhone art. With an inexpensive application called “Brushes,” some artists are busy making tiny paintings on their cell phone screens..

Other artists have asked if this sort of thing can be legitimate art. In a very short time, 40,000 of the apps have been sold. Some artists wonder if the mini-media might be a threat to traditional brush-and-paint. Like the innumerable effects possible with Photoshop, Modbook, Sketchbook Pro and other products, there are concerns.

Hey, aren’t these just more creative tools in need of exploration? And like all media, won’t they find their masters? Take Wisconsin painter Susan Murtaugh. She paints tiny ersatz oils of remarkable quality. Hers is an art that can be made in the corner of a dog-park in Green Bay and sent in a cloudless nanosecond to a villa in Italy. She also makes and sells prints.
Leonardo would have been impressed.

Ever since the print revolution started in the 1800s, through the Kodak and photocopy reproductions, and the giclee and electronic transfer phenomenon, image procurement and distribution have mushroomed. At the same time, like the doomsayers at the advent of photography announcing the death of painting, one-of-a-kind art using traditional media continues to thrive as in no other period in history.

Both the success and failure of digital-electronic art lie in its viral nature. Facile, mysterious and beautiful though it may be, some folks think it may become too ubiquitous to qualify as permanent art. By threatening rarity, art ‘gone viral’ clouds collectability.

Everything was once a novelty. Only a few years ago I was speeding to the local cell phone store to put in my order for a rumoured phone with (like, wow!) a built-in camera. I wanted to be the first on the block. How “Ho-hum”
now, eh?

Best regards,


PS: “It took me a little while to get the hang of it but once I figured out my work flow it was almost like painting on canvas.” (Susan Murtaugh)

Esoterica: You can begin with a blank canvas or an existing photo. Using fingers and thumbs, the app allows users to make use of various painting tools and brush sizes and pick up indicated colours using the eyedropper tool. The “pinching” gesture, a feature of iPhone, is used to zoom in for detailed work. There’s an undo and redo function as well. It’s tricky — and mighty difficult for some. But for those who excel, can gallery representation be far behind?



David Hockney’s iphone art
by Sarah Clegg, Knutsford, UK


iPhone painting
by Sarah Clegg

Even David Hockney has discovered iPhone art. The attached images were available to download for a limited period recently courtesy of the BBC. Actually I had no idea what they were until your timely explanation arrived this morning, but certainly thought they were rather attractive and worth saving.





Improving traditional art
by SM Violano, CA, USA


original painting
by SM Violano

I have used an iPhone since the first one came on the market and last year began using a sketching program to doodle and work out compositions for my oil paintings. The portability of the device lends itself as an electronic sketchbook nicely. It can be used at any time or place. Since the days when cavemen created art on the walls of caverns, mankind has been drawn to sketch and paint using whatever tools available. As the world evolves and the tools evolve, we find ourselves in a unique position of always having a tool to record our visions right in our pocket. I do not believe that any medium will become extinct due to these new tools — but I do think they can help us make our traditional art even better.

There is 1 comment for Improving traditional art by SM Violano

From: Anonymous — Jul 21, 2009

I’ve always stayed with teaching traditional painting skills to my students, I specialize in Chinese brush work and water color, I also draft landscape architecture plans, I use the brush and pencil along with the eye-mind coordination.


Thank you from a digital artist
by Susan Murtaugh, Two Rivers, WI, USA


“Biscuit romp”
digital painting
by Susan Murtaugh

I’d like to thank you for the positive and thoughtful article about the new media. I have found as much pleasure using my iPod Touch as I have dripping with paint smearing up my canvas. To this point there has been much shunning of us digital artists by those that embrace the traditional materials and I’m hoping this will help bridge the gap. Every artist wants validity and he or she wants people to look at the work and be content with the supporting ground.


Also for digital photography
by Mike Salcido, Coppell, TX, USA


“Dallas lights”
iPhone photograph
by Mike Salcido

I have also used my iPhone for art. Not exactly for painting, but I use it for digital photography. I find that the camera on the iPhone gives a complete different image than a traditional camera. More can be seen on my website under photography.





No soul, no art
by Nancy Wostrel, San Diego, CA, USA


“Ruffles of lace”
original painting, 23 x 18 inches
by Nancy Wostrel

The one thing missing from this ‘new, wonderful’ digital art is the hand of the painter; his or her soul if you will. I have seen so many digital works that are cold and unfeeling, the hand of the painter is just not there. It’s fine to work fast but who said fast was better? The hand holding the brush and applying it to actual paper or canvas can’t be replaced, and it saddens me to think that so many think that it can. I usually agree with you but this time it is a NO!



