This article was written for the Essex Craft Society newsletter Summer 2012
Celia Hart has kindly agreed to share with Essex Craft Society members her experience of drawing on an iPhone. Some of you may already be up to speed with this and, if so, your contributions and thoughts would be much appreciated.
Celia lives in south-west Suffolk, on the border with Essex, and she is a well-known East Anglian artist, who grew up in the South Cambridgeshire fens, a landscape close to her heart. A foundation course in art and design at Cambridge College of Art & Technology was followed by a degree in design and illustration at Brighton College of Art & Design and these provided a springboard for Celia's successful professional career as a designer and art buyer for a large publishing firm. She has freelanced as an illustrator for publishers since 1991 and is thoroughly at home in the world of computers and Photoshop. Running alongside her familiarity with design software is Celia's love of traditional block printing as practised by Richard Bawden, among others, and Chinese and Japanese artists. Her prints are sold through various galleries in the UK, and even to customers abroad via her website (www.celiahart.co.uk). A glance through Celia's sketchbooks reveals vital, beautifully-observed watercolours of her hens and roosters, pen-and-ink renderings of Anglo-Saxon dress ornaments, and lively pencil drawings.
The many years devoted to both practices mean that Celia switches seamlessly between pencil and stylus, comfortable with the idea of a computer as an additional artistic tool. When you draw on what is, in effect, a miniature computer - an iPhone - you are drawing with light. Dots of coloured light make up the screen image so it is probably the art medium that most closely matches what we see with our eyes. In printing out Celia's sketches, light is translated into pigment and something is inevitably lost along the way. Here is Celia's first attempt at using the Brushes app ("application") to record what she saw from her hotel room in the Parador de Santiago de Compostela, northern Spain, drawn with her finger on the small screen of her new iPhone.
This Brushes screenshot shows how Celia used layers to build up her sketch, "Evening Sky", in a way that will be instantly recognisable to the printmaker or watercolourist. The background layer was filled with a pale sky-blue. A maximum of three layers was then available to Celia, who chose from a variety of textured marks. The spacing of the marks, size of stroke and translucency were all adjustable, using sliding scales. The clouds in the second layer were rendered with a translucent "wash" of mauve and white. The third layer introduced the tall tree, made up of medium and thin strokes in indigo, olive and tones of grey. Celia made use of the fourth and final layer to draw twiggy shrubs in fine lines of purple and a brighter olive green. All the layers could be changed, deleted or reworked at will.
These sketches are best viewed on a computer screen and there are directions at the end of this article if you would like to have a look at them in their natural habitat, along with a little film that Celia has made of the process involved in drawing "Evening Sky". The images in this article were all drawn with Celia's finger directly on to the iPhone screen, except for "Evening Sky", when she picked up a Just Mobile AluPen stylus. She describes using the stylus as “making the eye-hand co-ordination feel more like using a pencil on a paper sketchbook because of the position of the hand holding the Alu-Pen”. There is something distinctly odd about watching Celia draw a fine, scratchy line on the screen with what looks like a fat graphite stick but what she will have done is pre-selected the thickness of line using the Brushes control panels. It is a matter of moments to apply either a thin wash or a chalk pastel effect without grubbing around in a bag for the necessary equipment.
The ways in which artists deploy this new and continuously-evolving technology will be as various as the artists themselves. The charm of a quick sketch lies in its freshness and spontaneity, which these iPhone examples so marvellously demonstrate. An iPhone has the virtue of convenience in that the easel, water, pastels, fixative, sharpener, pencils, pens, paints, and pad are folded into one tiny, light-weight object that also serves as telephone and camera. No one gives Celia a second glance as she sits on Whittlesford railway station, sketching her surroundings: they are too well accustomed to seeing fellow passengers playing solitaire or checking emails.
On the other hand, it is difficult to look at the screen in strong sunlight and it's a tiny drawing area. For the artist who just loves to sketch anywhere, anytime, for practice and for sheer enjoyment, the iPhone has its merits. The iPad, with its slightly larger screen size, is a more useful artist’s tool. If you want to develop your sketches into something more, it is possible to export an enlarged version of the finished sketch to a Mac with Brushes Viewer (not yet available for a PC), and start exploring all sorts of options - cropping, reworking, resizing, and using the image as a working sketch for another medium, such as digitally printing onto paper, fabric, ceramics, and so on. The possibilities are endless.
Drawing with light means that these sketches do need the backlit glow of a screen and that's where they ultimately belong but, as useful additions to studio equipment, Brushes, the iPhone and iPad are clearly here to stay. Without doubt, they will continue to be refined and developed, providing the artist with a new medium for working en plein air in the 21st century.