How an iPad Can Improve Your Kid’s Drawing Skills

Kid painting with iPad
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From an early age, kids love to draw and paint on anything they can — from paper to dining tables to walls! Drawing and illustration are wonderful skills to nurture in your child. They help kids to express themselves creatively, they can bring a lot of pleasure and enjoyment into their lives, and they may even help them in their career down the road.

In recent years, the iPad has started to emerge as a popular medium for creating digital art among both hobbyists and professionals: its touchscreen is much easier to learn than a graphics tablet; it’s powerful enough to handle complex, multi-layered canvases; and you can easily take your iPad everywhere you go.

The iPad is also a great medium for your “digital native” kid to hone their amazing art skills. In this article you’ll learn some ways to help your kid do just that!

Why kids love digital painting

There’s nothing quite like drawing with a real pencil and paper, but digital drawing tools do have their own sets of benefits, many of which kids love. Here are just a few of them:

  • Easy undo. Most drawing apps let you reverse the effect of the last few brush strokes simply by tapping an Undo button. This is a lot quicker and easier than correcting a mistake on paper, and encourages kids to experiment with more confidence.
  • A giant toolbox. Many art apps on the iPad have a huge variety of pencils, pens, brushes and textures to play around with, from simple paint brushes and pencils through to airbrushes, charcoals, crayons, spray paints and drawing pens. For less than ten bucks, your kid has access to hundreds of dollars’ worth of virtual artistic tools.
  • Finger-painting. Painting with fingers comes naturally to children, and the great thing about the iPad is that they can continue to use this natural instinct while creating digital masterpieces! In fact many amazing works have been created by talented digital artists using only their fingers and an iPad. (If your child prefers holding a pencil or brush then there is a wide variety of iPad styluses available.)
  • Layering. Many iPad painting apps support multiple layers, which are like transparent sheets laid on top of each other that you can draw on. This makes it easy and fun to move parts of a drawing around and layer parts together to make a montage. It also lets you do cool things like take a photo then draw on top of it, as you’ll see in a moment!
  • Easy sharing. It’s really easy to send your child’s digital artwork straight from the iPad to friends and relatives via email or Facebook, or send it to the printer for posting to Grandma.
"Boy with Balloon", made with Procreate by my 7-year-old

“Boy with Balloon”, made by my 7-year-old on an iPad.

Choosing a digital art app

So what app should you choose for your kid to use? While there are many kid-orientated “doodling” apps available, I would recommend going for a proper “grown-up” digital art app, especially if you have a school-age kid. These are a lot more powerful than the kiddie apps; they allow for a lot more creative expression, and they are simply more fun, for adults and kids alike.

My personal favourite is Procreate. This is an incredibly powerful app that’s a lot of fun to use. It has a huge toolbox of very realistic brushes, pencils, pens, charcoals and more, as well as a fantastically useful Smudge tool. It uses intuitive gestures to view and manipulate images; has good support for multi-layered images; and has a wide range of import and export options. Another really nice feature is the ability to easily record every brush stroke and export the resulting time-lapse video, so your friends and family can see exactly how your kid created their masterpiece.

There are many fantastic pro-quality digital art apps for the iPad. I love Procreate for its intuitive interface and large brush selection.

There are many fantastic pro-quality digital art apps for the iPad. I love Procreate for its intuitive interface and large brush selection.

If Procreate doesn’t do it for you or your kid, here are some other pro-quality painting apps that I can recommend:

