Finger painting

For my five years anniversary at Eidos Montréal, I was offered an iPad Mini, the latest iteration, the 4th one. While a rather sweet attention, I initially couldn’t think of what to do with it. I’ve owned an iPad 2 since that came out, and it works fine, but I hardly use it and it’s more my wife’s iPad nowadays.

Around the same time, the iPad Pro came out, and I got to try that out, thanks to a friend at Eidos who bought one. Aside from a few design quirks, it works perfectly well and made my new Mini feel all the more inadequate.
But I was feeling bad about not using such a nice gift and piece of technology, and since the drawing app I tried on iPad Pro also worked on regular iPads, I decided to try and produce an image on mine, and here it is :

BaseballI didn’t plan any particular image, I just started drawing whatever came, and, as it often results in that kind of situation, I ended up drawing a lady.

But the point wasn’t to create a character as much as it was to try and do everything on the iPad, using the Procreate app and my fingers and the tablet pen I have, which happens to be a Wacom Bamboo because I’m a snob, but any other pen of that sort would have been the same.


The workflow followed how I usually work, regardless of whether it’s on paper or on Photoshop : I sketched a few poses until I found one that wasn’t too boring. Then, I started refining the lines on a separate layer, until I had a clean sketch, and finally I started inking on a third layer.

A look at some of the parameters you can change about a brush in Procreate. Note that the icons below the parameters are all as many screens containing more options. It’s pretty in-depth.

It took a bit longer than it would have with a pressure sensitive tool, but it worked OK.

I used mostly the technical inking brush set to roughly 85% opacity, to keep a soft feel to the lines rather than a deep, stiff, opaque one. I just had to clean my lines, especially their ends, more than I would have to on Photoshop but not by a huge margin, since Procreate’s brush engine is pretty robust, even without pressure detection. You can set a number of parameters as you would on Photoshop, on an interface that fits being on a tablet.

And that may be the key to this whole experiment. I’ve been looking at mobile digital drawing solutions for years, now, and I’ve usually encountered one of 2 problems :

Either, the machine is a full-fledged PC, on which I can use software I’m used to working with, but said software has not been designed for tablets and require a keyboard, thus defying the purpose of the device, or the tablet is an iPad or an Android tablet and either doesn’t offer pressure sensitivity or an app solid enough to produce professional work on.

Procreate is the first app that seems to be solid enough to support the whole process of making an illustration without requiring touch-ups in Photoshop. Of course, it’s not perfect, some key features (at least for me) are missing, such as masks, but for the most part, it works really well, while being adapted to its platform. I’m also just scratching the surface and used only what I needed to produce a line drawing. I’m sure there is more to play with, as I constantly discovered functions that are called through gestures, while I’m more used to old-fashioned menus, à-la Photoshop.

I’ve also tried it on iPad Pro, with Apple’s Pencil, and it’s really good. There is no lag to speak of and the pressure sensitivity feels natural. I’d even go as far as saying it may be better than the Cintiq + Photoshop setup, especially when it comes to stylus inclination. I can’t tell whether Wacom or Adobe is at fault, but I’ve used Cintiqs for a few years, along with Intuos tablets, and I’ve never seen the stylus inclination work as well as it does on iPad Pro and Procreate, with the great expressiveness I’ve played with using the app’s 6B pencil brush.

A 15-minutes doodle using Procreate’s 6B pencil preset, on an iPad Pro.

I’m also aware that Sketchbook Pro is another valid alternative which has the advantage of existing on both iOS and Android but also Windows and Mac, making it uniform across all your devices. I may try it again soon (I’ve tried it a few times in the past but always found it “stiff”.)

Of course, none of that is to say that this solution is definitive, or that’s even better than good ol’paper, but after years of looking for a mobile digital workstation, this is promising.



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