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.

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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)