I’m not much of an Apple user. Being a '90s kid, I grew up on Windows machines in my house and eventually, my schools. By the time most Apple products were more mainstream, I was already fairly indoctrinated by the other side. When I did sit down at a Mac I felt frustrated at the unfamiliar, and the limitations on a more closed system.
Apple broke into me with their smaller devices. I remember buying one of the original iPods and loving it dearly right until it was stolen out of my boyfriend-at-the-time’s car. iPhones were the next big step, and eventually I got a 3GS. Really solid little device but as Android started to catch up, the customisation and more open nature of the software pulled me away. Not to mention the pressure sensitive stylus of the Note series which I have enjoyed for art in the past.
As time went on, I kept Apple at arms reach. I always felt priced out of the stuff that really interested me, and half the selling point is the ecosystem. I would use my partner’s work provided Apple devices to test apps when tech curious or for work, but I didn’t want to get any closer. I can’t afford to.
As a tech journo I was lucky enough to be offered a loan device by Apple, so I could better cover the apps and other things I need to in my work. I was excited, but also apprehensive. Should you really take a bite out of an apple you can’t afford?
Well if you can, may as well make it a big one.
I was offered a 4th gen iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and a keyboard case. This was especially exciting because if there was ever going to be a tipping point for me, it was the art.
Tonnes of artists swear by their iPads and Apple Pencils for their digital creations. I have friends who make games and do all their concept work only on iPad. Most tattoo artists I follow also seem chained to the device. None seem unhappy about it. Whatever’s in the water, it must sure taste good.
And I hate to say it, but yeah, it’s absolutely fucking delicious.
Procreate is one of the go to art apps for iPad and it’s a big part of why so many cultivate the device. It’s a reasonable one time price, made by Aussies, and works like a dream.
Like any software it takes some getting used to but there were parts I immediately loved. The procreate pencil brush paired with the physical Apple Pencil device feels like drawing in pencil. The pressure is perfect but there’s even little things like shading with the side like you would with a true blue graphite. I pick it up to do a sketch and it feels like sketching. Nothing has ever done it that well before and it’s a wild first step.
While definitely different, Procreate will mostly be familiar for people who’ve dabbled in digital art. It uses layers, has a bunch of brushes you can add to, masking, and all that other good stuff. Anything I don’t understand I’ve found plenty of simple tutorials to help out.
Tonnes of people own an iPad, regardless of cost, and Procreate itself is dirt cheap. So knowledge is shared at all kinds of levels. This makes it feel more like a device for the people, but with power for the pros. It’s not like needing a Cintique, Photoshop, and a Masters Degree.
This accessibility makes it so easy to play with art. Wanna try out a quick idea? Well the iPad and it’s friendly little program is right there ready to go. It’s so stress free to feel like I have a complete digital painting solution without compromise that I can take anywhere.
And because of this, I’m doing some of the best digital art of my life. I’m happily filling my days when I’m too sick or sore for anything else with artistic experimentation. It even lets you export these sick little videos of your progress so you can pinpoint exactly where you ruined everything. I feel like I’ve learned so much so quickly, and it’s probably a little too fulfilling.
There are tonnes of other apps that get high praise too but I haven’t yet pulled myself away to play with many. I could buy all of them for less than I pay Adobe in a year for the privilege of using its software. And they’re not just limited to 2D art.
Nomad is a 3D sculpting program on iPad that just blows my tiny 2D mind. It was recommended by a friend, and I personally don’t have any real digital sculpting experience but was still able to play and have that play just feel good. I don’t even understand how it runs on a device this thin, but it does so effortlessly. Apparently you can export the files and 3D print them too. Is this even real life anymore?
Of course, there are little things to remind me that it indeed is. After all, it’s still an iPad. I still find myself plagued with little annoyances, like when I end up doing a google search to find out how to change a basic setting only to discover that actually, you can’t. Or why the hell the Instagram app sucks so hard (to be fair on all tablets) - especially if you’re wanting to upload any of your fresh iPad art. Or when I remember the price.
This model still retails for what can be close to $3,000. Add the keyboard case stand that I use all the time and Apple Pencil to the total and you’re definitely over that line. It’s something I would struggle to afford.
But professional digital art tools can also easily cost that or more all up, and that’s kind of all they do. I don’t have any of those either, but I have played with them and I’m not really convinced they’re that much better – unless you specifically need them for work.
Especially because they lose the thing I’m loving most about art on the iPad, and it’s that sense of play. Sitting down to a big set up, loading everything up, being stuck in one place, feels like work. Picking up a digital sketchbook whenever I please, that can also be a note taking device, help me bounce ideas off friends, let me create fully realised 2D and 3D works of art, or even just write about how much I enjoy doing all those things is kind of a marvel.
I’m still not an Apple "convert". I have all the bugbears I’ve always had as someone more familiar and comfortable with much more open platforms. But I am an iPad convert, if only for art.
Every now and then I go to pick up something else, like my Note phone or a physical pad to draw with. But I’m not enjoying them as much, and the second it gets beyond a sketch, I’ll swap over to the iPad.
The iPad is the best device I’ve used for these purposes hands down. If you can, I highly recommend jumping in and having a play.