There are 4 comments for No soul, no art by Nancy Wostrel

From: Bobbo Goldberg — Jul 20, 2009

Nancy, forgive me, but your comments are insular and self-serving. While I encourage your commitment to traditional forms of art if that is what works for you, the idea that digital art is soulless is not only unfortunate, but preposterous. I’ve seen digital paintings, sculptures, even motion picture special effects that have grabbed me by the throat and moved me to tears. Sometimes this beauty shows up in the most unexpected places. The first “Transformers” film is trivial in terms of plot. The effects sequences are worthy of the Flemish masters, in terms of motion, composition, the treatment of light and atmosphere. Please look around and acquaint yourself with what’s out there before you dismiss an entire medium… or group of media, so high-handedly. Art is what is produced by artists. Great art is produced by great artists, and there are some titans working today in digital media. There’s plenty of resistance to artistry in the world, sad to say. Artists certainly don’t need it from one another.

From: Anna Davis — Jul 21, 2009

Nancy – what difference is there in the hand that holds the brush and the hand that “brushes” the screen? I suspect that you have not yet created a painting on a computer. The same thought process is there; What color do I choose, what method, what pressure? The outcome is very much in the control of the person creating the painting whether it be holding a brush or a stylus. What amount of soul does a sand-painter possess? Or a glassblower? Is there a measurable difference between socially acceptable methods of creating art? BTW – I primarily paint oil on canvas but have certainly tried all methods of creating art and try not to eschew new techniques. Your painting technique is lovely and you are quite skilled at what you do – please allow some tolerance for alternative methods, there are surely more to come!

From: Sarah Taylor — Jul 21, 2009

In some ways I agree with you Nancy, but maybe it is more that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In matters of taste our views are based on our own experiences. A friend of mine does colorful magic computer art, and I admire his creative spirit even though I have no drive or talent in that direction. We all reach to create what is in our hearts and fortunately we all don’t have to make the same kind of art. i have no aptitude for computers and have enough trouble just getting the darn thing to quit skipping capitals! ;-)

From: Craig Banholzer — Aug 29, 2009

I entirely agree with Nancy, and, frankly, all this gentle chiding she’s being subjected to creeps me out a bit; shades of “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s obvious to me that we live in a time so avid for “new media’ that these media hardly need to prove themselves to be warmly embraced and championed, and that anyone who questions this trend is regarded as, at best, a fuddy-duddy, or, at worst, a bit of a crackpot.

New Media come and go with such speed that it’s easy to forget trends that were one red-hot but which are today nearly forgotten. When I was an art-school undergrad, photocopies and manipulated Polaroids were the hottest things. Were are they today?

New Media come and go. Pencil on paper and oils on canvas are here to stay.


‘Virtual reality’ sculpting
by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA


“Burning heat”
original painting
40 x 30 inches
by Alan Soffer

At first I was taken aback by this new approach. Then, I remembered that for many years I have been advocating that sculptors would eventually design their work in “virtual reality.” That would free them from the prodigious costs of storage, supplies, and construction of a whole series when possibly only a few would sell. Of course, I suggested that at least a few would be seen to completion for the joy and practicality of making art. Collectors could view the proposals and choose their favorites. So now we have artists finding a way to express themselves on a very common device. It’s like drawing on a computer. Probably will not catch on with us old-timers, but our grandchildren will probably prefer this method, as they are totally comfortable with technology.



Different tools
by Terry Rempel-Mroz, Ottawa, ON, Canada


“Il Cavalieri d’Arpino”
study after Cesari
graphite on paper
by Terry Rempel-Mroz

These are creative tools and they are being explored wonderfully. What makes us human is our ability to create art with anything and everything. These tools allow everyone to express themselves and to find real joy in the act. The naysayers are just not confident in their abilities and themselves. Prints (i.e. lithographs, etchings, engravings) were thought to be ‘not legitimate’ when compared to oils, acrylics were not ‘real’ paint when they first came out, photographs were thought a fad — as you said, they are all different tools for expressing oneself.





Photoshop, Artrage and Corel
by Ansgard Thomson, Edmonton, AB, Canada


digital painting
by Ansgard Thomson

As a digital fine artist for the last 16 years, I am pleased to learn that artists can use a telephone to paint on location with “Brushes” instead of painting from photographs. Painting on location is also possible with mobile computers with built-in cameras. So far, most traditional art on the market are reproductions of art made in another media and cannot qualify as original art. All digital artists will have to learn how to print or have to get the work printed and could qualify as one of its kind if not printed as limited editions. To create multiple “originals” in different sizes is still possible for the digital artist with high resolution images and often a choice by clients, who like to have a larger image or printed on canvas. Corel Painter and Artrage are best programs to paint with. Artrage can be downloaded for free and cost only $25.00. My main interest to create art electronically was to create work that cannot be done as an original in another media. Rejection by the galleries is mainly caused by the fact that so many reproductions are on the market and they do consider original digital art also as “reproductions” only. I have tried many ways to create digital art including painting with virtual brushes. Lately I use again a fractal program that does not use any brushes and is generated with codes that can be manipulated. I might use the generated image to change it with filters or brushes till the image is ready for printing as abstract work Photoshop is probably the best program to get digital images ready for printing Thanks for inviting digital artists to write about electronic art.


