Creating Carl: iPad Art with ArtRage

Creating iPad art is easy with ArtRage. I think it feels as close to real painting as you could expect from a tablet.

I’ll show you how I use it, but the best way to work it out is to play with it yourself….

Now some would say this first stage is cheating. I say it’s time-saving. I know that I can get a likeness without tracing – but I want to get to the fun bit! So I tap the tracing icon and tap “import image”.

I select the picture of Carl from my photo library, choose the pencil tool by tapping the bottom left corner and loosely trace the image. I zoom in to draw the detail using the usual iPad finger gestures.

This is what happens when you tap the tracing icon after you have imported your image.


Tracing Icon

Tracing Icon

The eye to the top right opens or closes the image. Here it is shown in the “closed” state so the tracing image won’t show on the screen.

The third button is for options including “convert to paint” and “choose colours from image”. I don’t use these.


Tracing the image

Tracing the image

When I finish tracing, I close the photo by tapping the eye.

You can see below that my tracing is loose and not detailed. I just place the features on the page to save myself some time later.

Ah – you can also see that blob in the front which is supposed to be a basket of flowers. I decide that flowers are not my forte and just pretend they aren’t there! 🙂

Sketch layer

Sketch layer

Now I create a new layer by tapping the layer icon.

Two tips on layers which confused me a little at first:

  • make sure the layer you want to paint on is the highlighted layer. Sounds obvious, but easy to forget in the passion of painting!
  • make sure the eye is open on the layer you want to paint on.
Layer Icon

Layer Icon

I like to paint on a separate layer, then delete the sketch layer later to avoid any unwanted pencil marks. You can change the blend mode of the layer – the  blend modes are similar to those in photoshop and can get a bit complicated. At this stage I only use the Normal blend mode.

Starting a new layer

Starting a new layer


I pin the reference photo to the top left corner by tapping the pin icon. There is that eye again (open this time) and the options menu.

Pin Reference Image icon

Icon - Pin Reference Image


Painting with reference photo

Painting with reference photo

I choose the oil brush tool to start my painting. The properties of the brush can be changed by tapping the settings icon below the brush. (There is a screen shot of brush settings below – all the different tools have setting options and there are also pre-sets for some tools if you like shortcuts)


Starting to paint

I paint all the woodwork here… and in doing so, paint over the sketch of the glassware (which is underneath the painting layer) SO:

More painting

Painting the woodwork

  • I turn OFF the painting layer (by tapping the eye icon in the layers menu) so I can only see the sketch layer and the glassware layer
  • I trace my glassware sketch onto the glassware layer – making sure that the glassware layer is the highlighted layer!
  • I turn the painting layer back on by tapping the eye icon again.

Below you can see my glassware tracing layer on top of the painting layer.

Another benefit of painting the glassware as a separate (higher) layer is that I don’t have to worry about the paint of the glass mixing with the paint layer underneath it – unlike “real” painting, the paint never dries!

I make the paint very transparent when painting the glassware by adjusting the thinners in the brush setting to about 86% (see below for a screenshot of the brush settings)

Adding a layer for glassware

Adding a layer for glassware

Finishing off glassware

Finishing off glassware

Below you can see the brush settings in the lower left corner: the current settings are for a very fine line with a 2% size brush. The thinners are quite high making the paint more transparent.

Brush settings and colour mixer

Brush settings and colour mixer

In the lower right corner, you can see the colour mixer– the top bar selects the base colour, the middle adjusts other aspects of the colour.

Underneath the colour mixer you can see a folder – you can store swatches of colours which you can easily use again while painting. I have amassed quite a selection of my favourites so I rarely need to mix a new colour.

Colour Swatches

Colour Swatches

If you are finding it difficult to get a colour, you can use the colour picker tool – can you see that light circle with a dropper inside? Tap the dropper, tap anywhere on the painting or the reference photo and it will get the colour for you. You can then add that colour to your samples or just start painting with it. I call that cheating! 😉

Colour Picker tool

Colour Picker tool

Other tools I use frequently are:

  • the palette knife – to push the paint around and mix paint on the canvas;
  • the airbrush – for subtle blending, shadowing or highlights, particularly using the colour dodge or colour burn blend modes;
  • and the eraser.

For the glassware, I use the eraser on a very fine setting to erase the paint a little – so that it is almost transparent in some spots. I also use it to create the highlights in the red of the bottle neck. Handy!

And here we have the finished work. I have a new admiration for iPad artists. I find it difficult to get the details in the small canvas size – even with zooming in.

I also find it interesting that the texture of the paint in the wood shows through in the candle – even though the paint of the candle is an opaque layer, the settings of the size or thickness of the paint underneath must be such that the texture cannot be covered.

This was a great deal of fun to create and you can be sure I will be sharing more.

Important tip: ArtRage doesn’t autosave so I save my painting continuously. I once lost 3 hours of work because the app crashed!

To see some more ArtRage art:

Carl finished

Carl finished!


