Occasional notes on thinking and practice.

Paper-Digital Workflow

The main issue with having a good creative workflow is being able to think and develop your ideas effectively. Over the years this has changed a lot for me personally, partly because the technology is different and partly because I am too.

In the past I had a tendency to overdo things and get a bit precious about every design element, but as I worked with a variety of editors/clients I realised that my best work tends to be more spontaneous. 

This doesn't mean that I’m not thinking about things, just that the end material is more instinctive and less self-conscious, which is where my preferred workflow comes in. 

I usually start with possibly the fastest medium available - a biro and sketchbook. I will scribble stuff out and often develop things across three or four drafts¹.

At some point I will then take a photo of this artwork with an iPad² and process the image using an app called Prizmo³. 

After this I will work mainly within Procreate using an Apple Pencil⁴ (and yes I have a set of particular brushes⁵). My approach with Procreate is to use it like an old-school lightbox - a manipulated template layer at the bottom with reduced opacity as a guide. Beyond this I will have a black ink layer, a couple of grey tonal layers (one of which usually using multiply mode) and then further colour layers (also set to multiply). I sometimes bring in other textured bits and pieces depending on what I am doing.

My mac is still useful - particularly when it comes to doing the heavy lifting of composite video work and some text-design-layout based activities, but increasingly I am finding the iPad a tool of choice. The flexibility combined with with the immediacy of a thought-based workflow is something I often have to pinch myself over. 

¹I will probably post something here soon about the use (and misuse) of a sketchbook, but for now I’ll just say that the dynamic of the viewing audience can ruin this most sacred institution. There are lots of flashy sketchbook samples posted online which are beautiful but vacant exercises. Well not exactly vacant - they look nice, and get lots of likes, but in the end my personal view is that a sketchbook is about externalising and developing thinking and reflection. These things don’t easily fit into something that the watching world understands or cares about and therefore should be kept under wraps unless there is a really good reason to share it. 

²Another note on the use of an iPad: there are a number of people online who refer to themselves as iPad artists, or iPhoneographers. I would gently warn against this kind of self-definition. While it is true that I tend to use Apple products 24/7 and depend on their services to teach and create stuff (students often associate me with some kind of spineless Fanboi), I think that it is important to distance yourself from your tools and remember that you are a creative person and these are tools to help you get the job done better. One day those tools will change or disappear and you will have to find a different method, so please think twice before you define yourself in this way. 

³If you haven’t seen or used this app I recommend it highly - I have been using it for years and it keeps getting better. You can ‘scan’ multiple page documents, process them and send them digitally. You can do surprisingly effective OCR with it, get it to read texts out and - in this instance - scan draft artwork and prepare it easily. It is also worth mentioning here the fact that the current camera on an iPad is now up to a superb standard, meaning that you just don't have to worry about taking reference images or scans of work. 

In the olden times I used a scanner a lot and would stitch together images using photoshop. Now all of this is virtually redundant - my scanner is somewhere collecting dust. 

⁴What can be said about this most wonderful development in the world of art-using technology? It is perhaps one of the greatest steps forward for me in recent years - the combination of iPad/Pencil and Procreate is very sweet indeed. Enough with the gushing. 

⁵If you look around the Procreate forum you can find a load of free brushes, discussions and some links to paid stuff. I won’t post any further details here because really this is about finding your own path and what works for you (which might take a long time!). Whatever you end up with, it is important to have a sense of conviction and ownership. Happy exploring.