6: iPad Workflow: Critical Review

NOTE !! All to be developed and updated in the autumn with the forthcoming iOS 11 upgrade, iPad software like Procreate promises to reach an even higher level of artistic potential.

I envisage ideally exploring much more fully different Aps as I work back through the different assignments. But, depending on time and RSI, I may well in the end focus in the review mostly on Procreate. Using the other Aps, together with Photoshop, Illustrator and painter for short comparison. And redo some of the assignments in natural media – gouache, watercolour etc.

I also need to experiment much more with printing on different types of paper – from experiments so far this requires rather different techniques and output specifications than onscreen.


The critical review is intended to demonstrate your awareness and understanding of how your own and other illustrators’ work and ideas relates
to the wider cultural picture. It should demonstrate a critical and contextual understanding of how your work fits into a broader framework of practices and explore the ideas that underpin some of these.
Your critical review is an opportunity to:

  • explore in greater depth a topic or theme that has informed your journey throughout this course, for example the work or ideas of a particular illustrator, an area of illustration practice, a body of work that demonstrates certain ways of working
  • demonstrate that you’ve developed academically as well as creatively.

Use your primary source material as your starting point (i.e. your own work and accompanying reflections on your practice and studies, etc.) and develop this into a 2,000 word critical review using your collection of secondary source material (your analytical notes, bibliographic references, annotated images, notes on illustration practices and history) gained through reading and researching into the subject.


The first iPad was released on April 3, 2010. The drawing experience significantly improved particularly with the introduction of the iPad Pro, first released in November 2015 and Second Generation 2017, together with the Apple Pencil and improved camera. iPad software made a corresponding leap in terms of both image quality and range of styles that can be produced. The iPad is now widely used by artists and illustrators to produce high end art like that of David Hockney and/or as part of an image design and development workflow.  iPad portability and flexibility make it a very good tool for drafting and exploring alternative designs and ideas and travelling – potentially replacing both sketchbooks and pc digital work. 

The iPad has been part of my own workflow since 2014  and had been a key feature of much of my work for this course, mostly using the Procreate Ap. However for my workflow, these advantages need to be balanced with a need to manage RSI. This review  aimed to provide a focus for upgrading my iPad skills,  looking in detail at recent developments and widening my range of software and styles, placing what I had achieved in Procreate in a wider context. 

I focus on professional Aps that are capable of producing high resolution images. For more details see iPad Aps compared, iPad review and posts on my experiments and tutorials for:

  • Adobe Draw and Adobe Sketch  – mimimalist Aps that produce artwork for export and further development in Illustrator and Photoshop respectively.
  • ArtRage that uses a combination of brushes and canvas texture to produce painterly effects.
  • Auryn Ink an Ap dedicated to watercolour.
  • Inspire Pr a painting Ap that is particularly useful for oil painting,
  • Medibang Paint  used for producing comics
  • Pixelmator that combines photography editing with drawing, painting and text.
  • Procreate the most wideranging and customisable professional drawing and painting Ap
  • SketchBook Pro an illustration Ap combining vector and pixel art, including text
  • SketchClub a high resolution sketching Ap that can produce a range of very distinctive styles.

I look only briefly at Aps like Brushes (used by David Hockney) and ArtStudio that were early pioneers but have not kept pace with technology, and Aps like Paper 53 and Tayasui Sketches that produce low resolution sketch images.

I aim to draw some conclusions relevant for my own practice about:

  • What media can the iPad best produce? What are the range of different traditional media and effects that can be convincingly replicated? In which Aps?
  • What effects can be produced that are specific to the iPad, as an iPad illustrative style in its own right? In which Aps?
  • What are the inherent limitations? Both artistically and in terms of what I myself can do within the constraints of RSI? Which media and effects that I am aiming for are still best produced in traditional media on different surfaces? Using  other digital software on pc like Photoshop, Illustrator and Corel Painter instead and/or as a complement to the iPad?

The review complements more detailed discussion on specific areas linking to other Posts and Portfolios on this blog (follow the hyperlinks).

What media can the iPad produce?