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Related posts:

  1. Portrait Painting: “The Path to Enlightenment” or “The Penny Drops”
  2. Portrait Artists Know How to Party!
  3. Portrait Commission “The Happy Couple”: The Home Stretch
  4. Creation of a Portrait Painting: Work in Progress “Girl with Watermelon”


Filed under artrage, ipad art, ipad painting, Portrait Paintings

7 Responses to Creating Carl: iPad Art with ArtRage

  1. Very interesting work. You’ve achieved some liveliness which makes the original look dull.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the fact that “loosely tracing” the reference photo is a time-saver. I paint pet portraits using Corel Painter, and they are extremely detailed. Also, it’s best for ocular health to spend the least amount of time straining the eyes on the computer screen.

    Great art work and information! I will follow your blog. Feel free to follow mine.

  3. Thank you, Enid.

    I’m glad you agree about the tracing, Christina. I’ll take a look at your blog. I’m interested to know how you present your finished pet portraits – do you print them out or leave them in digital format?

  4. For me, personally, the fun is in recreating an image entirely from scratch without any assistance or tracing. It’s an intellectual pursuit to start with a blank “canvas ” and know that I did it unassisted. The process of painting for me, becomes a process of correction and evolution. And whatever variance from the original image that my paintings take becomes my own artistic license. I just like that challenge. It’s what drives me.

    I think the use of shortcuts such as tracing is what makes the art world frown upon digital painting or view it as not artistic per se, as the same as perhaps an original oil. But hey, to each his or her own. Don’t let me influence you. I just feel that it makes it more difficult to place high dollar values on digital art, when the world perceives the art as shortcuts.

    That said, I do think your paintings are wonderful and I do not think less of you or your wonderful paintings. I know that once you have gotten down the simple forms, the rest is purely yours. So I want to be clear, I know how skillful you are and I think you have a tremendous eye. I appreciate fully what you do.

    David Hockney has argued, and many agree, that shortcuts have been around long before digital art. Here’s a link about this theory:

    That said, I do think that if you have the skill (and you do), you should exploit it to its fullest if you want the world to see value that you bring.

    Imagine Michelangelo making David out of a mold rather than from a slab of solid rock. Or Leonardo having traced an image of the Mona Lisa rather than painting her from scratch. Would we view the art in the same way today?

    So keep on painting. And only take my opinion for what you think it is worth.

    Warmest regards and mutual respect.

    Richard Shulman

    • Hi Rick

      I completely understand why you would advocate not tracing as a perceived devaluing of the final product. I have noticed a number of digital artists advertising the fact that they are drawing freehand for the same reason.

      Despite this, I am comfortable with starting off my digital paintings with this loose tracing.

      As you say, many artists working in traditional media use similar assistance to compose their art, whether it be by tracing using projectors or a grid method.

      I know I don’t need to trace, but at this stage, my interest in creating digital art lies in what the programs can do and in their ability to emulate traditional painting. I challenge myself drawing freehand in other media. I am using my iPad as a sketchbook and portable painting studio – more of a continuation and complement of my regular creating methods rather than a stand-alone method. Perhaps, if I were to focus more heavily on the iPad art, I would be reluctant to trace, as you are.

      I generally prefer to create without tracing or using a grid – I was trained to work from life. However, I also prefer to work in a much larger format than the iPad as I have more room to move. My non-digital JKPP portraits are all freehand which I think makes them more lively.

      And that is what makes your digital paintings stand out from others. They have life. They are obviously not simply digitally reworked photographs. (Neither are mine, I would hasten to add 🙂 )

      Thanks for the comment and see you ’round!


  5. Amrit

    Hi Julia, I believe there are a lot more artists out there who actually trace and just don’t admit it so I always respect anybody who stands up to the critics and applies honesty and openness. To trace or not trace is an interesting debate. I think this article will appeal to a wider audience as there are more people who cannot draw than those that can, so you are certainly doing a good thing to get people using their iPads to be more creative and produce their own art.

    I agree with you Rick, drawing from scratch is always going to be more satisfying, but this is a more advanced thing. With Julie’s honest approach people can start taking the first step at art and not feel any shame about tracing. One step at a time.

    • Thanks, Amrit for your comment.

      When I was studying art, of course all drawing was from life. There was one woman in our class who had the most amazing talent. Within 10 minutes of a pose, she not only had a perfect likeness of the model, but also had a wonderful sense of light, giving her work a softness and emotion which was fantastic to witness.

      (Ok, so I was a bit jealous of her talent. :))

      We were talking one day about donating portrait gift vouchers to charity events as prizes in silent auctions. She very guiltily admitted to me, that when she fulfilled those vouchers, she blew up the images and traced them, just to get the proportions correct. She was enormously talented and could have easily created perfect likenesses freehand, but as she was a mum with 4 kids, she wanted to save time and effort so chose to trace.

      I agree that learning to draw requires observation and freehand drawing. I draw freehand when using traditional media. I usually trace when using the iPad to save time and also because I am used to working on a larger scale and find the screen a little small.

      I like your point, Amrit, that if the iPad gets people drawing and being creative, with or without tracing – that’s great!

      I do understand Rick’s concerns, as digital art is often perceived as being merely photo manipulation. What he (and I) are doing is certainly not that – it is exactly the same method as “real” painting, just a different medium.

      Thanks, again, Amrit, for your comment.



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