Home Exploring Techniques Exploring techniques: Art on the iPad
Andy Maitland, ipad art, digital art

Exploring techniques: Art on the iPad

In the first of our new series ‘Exploring Techniques’, stained glass artist Amy McCarthy goes behind the finished piece to uncover the different techniques, methods and materials artists, designers and makers are using to create their work. First up she looks at the still controversial area of digital art, and discovers how some artists are harnessing new technology to create incredible art on their iPads…

Whenever I meet with fellow artists at private views and exhibitions these days talk eventually turns to new media (always in whispers, as if you are cheating in an exam): do you have an iPad? Do you use some form of digital sketchbook/drawing app? If you do, how do you go about presenting this work? How would you sell it – as a limited print run, a download? Questions, questions, questions…

In 2008 David Hockney, always ahead of the pack, started drawing using the Brushes app on his iPhone; in 2010 he held his first entirely digital exhibition of flower pictures in Paris. Instead of printed, framed images ‘Fleurs Fraiches’ presented the viewers with a series of iPads in a darkened room. He wanted people to see his new works as he had created them, on a digital screen. Regularly refreshed and updated, these small flower paintings were not for sale and Hockney gave real-time demonstrations of sketches of the Eiffel Tower, using his fingers to make his marks. In 2011 Hockney took his digital art to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark for his ‘Me Draw On iPad’ exhibition, which included hundreds of his works displayed on iTouches, iPads and projectors.

Photos from Hockney's Me Draw On iPad! exhibition at the Louisiana Museum / images: designboom.com

Hockney’s ‘Me Draw On iPad’ installation at the Louisiana Museum displayed his work as they were made – on iPhones and iPads / images © designboom.com

With all the confidence of a legendary artist Hockney sees no conflict between an image created on a computer and traditional art. It’s just a new tool and he expressed to a BBC journalist:

Who wouldn’t want one? Picasso or Van Gogh would have snapped one up.

– David Hockney

He’s probably right. Artists have always loved to experiment with new materials, so why are artists so shy of exhibiting their digital artwork? It certainly raises questions about the nature of art. A canvas only exists once, you can make prints of it, but the real thing is a physical, unique item. Not so with a digital image – you can make millions of them, send them to every email address you can get your hands on or lose all your work if your files corrupt. Hockney also has the luxury of not having to sell his work now – he has made his fortune through his talents and can now exhibit without the need for sales. 

A start-to-finish animation of one of Hockney’s iPad drawings | David Hockney: me draw on iPad from designboom on Vimeo.

Most of us need to make a living from our work and this begs the question, is art going to go the way of music? The physical record or CD is now such an old-fashioned concept, along with the idea of making a living from music. Are we standing blindly on the edge of the same cliff the music industry fell off? Only time will tell. 

My own experiences of painting apps have been great fun. I can paint over photographs, undo things when they go wrong, fiddle and change tones and colour and anything I wish. However, it’s not particularly physical – you can’t make big messy strokes or get the ‘feel’ of the wet paint; essentially it’s a new and different concept. 

This fabulous technology is being used to amazing effect by artists around the world. David Kassan uses the ArtRage app to draw beautiful, detailed portraits digitally. You can watch him create one of his digital artworks in this video. It’s almost impossible to tell they’re not real oil colours while viewing them online, although in the flesh the depth and texture is obviously not there – something he himself acknowledges.


One of David Kassan’s iPad portraits made using the Artrage paint app

The combination of iPad sketches and new book creation software may be a way forward for the artist struggling to present their digital work. This is shown to wonderful effect by Andy Maitland, a UK based artist whose recent ebook is a downloadable delight. The book includes a video to show how he builds up his landscape images and allows him to sell his work at a fraction of the costs of a traditional book – through his own site, without the need for a publisher or distribution.

Part of becoming an artist is experimenting, playing with mediums and finding out what works with you. I trained in the arts and my background is in graphic design, so I’m comfortable with the iPad as a medium – this mix of creativity and technology is exciting. As a landscape artist I find the great outdoors captivating and I love the immediacy of the iPad – I can respond to the landscape almost instantly and in a way that is not possible with any other medium.

– Andy Maitland
Andy Maitland, ipad art, digital art

Evening I, Summer, Surrey, England, by Andy Maitland, 2012 iPad drawing

So how long until we’re all making our images without paper or paint? Will there always be a market for the detail, luminosity and texture of an oil canvas, or in 20 years’ time will this seem as old fashioned as flicking through your CD collection?



More about our columnist: Amy McCarthy is an award-winning stained-glass artist from Exeter who uses left-over pieces of glass from her larger commissioned pieces as well as reclaimed glass to make smaller panels, roundels, glass bunting and suncatchers which she sells in her Folksy shop Amy Orange Juice. You can find out more about her on her website, Facebook page or her blog.

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