Two summers ago, I bought a new iPad. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it because, frankly, I’ve spent a long time drawing in a sketchbook with pens and brushes and the idea of making digital art seemed kind of icky.
But the Apple Pencil intrigued me, so I made it my summer project to learn to use it to make some art. I figured, worst case, I’d give up and just use it for Facebook and Netflix.
When I first started to draw, my goal was never to make pretty pictures. If you’ve read my book Everyday Matters, you’ll know that I came to drawing as a form of meditation, a way to ground myself in the real and actual rather than living exclusively in my rather tortured brain. My practice was to draw the things around me, in a straightforward, observational way, using just a cheap pen and a sketchbook. I was making a record of my life, of the quotidian beauty that surrounds me.
So, could I use the iPad to keep doing this? At first, I couldn’t as I kept tripping over my enormous toolbox. The ability to tweak every line to a fair-the-well would distract me from making a strong connection between my brain and the object I was contemplating, I’d keep switching up pens, erasing, undoing, tweaking colors and so forth, all of which would shatter the meditative spell I was used to. I was overwhelmed by my options. If one is used to taking a gentle stroll through the countryside, being dropped into a Formula 1 racer without a driving license would be understandably distracting.So I dialed back and just focused on just making a simple black line. I drew my most familiar subject, a floral tea-cup, which I had drawn dozens and dozens of times over the years. These drawings were familiar and comforting but were like driving that racecar in a school zone. I wanted to open things up, to expand beyond where I’d been and get comfortable using my new toys.
I tried one colored pencil next.
Then I tried getting even more hands on — by drawing with my fingers.
Then I added a colored background and got a little abstract.
Finally, I tried a bit of whimsical collage.
These experiments showed me I could do what I’d done in my sketchbook and also go a lot further — if I took baby steps. Slowly, I began to capture what was around me, just as I had when I started, twenty-odd years ago: adding one tool at a time until I felt comfortable with it, then trying another.
I’d originally spent a year drawing with a Uniball roller pen. Then I’d added a felt marker, then a single grey brush marker. Then a handful of cool and warm greys. Next one orange, then a green and so on. After another year, I filled an entire sketchbook with colored pencil drawings. Then I got my first watercolor set. In all, it took me at least four or five years to consistently make reasonable color drawings in my sketchbook. I’d have to have a little patience to feel as comfortable with my iPad.
After two more months of work, I could draw things that looked almost photographic. My ultimate goal wasn’t to make this sort of art but just to push myself and my tools to see what I could do with them. The more familiar they become, the more transparent they are, letting me focus on my subject without thinking about knob twiddling and technowizardry.
My goal is to stay in the flow, even through this sheet of glass.
I’m just back from a trip to Grand Central Station with two artists I really love: France Belleville van Stone and (former President of Urban Sketchers) Jason Das. The weather outside was frightful but the airy spaces and poetic architecture were a delight. We began with a visit to the Apple Store on the mezzanine to check out the new iPad pros which are zippy and powerful and a pleasure to draw on with the new Apple Pencil.
Then France gave Jason a lesson in how to use Paper, the drawing app for the iPad, and the two of them settled in to draw the information booth and the massive chandelier beyond. It was great to hear how they tackle the space, what they feel about drawing digitally, how to contend with spectators and finally, to see the beautiful art they made.
If you are as entranced as I am by these artists, join them and four other great teachers) in Stretching in the new term at Sketchbook Skool. Find out more here.