I can't draw but I want to learn...on an iPad!
July 28, 2021 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Is there an iPad app for total amateurs who want to get into drawing? Is this even a reasonable thing to explore if I am a terrible artist outside of the iPad? Give me a pencil or crayons or anything and it will be a struggle to draw something that looks "good". But for the purposes of being able to do this on the train, I'm hoping to learn and improve with just my iPad and Apple Pencil. Any apps you'd recommend? Or general advice?
posted by NorthCoastRiver to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
General advice: don't try to learn how to draw on an iPad. The technology doesn't make learning to draw any easier, and if anything it can be an obstacle to developing good habits. I suggest getting pads of newsprint (it's not archival so no getting attached) and a pack of Bic ballpoint pens (the original stick kind, no gel, nothing fancy).

What kind of things are you interested in drawing? Train rides can be good for sketching people from life, but you have to be discreet. You can also practice drawing simple solid forms like cubes/boxes, spheres, organic "bean" shapes, etc.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:41 AM on July 28, 2021

Procreate is pretty much the gold standard iPad art app as far as I can tell, but I find it a little unintuitive, and that has definitely been a barrier to my getting better at using it. It is a very powerful program though and has a lot of downloadable assets you could import, so it would probably be worth the learning curve (I say, still struggling with it to this day.) But there are also a lot of YouTube tutorials, and honestly, following along with those would probably be as good a start as any for both getting the hang of Procreate and getting some drawing practice.

Some other art apps I have downloaded but only used sporadically and don't have any strong feelings about: Sketchbook, Zen Brush, Sketches, Art Set, Adobe Sketch and Adobe Draw (free I think, but AdobeID is required), and ibisPaint X.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:05 AM on July 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Regardless of what tools you select, I recommend reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain as a reference. Also a big fan of the Loomis anatomy stuff (for example, Figure Drawing For All It's Worth, free on Archive.org), if you want to draw people. (CW: lots of drawings of models selected by a mid-20th century man, but also lots of good anatomy/musculature stuff).
posted by Alterscape at 7:23 AM on July 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Using Procreate will not teach you how to draw. It will teach you how to use Procreate, which is just a tool to draw *with*. Learning how to use a complicated calligraphy pen will not in itself result in you having nice handwriting, and will make it much harder to learn if that's your main tool for handwriting development.

Seconding the suggestions of newsprint and ballpoints, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I'd also add the youtube 'Drawabox' series as a good foundation.
posted by ananci at 8:13 AM on July 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

My husband and I have been learning to make stuff in Procreate - he's more into actual drawing lessons, I'm more painting, illustration, surface design - and are very satisfied with the experience. We've just been using classes on Skillshare and YouTube. Procreate is an excellent application that kind of spoils you for other options, but I definitely recommend working along with video for at least a few lessons to really learn how to move around the tools and options.

Because we are doing this for pleasure and enrichment, we do not care if we'll never be professional pencil-paper artists.

I just recently learned about the Sobagrip for Apple Pencil here on another Ask and it dramatically improved the elbow-shoulder tension I was getting from drawing on the tablet
posted by Lyn Never at 8:50 AM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would start with something far simpler than Procreate if you're an absolute beginner. The drawing tools in Notes are more than enough to get you started
posted by O9scar at 9:19 AM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I also found Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain a total game changer. It taught me that I could actually draw something that looks like what is supposed to me but to do this, I absolutely have to be looking at it (or at a reference photo). If you aren't good at drawing then drawing something that you aren't directly looking at is testing your visual memory as well as your drawing skills - a double handicap.
posted by metahawk at 12:06 PM on July 28, 2021

Everything others are saying is spot on. I also recommend a silicon tip for the Apple Pencil (example search from the big A) because otherwise the tip of the pencil tends to slide on the glass. I've tried fancy screen protectors that were supposed to make the screen feel like paper, but they also had the side effect of making the beautiful screen look pixelated so I prefer the tip.

Procreate is definitely the go-to for art on the iPad. I think that Concepts, Zen Brush 2, and Adobe Fresco (the last has a month subscription) do a better job of approximating non-digital art media like paints and markers, but honestly, all of them are just approximating to a degree that if I want that effect I'd rather use actual watercolors. Still, it is fun to play with the different options and see what you can do!
posted by past unusual at 2:02 PM on July 28, 2021

Learning to draw is one skill set and learning to be proficient at Procreate is another skill set. I understand why others suggest starting with a sketchbook instead of an IPad, and that does make sense. But if you want to learn to draw on your IPad, then go for it! Get the Procreate app and have fun with it. Procreate can do amazing things if you invest the time in learning it, but you can also just do simple drawings on it with the Apple pencil. Then later if you want to take a deep dive into Procreate, you can.
posted by MelissaSimon at 2:45 PM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

A good thing about the iPad is that if you're wanting to study anatomy, you can insert pages from anatomy texts (or photos of athletes) into Procreate documents and scale them into a corner. This allows you to copy without having to hold your source material separately.

I'd also recommend spending at least some percentage of time with paper or a sketchbook. There's something about actually marking the paper and doing it in a quiet setting where you can properly concentrate. At it's best, you enter into an altered state and the time slips away.

But have fun with the iPad on the train. Be sure to experiment with the sketching brushes - I'd like to recommend Bonobo Chalk, named after [ahem] your's truly.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:08 PM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Learning how to draw involves developing muscle memory through repetition, so in that sense it doesn't really matter which medium you use.

Having said that, for me there is something (for me) about the physical friction of pen/pencil against paper that helps build that muscle memory, the Apple Pencil and iPad can feel a little too slick for me (although it does save paper).

The suggestion above for "The Loomis Method" is a good one, many beginners get trapped into trying to draw the contours of a shape rather than the 3D object its based on.

For this reason, I recommend watching Marc Leone's "The Three Best Friends of Drawing: Sphere, Cube, and Cylinder", follow along, and more importantly take his advice on how to get better. For example, learning how to *not* correct your mistakes (which digital sketching makes way too easy) or practicing how to drawing freehand circles are very useful principles.
posted by jeremias at 5:07 AM on July 29, 2021

I'm doing this with a cheap sketchbook and a cheap set of sketching pencils, and having a blast. Part of the fun of drawing for me, even if I'm not great at it, is the feel of it - the scratch of the pencil across the paper. I've tried doing sketches on my iPad with the Apple pencil and it's just not the same feeling; the tactile feedback isn't right.

What HAS been good, and fun, on the iPad is using Pigment, a coloring app with a vaguely social component. It's basic, but does allow for freeform sketching and coloring via adding pages. Since part of what I like is the contouring/shading aspect of art, and since I am not actually any good at art, Pigment has helped feed this part of my brain.
posted by invincible summer at 7:28 AM on July 29, 2021

Coming in to second the recommendation for the Pigment app, it's really fun. Beware the super-competitive like- and follower-collectors, though the contests can be fun.

I love the Paper app - and it has great tutorials. I use an Apple Pencil on an iPad mini, and I find the experience of creating this way to be delightful. I love being able to use multiple media easily, switching between watercolor and oil and marker and pencil without having to clean up in-between!

As someone who's been making art my whole life, I think it requires both a different and a similar skill-set as creating in non-digital media. Let yourself be playful without worrying about quality at first, and enjoy!
posted by acridrabbit at 3:12 PM on August 1, 2021

Oh, forgot to mention: the very best thing about making art with digital tools is the undo button! It's totally freeing!
posted by acridrabbit at 3:13 PM on August 1, 2021

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