As my clients and friends will tell you, I’m seldom without a notebook in my pocket. It’s just too easy to miss all the brilliant words, catchy concepts and million dollar ideas flying around that I might someday be able to take credit for. As a result I have boxes of bound dead-tree-skins, bursting with… well, let’s just charitably say that perhaps I’m before my time.
But the iPad is threatening to change all that. I have discovered three apps that offer almost as much spontaneity and doodle-ability as my ubiquitous notebooks, and one that has made quite an impression on my impressionistic painting style. All without using more trees. More than were already harvested to make, document and promote the iPad itself, anyway.
This was my first note-taking app, featuring stylus-based writing and the ability to type text and even make recordings. (Not a feature I really use, but might come in handy) Multi-page notebooks can easily be created, and Notes Plus stores them in a hierarchy that is missing in most iPad apps. The writing and drawing capture is a little primitive, compared to the ‘Paper’ app below, but I have actually enjoyed the blocky interpretation of some of the lines when drawing cartoons in meetings. You can zoom in for more detail, change the colour of your text and pens and vary line thickness as well. But what I love most is that it lets me sketch and type on the same page, as notes can be exported as PDFs which lets you grab the typed text later. Drawings are also editable as vectors in Adobe Illustrator, which is kind of neat as well. A handy palm pad keeps the heel of your drawing hand from writing its own messy opus at the bottom of the page. At $7.99 it’s about the same price as an 8″ x 10″ paper sketchbook.
As a lifelong Moleskine sketchbook aficionado, the clean interface of this app appealed to me immediately. The selection of pens, brushes and erasers is just what I might carry in my pocket, and the interpretation of the stylus sketching is the best I’ve tried. Opening the Paper by 53 app gives you a simple selection of notebooks to work in, to which you can add custom covers, using photos from your gallery. Adding more notebooks is a one-click process, as is adding page spreads to the books themselves. Once within a book, you pinch to open the pages and sketch away. Undo is kind of a neat two finger rewind process, but it’s limited. Page spreads can be exported as jpegs with email, so it’s easy to share million dollar doodles with clients, friends and venture capitalists. My biggest beef is with the colour palette. The designers wanted to keep things simple – I get that – but really, being able to select your own crayons is grade 1 stuff. I’m sure the app people at 53 will be releasing upgrades. If Moleskine does not merge with them first. Free with one pen, $1.99 a pen for the rest and $7.99 if you order them all. About half the price of a real Moleskine.
This is more of a painting app, at least the way I use it. Best advantage, besides not containing any nasty chemicals like cadmium red, is that I always have a paint box with me. With SketchBook Pro I can swipe out a blobby picture anywhere without so much as a cup of water for my brush. The interface takes a little getting used to, but I love that I can make layers like Photoshop, and blend them, delete them or control their transparency. There are a variety of brush textures and sizes, and it works great in low light conditions. Downsides are, it seems to be a bit unstable. I have lost entire paintings that didn’t save themselves when the program crashes, which it occasionally does for its own temperamental artistic reasons. Perhaps it feels it’s really worth more than $4.99
The Sustainable Art in the Deal
I don’t know if programs like these will make a huge dent in my consumption of artistic consumables. I most certainly will still leave a box of analog sketchbooks for posterity, or the recyclers to dig through and/or burn for heat. So use fine Arches watercolour sheets for your masterpieces, but for quick notes and on-the spot sketches, why not save the paper? Or who knows, sometimes those quick sketch-from-the-hip shots are the real gold. Just ask Picasso.
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