Figure Drawing with the iPad

I have been drawing all my life, and I still jump at the chance to draw from a live model. Like many practitioners of “Life Drawing”, over the years I have collected a broad set of tools and techniques for capturing that moment on paper. And for most of my life, soft-leaded pencils and textured paper felt natural in my hands.

As the Art Director/Designer in my own marketing business Dangerous Media Productions, I am also an experienced digital artist, and deeply fascinated by the process of using software and digital input tools to create art. I buy or try everything new to the market if it helps me solve my clients’ needs more efficiently. As such, I’ve been drawing on the iPad and iPad2 using the various drawing APPs available to see if I can break some boundaries. While the artworks shown below are often produced “on-the-fly”, they are perfect examples of the impressive results one can obtain using the Digital Tablet or Smartphone for Life Drawing.

At our SKETCH SESSION event at the Javits Center last November (2012), many artists brought their own tools and paper. I was impressed at the variety of ways artists set up their tools and get to work. Life Drawing requires a level of comfort and freedom with the hands that only surgeons and chefs may understand. It’s easy to forget that this familiar tool – the pencil – is in fact technology like anything else. It can take years to master.

I began exploring my new APPs in our Sketch Sessions at the Jacob Javits Center, using my iPad2 and some of the drawing APPs that I had installed. Some of the companies producing these drawing APPs are old faces to me, like AUTODESK, which sells SketchBook Pro for both the iPhone and iPad. I often use SketchBook Pro to recreate the familiar “styles” of drawing in traditional media. It has a lot of customization options. Some of the tools are especially good for the older artists out there. Because they feel familiar. I have found several ways to get APPs to mimic my favorite techniques for creating and finishing Life Drawings.

When you have only 5 minutes with a model, you don’t want to futz around trying to figure out how to change your pencils. You just need to capture the moment quickly. I often start a drawing with a light, sketchy style, allowing for the liberal use of a soft eraser afterwards to clean up my rougher lines. I then take my favorite Life Drawings and work them up into finer, detailed drawing, much as an Academic Drawing would come together, after an initial study. In the case of these APPs however, you can work up a new drawing ON TOP of a loose sketch.

Many of these APPs add tremendous control to that Life Drawing process, as you may imagine, and some of these features can be a great advantage for both students and professionals alike. The quality of your line work, the grace, the subtlety, all of these elements are under the control of the Artist. And when it comes to making BIG revisions, they become seamless, as the erasing and blending tools are just as easy to use to fix a change that would still be visible on actual paper.

For working with short poses, I usually start with my pencil marks at the thinest of smallest of settings, 1-2 pixels wide is like a sharpened pencil. I set the opacity (transparency) of those marks to 30%. The lines I make look like a number 6 pencil when you’re drawing on the iPad. This allows me to lay down very light lines that build up over time. I can shape the figure and give it some form before committing to stronger lines. Once I get the drawing in shape, I switch to a harder, darker, wider line. Much like switching to a sharpened charcoal to darken up your outlines. When I am interested in capturing motion or action in my figure, this works real well at finishing up a quick sketch.

My first attempt at Life Drawing (Above: Seated Nude Figure in Yellow) was at TheGreatNude’s Sketch Sessions, held at our exhibition space at the Contemporary Art Fair NYC at Jacob Javits Center in 2010. I continued to work on this piece, using a technique similar to how one would handle pastels on rough paper. I have spent about 3 additional hours since I started the drawing. This drawing on the right (Standing Nude Female Figure, 2010) took only a few minutes, requiring only two or three changes to my pencil settings.

Another interesting feature to drawing on the iPad with these APPs is the ability to zoom into a small portion of your drawing and make precision marks to tighten up a line, as you would with a normal drawing. That is great for those of you – like me – who need to wear glasses but don’t. Check out the color pencil drawing at the bottom of this article called Space Girl on Pink that I’ve been working on for a year.

One of the things that’s so interesting with using software to draw is the ability to “UNDO” or go back a step or two (or many more.) Most geeks and digital designers know this is the saving grace of the creative process when working with computers. Imagine how watercolors would look if you could try a brush stroke and clear it away, over and over again, until you found just the right one. With drawing APPs, you can try a fluid pencil stroke, and if you don’t like it, you press UNDO and try it again and again until you get the line just the way you like it, much like a golfer practices a swing before actually attempting to hit the ball.

But the absolutely coolest thing about using Brushes in particular is that your drawing becomes a movie as you are working. Each time you save your drawing, you add to that movie. The software records all your pencil or brush strokes. The whole process of creating a drawing becomes visible now. You can rewind the tape, so to speak, and watch the observational process at work, even learning from the experience about how you compose your drawings and move from level to level of commitment.

The decisions an artist makes as they create an artwork become apparent, as is apparent the flow of the creative mind when it’s in the ZONE. You can see when you are confident about what you are doing, and when you have serious reservations about your drawing. Pretty heady stuff when you think about it. But you can actually use the iPad to learn more about your own artistic process during a single Life Drawing session.

Drawing with the iPad using these drawing APPs is pretty ground-breaking when you look at its impact on the creative process. Making Life Drawing something more like Video or Animation Production. I’ll produce more detailed drawing videos during the course of the year, as I explore this new drawing APPs and learn how to use them better. In the meantime, make sure to look at the other sketches and movies I created.

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