iPad Pro and Procreate for artists

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There was a time (not too long ago) when I would have said Wacom was the only digital art tool worth using. I've been using Wacom tablets since way back in the day, when the small, grey mouse replacement tablet was the only thing they made. It was mind-blowingly revolutionary for those of us who were doing digital art with a mouse.

Many years later, Wacom came out with the Cintiq models and I thought that that nothing could be more amazing. I've used several models of Cintiq over the years, from the 12WX to the 24HD. My most recent model was the 13HD. Now, while each and every one of those is light years better than drawing digitally with a mouse, I always felt that there was something missing. And that something was the natural feeling of drawing on a pad of paper.

There's something unmatched about the accessibility of a sketchpad. You can grab one and immediately jot down your ideas. A sketchbook is incredibly portable - easy to take with you to a coffee shop or a friends house. There's a satisfying feeling of putting pen, marker or paint to paper and watching your creative ideas flow forth.

As powerful and advanced as a Wacom Cintiq is, they are zero percent portable. Even the "lap sized" versions require a laptop computer and a couple of enormous cords with multiple ports to use. I would never be able to take the 13HD to a coffee shop for a quick and casual sketching session. 

Well, things have changed, y'all. I've gotten rid of my Cintiq, and a new love has moved in. Enter the iPad Pro with Apple pencil. 

IPad Pro and Apple pencil for artists - There was a time (not too long ago) when I would have said Wacom was the only digital art tool worth using. I've been using Wacom tablets since way back in the day, when the small, grey mouse replacement tablet was the only thing they made. It was mind-blowingly revolutionary for those of us who were doing digital art with a mouse.

For my 35th birthday this year, Jeff got me an iPad Pro. I've been coveting one after playing with one at the Apple store months ago. To be honest, I've never considered an iPad or a tablet of any kind for digital art. After all, the don't run Adobe, and who the hell draws in anything but Photoshop? Well, my mind changed when I got to play with Procreate for a few minutes in the mall. The Apple store was unbelievably busy, because the iPhone X had just launched, so I didn't get much time to use it. But I was very intrigued. The UI was so smooth, and the feeling of the Apple pencil was so natural. Could I really create professional quality digital art on an iPad?

I spent the next few months researching examples of iPad art, art programs, and tutorials - and I was very impressed. Reviews were stellar - and there is some incredible art being made with the iPad Pro. I was starting to change my mind.

I began daydreaming about creating digital art with a tiny, notebook sized drawing tablet. My Cintiq started to lose it's luster. It was annoying and clunky to use. To use hotkeys, I had to have my laptop handy - the hotkey buttons on the side of the Wacom never seemed to work properly. In order to do a digital painting, I had to grab my Cintiq, my mouse, my laptop, and plug in my computer, and plug the Cintiq into an outlet with one cord, and into 2 ports in my computer with another giant cord. I was basically trapped in a web of cords and equipment. No getting up easily for another coffee or to use the restroom - I was tied down.

The iPad Pro was looking better and better. I dropped some subtle hints to Jeff that I REALLY wanted an iPad Pro (By that I mean I talked about it constantly and nagged him) and he got the message and ordered me a beautiful rose gold model with keyboard and Apple Pencil for my birthday. <3

I've had the iPad for a few weeks now and I'm obsessed with it. It's my new baby. I don't let anyone else touch it. The first thing I did was download Procreate and start drawing. Here's the first digital painting I made - a pop-surrealist inspired piece. I really wanted to try out the functionality of all the different brushes and tools. I didn't download or use any custom brushes, I just wanted to try out the standard features.

"Bubble" Pop Surrealism artwork created in Procreate by SparklePriestess

I was very impressed with the ease of use - the UI for Procreate is amazingly intuitive. I love that it's streamlined and specifically created for art. Photoshop is very powerful, but it's almost TOO powerful - there are hundreds of tools and features, many of which you don't need for digital art. It's been changed and added to so many times over the years, it seems quite bloated in comparison to using Procreate. Since the makers of Photoshop had no idea that people would use it for digital art, it's not built from the ground up for artists like Procreate is. The iPad Pro is also incredibly easy to use. It's so light and portable. If I feel like sketching or drawing, I just grab it and get started - just like a real sketchbook. I can easily take it with me to the coffee shop to do artwork.

