In my last post I wrote that I would show you the art piece that led me to make my DIY image tracer. Weighted wings is part of an ongoing series I am working on about anxiety and may be part of my show Catching smoke, coming in late summer to Harcourt House’s Art Incubator Gallery. In working on my series All exits look the same, which is about developing and living with chronic illness, I found art to be a therapy of sorts. Helping me process what was going on in my life and come to a place of acceptance.
Just prior to becoming ill seven years ago, I was working on some abstract drawings about anxiety, having always lived with it to varying degrees. Life happened and the idea was put aside. Two years ago I decided to refocus my artist’s lens on the topic. I also wanted to begin to incorporate text into some of my work, as words for me are a powerful impetus in creating, and important in telling the story of a piece.
Weighted wings is a piece about how the words, the noise in your head can hold you down, keep you from living the life you want to lead. As I was figuring out the words, I wrote a lot over several months trying to get a better sense of what triggers my anxiety. What I found was in doing this and in reading books about being present (thank you to Pema Chödrön) I began to develop strategies to quiet my mind. Imagine writing down all your worries and anxieties and then just walking away from them. They are immobilized on paper and you are free to leave them there. It’s not quite as simple as that, but it’s definitely a start.
Words are an important part of how I develop an artwork. For my current series on anxiety, I wanted to use them in a more overt way. The challenge was “how?”. During a night when I was having trouble falling asleep due to some anxiety, I had a bit of a eureka moment. A quick search and I thought I could possibly use stencils and paper. Then to decide on the words. I found if I tried to write down exactly what I was anxious about, the ideas would disappear. I decided to think more in generalities. I believe this will also result in the artwork being more universal.
Applications allow me to make art anywhere. For me moving to apps was born of necessity after developing a severe chemical sensitivity, but I have come to love their portability. I use my iPhone or my iPad, and can sit down and be creative wherever I happen to be. Apps allow you to experiment in ways you might not otherwise experiment. I love the “copy and paste” option!
Cost is also an advantage. If you already own a smart phone or a tablet, the cost of most applications is quite reasonable. The pricier ones tend to offer more options, but the most expensive application I purchased was about $13. Many offer free versions, with in-app purchases to upgrade your tools, etc. Apps allow you try other mediums without investing in a lot of new materials. You can easily spend $100-$150 on a starter kit for a painting class, so if you are just looking to have some creative fun on a budget, they are a great option.
Apps are also kid-friendly. Even with the more complicated ones, kids just love to play around and experiment. Your child wants to paint 15 minutes before supper? Use an app and save the real painting for when you have time for clean up. If the app contains a sharing component, check your settings to ensure you are comfortable with the parameters, or turn off/disable it, in case it is accessed by accident. The apps listed below all support family sharing. This means up to six family members can use the app with Family Sharing enabled.
There are some downsides. Apps are a technology and so can have glitches or issues. Sometimes updates can be frustrating. Total reboots may result in your favourite features being discontinued, or new features that you need to learn. Developers do try to fix glitches, and I recommend sending your feedback as it helps make better applications. Ultimately you will find your favourites. There are hundreds of art-making apps, so I prefer to search for reviews of art apps and check out what’s new. The “you might also like” suggestions in the app store can also be a good resource. There’s always the possibility of a new app that fulfills some aspect of your art-making that you’ve been missing.
When searching information for this post, I found the listed prices of the apps varied at times depending on whether I was searching from desktop or my iPad, and some won’t be searchable from your desktop App store. I recommend searching with your iPhone or iPad for the most accurate pricing and full description of the apps capabilities.
The reviews below are about the apps I use and some that I have tried. My preferred medium is drawing and so that is my bias when looking at applications. Full disclosure, I prefer low-tech in the sense that I want to sit down to draw and create without spending hours learning features. But that is me – you may love learning all that a program has to offer. As you will read many times in this post, a good tutorial goes a long way to helping you get the most out of your application, and hopefully minimizes any frustration in the learning phase.
