Pad and i: Part 2. the Month of Drawing Dreadfully

In the fall of 2015, Apple released the iPad Pro and the Pencil, a sort of bitten-off knitting needle. Despite being a fanboy for three decades, I’d been disenchanted by a lot of the recent releases and didn’t pay much attention. I already had two iPads kicking around the house and the addition of a drawing tool didn’t justify the near $1000 price tag.

Then I started to see Facebook posts that made me sit up and drool.

People seemed to actually be doing decent drawings with the thing. Drawings that didn’t look like they’d been made with a computer at all. Drawings that kept getting better and better as people got the hang of the thing.

The next time I was in an Apple store, I fooled around with the Pencil a bit. It was pretty damned responsive. But it wasn’t instant love. I didn’t like the idea of drawing on a cold sheet of glass. And what would I do with a bunch of digital drawings? Print them out? F’what? They weren’t going to replace my sketchbooks so how could I justify spending all that money? I imagined a giant iPad lying in a stack with expensive coffee table art books I’d never gotten around to reading. Nah, not for me.

Another year went by and this Spring, I found myself visiting Apple stores more and more, trying different apps, counting my pocket change, flirting. My heart was wandering because, frankly, my analog sketchbook practice was withering. After not travelling, not having a kid in the house, and spending all of my day in front of a computer at home surrounded by things I’d drawn a dozen times already, I just didn’t feel inspired to record my humdrum life in my book as I had for decades. Things got so dull, I’d spent a month just drawing my tea-cup over and over.

One fine June day, I crept out of the Apple store with a couple of slim boxes in an unmarked white bag, my heart pounding. I felt like I’d just bought a blow-up sex doll or something, a totally frivolous guilty pleasure I had no business owning. I slunk home, downloaded a few apps, and started to draw.

It was horrible.

Off the bat, I was overwhelmed by all the tools.  I had an infinite palette, hundred of pens and brushes that could each be tweaked and finessed. A simple drawing and some words — a thing I’d made a zillion times over two decades — looked murky and overworked as I worked through my gigantic toy chest.

On top of this ineptness was a deep sense of purposelessness. What was I trying to do here? Was this another form of illustrated journal, only more awful looking and frozen inside a tablet? Was it just an expensive toy? A doodle pad? Was I trying to make art? To be a digital illustrator? Was I wandering away from the whole reason I draw, entranced by a digital glow?

I had started drawing as a way to meditate, to engage with the moment, with what was happening right in front of me, the reality of my life. As the Master said:

 “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~ Buddha

Drawing had helped me do that and it had saved my life.

But this iPad distracted me in a thousand ways, placed barriers between me and the moment, between my observation and creation. This bewitching gizmo had me relying on cheap tricks like Technicolor backgrounds, gaudy palettes, airbrush sprays, and endless clicks on the undo arrow to mask my hopelessness. Instead of approaching Enlightenment, I was just scraping an overgrown swizzle stick across a sheet of glass, filling my screen with proof that I just could not draw at all any more, guilty at my frivolous extravagance, afraid to quit, but clueless as to how to proceed.

I was starting at Square One, or even worse. At least when I’d opened my very first sketchbook twenty years ago, I knew how to use a pen, how to turn a page, but now I was just blind, dumb, and wearing oven mitts. I am a published author, an art school founder, an “expert”, and yet I was drowning in a vortex of pixels with no shore in sight.

And so it went for a bleak month or so.

(To be continued)


9 thoughts on “Pad and i: Part 2. the Month of Drawing Dreadfully”

  1. Breathlessly waiting to read the next installment of your adventure….and happy to see your earliest attempts as compared to your latest drawings. They really show a progress that gives hope to all of us experimenting with this very cool but slightly intimidating tool.


  2. Oh yes….how much many of us will idenrify with this commentary! Part 2 will likely tell of of the ‘breakthrough’ you have clearly had…..I need that….I’m still in the equivalent of your slump of drawing your teacup over and over and over and……looking forward to the next episode and a glimmer of light in this artistic darkness….love your storytelling style Danny.


  3. Danny,
    I also upgraded to an iPad Pro and purchased an Apple Pencil. I’ve had this Apple Pencil for a year now and found it slippery and clumsy to use so it sat unused. It also rolled away when I set it down. So I added a grip and a clip from an old ballpoint pen. I think it will get more use now.


  4. If you did not so eloquently address what I have gone through, and am going through I would remind you to read what you have written and try to remember that. Bridget’s book on How Art can Make you Happy and your book Shut Your Monkey are essential reading as far as I am concerned. Or am I missing something (probably am). The monkey (inner critic) is doing well with us. Actually sometimes having its way. I am referring to art being purposeless. Which magically turns into a whole lot of purposes. Plus your lazer like description of daily drawing that turns into “boring” (I have never seen a boring drawing done by you). And after reading Bridget’s book I suspect that if I remember to apply what she suggests I will never be bored by art again. Just as i remember what you wrote in the Shut your……. book will keep me excited and aware of life and its possibilities. I have to tell you there is a quote by you in her book (that pleasantly surprised me) which I find gives me an important secret that I can apply. Forgive the long comment for I eagerly await part two in the hopes that you remember who you really are.


  5. oh no! I need to hear the next instalment, I have just got an ipad pro this weekend so that can use it to draw but I haven’t yet bought the apps or pen…did I make a mistake? – waiting with bated breath!


  6. What if this learning phase will end just like when you have to swatch brand-new watercolors and the creativity kicks in full force?
    I met this wonderful Gabriel Campanario when I went to Seattle to sketch with their group – he creates amazing iPad Air/Pro sketches. Full of stories and life. He makes me want to try it, but I understand that it is what a true artist can do with it, not what iPad can do for the artist…


  7. It’s the ‘deep sense of purposelessness’ that stands out, for me – exactly what I can’t get over, either. That, and the fact that I just seem to need to feel real paper and hold real pen. Don’t think that’s ever going to change for me. I’m loving this story as it unfolds…..


  8. waiting! for the next installment… I too am ogling the iPad pro. Tell us, did you get the 10.5″ or the 12.9″? Does size even matter??


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