Love those apps


November 6, 2012


Robert Genn


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.


Best regards,




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.