'Brushes' is an Art Studio in Your iPad
'Brushes' for the iPad takes finger painting to a whole new level, and offers a truly portable alternative for digital artists who have an itch to create while on the go. But don't expect to ditch Photoshop anytime soon.
Artists have for years used desktop programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter to edit photos, sketch, and create realistic art that evokes traditional materials such as brushes and pens.
Until recently, most digital art and design was done using a mouse or a dedicated drawing tablet like the ones made by Wacom.
That changed when apps such as "Brushes" ($9.99) made by Steve Sprang began appearing on the iPhone and now the iPad. Professional artists such as David Hockney and Jorge Colombo have used the program to create impressive pieces that have been shown in galleries and used as covers for magazines such as The New Yorker.
A generally satisfying experience
On the iPad's large screen, Brushes is very satisfying to use. It feels a lot like using a sketchpad, but with your fingertips of course. (See the "Brushes App Gallery.")
Brushes has a very small tool set: just a brush and an eraser tool. Palettes are provided for selecting color (and saving swatches), setting brush size and style, and choosing the layer you're working on. A paint-can tool fills the screen with the selected color. You can also reselect a color you've already used, by pressing and holding down on the screen until a color-sampling tool appears.
Like Photoshop, Brushes has layers with “transfer modes” that let you control how the images on different layers are combined. This makes it easier to work on the background and foreground separately.
The simple tool set available in Brushes is sufficient to do quite sophisticated work, but I often found myself wishing for more.
For example, there are no selection tools for isolating part of an image. The best you can do is to carefully construct your image in layers, and use the Eraser tool to trim the edges of your painted areas.
The brushes in Brushes are not pressure sensitive, which is to say that the strokes do not change if you press harder on the iPad's screen. You must use the palette to change the stroke size.
Also, I found that while working, my fingertip blocked my view of what I was doing. I found myself wishing I could use a stylus for the sake of making precise marks and having a more "realistic" drawing experience.
You do get used to working with your fingertips though, and by zooming into your artwork you can make surprisingly precise marks after a little practice.
I found that it was extremely easy to make accidental marks on the artwork while zooming, repositioning art on the screen or entering and exiting the Gallery view. This problem is not unique to Brushes, however. When web browsing using the Safari app, it can be very easy to accidentally tap on links at the edge of the screen.
Artworks can be exported directly from Brushes through email, or uploaded directly to Flickr if you have an account set up. The paintings can also be copied to a desktop computer when the iPad is synced. The brushstroke files (recordings of the marks you made to create the painting) can also be exported and played back on the “Brushes Viewer” program, which runs on Mac OSX.
“Brushes Viewer” can also be used to re-render your artwork at a higher resolution for printing or to play back the brushstrokes as a video animation.
It is also possible to import images into Brushes, by way of the iPad's Photo app. You can erase parts of the image or paint on it or over it in a separate layer.
Brushes also has a Gallery view, which can display your art collection as well as play a time-lapse movie of your painting being created.
Simple but effective
Overall, Brushes is a basic and easy-to-learn painting program with a lot of potential. It does not overwhelm the user with a million functions, but its limited tool set does feel a bit constraining at times.
Brushes is probably best suited for quick sketching or for beginning users. Professional artists and designers may want to seek out a more full-featured app such as Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro.