So…Drawing…Digital or Analog?

Among many other things, I was sketching and illustrating this weekend. I normally do that on my iPad Pro. I have been doing all of my drawing, and penmanship practice on the iPad. I figured that while I was in practice mode, the iPad would save me a ton of money on supplies. Things like pencils, pens, ink, erasers, sketch pad, paper, etc, all that costs money. My plan was that I could do my base learning on the iPad, then transfer over to real life sketch pads once my hand stopped drawing crooked lines.

I think it was a prussion war general that said—no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. I felt my first task on the iPad was to find the right App for the job. I have very specific needs after all. I want an App that contains a digital pencil that acts like a normal pencil. This is a need because when I take lessons on-line, and they instruct you to swap the 2H pencil for an HB I can do that. I also like to add black ink to those drawings with a fine tip pen of some sort.

I also needed an App specifically for drawing ideas. Ideation is a different mind space than realistic pencil drawing. It requires different types of tools, and some sort of presentation mode. This type of work consists of drawing concepts and ideas on my iPad. The iPad feeds an Apple TV connected to a big screen. I use my iPad to draw concepts while explaining the concept to the audience. It's a thing, and I do it on my iPad. As mentioned before I also wanted to practice my penmanship. Learn a couple more personal handwritten typefaces that I can use out in the wild.

A Tedious Lesson Learned

I was a bit naive in thinking that I could just go the app store and type in "sketch" or "draw", and it would serve me up some nice selections. If you have ever done that, you know that this was not the case. When I searched I found all kinds of different sketch scenarios...for kids education, design, vector illustration, painting, coloring books. As you probably already know these were all mixed in with the sketch I was looking for. It took me days to narrow and browse the collection to cherry pick the exact one I needed. I say days because I help out a really long time to find that one unicorn app that fills all my needs.

I never found that drawing app. There was no unicorn that fit all of my needs outlined here. There was always some sort of short falling with each one that was a deal breaker. An interesting example is Autodesk Sketchbook. I love Sketchbook on other platforms. I have used it with a Wacom on both Windows, and Macintosh systems. I like how it's UI gets out of the way nicely. The quality is high on all their stuff. Not only the amount of different brushes, but also each brush is made really well. The watercolors run, the oils kind of move at the end of your stroke, the pencils are the appropriate hardness. All of that is cool. It's what I was expecting of the iPad app, but that was just not the case.

On the iPad version the brush selection is no where near as vast, and the processor just isn't where it needs to be to run this app full blown. So all those cool brushes I was talking about are missing from the iPad version. I am guessing that Autodesk pulled those advanced watercolor brushes because they don't act the same. The only really thing they really got right was the pencils, eraser, and smudge tool. That's honestly all I need for my drawing courses. So I've dedicated Sketchbook to pencil drawing. A bit expensive, but still cheaper than a ream of paper. A warning before you the details regarding each version, and then go watch some videos to see if it has the features you need. Then make sure you check that those features are on the platform you are using.


This sounds like a big word, but really is just having the tools and the space to come up with new concepts and ideas. The tools I need are basic. A blue pencil, and a pen to solidify concepts. I also sometimes use a single gray or blue market I use for depth and shading cues. I app I chose...drum roll please, the Concepts App. I chose it for many reasons. It has all these great backgrounds to choose from so you can have ruled lines, gridded dots, a picture, or even a solid color to draw on top of. I chose a solid color, and since this is an idea space, my preference is to keep the background the blue that resembles old blueprint paper. My digital pencil is blue, and the digital pen ink is super white. This allows me to draw a rough sketch that blends into the background beforehand. Then set that off on it's own layer so I can work right on top of it as a reference. This works great when presenting live. The crowd doesn't really register the blue pencil marks in the background, they really only see the white pen on that big screen, and it really helps to have that not quite invisible guide to help you out. I still use this app for all my brainstorming, and many of my presentation.

