Having sniped in a recent post about the way that Photoshop opens graphic possibilities, but impairs decisive intention and clarity of mind, I thought I’d now play devil’s advocate to myself, looking at how even low-tech “digital painting” has substantial rewards. It’s true that there’s no substitute for ink and a brush, but in the right context, an enjoyable fake can be just the thing.
I spend a fair bit of time with tools like Photoshop and Corel Painter, but in recent days, I’m more excited about painting on my iphone with a tool that’s not all that far from a toy.
NermalWorks InkPainter provides a surprisingly satisfying simulation of brush and ink painting on my iPhone, complete with ink that bleeds and spreads on the “absorbent” paper if the “brush” (fingertip) slows or pauses. Don’t be silly, though – of course I’m not fooled. But it looks pretty good. Even to someone who loves the tactile mysticism of ink on rice paper and has a bit of experience with it. Resolution is, well, “soft,” when images are exported, but I’m not trying to blow them up to poster size, anyway, so it’s not a big deal. (Images are 320 x 480, if you can believe it.)
A moderately persuasive experience of the tactile quality of ink on rice paper does provide some trace of the immediacy of liquid ink drawing, and I can open InkPainter for a few moments in the middle of a hectic day. A tiny time-island of gestural experience, quick and casual enough that it doesn’t need to be prepared for or judged in any way. If nothing much happens, it’s no big deal. If something with a little energy or rhythm does pop up, it’s a gift, to be worked up further with other graphic tools, or tossed in a digital drawer. The tool cost 99 cents (plus tax).
On the higher end (on a computer, not a phone), Corel Painter provides an acceptably convincing experience of working with chalks and brushes on intricate textured surfaces, and one can even make simulated watercolor streams run down a digitally “slanted” page. Gee whiz. A slick Wacom tablet lacks the tactile feedback of real ink, oil paint, pencil, watercolor, or charcoal, but one can have an enormous range of responsive mark-making at one’s fingertips, not to even mention the aesthetic possibilities of complex layering.
What led to me to really immerse myself in Corel Painter for a season, as I prepared for an exhibition, was the fact that I could pick up or put down a complex project instantly, without setup or cleanup. With my daughter less than a year old at the time, along with a pressing teaching schedule and a trip to Ireland, substantial, extended studio time just wasn’t realistically going to happen. Painter helped me to survive creatively, under pressure. Screams or crashes from the next room? Shut the laptop and run to check it out, and come back later.
InkPainter makes drawing even more available. Realistically, I can’t always have a sketchbook in my hand or my laptop open (not to mention a drawing tablet), but I’ve generally got my phone in my pocket. I do use more complex drawing apps now and then on my iPhone, like Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile, and that program has dozens more options than InkPainter, including layers, brush modifications, resizing of elements, transparency… and so on. It’s only around a dollar, too, and it’s well-spent, but… Generally, if I want a full set of digital drawing and painting tools, I’ll fire up my computer. I’m fascinated by Sketchbook Mobile’s range of possibility, but in reality, I rarely use it unless I unexpectedly find myself stuck in a waiting room with an extended stretch of time in front of me.
NermalWorks’ InkPainter, on the other hand, simulates one thing – brush and ink painting on absorbent rice paper. The algorithm it uses is pretty convincing – it feels good to use, and I like the results, though the resolution’s quite low. I don’t wish for more options panels. There’s color available, within limits, and one can “add water” to the ink to make it more transparent. (One thing that feels unnatural – “diluted” ink bleeds on the page to full, dense black, unlike “real ink.”)
I just want to pull out my phone and sketch with a tool that feels good in my hands (even though I’m always aware that the brush is a hoax, that the paper is a digital illusion). For all its limits, and with several more powerful painting and drawing tools available on the iPhone, NermalWorks InkPainter is still the one I find myself reaching for the most lately. If I want actual ink, I’ll get some ink out, but if I’m out in the world with a moment to spare, InkPainter scratches the inky itch.