Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different styli. After discovering the Wacom Bamboo Fineline 2 stylus, I can say it’s one of the best I’ve used to date for my iPad Mini with Retina. It’s lightweight and durable, holds a charge for a long time, and has a fine precise nib that feels comfortable to use on the iPad screen. I like to paint details, and the Fineline 2 allows me to do that well. Once you have the right stylus you need the right software, too. Autodesk SketchBook is a robust and well-designed app that not only allows for limitless creativity, but they were clearly thinking like artists when they put it together. From being able to hide the controls to allow for more canvas space, to sliders and adjustments in all the right places, it’s intuitive. The features are right where you need them when you need them.
#1: Set your Writing Style
To get the most of out of the marriage of the stylus and software, there is a handy feature that you might overlook in the Preferences. Look under Pen Connection, and you’ll find Writing Style. This offers you six different options to tell SketchBook how you hold your hand when you draw. Experiment with each of them to find the right one for you, and it will aid in the precision of the stylus on the digital canvas.
#2: Use layers temporarily & strategically
The layers panel with SketchBook works exactly as you’d expect on a full-sized desktop application. The fact that it works so well in an app is impressive. Drawing and painting on white can be hard on the eyes, so even if you just choose a pale shade of color for your background, it will make the whole experience that much more enjoyable and might even enable you to create longer.
I’ve always created a background layer and then put the subject of my painting on another layer. This allows me more versatility for making changes, especially when it comes to composition and shading.
One technique I use is to paint a while on a layer, and then when I have something I like I’ll add another layer on top of that to paint on, locking the layer beneath it. When I’m happy with how things are going, I’ll merge the two layers, add another, lock the one I don’t want to ruin, and continue on. This keeps me from accidentally damaging the portion of the painting I’m happy with. I’m rarely working on more than two or three layers at a time.
#3: Use Opacity & Blending Modes
If I want to texture an image, I like to make it subtle. Less is more when it comes to texture. I’ll create a new layer, choose a texture brush (SketchBook comes with a lot of great brushes), paint on a new layer, and then adjust the opacity slider until I get the look I want. In the same manner, I’ll often choose a blend mode on a layer to achieve a desired effect or look. One of my favorites is Soft Light. By setting the layer to Soft Light, and painting with black and white, I can lighten or darken parts of the image without touching the painting itself. Then by adjusting the opacity slider, I can be subtle or harsh with the result. When I like what I see, I merge the layers and carry on. There are so many Blending Modes to choose from that my advice is to experiment with each one to see what it offers. Try Multiply for adding shadows.
#4: Know the Brush/Color Puck
All of the panels in SketchBook are useful, but they can be overwhelming if they’re sitting on top of your drawing or painting the whole time. Luckily, you have a great option in the Brush/Color Puck. On the top Menu panel there is a symbol that looks like the number 8. If you press on it, you enable the Brush/Color Puck (or Double Puck). Tap on the symbol to the right of it, and everything else disappears.
There are a lot of options in those two small circles. Tap on the top one and you can choose a different brush. By touching and holding that circle, you can drag up and down to adjust the brush opacity. By dragging your finger or stylus right and left, you adjust the size of the brush.
The bottom circle is all about color options. Tapping the circle brings up the color selector. Tap and hold the circle and drag to the left or right to adjust the saturation of the color. Dragging up or down adjusts the brightness.
And finally, you can move the Double Puck around your screen wherever you want it. Just tap and hold on the frame of those two circles and move it.
#5: Transform options help you scale
Once again, if you look at the menu at the top of the screen, you’ll see a little symbol with a compass and ruler. Tapping on it reveals another menu. All of these options are worth exploring, but I’m going to talk about the Transform feature, located in the middle at the bottom of this menu. Touching it reveals yet another menu (so many features!), and these give you the option to move portions of your image. This is also why I work on layers.
From here you can move, rotate, and scale everything on that layer. This is incredibly helpful with composition. One of the best features allows you to flip the image both horizontally and vertically. I’ve been doing this for years while I paint. Sometimes if an image doesn’t look quite right, simply flipping it will shift your perspective and you’ll almost instantly see whatever is wrong in the image. Could be that an eye is too low or an ear isn’t proportional. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
These are just five tips for getting more from your iPad with Autodesk SketchBook and the Wacom Bamboo Fineline 2 stylus. Explore the features, practice using them, and enjoy the experience. Good luck and happy sketching!
About Patrick: Patrick LaMontagne is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and illustrator. He’s especially adept at wildlife and whimsy. Follow along with what he makes on his Twitter artwork account.