Practicing my Penmanship

Each day I practice my hand writing skills. Sometimes I replicate an existing typeface. Sometimes I work on calligraphy. Sometimes I write graph letters. Sometimes I practice my mundane everyday cursive writing. It really depends on the day, my mood, the weather... In the past I used a regular note taking app to practice because I didn't have to think about importing a background to set up lined paper and such. It is so much of a pain in the ass to do that every time. You might be thinking that it is not such a big deal, but having to do that every time gets disgustingly tedious. UGH. I needed to find the right app. I was looking for something with an OK pen, but more importantly a good layer tool. The idea is, when I finish a page of practice I can just delete or clear the layer sitting over my guide sheet, and then keep moving. I do at least two sheets on any given day. Every practice is destroyed.

I chose Morpholio's Trace app for this. Mostly because of it's advanced, yet simple to use, layer tools. The app has a built in analogy to connect it to real life. You draw on a desk that starts with one piece of tracing paper on it. It even has the color of tracing paper. It's a simple concept that works really well in this context. Need another layer, just pile on another piece of tracing paper. This work well for my practice sessions, and also for tracing things in general.

My most recent example is the drawing I am now finishing up of the Nissan GTR. I used this to do the basic line trace, then deleted the reference layer, and continued shading the car from the reference photo I took on my phone. It's a nice workflow that allows me to focus my learning like a laser to one aspect of drawing. In the case of the GTR I wanted to concentrate on shading the car only. I wanted the surfaces to look like they have the texture and shade that they do in real life. I wanted to achieve that using only cross hatching, and stippling. Morpholio gives me that power. I like that.

Going Analog

I find it funny that the path I must follow to advance my drawing skill is the one that leads me back into the analog world. Usually Usually, it goes the other way…I am turning analog things into digital things. In the case of my drawing journey this feels like the right time. I am getting more and more annoyed with the digital limitations that all these apps put me under, and I think my skill had advanced enough that I am not practicing straight lines, squares, circles, and shaded cubes on paper anymore. No more digital papers. I am ready.

It Just Feels...Right.

Last week I went to the art store, and bought a multi-use sketchpad to carry around. As soon as I showed up with this pad at home, My son approached me with a new drawing set. It had the standard pencils, erasers, smudge sticks, charcoals...everything I would need. He said he got the kit as a gift and that he would never use it. He wanted me to have it. I love my son, and OH...this allowed me to get started right away.

I noticed something right away. The way the pencil feels on the paper. It's a huge difference. It sounds trivial I know, but the difference in feeling between a pencil and a stylus it' a huge gap. I would liken it looking across the grand canyon when I really get to thinking about the differences. A stylus with a hard tip, like Apple's, goes tap tap tap tap tap on the hard screen. It always has that hard feel to it...tap,tap,tap. It's just not the same. With a pen or pencil on a pad it feels like almost an exchange of information between the tip of the pencil and your hand. If you have ever heard someone talk about driving a car with a manual transmission you will hear them say how it makes them feel more connected to the road. Using a real pad and pencil feels like that. It makes you feel more of that fine tactile connection to the art. You can literally feel the bumps and texture in the paper as you glide a straight line or scratch out a tiny detail. That feeling...It connects you to the work in that perfect way.

You Will See Me Around with a Sketchbook These Days.

It certainly is more to carry around, less convenient, and costs more money, but I recommend real life sketching over digital sketching. Digital sketching is a really cool thing to watch, and in the long run you can do it cheaper than traditional sketching, but ultimately I believe that analog is the way to go. It connects you to your art in ways that are unexpected, tactile, and immediate. That realization, that feeling, does takes some time to blossom. I feel you have to be drawing on the regular to feel it. Once you do though...I think you will agree with me that an iPad is no replacement for a proper sketchpad setup.

I do feel obligated to say that I still use my iPad for ideation drawing. Especially in a group setting. That is still a killer feature of my iPad. I just leave the day to day sketching to the sketchpad.

It just feels right.