My buddy, Jeff Tamagini, is a photographer and architect who lives in Boston. While we keep in touch online during the year, we only see each other in Vegas at Photoshop World. This past September, he and I were having lunch at The House of Blues in Mandalay Bay. The place has kind of low lighting, like a lot of bars, so when Jeff was checking something on his iPad, the screen lit up his face from underneath and I thought it looked pretty cool. So I asked him to hold the pose, and I took a few shots with my phone. As the only real light was the iPad and I couldn’t use a flash, the photo didn’t end up being all that sharp for detail, but I thought it would make a good practice piece for an iPad painting.
For the tech details, I was using a Wacom Bamboo Stylus, alternating between the regular version and the newer Pocket Bamboo Stylus. I wanted to use the very expensive Jaja stylus I just bought for close to $100 with shipping, but turns out the damn thing is a huge disappointment. It’s supposed to be pressure sensitive by way of a triple A battery and an ultrasonic speaker that communicates with the iPad microphone. You can adjust the volume of the pen to better communicate with the iPad, but I when I turned the volume up (because it wasn’t working right), I could actually hear it, which was annoying, and the battery life is ridiculously short. The manufacturers recommend you don’t use rechargeable batteries. Not exactly the most environmentally friendly device. It was pressure sensitive, sure, but the lines weren’t smooth, the performance was twitchy, basically I used it for a half hour and then went back to the Bamboo. You shouldn’t have to think about your hardware while painting. The Wacom Bamboo Stylus is still the best one I’ve used.
I’m still using the first generation iPad, bought it a few months after the initial release. While I’ve got a lot of use out of it, and my money’s worth, it’s starting to show it’s age and it’s beginning to have performance issues. Apps crash often enough to be annoying, despite my turning off location services, running only one or two apps at the same time, and doing everything else that’s been suggested to streamline operations. The fact is, every time Apple releases a new iOS. it has a harder time running on the old hardware. Pretty smart…force your consumers to buy the new tech by rendering the old tech useless. My next tablet might not be an iPad as I’ve become aware of better options out there for a more reasonable price. For example, the new Wacom Bamboo Stylus feel technology exists in some newer tablets, rendering them truly pressure sensitive out of the box. The usability will depend on what apps I can get for painting on another device.
The app I use to paint on the iPad is procreate. I’ve tried a number of them and that’s been my favorite for awhile. It just has a great interface. To get around the lack of pressure sensitivity, I just manually adjust the opacity of the brush with my thumb via a convenient slider on the left of the screen, and I’ll also adjust the opacity of different layers. Anybody who is expecting their tablet to perform like a Cintiq is kidding themselves, so you make do with what you have. Limiting your options can actually make you a better artist. The work I’ve seen done with this app on the newer iPads that have better resolution is very impressive.
Which brings me to WHY I paint on the iPad. The simple answer is that it’s a challenge. With only low-resolution options, especially with the first-gen iPad, I have to work with what sometimes feels like a blunt instrument to get the likeness down. There’s no way of painting in details later, because I’m stuck with one size. The best I can manage is to brush in some speckled texture to suggest detail. Also, the iPad is portable, just like a sketch book. This painting was done almost entirely while sitting on the couch watching TV. I started it in the Fall, but haven’t done anything on it in quite awhile. Finally picked it up again last week and finished it yesterday morning, working on it in my spare time. No deadline, no expectations, just practice. I’m reasonably happy with it, but I think I could have done better if I’d had a better reference photo.
Finally, because I don’t like working with the iPad at full brightness, I always seem to paint darker than I’d like the end result to be. My eyes get used to it, so I don’t see just how much brightness I’m missing. Once a painting is done, I bring it into the Snapseed app, make some very harsh brightness and contrast adjustments, then bring it back into procreate on a new layer. By adjusting the layer opacity, I get the right mix of what I like. My iPad paintings lack the finesse of the work I do in Photoshop, they’re rougher looking and lack detail, but I find they’re still worth doing. And it’s fun.