8 things I learned life drawing with an iPad Pro

The Royal Academy of Arts is Britain’s oldest art school, and unaccountably where I found myself on Thursday night. This historic school has trained JMW Turner, William Blake, and now – briefly – me.

This isn’t a sign that the school’s notoriously high standards are slipping – I was present among a group of journalists being schooled in the art of life drawing by Mark Hampson, head of fine art processes. Only we weren’t using canvases and paints; we had the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

Here are eight things I learned from the strange but wonderful experience:

#1 It’s possible to be overdressed for a life-drawing class

Generally I’m not overdressed for anything, but Thursday was one of the handful of days I was wearing a suit, thanks to an earlier function.alan_ipad_life_drawing

Pro tip: If you’re going somewhere where someone else will be naked for the majority of your visit, a suit is likely overkill.

#2 Drawing someone naked isn’t half as awkward as you’d expect

You’d have thought that life drawing would be a traumatic experience for everyone concerned. A stranger disrobes, and a room full of people end up staring at them in strained silence. Weirdly, it isn’t at all.

I’d previously assumed that the reason people have whacking great canvases was to give them something to hide behind out of a deep-seated sense that they shouldn’t be doing this so openly.

Try that with an iPad Pro, and you’re more likely to be mistaken for taking photos. Which if anything is more of a faux pas.things_i_learned_life_drawing_on_an_ipad

Don’t be fooled – this piece was only achieved when instructed to use the app’s tracing function.

#3 Drawing with an iPad works really well

Initially, drawing on a screen feels strange. Touchscreens are designed to feel smooth and slippery, and paper offers a certain amount of resistance. Moving from paper to a touchscreen feels a bit like swapping football boots for ice skates, and I have a tendency to fall over a lot in both.

But things fall into place remarkably quickly. Unlike using a paper and pen, you have layers to deal with (if you choose), and the app we were using – Procreate – has all kinds of different textures and a huge colour palette to choose from.

All of which were wasted on me, of course, but it wasn’t the iPad’s fault by any means. You can definitely get amazing results here and, crucially, the technology is fighting with you, rather than against you.

#4 The Apple Pencil is impressively versatile

The transition would be a lot more painful without the Apple Pencil. I imagine professional artists would get more out of it than I did, but even as someone of whatever the rank below layman is, I saw the benefit.

Apply more pressure and a thicker line appears, just as if you’re using a pen and paper. On the charcoal setting, use the side of the Apple Pencil and you’ll a thicker texture will emerge. Most impressively of all, you can lean your hand on the page without the iPad interpreting this as part of your drawing.alans_best_life_drawing_work

I had slight difficulties with the iPad occasionally thinking I was drawing with the side, rather than the tip, but I think that’s more down to the childish way I hold a pencil than to a design defect.

#5 Having an undo button is a godsend

Despite this, even the most talented artist will make mistakes, and it’s this that gives the iPad Pro its biggest advantage over paper: the Undo button. No scrabbling for an eraser: just press Undo and it’s like your slip-up never occurred.ipad_life_drawing_wrong

At no point did the model strike this weird tap-dancing pose. I think I just made it up.

I would now like an Undo button in life, please.

#6 Technological innovation is no substitute for ability

Despite these helping hands, and an extremely patient teacher, ability is still kind of important if you don’t want to insult the life model in question. There was one point where I found I’d drawn her right leg at around twice the size of the left. True, perspective plays tricks on you, but this would be a superhuman hustle.

Everyone’s a critic.

#7 Those life-drawing cliches you know about serve a genuine purpose

Despite this, I did learn some valuable information, should I ever find myself in a situation where I need to draw to save my life (I’m picturing some deal with the Grim Reaper, like that bit in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.)

You know that classic life-drawing pose where you hold your pen in front of you and close one eye? That will give you an idea of how many head lengths the body of the subject is to keep things to proportion. The squinting? That will help you get an idea of lighting, and how much shade to put on each body part.alan_life_drawing_on_an_ipad

Split-screening allows you to keep one eye on the subject without having to even move your eyes.

It’s also worth “dotting out” the key body parts to give yourself markers to work towards. On the iPad, that can take the form of a separate layer that you can just whisk away at the drop of a hat.

#8 A few glasses of wine is a mixed blessing

Wine is a helpful tool in an artist’s arsenal, in that it overcomes the initial awkwardness, makes you bolder with your decisions and generally relaxes you. That’s great, but it certainly has its limitations.

If I were to plot a graph with alcohol consumption against artistic ability, it would look something like this:wine_life_drawering

The star commemorates “Elephant-leg-gate”, so let that be a lesson to you.

I had a genuinely brilliant time, though, and would recommend everyone give it a spin, regardless of ability. Despite my best efforts, however, I suspect the Royal Academy won’t be knocking down my door any time soon.

Our extremely patient instructor, Mark Hampson from the Royal Academy, has some tips for life drawing here, which I really should have read in advance. As it’s life drawing, the page contains some nudity: you have been warned.

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