  • SketchBook Pro is on a par with Procreate in terms of features and quality, and can produce really professional results, although some would say it has a steeper learning curve than Procreate. It can also do things like fills, text and shapes, which Procreate can’t do (at the moment).
  • SketchBook Express is a free, cut-down version of SketchBook Pro. It doesn’t have the same huge range of brushes and features, but could be a great starting point for your kid.
  • Paper by FiftyThree has gorgeous, realistic brushes and is great fun to use, although it doesn’t currently support layers, which may be a problem if your kid wants to mix drawings with photos and other images. It’s free and comes with a “fountain pen” brush and an eraser, with more brushes available as in-app purchases.
  • Adobe Ideas is a free yet powerful sketching app from the makers of Photoshop. It supports layers, including the ability to import a photo into the bottom layer then draw on top of it — great for kids. It’s vector-based, which means you can zoom in and out as much as you like without losing detail. However, since it’s more of a sketching app, it doesn’t have the range of brushes and effects as, say, Procreate.
  • Brushes is a completely free, open-source app that has a decent set of features and is easy to use. While the range of preset brushes is fairly small, it’s easy to mess about and create your own fun brushes. It also supports layers and the ability to import photos.

Six fun things to try

You now have one or two pro-quality digital art apps on your iPad, and an eager kid who can’t wait to explore them. Where to begin? Here are six starter projects that you and your child can have a go at!

1. Animal garden

Use the iPad’s camera to take a photo of your garden, then import it to the painting app’s canvas on the bottom layer. Now your kid can draw animals, people and other things on a new layer above the photo. My 7-year-old loved doing this one!

An "animal garden"  is a great way to mix a bit of nature study with some painting fun.

An “animal garden” is a great way to mix a bit of nature study with some painting fun.

2. Paint a self-portrait

A decent self-portrait obviously needs fairly advanced drawing skills, but your kid can still have a lot of fun with this one! To make life easier, they can take a selfie with the iPad’s front camera, import it to their canvas on the bottom layer, then sketch and paint over the top. They might find it helpful to reduce the opacity of the photo layer so they can see their sketch more clearly.

3. Rock people

Take some pictures of stones and rocks, import them into the painting app, then draw faces, arms, legs and other features on top.

A "rock robot".

A “rock robot”.

4. From iPad to paper

Paint a picture on the iPad, then try reproducing the same picture using paper and paints. Or try the other way: Take a paper painting and try to copy it on the iPad. This project not only lets your kid practice both their paper and digital drawing skills, but also helps them understand the differences between traditional and digital media.

5. Make collages

(These instructions are for Procreate, but you can do the same thing with many other painting apps.)

Take photos of leaves, rocks and other natural objects. Place an object on plain white paper, take a photo of it in bright sunlight, then paste the photo as a new layer in Procreate. If necessary, use the Curves feature to increase the brightness of the background until it’s completely white. Then set the layer blend mode to Darken > Multiply. Now the layers underneath the layer can show through. This lets you build up collages with lots of objects in the same picture. Try experimenting with different blend modes too, such as Hard Light.

By using photos of leaves along with layers and blend modes, your kid can produce interesting collages and learn about light mixing.

By combining photos of leaves using layers and blend modes, your kid can produce interesting collages and learn about light mixing.

6. Animal clouds

Take or download pictures of different clouds in a blue sky, then draw animal features onto the clouds. Your kid will have a lot of fun, and will also learn about different shapes and types of clouds at the same time!

Fun with animal clouds in Procreate.

Fun with animal clouds in Procreate.

Learning to draw from a book

Finally, if your kid wants to learn drawing skills then I can highly recommend You Can Draw in 30 Days by Mark Kistler. I used this book myself when I was learning to draw. It’s fun, not at all patronising, and takes you from “complete beginner” level to drawing faces, hands and eyes in just a month. A fantastic read!

You Can Draw in 30 Days is an excellent way for your child to jump-start their drawing skills.

You Can Draw in 30 Days is an excellent way for your child to jump-start their drawing skills.

I hope this article has given you some ideas and tips for exploring digital art with your kid. Who knows — maybe your child will turn out to be the next Picasso!

Do you have any other suggestions for helping kids improve their drawing skills with technology? Please let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

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One comment on “How an iPad Can Improve Your Kid’s Drawing Skills
  1. Gordon Clyne says:

    There is an App called Nebula for iPad which is great for kids, because almost everything they create looks great, and abstract, but they can draw on top of a photo and then remove the photo to make an abstract design. I have lots of child artists wh use my App…

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