Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Alla Prima in the 21st Century

Holyrood Palace Cafe. iPad 2, ArtRage
If the young Leonardo Da Vinci were alive today he'd be painting on an iPad. 'Bah!' you might think, 'what a ridiculous thing to say.' We mock the idea because we have a huge (and admittedly justifiable) reverence for the ancient techniques of old masters, but back then oil painting techniques were not ancient, they were the unknown, they were cutting edge technology. No doubt many tempera purists dismissed these new fangled oil paintings as showy fly by nights whose adoption was typical of the day's wayward youth. 'Why on earth would you need more time to paint?' they might have grumbled. 'Why the sudden need for such indecently intense colour?' Leonardo was reputedly one of the first men in Italy to use oils while apprenticed to Andrea Del Verrocchio. I'm sure you already know all this, but the point I am making is that no matter what age we live in or our relative abilities as artists,
Russian Dolls. iPad 2, ArtRage
creatives are always looking for new ways to make art. That's why we display piles of bricks and dirty beds in art galleries. We certainly know of Leonardo's restless pursuit of new techniques because the silly sausage famously painted 'The Last Supper' with untested combinations and look what happened to that.

Teal Armchair. iPad 2, ArtRage
Why am I talking about Leonardo in a post about the alla prima technique? For me his notebooks truly reveal a genius' talent for quickly capturing the essence of a moment at the first attempt. The opening statement is conveyed with conviction because I honestly don't think any past master with even the smallest sense of adventure could have resisted the idea of having millions of colours quite literally at their fingertips in such a neat package. Ever since we started grinding ochres into paint the evidence for artists adopting new technology is there to see and it is overwhelming; Rules of perspective, drawing grids, canvas, lenses, the camera obscura, paint tubes, shaped
Fife in a Haze. iPad 2, ArtRage
brushes, the camera, the projector, screen printing, photocopying and finally rather brilliantly, David Hockney's recent exhibition involving a room full of hung iPads whose content continually changed as the artist created and uploaded paintings. Hockney still manages to surprise and delight in equal measure.

Breakfast at Dunbrodies. iPad 2, ArtRage
The preamble has gone on far too long, I'll come to the point. I finally succumbed to the idea of having millions of colours at my fingertips and spent the last of my emergency kit money on an iPad 2, YIPPEE! My reasons were threefold: First and most sensibly, I want to learn how to make interactive apps for mobile devices, because the potential seems huge. Second, having tried and liked painting on the iPod Touch it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure  out a bigger screen and more power would make for a better painting experience. Third and most insensibly, whenever possible, which is not very often, I can't resist buying myself new toys! Apparently its a boy thing. My first impressions of the iPad? Amazing. I can't believe the things it can do or indeed the length of time it does things for. A few months ago I tried taking my 1st generation unibody MacBook Pro out painting and although it was an enjoyable experience, the battery lasted no time at all, so I'm very happy to see this issue addressed with the new generation of Apple mobile products. Hats off to you Cupertino fruit heads.

Winter Chestnut. ArtStudio, iPod Touch
Of course the iPad is only half the story, you also need a painting app. On the iPod Touch my favourite was ArtStudio and that is even better on the iPad. I also like SketchBook Pro but my tool of choice for wet in wet painting is now ArtRage. The combination of ArtRage's oil brush with the iPad is in my opinion almost the ultimate sketchbook. I say almost because the one slight caveat is that age old issue still affecting an otherwise perfect setup - using today's screen technologies in daylight can sometimes be challenging. ArtRage performs well in the field and I think it is yet to take full advantage of the dual core A5 chip in the iPad 2, so we can expect an even better performance with future updates. I like to give the brush a thick load of oil paint right from the start for pretty convincing wet in wet effects. There's no room for carefully planned fat over lean techniques here, especially when I am trying to capture an effect of the
Dalry at Dusk. ArtStudio, iPod Touch
sunlight which might only last a few moments. Slap the paint down and be confident with decisions. I can decide later whether or not my choices were successful. Screen issues aside, I've only had the iPad 2 a couple of weeks but we are already inseparable.

Holyrood Palace Cafe is a view from the cafe garden with the Crags of Holyrood Park in the background. ArtRage oils on iPad 2
Russian Dolls is a corner of my living room. This was the first painting I made on the iPad in ArtRage.
Tree, Roof, Clouds, ArtStudio, iPod Touch
Teal Armchair is another corner of my living room. ArtRage oils on iPad 2.
Fife in a Haze is painted from John Lewis' top floor cafe in Edinburgh, which has great views of the surrounding area. The hint of foreground architecture is the roof of St Mary's Cathedral. ArtRage, iPad 2.
Breakfast at Dunbrodies We have no outdoor space at home so when we were very kindly offered the loan of a lovely cottage in Lauder over Easter, breakfast in the garden quickly became a habit.
Winter Chestnut I loved being out in last year's snow but I didn't spent long painting on this day! ArtStudio, iPod Touch.
Dalry at Dusk Speedpaint of a sunset on Dalry Road while picking Anna up from work in Autumn. ArtStudio, iPod Touch.
Tree, Roof, Clouds A 5 minute painting while waiting in the car! ArtStudio, iPod Touch.

My tablet painting adventures are only just beginning and in an extraordinary twist of good fortune the iPad is not the only piece of hardware involved. Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile, take a look at the amazing mobile art of Susan Murtaugh and a great mobile painting blog at Click on images to enlarge.