I use an iPhone and iPad, and they are not the latest versions. If you have an Android, check out the sections about ArtRage and Tayasui Sketches Pro, and I encourage you to seek out reviews of art apps for your device. I have heard good things about Surface tablets from other artists, but I have never tried one myself.
At the end is artwork I created using the apps to give you an idea of what you can do. Many apps have communities where artists show the work they created, and the work is pretty amazing.
Device: iPhone and iPad (see app store for specs on compatibility)
This is my favourite. It is very simple and user-friendly. The app contains paper colour choices (white, greys and black), hard and soft pencil, and black, white or coloured pencil. Pencils can be easily sized to different thicknesses by pinching and turning your fingers clockwise or counter-clockwise. You can magnify, copy and paste, re-do and un-do and also export image as a layer. Images are stored in a folder. When you want to print or share you can save to your photos or upload to the cloud, send to Facebook, send as a text, etc. There is no dedicated stylus for this app, and I have never felt I needed one. I use my fingers to draw and I love it for its simplicity.
Cost: free from the Apple App Store with in-app purchases ($5.99 to purchase Paper Pro for more features)
Device: iPhone and iPad (see app store for specs on compatibility)
The free option of this app contains an eraser, various pen widths, pencil, paintbrush (with a watercolour-like feel), scissors to cut and move shapes, a roller to paint large sections and a colour wheel to create colours. Photos can be imported into this app. You can organize your work into sketchbooks, which is handy if you have more than one user of the app, or if you have multiple projects. If you want to print you can export the files.
This was an app I used early on but I drifted away from it. I used it mostly for line drawings and the watercolour-like feel of the painting part of the app. I have seen some amazing art made with it but I have not spent the time to learn all the features. The Learn Paper journal within the app was not helpful. In researching this post, I did find a whole series of tutorials, and several other tutorials on YouTube.
You can use your fingers to draw in Paper and it also supports its own proprietary stylus Pencil, about $60 CAN. The pencil has features like palm rejection, surface pressure, blend and erase. I was most interested in the blending feature but I found it to be too homogenous. Also if you plan to get one, get some extra tips as they do tend to wear down more quickly than you might expect. Pencil can also be used with other applications. See the website for compatibility.
In general it’s fun to play around with, and you can also use it as a note-taking app.
Device: iPhone, iPad, Android (see app stores or website for compatibility), also available for Windows or Mac desktop (about $100 CAD)
ArtRage has a lot of features and so I highly recommend using tutorials to get the most out of it. When I first used it I found it to be more of a painting app. You can create something new or import photos (and use them as a guide if you like), select your own colours or have the program help you choose a palette (based on imported photo). Multiple paper and canvas options, as well as ways to modify your brushes or pencils. It also offers the option to create layers within a work, which is great. In the tool kit, there is a large variety of materials to choose from – paintbrushes, pen, pencil, palette knife, spray paint, oil, acrylic, water colour, pastel, etc.
If you like to use a stylus, ArtRage supports Pogo Connect . It costs about $80 USD, with the option of buying additional pen and/or brush tips. These attach with a magnet and are easy to pop on and off. Pogo Connect is also compatible with other applications.
For my style of drawing and what I was trying to achieve, I did not find ArtRage suited my needs. I really wanted sensitivity with blending in drawing. Having said that, if you’re interested in exploring a lot of different mediums, it provides you with an art store full of options. But do find a tutorial that works for you as the myriad of options can be a bit overwhelming.
Cost: $4.99 on the Apple App store site. There is also a free version with fewer options.
Device: I use it on my iPad (see app store or website for compatibility), also available for Android tablets
I found Sketches Pro when I did a web search for recommended art apps. Like ArtRage, it offers a variety of paper and art materials (pens, oil pastel, watercolour, acrylic, airbrush), brush and colour editors to fine tune the size of your brushes and create custom colours, and you can import photos. It also has the capacity to create layers, which can also be exported as separate PNG files with transparency (i.e. when you export the file it maintains its transparency for layering instead of becoming opaque). The tools include area and filling, patterns, eraser, cutter, smudge and ruler. If your version supports it, you can also record the process of drawing or painting.
