Magic Gadget

The new iPad Pro is really very good. Do I really want to write a review of it? Not really, but I’ve found it to be genuinely liberating tool for illustration so I want to write down a few things about that.

I draw a lot, both in my job and for personal projects. A lot of it is neat and tidy vector illustration because it’s for commercial things and the style works well for that. The more sketchy stuff I need to get more practice at, and character illustration I need to practice a lot. A lot a lot. So I have sketchbooks and pens bought with good intentions but never get around to using them. They’re always somewhere else, and I’m comfy here.

That’s where the iPad comes in. I always have it nearby, and there’s no limit to how many drawings I can do on it. No practical limit anyway.

The thing itself

I like the iPad generally. I got the first one and several versions since and they all got a lot of use, my main computer essentially. I got the 10.5” Pro when it came out and used that with the Pencil to do loads of stuff. I gradually moved from actual ink to iPad for Inktober because it was just so good, and was always there. I just upgraded to the new, bigger 12.9” one, mainly because it’s as big as the paper I’m creating drawings for, but also I like the new style of it. Drawing at 100% also avoids getting lost in zoomed-in detail, creating weirdly over-detailed fussy illustrations. It also has those rounded corners to the screen that are a perfect radius for the corners of the device itself. That detail feels important to me.

The iPad is pretty much the computer I always wanted. No mucking about connecting screens or keyboards, no Wacom drivers to go wrong and screw everything up with their ‘features’, no buzzing whirring irritating fan, and no clicking grumbling clunking hard drive and no dangling cables catching on things.

The Pencil is fantastic. It felt a bit thin after years of using a Wacom pen, but it is more like an actual pencil: the size is just something to get used to. The new one is better for being matt finish, it feels nicer, and having the tap thing to change tool, which I’m still getting used to. The magnet to clip it on and charge it is simple and feels very neat and tidy. The old Pencil was a bit clunky with the losable cap and the ‘iPad lollipop’ situation if you didn’t have your cable adapter nearby. This feels like finishing the job on the design.

One thing about the iPad and Pencil is that they feel designed for people doing the kind of stuff I do. A few recent tech-nerd-bro reviews have gone on about iOS as being ‘single context’ as if that’s a bad thing, and wanted it to be more like a laptop. I see technology people getting upset by the iPad not being the thing they want it to be and talking as if Apple is somehow failing because of it. Nope, it’s just that you’re not the target market anymore with your benchmarks and by-the-numbers comparisons. Laptops already exist, you know.

Related to that, I quite liked how iOS in general was ignored by the ‘serious’ pro software makers, it meant some new ideas got to have a go first. And so we get to my drawing app of choice:


I use Procreate as it’s very much an actual drawing tool, rather than a photo editor with extra bits bolted on. It focuses on natural media effects and has a simple unobtrusive interface. There aren’t clouds of palettes or ranks of menus and toolbars, it’s just simple. It’s really good. I prefer it to anything else I’ve ever used, even with one gripe: it’s a bit too easy to trigger the undo gesture just as you start to draw, removing your previous stroke permanently (though recent updates seem to have helped).

It comes with a lot of brushes and I like enough of them to just use them as they are, though I have bought a few extra sets and made a few myself. The way brushes work is fairly sophisticated but not yet at Photoshop levels of effects, though unlike Photoshop you can actually find brushes again in Procreate (and organise them as you prefer).

I can easily work at print resolution and never really notice that I’m actually working with a large image. I normally work at A4 or B5 and sometimes at A3 or A2. It just works smoothly, no lag or anything. The only thing you notice is that Procreate limits the number of layers more as the image size goes up.

I realise I’m sounding like a bit of an advert but it’s rare to have a tool that is designed for the thing you want to do and isn’t lumbered with featuritis. Sure, there are features I don’t use, but that’s just down to how I draw rather than them being about not-drawing.

Having said all that, it comes down to the point of it all. I really need to practice my character drawing skills. I can draw people but just don’t feel like I’m doing so freely and expressively enough. Even with the iPad with me all the time I need to make myself actually put the time in.