Drawing at the coffee shop with my iPad Pro and Procreate

 One of my favorite features of Procreate is that I really don't need any hotkeys. I never thought I would be able to use a drawing program without hotkeys, but I don't need them at all when I'm drawing in Procreate. Wizardry!

Another thing I wanted to test out in Procreate was making assets for my digital clipart packs. While I love painting and drawing with traditional mediums, it can be extremely time consuming and tedious to paint the assets. I have to do all the art, scan it, cut them into individual elements, and then spend hours cleaning up the edges and preparing them as PNG assets. I reasoned that if I could paint assets with transparent backgrounds and export them as PNG's, it would cut down on my time spent creating assets tremendously. 

Here's the first asset pack I've made using assets created in Procreate -

I have to say, it was amazingly easy to paint the assets. I made many of them in one document, and then turned off the layers I didn't want to show before exporting them as PNGs. I've got my Dropbox set up so I can export files directly from Procreate into a special folder, which is super handy. The only downside is that I can't easily crop the PNG files like you can in Photoshop - so I still need to open them all one by one in Photoshop, crop the extra space away, and resave them. However, this is much, much faster than manually erasing all the negative space and cleaning up the edges of watercolor paintings.

My favorite drawing mediums in traditional art are pens and watercolor, so it was very important to me to be able to do nice linework and realisitic watercolor effects in Procreate. While the standard brushes are really nice, I wanted some more custom brushes. So I went to Creative market and downloaded several brush packs to use. Here are a couple of illustrations I made using the brush packs -

WIP - drawing with custom brushes in Procreate
Witch Thangs - digital illustration of a cute witch witch with a bow by SparklePriestess
Sketching on the iPad Pro in Procreate
Digital watercolor illustration on iPad Pro in Procreate
Angel Baby - a digital illustration of my adorable Pomeranian Sammy - by SparklePriestess

As you can see, I've gotten some nice, clean linework and the watercolor effects are very realistic. Another AWESOME feature is that I can do a split screen with my reference image right next to my drawing area!

Here are the brushes I'm using from Creative Market - 

 

There's a little bit of a learning curve when switching from traditional art to digital art on the iPad Pro. For a traditional drawing, I do a lot of pre-planning of the layout and the steps I need to do the image in. For instance - to do a watercolor drawing, I first do a light pencil sketch, followed by waterproof ink linework, and then watercolors working from light washes to dark. Then if I want to add white effects or splatters, I add those last. Due to the mixing of the watercolors, I have to be fairly careful about the order the paints go on the paper. And I have to be careful to keep certain areas unpainted while waiting for paint to dry so the paints don't run together and mix.

When doing a digital illustration, I do a "pencil" drawing first, and then do an "inking" layer on top. Then I turn the pencil layer off and start coloring. Doing art digitally gives me the freedom to work in whatever order I want - since every color can be on a different layer, there's no danger of mixing paints and messing up the artwork. Additionally, if I want to rearrange the composition, I can just select the layer and move it around the paper until it's in the right place. If I want to add multiple elements, such as flowers, I don't have to worry so much about if I've placed them in a pleasing arrangement. I can just draw each one on a different layer and them duplicate and move them around until I'm happy.

Drawing traditionally and drawing digitally have their own advantages - nothing will ever replace the magic of spontaneous watercolor paint mixing. To achieve a realistic watercolor effect in Procreate, I have to be a lot more thoughtful - I control all the elements, so I have to painstakingly fake that spontaneity with textures and careful color placement. But I believe it's worth it for the other benefits of working digitally.

Another thing I love about creating art on the iPad Pro is the screen quality. It's amazing to draw on such a bright, beautiful screen.

One of the main complaints about the Wacom Cintiq models is the distance between the pen tip and the drawing. When putting a real pen or pencil to paper, there's no distance between the tip of the drawing tool and the paper. But the thickness of the glass on a Cintiq means there's a "gap" between your pen and your drawing - this can be difficult to get used to. The Apple pencil doesn't have the same gap. The screen on the iPad Pro is thinner, and it's a lot more natural feeling. It really feels similar to drawing on a piece of paper.

So, as you can tell, I'm smitten with using the iPad Pro and Procreate. It really is an amazing tool - I love using it so much, it really boosts my creativity and drive to create art. I highly recommend it if you're considering a digital drawing tool.

If you would like me to create reviews or tutorials for the Creative Market brushes I'm using, drop a comment below! I'd be happy to give a thorough overview of my thoughts, and how I'm using them to create art.