Where this app really shines for me is the smudge tool. If drawing is your medium then you know the value of your stomp/smudger. I never met a line I didn’t want to smudge, and this is what was missing for me from other applications. Sketches Pro not only has a stomp/smudge tool, but you can set its sensitivity. This means greater control and less homogeneity when you are working on a drawing, i.e. more like traditional drawing. I LOVE this tool.
Like other apps with multiple features and settings, I recommend watching tutorials to get the most out of it. The Tayasui site has help pages and there are a variety of YouTube videos.
Tayasui Sketches Pro also supports a variety of bluetooth enabled styluses, including Pogo Connect, Wacom, Adonit, Adobe Ink and Sensu.
If you like to colour, or know someone who does, Tayasui also offers three colouring books (one for younger kids and two for older kids or adults). Coloring Books is free with in-app purchases, and there are no ads in the free or purchased versions. You get two pages of each book to colour for free, and then can purchase the colouring book ($1.39-$3.99 depending on the book). You can set it to tap to fill or colour images with your finger or stylus. You can choose between crayon/pastel, paintbrush, pencil or marker. Other features include smart borders and Sound Engine which provides realistic colouring sounds. For this app I prefer to use a stylus, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy one. I use the Adonit Jot Pro (about $39.99 CDN), which is not bluetooth enabled and has a disk on the tip. Adonit also offers a $20 stylus with a mesh tip – I’d be curious to see reviews about its durability vs the rubbery-tipped styluses (see Some final considerations below).
Some final considerations
I prefer to have a cover over the screen of my iPhone and iPad to draw. I find there is less resistance and it is easy to clean. If you have kids it is also offers protection from sticky fingers and sneezes. For my purposes, Otterbox Defender works well but you may have your own favourite or prefer no protective screen. Occasionally there can be an issue with contact between the stylus and the screen, but it’s brief and not often enough for me to consider going without the protective cover.
If you are using a stylus with a rubbery tip, always check it before using to make sure it has not worn down to the point that it could scratch your device. This is especially important with cheaper styluses with rubbery tips (i.e. one you get for free from somewhere). One cheap one I had didn’t even last through one drawing.
Bluetooth enabled styluses offer features like palm rejection, blending, pressure sensitivity and/or interchangeable tips. You may want a stylus that has all the bells and whistles or you may be happy with a simple one. It really depends on the art you make and how you like to make it. I used my fingers a lot when I was using traditional materials so I like to be able to do that with my apps as well. I really wanted certain blending features but I found that the best one was built into a tool in an app, and not the one enabled in a stylus. There is a certain amount of trial and error as you find what works best for you.
Whew, that was a lot of information! I hope it inspires you to explore art applications and to get creative. To end this post, here is a selection of work I created using apps.
Although it may not seem like it from my recent posts, I have been picking up the pencil (the digital pencil) to do some drawing too. Here are a few new drawings. Anxiety will be a subject in the coming year, and some of my new drawings feel to me like they reference the body. I say feel to me because I drew them without a firm idea in mind and that’s what I see when I look at them. It will be interesting to see where the year takes me.
In other news, my solo show All exits look the same will be in the Upstairs Gallery at the Artpoint Gallery and Studios Society in February. If you happen to be in Calgary, take some time for a visit 🙂 There are some really interesting shows up at Artpoint for the month of January, in particular Verna Vogel’s Tension: No Tension.
I read an article a while ago describing an art exhibition. The curator chose artists who looked within for their inspiration and those who looked to the outside world. While I never thought about it before, I realized I look within for my subjects in art.
Many of the subjects in my art are dark – I think about illnesses like dementia or chronic illness, loss, depression, anxiety, self-doubt… These are all part of life. While we tend not to want to dwell on illnesses or darker emotions, they are there. I feel a sense of relief when I read something or see a piece of art by someone who experienced these things because I think I am not alone. I am not the only one. Through art we can connect in many ways.
