Brushing Up Again (Part Two)

As promised yesterday, here’s a bit more about my recent adventures with digital art on an iPad using the Procreate app.

I have mostly been practising by doing a handful of simple abstract paintings and more-or-less daily life drawings (fairly quick sketches from photo references). Indeed, one of my motivations to actually get on with trying to learn how to use my new digital art platform (having bought the hardware components, if not the software, several months ago) is the hope that my life drawing classes may be able to restart soon and the attendant realisation that my drawing skills have got some what rusty through neglect in the last year or so (I dropped out of the daily sketching habit around last April and have only done a handful of random sketches since then).

Having begun to get a handle on the basics of using Procreate, and beginning to feel some of my (albeit limited) artistic mojo returning and adapting well enough to the new medium, I decided to have a go at some more painting-styled work.

As my first subject, I selected an avocado plant that’s growing (in a pot) on my windowsill. Here’s what the painting looks like at the moment (it’s probably a work in progress, but I may decide just to quit while I’m ahead):

I started with a rough sketch to establish the basic composition. I then dialed back the opacity of that layer and set up several new ones to contain the painted background, the pot and the plant itself, each with a layer of their own. In each of these I used the “acrylic paint” brush at various different sizes.

My process was quite similar to how I’d approach a painting with actual acrylic paints, and the result is definitely quite a similar style too. It was definitely nice not to have to worry about mixing up sufficient quantities of paint or avoid contaminating one lot of paint with another, nor to have to wash my brushes afterwards or wait for one layer to dry before I could start on the next one. It’s also convenient to be able to go in and rework the background without having to worry about accidentally painting over any of the foreground details and it’s great to be able to try out different options without necessarily commiting to them.

For example, looking at the picture now, I wonder if a little bit of “inking” over the top to provide a bit more definition for some of the leaf edges and other structures might help the overall effect. In a traditional painting I’d have to make a decision and either leave it as it is (no pun intended) or commit to putting pen to paper (and I’m not actually sure how well it work to try drawing over acrylics, though I know it can work well with watercolours). With this digital painting, all I’d need to do (I’m not sure if I actually will) would be to add a new layer, do the drawing on there and if I don’t like it I can delete, or even just hide, it. And I’m not just limited to one experiment either – I could try a bunch of different things and then select the one(s), if any, that work best.

I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of my real paints and brushes just yet, but I suspect that I may well be doing the majority of my artwork (or at least the painting) with digital media from now on.

(And in case you’re wondering, I actually wrote this last night hot on the heels of the previous post – I didn’t get up bright and early to write and post it and I may in fact still be in bed!)

Brushing Up Again (Part One)

A few months ago, I decided to get myself an iPad. There were several reasons for this but one of the main ones was that I wanted a better platform for digital artwork than my cheap and cheerful Android tablet. I decided to push the boat out a reasonably long way and get myself a 4th generation iPad Air. If the experiences of other iPad users I know are a fair guide, Apple hardware seems to last a pretty long time and athough newer, more powerful models come out frequently the older ones continue to work and be well supported, so by getting a new one now I hopefully have a device that will keep going and be useful as more than an expensive paperweight for for a long time to come.

Some kind of stylus is pretty much required for any serious digital artwork on a tablet and the Apple Pencil is, by common consensus, agreed to be the best by far of the options available for the iPad. Unsurprising, as it’s made by Apple themselves. However, it has a correspondingly large price tag and my budget didn’t stretch to getting one of those at the same time as my iPad. Instead I got a relatively cheap stylus (about £15, as I recall, compared to over £100 for a 2nd generation Apple Pencil or around £80 for a 1st generation one that would still work but have some limitations). It’s not quite as fully featured and, probably most crucially for drawing, not pressure sensitive but certainly enough to get me started and learn the basics of the apps I’ll be using. At some point I may invest in an actual Apple Pencil.

Initially I installed Autodesk Sketchbook, a free app that is also available for Android (and, I think, a bunch of other platforms, not all tablet/phone based). I have used this on my Android phone and tablet and got on ok with it, though I never really got comfortable with the interface. My experiences with it on the Mac were slighlty better, due to a bit more screen real estate (certainly compared to my phone), a better stylus and much more responsive handling than my old tablet. Still, I didn’t find myself particularly loving it and wanting to do lots of drawing.

A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and buy myself a copy of Procreate, a very highly regarded (and iPad exclusive) drawing app that costs the princely sum of £8.99 or so (a one-off payment). Most reviews I read that compared it to Autodesk Sketchbook said that Procreate was a more powerful bit of software but harder to learn. Undaunted I purchased it anyway and was pleasantly surprised to find that, for me at least, the interface is much more intuitive and the overall drawing experience much more pleasant. This isn’t to knock Autodesk at all – that is also a very capable app (I don’t want to damn it with faint praise by adding “especially considering the price point”) and I’m sure if I devoted enough effort to it I could learn it well enough, but I think Procreate is the one for me.

There is plenty still to learn of course, and lots of scope for frustration along the way (even just with respect to itself, let alone my own artistic abilities or lack thereof). For instance, one evening I finished a sketch I was particularly happy with and then, noticing that it was showing up in my gallery in landscape format (when it was supposed to be a portrait format sketch), I tried to rotate it by changing the canvas size and inadvertently ended up cropping off the entire top half of the sketch. For some reason, this seemed to be a one-way process and it wouldn’t let me undo the change, which is usually possible with digital editing and is one of the major attractions of it compared to traditional media. I ended up just having to settle for half a sketch. Fortunately, soon after that I discovered how to rotate the images in the gallery without having to change the canvas size, so I should be able to avoid making that particular mistake again, though I’m sure there are plenty of others still to be made.

I was going to go on to talk a bit more about the actual creative process and put in a picture of the painting I’m currently working on, but this is getting quite long already so I’ll save that for another day.

P.S. I originally entitled this post simply Brushing Up, and then made it Brushing Up (Part One) when I realised it was going to be a two-parter (at least). After I published it I had a read back through my earlier art related blog posts and discovered that the very first one was also called Brushing Up. I have therefore reamed this one. Actually, the first line of that post is almost as applicable now (although it hasn’t been quite such a long gap this time): “After far too long a gap, I have recently begun to draw and paint again.”