Separating pretty art from serious explorations
by Tony Kampwerth, Knoxville, TN, USA


watercolour painting
by Tony Kampwerth

Living near the Great Smokey Mountains, I see a lot of artwork that is prepared for the tourist trade. The paintings are, for a large part, commercial illustrations. They are very well executed, good color, composition, etc., but at what point do we separate “pretty art” from fine art. I ask myself often if I am doing the same — preparing the artwork “for sale” or to satisfy my own self-imposed values. Where do we draw the line? I don’t sell many paintings, especially now, and always wonder if my style is not market material.

There is 1 comment for Separating pretty art from serious explorations by Tony Kampwerth

From: Libby — Jul 21, 2009

If untitled is a fair representation of your work, I cannot understand why you do not sell many paintings. It is a very pleasing work, at least, to me. Libby FL USA


Evolving technology
by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA

I was 17 and a student at Museum School of Fine Art in Boston. I was a printmaker. I had started in painting but had switched to printmaking because the painting teacher at the time chased the girls and I was too young to know how to handle these things with grace. I just ran, and I ran to printmaking. I did etching, lithography and silk screen. One late evening, as I was struggling over an aqua tint, a young man said to me, “Don’t love printmaking too much. It is a dying field.” He told me that soon there would be copy machines that would easily do the work of etchers, lithographers and silk screeners. Yes, the original design would still be needed but that was all. I thought about what I loved about printmaking. I loved the shipment of fine black ink from France brought back by some traveling student we all paid to bring it home. I loved the sound of stone on stone. I loved the feel of the wheel of the etching press and the old wood and metal. I even loved watching the acid baths do their work. Without all of this, printmaking would be very different indeed. He was right of course. Very few artists now do etching and lithography. Silk screen, especially on fabric, remains alive. The rest, alas, are pretty much gone. Technology does the work now. So actually, you see, sometimes arts that are big at one point will become little or very changed later because of changes in technology.




Wedding painting

oil painting
by Dana Levin, RI, USA


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 Dora Gourley, who wrote, “The concept is amazing, but one has to mourn the loss of lots and lots of time to actually plan out and study and then paint…brush stroke by brush stroke.”

And also Peter Daniels of White Rock, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Like every other medium, the success for the artist is how they can sell their art. If they become masters of selling, then it will find its place in the art world.”

And also Janice Robinson-Delaney of Ellenwood, GA, USA, who wrote, “I can’t say that I’m surprised with this technology, though I can’t say that I’m too excited about it either…”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Painting on the phone



From: Tessa — Jul 17, 2009
From: Ewiser — Jul 17, 2009

With Brushes you can export the image you create to a larger size. I have been using Brushes plus several other painting app’s to draw when I have time.

From: Nisla — Jul 17, 2009

What an interesting method of expression! Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Although I’m a traditionalist, I use paints and brushes, I appreciate this new form of expression. It doesn’t seem to matter WHAT method is used, art is an expression. These people are really good at their craft and their medium. How fun!

From: Lisa Mozzini-McDill — Jul 17, 2009
From: Suzette Fram — Jul 17, 2009

I’ve always thought that digital painters, now including iphone painters, have a distinct advantage, and that is the ‘undo’ button. Try a stroke or a colour, it doesn’t workout? Undo. The rest of us have to live with our mistakes, even if you can paint over, there can be remainders that don’t completely go away. Sometimes, I wish I could simply press ‘undo’ and get a second, or third, or fourth chance to get it right.

From: Suzette Fram — Jul 17, 2009

I think these iphone applications will be like any new toy. They will be popular, people will have some fun, but in the end, only those with the skill and determination to keep at it long enough to learn it well, will be able to produce anything decent. I think most will get bored with it soon enough.

From: Rick Smith — Jul 17, 2009

A paintbrush, no matter how fantastic, has never made a great artist. It’s just a tool. All our technological innovations don’t make great artists, they too are just tools. People once thought that the computer would make great artists out of everyone. That hasn’t happened, has it? Whatever the tool, it’s still the artist that counts.

From: Herb — Jul 17, 2009

Poet Jane Hirschfield, referring to Zen, said, “everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.” A lot of the time we act as though everything is discrete, immutable, and can be ignored. We permit ourselves to decline progress, often to our disadvantage. There is no guarantee that any new tool will find a place in the culture, or that any existing tool will continue to do so. We are, after all, playing, though perhaps seriously. Why eschew the new toys?