Featured piece: Hollow, 2012
I created Hollow as part of a series on dementia from the perspective of the caregiver. In my mind it can mean many things. The sense of hollowness experienced by the person watching their loved one struggle with dementia. The physical person remaining while the elements inside them connecting them to the outside world are slipping away.
Not everything in life is sunshine and rainbows and I think art should reflect that as well.
Some of you know I am preparing for a solo final show for my visual arts certificate. A part of my formal plan involves exploring materials that I may be able to use in spite of my severe sensitivities. Unfortunately, my first attempt did not go so well.
I thought I might be able to create something using fabric and thread, wrapping the fabric with the thread. I chose cotton fabric, which is pretty much all I wear these days so I know I tolerate it, and bought some thread. Two tries later I knew it was a big fail – my face was bright red and my chest was tight. Likely the dye on the thread was the problem. (It’s so fine, I thought, there can’t be enough to cause a reaction. But I guess running it through your fingers for 20 minutes overrides the fine-ness.) I can consider sourcing out a different type of thread, but I did want some colour on it, so we’ll see if I get anywhere with it. I wasn’t sold on how my half finished sculpture was progressing, and I may or may not pursue it.
To console myself, I purchased two new art apps to try and I have been having fun with that. These two drawings were created using ArtRage.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.” Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
When I say I have a chronic illness, it’s not because I am being purposefully vague, but because an official overarching diagnosis for my health problems eludes me. Doctors have not pulled everything under one umbrella. The umbrella I think I fit under is the spectrum of Mast Cell Disorders – as a relatively new area of research/focus, not much is known about mast cells so one day I may have an answer. I can say that my chronic illness affects what I eat, what I wear, what I do and where I go. Having severe food intolerances, severe chemical sensitivities and severe environmental sensitivities makes navigating the world difficult at times. It has taken me the three years I have lived with this to determine how to manage it, and I am still learning.
In the first year of my illness, I tried very hard to hang on to my life. It wasn’t until the year had passed and I was no better, in fact I was worse, that I realized things may never go back to the way they were. So what then? I did what I always do and started to research. This time my focus was chronic illness. I found a book at my local library: “You Don’t Look Sick” by Joy Selak and Steven Overman, which gave me insight into living with invisible chronic illness, and I realized there were a lot of things I needed to deal with and/or grieve. Because of my severe sensitivities to chemicals and dust of any and all kinds, I had not drawn or done anything art-related in a very long time. At coffee one day my artist friend Kim suggested I look at apps. She had just purchased one and was trying it out for fun. Intrigued I went home and started checking them out. I found a drawing app and began to draw. It was such a great feeling to access that creative part of me again. I also started seeing a psychologist who suggested I try using different outlets to release the emotions engendered by my illness and the changes in my life . I decided to draw, using the apps I had found. The drawings I made were more about the idea and less about the execution. A simple stick figure to highlight what was going on in my head. Later I would start to turn some of the ideas into abstract drawings but in the moment, it was just about getting down on paper (digital paper) my anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, all of it.
I read stories all the time about artists who say that art helped them overcome or come to terms with obstacles, issues, illness. When we can’t or don’t want to speak about what is going on inside of us, it is a way to put it out there and help all those emotions move on. The more we fight them, the more stress it causes our body. I no longer believe in ignoring and pushing down feelings. You think you it allows you to get through your day, but all it does is cause things to fester, and it will either build until it explodes or erode your health. My body has enough stress dealing with my ongoing allergies, severe sensitivities to a seemingly endless number of things, and food intolerances, it does not need a bunch of negative emotions jumping up and down in there too. (It’s a process though. Do I still do it? Yes, but much less often than I used to. I’m working on letting things go… and now I have the song from Frozen in my head!)
I encourage you just to try something creative: singing, writing, crafting, drawing, painting, knitting, quilting, sculpting, colouring, gardening, whatever! Whether you use it to help release emotions, de-stress or just as a fun pastime, your body will thank you.