Chris Bliss





YEAH SCIENCE! Using an iPad Pro to tackle an illustrated poster.

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The Breaking Bad poster is complete! It’s been a blast to do, and it’s really surprised me in the way the iPad Pro handled the bulk of the illustration work. In fact the only elements added in Illustrator were the cracked “blue meth” background, and the title and credit text.

I’m really surprised at the possibilities with the iPad pro, I’ve been a long time Wacom user and my trusty Intuos4 tablet has never let me down. I even found pride in the way I quickly adapted to the unnatural “look ahead – draw down” method of using a graphics tablet that wasn’t a “draw on” screen.

The Wacom Cintiq range was always the holy grail of graphics tablets to me, bathed in that “all the pro’s use these”‘ glow, their expense keeping them just that little bit out of my grasp. I always told myself one day I’d treat myself to one.

Then along came the iPad Pro. Intrigued I tuned in to the Apple Keynote as I usually do except this time was different, this wasn’t just a phone, iPad or new macbook for me to drool over. This was something billed as being for Creative Professionals. With genuine excitement I waited through the keynote, expecting any second for an Apple employee to blow me away with the one feature I wanted… and it never came.

It seemed like a ridiculous omission to me, surely all they have to do is mirror the screen of a macbook or iMac, and let the Apple Pencil be the input method and boom, you have a Wacom cintiq with a better screen, a great stylus and for a better price! Yet all the keynote offered were mobile versions of adobe apps and photo editing demos showing how you could change someones frown to a smile, it all came off like a gimmick to me. Disappointed, I sighed and went back to my dreams of a one day treating myself to a Wacom Cintiq.

Fast forward a few months and I’d discovered an app called Astropad. This app did exactly what I felt the iPad Pro should be able to do right out of the box, still skeptical I trawled YouTube and various blogs reading review after review. After a little bit of deliberation and the self justification that my birthday was right around the corner (you’ve got to treat yourself on your birthday, right?!) i took the plunge and ordered a silver 128gb iPad Pro, a smart cover and an Apple Pencil.

Astropad is a great app, and i use it a lot. The developers are constantly working to improve functionality (this summer saw a great update that brought speed improvements and a revised UI that made things even more of a pleasure to use) and the freedom of being able to use the app whilst connected to the same Wifi network as your Mac really is great. However, as great as this is, it is what I had expected and i’d even go as far as to say this is one of the defining factors in my purchase of the iPad Pro. What came as a surprise to me were the Adobe mobile apps. I went a little while ignoring them, remembering the apple keynote and thinking to myself “why do I want a less functional version of the things i use every day?!” eventually my curiosity peaked and I decided to check them out.

Now there is no shortage of drawing apps for the iPad, there are some great ones out there. However most sit on the raster based digital painting side of the fence, and whilst I like to dabble in digital painting from time to time, my work flow and my real expertise lie in vector graphics. But how good can a vector graphics app be without a pen tool?!

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It took me a little while to get used to Adobe Draw. When creating illustrations in Adobe Illustrator I often switch from my Wacom tablet to my mouse and back again, using a combination of the Brush, Pen and Pathfinder tools yet Adobe Draw boasts just one of the holy tool trio I held so dearly. This turned out to be less of a problem than I’d first assumed, it put my focus back onto drawing and away from the more precise tweaking habits I’d developed with having a mouse at hand. Having the ability to tweak a line or a curve ever-so-slightly taken away made me focus on getting the line the way I wanted in the first place, whilst retaining a bit more energy usually lost by the excessive adjustments I’d make.

To my surprise, I found myself really enjoying Adobe Draw. So much so that it had altered my idea of what my illustration workflow could be. The “send to illustrator” option in Adobe Draw allowed me to take my drawings straight to Adobe Illustrator, retaining all their vector properties, and continue working with the extra tools and functionality I previously lamented Adobe Draw’s lack of.

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It was then I realised that I’d be approaching the iPad Pro from the wrong viewpoint from the start. Focusing on it matching the strengths of the Wacom Cintiq range when really I should’ve been looking at what strengths the iPad Pro itself had. Sure, Astropad brings that pure graphics tablet functionality that I wanted but to assume the iPad as nothing but a Cintiq pretender that runs iOS is missing the point. Adobe have really done a great job with Draw, and the ease at which artwork can be sent to Illustrator means there is not only portability but also purpose and productivity in your work. Imagine trying to get work done on the train on in the garden on a nice day, carting your laptop and graphics tablet around, impractical as best and impossible at worst. The iPad pro has increased my productivity considerably since it arrived, something I’m not sure I could say about a new graphics tablet had I chosen that route.

Utilising the layers in the same way I would work when using Illustrator, I first worked out some rough sketches for layout and placement of the characters, and what I’d do about the title and credits. After a couple of rounds of revisions, deciding how many colours to use, etc I used the iPad’s camera to take a photo of my final rough sketch before getting straight into the darkest “outline” layer, and working backwards from there. The brush options in Adobe Draw are fairly limited, however once you experiment with the stock brushes, changing the taper and thickness can yield some great results. In the same way that I use Adobe Illustrators “core” tools, I found myself relishing Adobe Draws stripped back yet solid selection of brushes.

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The experience wasn’t all roses, I came up against a couple of things that annoyed me. Using the ruler in Adobe Draw and it not staying in place whilst zooming/moving around the artboard was quite annoying, and not being able to resize multiple layers together at once, meaning that artwork across separate layers is almost impossible to match up once one layer has been transformed. But going forwards, adjustments in approach could cater for this. I’ve also waxed lyrical about how well I got on with the iPad Pro and whilst that certainly is true, the Cintiq is still king of the graphics tablets and a great piece of equipment. The iPad Pro isn’t a direct replacement for a Cintiq, to treat it as such would be to miss what are, in my opinion, it’s greatest qualities.

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