There are many software Apps of varying sophistication and enabling different styles and media. Recent versions of the iPad Pro have progressively  increased processing speed to enable a bigger range of brushes and variation in stroke, reduced parallax (the distance between the drawing implement and the screen to increase drawing accuracy)  and increased resolution to enable large gallery-size paintings. The introduction of the Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro brought in a high degree of pressure sensitivity and tilt functions that are now incorporated into software like procreate. The camera has also significantly improved to enable easy inclusion of photography in digital images directly on the device.

It is clear that the iPad can produce a wide range of styles when used by experienced artists. 

iPads are often used for simple sketching and digital inking. Some Aps produce distinctive ink work. Some Aps have inbuilt ink brushes that make a distinctive mark –  Paper 53 produces a Quentin Blake-type style, Tayasui Sketches and SketchClub   have a range of Zen and quirky ink brushes that are beautful and fun to use. In Aps like Procreate it is possible to fully control design of ones own brushes, importing ones own shapes and grain images to create brushes that can then be infinitely adjusted for things like spacing, taper, jitter, opacity as one works. Procreate brushes are in many ways more flexible for artistic effects than Photoshop. But for basic sketching they have so many potential variants and seem at present to be less responsive and stable than for example SketchBook Pro (!!Will review again with proCreate 4). 

Most early Aps focused on varying brush size and transparency to produce Acrylic, airbrush, gouache and oil-type styles. David Hockney produced many small early sketches using the Brushes Ap on his iPhone – delighting in the speed with which he could record the colours and shapes of his surroundings just using his finger. He also used further software to produce very large gallery pieces as part of the  ‘Bigger Picture’ exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2012. These resemble very large colourful gouache and oil paintings. Large pieces can also be tiled like his oil paintings to produce much bigger works. Aps like ArtRage and Inspire pro can produce interesting simulations of 3D textures and colour blending on screen similar to work in Corel Painter.

Procreate is one of the more versatile Aps commonly used for professional work by digital painters like James Julier and illustrators like Stefan de Groot, Danny Glasgow and Austin Batchelor.  The most beautiful and distinctive work I have found so far is by Ilya Tyljakov is a Russian concept artist who uses Procreate to create beautiful atmospheric work. He creates and sells his own ‘Pro Brushes’ on the ProCreate Community to produce very distinctive marks with a degree of randomness that make them very distinctive as a style. 

Watercolour is more of a challenge because watercolour bleeds require high processing power. But a range of styles are possible in different Aps – see Digital Watercolour. ‘JunoVHS’ produces some beautiful delicate Watercolour art in Procreate using custom-shaped brushes and transparency overlays. Aps like Auryn Ink and Adobe Sketch do a very convincing simulation with potential to create beautiful atmospheric work. SketchClub can produce an anime gradient watercolour-style using a vector shape brush. This work views well on screen, but needs quite a lot more detailed work to print high resolution images on digital watercolour paper as the ink tends to blend. 

Some artists and illustrators produce textured collage work. See for example: Michelle Brown: http://oldcellsstudio.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/iPad

But a lot of iPad painting found on sites like DeviantArt, Filckr, Tumblr and other social and illustration marketing networks  has a very similar style – smooth blend, soft focus landscape and fantasy style. From my own preliminary explorations it is clear that there is much more potential to be explored to take my own illustration style further.

My own practice – key learnings

I myself have used the iPad as part of my workflow in many of the projects in this course. I have had varying success – partly because of a steep learning curve, partly because of RSI and partly because of some inherent shortcomings in current software (to be reviewed after iOS11).

Sketching and painting on location

In Assignment 4 I tried sketching in Procreate, to produce the whole image on location in Procreate, but found the sketching process was too clumsy and lacked the dynamism of sketching on paper. It took a long time to set up brushes for an interesting style, and they were not so consistent when used quickly. The lag and inconsistency of mark aggravated my RSI when trying to sketch quickly from life. !! Need to look at this again with simpler sketch apps like Sketchbook Pro and SketchClub, and may improve with iOS11.

However it is possible to create atmospheric townscape and landscape paintings from life using either just painting Aps like procreate or ArtRage and/or taking photographs as reference from which to take colours and/or to use as background layer. I explored this in some of the Aldeburgh images.

