Made on my phone.

Jorge Colombo has produced a number of covers for The New Yorker using an iPhone app called Brushes.  Brushes is a painting program that uses the iPhone’s touch screen as a finger painting canvas.  The tool sets for the program are limited — you get five layers, a limited palette of sizable brush styles that can be used for both painting and erasing, and you can set transparency levels for brushes and layers.  When you run out of layers, you can mix two layers down into a single layer and continue to paint.  That is it.


So I picked up a copy of Brushes to try it out for myself.  The program costs about five bucks, less than a double-double cheeseburger meal at In-n-Out.  So far I have really enjoyed using Brushes.  In the middle of eating a cheeseburger, the intensity of my satisfaction is probably greater than when I use Brushes, but over the lifetime of using the software, I’m confident that I will enjoy Brushes more than I have enjoyed any single cheeseburger.


Above is a painting of a lollipop.  I painted the lacy wrapper on a separate layer over the lolli.  Then I bumped up the transparency for the wrapper level to create the effect in the image.  The background was painted on a third layer.


And above here is an experimental painting where I simply goofed around with the tools, learning how to use them.  All of the images in this post were made using software on my mobile phone.


And here is my first painting in brushes where I used an existing photo as reference.  I also used a reference photo to paint the cowboy, but I didn’t want to lead off the post with pornography.  Hopefully this image is sufficiently abstracted so no one will get in trouble at work.  Before exporting the painting, I completely deleted the reference photo.  Every mark in each of these painting was made by my finger.  The iPhone’s touch screen is a pretty remarkable little interface capable of receiving many mark-making touches per second.  I’ll go ahead and fly my own freak flag for a second and point out that there is something kind of hot and awesome about making a painting by rubbing a thin glass screen with a lit pornographic image behind it.  When you turn off the iPhone, you can see your own finger’s greasy paint smeared all over the reflective black surface, so don’t let anyone tell you this isn’t really painting.


Brushes isn’t the only tool I have been playing with on my iPhone.  Photoshop, the queen mother of digital image making programs, has released a free Photoshop app.  It is a ridiculously flimsy program, but it allows the user to adjust contrast and exposure, and the price is right, so it makes a nice companion to Brushes.  The image above shows the result of one pass through the Photoshop app.  I like the muted grays of the original image just as much as the brash saturated colors of the second.


Lo-Mob is the third iPhone art app I explored for this post.  Lo-Mob takes existing photos and artwork from the iPhone’s image gallery and applies digital effects to create the look of a wide variety of traditional chemical photo processes.  The app costs about two bucks, approximately the cost of a drip coffee at Starbucks.  While the limitations of the software are significant, the results are pretty cool.  Overall I like Lo-Mob much more than I like Starbucks coffee.


Here is a second Lo-Mob pass over the chupa-chupa.


And one pass over the abstract painting.


In addition to the color processing, Lo-Mob adds sloppy borders and other dark room artifacts to the images.  The user has very little control over the outcome, and the image gets cropped to fit the aspect ratio of the replicated film stock.


The cropping can be quite acute.  Because Lo-Mob doesn’t allow the user to define the crop, the free Photoshop app can be used to add control over this feature.


The vignetting in many of these old chemical processes is pretty intense.  I like how it reveals the physical presence of a camera, seeing the world through a cylindrical lens with the light fading around perimeter.  I’m not even sure what it means to be making fake chemical process photos of digital paintings, but for $2.00, who really cares?  It is fun!


In the image above, a fake 35mm film frame, I let Lo-Mob crop the painting and I like the result better than my original image.


Look at the paper texture around the print.  That detail is the sort of thing Lo-Mob adds to the image.


Okay now, so I thought I would explain how Brushes works.  The photo above is a cowboy image I snapped at the North American Indian Days rodeo in Browning, Montana.


My first move in Brushes is to sample a mid-range color from the horse.  Then I loosely paint over the horse in that single color.


Because the painting takes place on a separate layer from the photo, I can easily see my work on a black background.


Next I sample a darker portion of the horse and paint in some of the shading.


I then hide the photo and see my shading over the top of the first painting.  I like the result, so I merge the two layers together.


