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  • Writer's pictureMakalla Shernick


Updated: Oct 28, 2021

Health and Safety Disclaimer

On the surface, there aren’t any physical health and safety risks when it comes to using an iPad. However, there is content on the internet that could be inappropriate for students. While students are using any device that has connection to the internet, they should be on the school’s monitored and secure network. Further, there should always be direct supervision of students if they are going to use tablets or computers in the classroom.

As technology advances, the ways in which artists can create and share their work continually expands. Upon the advent of the industry-leading iPad and Apple Pencil, new software began being developed for artists to use this technology as they would traditional mediums. Previously, the industry-standard for digital art production was solely Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator—which could run anywhere from $10 to $50 a month depending on what subscription plan is purchased. In recent years, the iPad-only app Procreate has gained traction in popularity amongst digital artists. With a one-time fee of $10, many artists have found this app worth the relatively low cost overall. Due to the wide variety of brushes and customizability, Procreate allows artists to easily create a wide variety of styles in their artwork. While lacking the professional features of procreate, there are numerous free drawing and painting apps that are available to those who are just getting started or on a tight budget.

After purchasing an iPad Pro, I was quick to download the app Procreate and start attempting to make the kinds of digital art I see everywhere online. However, I quickly realized that using the app was not as intuitive as I thought it was going to be. There is such a large variety of brushes, tools, and settings you can use in Procreate that I found myself becoming overwhelmed. So, I tried using the app here and there over the past year, but honestly did not get very far developmentally. What I have learned from my previous studio exploration blogs, while they may have been traditional art mediums, completely changed my process of learning new “materials,” including those that are digital like Procreate. In my process of learning Procreate, I was inspired by the work of Lucy Zhang. She is a fantastic artist that uses Procreate to paint environments, characters, and illustrations.

I began my studio exploration by experimenting with the various brushes available in Procreate. Initially—trying to follow the general guidelines recommended in our Studio Materials Textbook—I experimented with limited variables to push my creativity in mark making. However, I soon found that it was much more enjoyable to experiment with the many different brushes and color options available within the app. After my initial expiration with Procreate’s software, I took to the internet to fast-track my learning of this digital medium. I found countless guides and tutorials on using Procreate to create many different kinds of digital art. By far the most beneficial in my process was the Youtube channel James Julier Art Tutorials. I found his videos incredibly insightful and helpful in learning how to robustly use Procreate as an artist.

With the app Procreate, there are very few tools needed to achieve an insane variety of effects. However, the app is currently only made available through Apple’s iPadOS. Meaning, no users with a mac/windows desktop or AndroidOS will be able to use Procreate. Further, the only other tool you need is a stylus—by far the best stylus to use with iPads is the Apple Pencil. While these two simple items make it possible to create art quickly, easily, and from anywhere, the high cost of each aforementioned Apple product is relatively high.

With these considerations in mind, there are some very obvious strengths and weaknesses of this digital medium. Starting with the strengths, Procreate is a very powerful application for artists to use. The greatest advantage to using Procreate over other digital drawing applications is the combination of the physicality of drawing with the Apple Pencil and features that are popular in digital art software like Adobe Photoshop. The Apple Pencil is comfortable in the hand and familiar, as it is modeled after the functionality of a real writing utensil. In addition, the tip of the Apple Pencil responds to pressure the way a real pencil would. This makes the experience in Procreate very similar conceptually to using the traditional art mediums the brushes are attempting to emulate. The tools and settings are highly customizable within the app, giving an experienced artist the freedom to manipulate brushes in a way that is not possible in physical mediums. Another feature I found very useful in Procreate are layers. The layers allow you to modify specific parts of your artwork without altering the rest of your piece. Further, you can apply filters on specific layers that can add unique qualities to your work. Procreate also has an undo and redo function which is incredibly useful while drawing or painting in the application. While there are many advantages to using Procreate, there are some drawbacks as well. As opposed to the industry-standard drawing software Adobe Photoshop, Procreate does not allow artists to use gradient maps. Gradient maps are incredibly useful to digital artists when adding color to their black and white drawings, and in my research this was the greatest disadvantage of Procreate among professional artists. The greatest disadvantage in my own studio exploration was the lack of vector functionality. I enjoy using editable vector shapes in other digital mediums. In Procreate the only method to edit shapes is to physically erase or build up with the brushes.

In regards to classroom use of this application, I personally would not use this application with any age group of students. My reasoning is almost entirely based on the cost of using Procreate. By only being able to use Procreate on iPads and most preferably with an Apple Pencil, it would be unreasonable to expect students to have these items personally or for the school to have the budget to provide this technology. Further, the greatest detriment to this software in a classroom setting is ironically one of it’s greatest advantages. Procreate is so loaded with features, that it would be almost impossible to have the time to both teach students how to use the software and make meaningful art during class time. While I think Procreate specifically would not be practical in a classroom setting, I do think it would be useful to use digital art applications. Since most classrooms have access to a Windows computer, I would use software like Sketchbook to teach digital art. Sketchbook is a simple drawing application that is available on most devices, and most importantly the software is completely free to use. For elementary age students, I think the task of learning to use digital drawing software could be too distracting to implement “big ideas” of meaning in art making. As students get older into middle and high school, computer literacy would likely be highly developed and make the learning curve less steep. This will make it easier to teach students how to use digital mediums in their art making.

By the end of my studio exploration with Procreate, in addition to my prior experience in other digital drawing applications, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on using this technology. I would be comfortable using this digital medium in my classroom art instruction. However, I need to improve on my knowledge brushes and the kinds of effects you can achieve with them. Further, since I would most likely be teaching this medium using a desktop computer, I will need more experience in using a computer mouse to draw.

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