From: krobb — Jul 17, 2009

I have been using digital painting programs for a few months. I love painting, but my life is such where it has taken a back seat to my career, family, etc. Now I can turn it on, turn it off as I please. No cleanup, no mess for my little guy to get into and I think most importantly, no pressure. If I create something I don’t like, I start again. No expensive paints, canvas, etc to worry about. This has really opened things up for me. I can jump on my computer and do some painting and not feel the pressure of trying to create a masterpiece in my small amount of time. I think it has gotten me back into art after years of missing it. Will my work ever be in a gallery? I don’t know. Giclee prints are of high quality, and (I have heard) that some galleries are opening up to the idea of full Giclee shows of digital art. The question of legitimacy is a complex one. The question of “am I creating art and enjoying it?” is a much simpler one to me.

From: John — Jul 19, 2009

Until I read Robert’s piece and saw the video clip, I had no idea how far digital imaging had come. It’s impressive, but sad too. I see these digital painting techniques and inkjet/giclee reproduction as eventually supplanting brush painting, printmaking, and the other traditional visual media. It will take a while, but I think it will happen. It’s inevitable.

From: Dennis Marshall — Jul 20, 2009

Even though all of this new technology could expand the parameters of art, nothing can take away from the pleasure of placing a brush or painting knife to paint that is on the palette and then applying it to the canvas or board. Whether an artist uses a brush or knife the sheer sensuality of physically applying paint will never be surpassed. The eye expands in delight as beautiful swirls of rich color are squeezed from the tube. I ask what could take the place of such joy?

From: Frank Ansley — Jul 21, 2009

I agree working alone can be lonely. For me, a free lance illustrator, the perfect solution was sharing space with other free lancers. Not the same room necessarily but in the same building.

Its easy to get away from whatever you’re working on for while and chat with or get feedback from other artists. As well as borrow a tube of paint you need but just ran out of.

From: Roger Asselin — Jul 23, 2009

I’m a wee bit old fashion and love the feel of the brush on the canvas but…Wow! I am so impessed with this new technology. It sure shows alot of potential but darn; just when I’m getting good enough to make my mark, here comes somone else to steal my customers.

All kidding aside; for those who will take time to master the technique, it will probably provide a whole new, quick, inexpensive and very simple way to do on site sketches when they leave home without their favorite media. I’m also sure there will be room in the market place for them and their finished pieces of digital art.

In all fairness… Welcome aboard and good luck to you all!

From: Monica Kelly — Jul 23, 2009

It is possible that the iphone painting aps will actually create more interest in art and painting. As I recall, Hollywood feared that the video market, and VCRs would erode demand for films. Instead, there is a greater demand than ever. Something to consider anyway.

From: Yvonne Andreassen — Jul 27, 2009

This Year The Sainted Royal Academy decided to allow editioned Giclees into the Annual Exhibition; By RA members only of course; NOT the other 9000 or so everyday artists who pay a very large fee for the dubious pleasure of handing in their work for roughly 8.900 rejections – Apparently the World Famous RA School of Art is now awash with largescale Inkjet printers;

Shall I get an iphone ? could be very amusing BUT I worry what this will do to the right side of my brain !

From: Eileen Korponay — Jul 27, 2009

Just a note to see if the video of the iPhone painting will still be on your website in September? I would like to direct people to your site to see this video, and use your write-up about ‘Painting on the Phone’ in the September issue of the Gazette. What a marvelous tool! I’ve been putting off the iPhone purchase for some time, but now I want one:-) Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention.

From: Penny Duncklee — Jul 27, 2009

Always, I have some drawing and painting stuff with me. Sometimes I have lots of equipment, but always I have my tiniest paint set with me. Besides my tiny camera, I have this very useful paintset and 3×5″ drawing book. I carry a little water in an old film can, at least one Kleenex tissue and my fine line drawing pen. I have no idea who makes this set, called “Mini Disc Set”. My local art store, Frame and Art, in Las Cruces, NM usually has a stack of these on the counter. I try to have several so I can give them away when people say something like, “Gee, I’d like to paint, but I don’t have any equipment…” Or some other excuse.

It is always fun to get it out, set up and paint a tiny painting, sometimes just to prove it can be done. Soooo, who needs a cellphone?

From: Toni Ciserella — Jul 27, 2009

Would liken iPhone art to those amazing sculptured watermelons. They’re cool but at the risk of offending people I would not spend my hard earned money on it. I guess my point would be if you are serious about making something worth while why would you not make the effort to put it on something that will last? If you can eat it or delete it- it’s not art.




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