The iPad. Artist's tool?

I've been following along very closely with all the news about the iPad since it came out, mostly interested in the potential for it as an electronic sketchbook. There are some drawbacks to the iPad, and some major advantages. Major advantages include price, portability and multiple functions. It's a book! It's a sketchpad! It's music and the internet too! That part is awesome. It's cheaper than any number of other drawing tablets, and it's portable, so unlike your Bamboo tablet, you can stroll around with it, using it as a book until suddenly you see something to sketch.

I have been testing some drawing apps on someone else's iPad. The Sketchbook app is pretty neat. I'm not in LOVE LOVE with it yet, but you can get some pretty effects going. Disclaimer: I've not used it all that much (maybe 4 or 5 hours total), and I haven't bought a stylus. However if it's a good enough medium for David Hockney, then one can't exactly turn one's nose up and be snobbish about it. In fact, this quote from the link; "He says he sometimes gets so obsessed that when he's going, he rubs his finger on his clothes to, like, clean his finger — as if he was using real paint." That totally happened to me yesterday! I was using a charcoal "brush" and I touched a portion of the screen, and left "smudges" virtually on my sketch. As a result of the realistic behavior on screen, I caught myself wiping my hand on my jeans before I reached for snacks on the table. That's the muscle memory of many a stick of charcoal.
David Hockney: Fresh Flowers

But there are also some serious issues. I find that it's pretty stressful on the fingers. I noticed this about any app on the iPad that calls for a lot of manipulation (eg, drawing apps and games). I think because you are holding one finger to the screen, but trying to keep all the other fingers out of the way, it pulls on your hand very differently than the other ways you use your fingers for typing and writing. Not sure if that's because the motions are actually bad for the fingers, or if my hands are unaccustomed to the motions I'm making and would eventually develop finer controls and less fatigue.

Also it is a little strange to get used to the resolution paradox. To get precision you need to zoom in on your drawing to a magnification level that is big enough for your finger to be nearly the width of the brush you are using, but as you zoom in, the image pixellates, and blurs around the edges where it's mimicking a pencil, so...paradox. However if you can make peace with drawing a fuzzy magnified line, you will be able to zoom back out to a nicely precise larger image. I imagine the more impressionist your style, the more finger painting on an iPad will appeal to you.

So the main drawback with the iPad is Jobs' philosophy of styluses. He thinks that fingers are great, and he doesn't think you need a stylus. I do really love the functionality of touch screen. I don't want to be down on his idea that for a majority of uses it makes so much sense that you type on it and manipulate it with just a finger, without needing a stylus. That's good design, it's sleek, it's functional.

But. Fingers don't have fine points on them. And for writing and drawing, precision is important. There are serious precision limitations on the iPad when it comes to your fingers. The input from your finger to screen is essentially a little circle of electrical charges which means there is no such thing as pressure sensitivity or fine points, without clever engineering tricks that have not been developed for the iPad, because Jobs doesn't think styluses are interesting.

This differs greatly from other electronic drawing surfaces out there- which have been designed to mimic the way we draw with physical drawing materials. So if you spent say...hundreds to thousands of hours learning how to master physical materials, how to manipulate them properly using the tool of a brush/pen/pencil and then suddenly were told that you could pretty much replicate all those effects electronically EXCEPT that you couldn't hold the pencil/pen/brush/crayon, you had to fingerpaint, well....ugh. All I can say is ugh. You have to relearn pretty much everything you thought you knew about making lines appear, and it feels clumsy.

Macs are pretty much the computer tool of choice for artists. Artists use Macs for everything. Artists love Macs, and they're part of the reason that Apple got its niche as a higher priced competitor to Microsoft.  And the iPad is almost completely perfect as an extremely powerful medium for an artist. But then, they make the thing and they just ignore the stylus issue, even though it's been discussed for a long time in regards to the Brushes app on the iPhone. It's frustrating. Should you buy now, and get used to fingerpainting? Should you wait a while and see if they will be helping you out in a later version? WHO KNOWS? I hear rumors of a patent for an Apple developed stylus, I hear rumors of touch sensitivity, lots of rumors, but...nothing concrete. Nothing that indicates how serious or important that design feature might be to higher ups.

All I know is that a real drawing tablet would cost a bajillionty dollars (US), weigh more and have less additional fun widgets that can be slotted in, so it's pretty much iPad or paper pad. It's tantilizingly close to perfect, and yet. and yet.  The decider may be an upcoming vacation to the wilderness.

Image Source: Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Hockney's iPad Paintings


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