It is possible to recreate a wide range of artistic styles using photographs and/or sketches as reference, including pastel, oil and watercolour. 

The iPad has a number of advantages for painting and sketching:

  • the ability to combine many different media on one image without needing to carry a lot of equipment.
  • can sketch in airports and people think you are just reading on your iPad.
  • possibility to work on very fine detail through zooming in and out of the image. fine control over transparency and ability to get very fine gradations of colour.
  • delicate edge effects can be produced with transparency lock.
  • ability to quickly explore many alternative styles, colours and compositions through manipulating layers. 

Colouring, collaging, layering and blending photos and images from natural media. Some textural effects of watercolour and gouache cannot be reproduced solely on the iPad itself. But using natural media and the iPad can produce very distinctive art that is impossible just using natural media.

Most of my iPad work for this course has started in natural media, and then processed in Procreate. At first I was using Photoshop for collaging and blending – for example the projects in Part 1. But I quickly found in my work on Reportage that it was quicker and generally effective to photograph on my iPad and import into Procreate for collaging, colouring and blending. I found the crayon and pastel brushes in particular very effective for colouring (Project 2.2 Everyday Fashion, 2.5 There and Back Again and Assignment 2 Drawing.  In ‘Phlomis’ I experimented with inverting masks and using difference and exclusion modes to create abstract and patterned images.

Procreate has relatively good selection and transformation tools that, when combined with layer curves and colour adjustments, erasers and transparency lock, can produce very atmospheric effects. I explored these much further in Assignments 4 and 5.

Using photographs enables very different perspectives, vantage points and weather conditions to be captured – providing the photographs themselves are well thought through with potential final images in mind. It is also possible to exploit the effects of light on printed images to create atmospheric effects. 

Images can be endlessly worked on in natural media, photographed, printed and worked on again.

In the course of writing this review I explored a range of other Apps that I found effective to produce effects that are not possible, or much more difficult, to produce in natural media like kaleidoscopic and mirrored images (Pixelmator and SketchClub), pixellations (SketchClub and SketchBook Pro) and impasto techniques on textured canvases (ArtRage).

Some limitations of the iPad compared with digital art on pc

Although the iPad can do very many things:

  • the brushes lack the fine tonal controls and blending possibilities on Photoshop.
  • There is still not enough processing power to create the watercolour effects that can be achieved in Core Painter.
  • Selection and masking tools are quite rudimentary.
  • The vector programmes are particularly weak in terms of their range of styles and flexibility compared to Adobe Illustrator.
  • Text and layout tools are either non-existent or rudimentary – though I still need to look at Medibang Paint

Conclusions for my illustration workflow

I still have a lot to learn and explore in using different iPad Aps for sketching and painting. Although it is possible to have greater control over line using natural media, for more exploratory and abstract work iPad brushes can introduce an element of randomness that can be very effective. It is also possible to learn a lot about drawing, colour and composition through using an iPad – and thus improve natural media drawing and painting. The ability to use and manipulate photographs as reference or as part of an image increases the range of drawing and painting possibilities.

However it is the combination of natural media and the iPad that I find most interesting in the very distinctive styles and effects that can be produced. And the ability to do this while travelling and from life. Together with the ability to then further fine tune tones, colours and masks on the pc through export to Photoshop and/or Illustrator or Corel Paint. This type of workflow, with its varied working positions and locations is one that is possible even with RSI. If I continue to learn how to use the iPad more efficiently, setting up brushes in advance and using different Aps as appropriate.


!!More to be added.

Wikipedia iPad gives a history of evolution of the specifications of the device. Specifically for the iPad Pro see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPad#iPad_Pro_series

Ipad Artroom: http://www.ipadartroom.com

iPad Art: Lessons, Apps and Ideas for the iPad in Visual Art Cathy Hunt: ebook  on using iPad for classroom art education for Apple download

Software Reviews:

Creative Bloq January 2017: http://www.creativebloq.com/digital-art/art-on-the-ipad-1232669

Digital Art April 2017 : http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/features/illustration/12-best-apps-for-drawing-painting-on-ipad/

Digital Trends: June 2017: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/best-ipad-pro-drawing-apps/