I’ve been looking at different apps for sketching and painting on a tablet, and it’s a pretty confusing thing for someone like me who trained long before anyone had computers in the home or studio, and digital artwork was unknown.

I was at Goldsmiths’ College in the 1970’s. This obviously wasn’t my only source of learning and I’ve been adding to my understanding of materials and techniques ever since – adding things like printmaking and silversmithing through courses and workshops – but I’ve never had the chance to learn things like photo editing, and until I recently got a tablet and a smartphone, I’d never tried digital drawing or painting.

I’ve experimented with a few different apps, but I like to approach the learning of any new skill by trying to grasp the basics so in the end I opted for the simplest one I could find, Mobile Sketch, which does seem to do most of the things a more sophisticated app will offer without being too confusing. Since they all come without instructions and assume you know what things like layers are, and what they’re for, (I think no-one who designs these things can actually bring themselves to believe that there are still people like me on the planet, who didn’t grow up almost permanently attached to one electronic device or another) I’ve had to discover what’s possible by just splashing around and experimenting – which isn’t a bad way of learning. If I pursue it I’ll seek out tutorials on YouTube!

The first thing I did after simply covering the screen with various different swooshes and speckles and colours of infill was to try a stylus rather than my finger, and found that with this simple app most styluses (stylii?) work OK, so I can draw in a way that is not too unresponsive. Finding this rather fun I then realised that I could edit and adapt and add to photos, so after entertaining myself adding the effect of mist and fog to some landscape photos, I imported a watercolour sketch of the trunk of a beech tree I had in my sketchbook and added a background to the plain white of the paper, which was easier than I’d thought.

Saving the picture to the device (this is on a Samsung Galaxy tablet) seems to reduce the original jpeg to a much smaller png file, so the resolution is not all that great, and when I experimented today with a quick drawing of a glass vase done on my smartphone, the end result was the same – a very small file. This doesn’t matter for the time being as I’m only keeping anything I do like this as a kind of digital sketchbook for now, but nevertheless it’s something I want to understand more about.

digital, glass vase

There’s no point in pushing a medium to do something it’s simply not able to do all that well, so I’m not trying to replicate the kind of drawings I’d do if I were holding a pencil or a brush. I’m interested to see what I can do on my tablet and phone that I couldn’t do in a sketchbook. I’ve been looking at all sorts of digital art and admiring what some people do – there’s some incredible work out there and the best digital art looks like just that, good digital art, not pretending to be a watercolour or a pastel or an oil – but I’ve also seen a lot that seems a bit lazy and predictable. Drawing, for me, is always about recording, exploring and learning, so that’s what I want to use this digital thing for – another new tool, new skills, new possibilities.