I take a couple of additional painting passes adding a bit more shading and the cowboy.


Then I use the photo to create a background.  I keep it pretty simple, sampling colors from the blue sky, from the ground, and from the white fence.  I layer up the paint covering most of the photo, but still leave the layer a bit transparent.


Leaving the background slightly transparent allows the dark gray underlayer to show through, which is an effect that seems to be serve this painting pretty well.  I add some blocky little spectators and the fence on a layer between the background and the subject.  This completes the Brushes portion of the image.


Finally, I bring the painting into the free Photoshop app and adjust up the contrast.  When the image is done, I can wirelessly upload to my MobileMe account where I can look at my work from any place with an internet connection.  Each of the paintings I created for this post took on average about thirty minutes to make.  My finger flicked furiously, and the software quickly and intuitively became an expressive tool.  This is some nice technology.

This post is a little intro to some of the digital art tools that are finding their way into consumers’ pockets.  There are many phone apps for making art, and before writing up this post I ended up also purchasing AutoDesk’s SketchBook Mobile, which is a lot like Brushes, but with more tools.  Sketchbook sells for a $2 pittance, well below the price of many fast food items, and it can do a lot more than Brushes.  Ultimately I chose not to use it for this post because all of those features add up to a higher learning curve, and I was having too much fun with Brushes and Lo-Mob.  In this sense Brushes is like the In-n-Out menu, where there aren’t a lot of choices, but where everything seems a little better considered than the equivalent market choice.  All of the software discussed can be picked up for less than $10, well below the price of any meal at a crappy national chain like Olive Garden, and long after the indigestion and regret of fast food leave you craving another fatty meal, these programs will have you drawing and painting.  If you have an iPhone (or an iPod Touch, or an iPad), go ahead and drop a dime on these apps.

A quick update:  Discovered that Brushes records mark-making process and can create videos from this history.  Here is the YouTube video of one of my paintings:


8 responses to “Made on my phone.”

  1. lane says:

    wow so so cool!

    thanks for putting this up, great effort!

  2. Heh, thanks Lane. I was tempted to title the post something like, ‘The FUTURE of Art!’ in a lame attempt to goad you into a little flame war, but had second thoughts.

  3. Dave says:

    Very cool post. I really love the lollipop and the nudie pic, but I’m hesitant to try these apps for some reason. Mostly fear of making the same ugly crap I made in every art class I ever had. Maybe if I convince myself I can play with them on the subway instead of video games.

  4. 3: Interesting. I think a lot of people are afraid to draw for fear that the result will become an undeniable token of one’s personal lameness. But there is just so much raw pleasure in mark-making, and these apps really scratch that itch once you surrender to your heart’s secret longing to make piles and piles of kitsch.

  5. Marleyfan says:

    Very cool!

  6. Quick update: I learned that Brushes saves the history of your drawing, and that these histories can be easily turned into YouTube vids. I have attached a YouTube version of one of the painting to the post above.

  7. Nat says:

    I love the lollipop. It looks like a ballerina – such a cool image.

    I have a HTC 3G phone, which is the exact replica of the I-phone with similar applications, except that it uses windows software and has an attached keyboard. It’s great for writing, but I never actually took the time to figure out how to paint with it. I sketch a lot, dragons and faces mostly.

    Dave, I wonder, if you can hook your monome (the right spelling?) up to a painting software. The way you explained it: it musically interacts with your computer – you press a button then the computer responds. I don’t know much about it, but if it worked with a painting software the same way, you could literally “paint” a melody or a harmony, which could be kind of cool.

  8. Dave says:

    You could make the monome paint, sure. It’s just a grid of buttons that light up. So you can use it as something like a Lite-Brite. The drawback is that it’s very low-resolution, only 16 x 16 pixels for the largest one (at about 2 pixels per inch), while the iPhone is 480×320 at 160ish pixels per inch. Also, the monome pixels only have two states, lit or unlit. (Well, one guy has gotten a third state to work, flicker, but it’s highly annoying.)

    Still, I’m being way too literal. You could definitely make images with it, and I have no doubt Rogan could figure out some awesome way to use it to make awesome-looking things.