How to create art on your iPhone

25th Aug 2009 | 11:30

How to create art on your iPhone

Paint a mobile masterpiece using only a phone and your finger

Getting started

For this tutorial, we'll be creating an underwater scene using the iPhone application Brushes (iTunes link).

This app consists of four basic painting tools: a Paint Bucket, Brush Selector, Eyedropper and Colour Picker.

Since I'll be painting on a 3.5-inch display, these tools will provide a fast workflow for this particular medium. Think of Brushes as a mini version of Photoshop and Painter, without the many windows full of options for each feature.

The user interface for Brushes makes it easy to decide on colour selections and placement of objects in the scene you paint. I'll begin by creating a background, then work my way up to a robot before going on to choose which techniques are needed to create the illusion that our scene is underwater.

The creative decisions made in relation to the placement of lights and shadows are extremely important for creating the mood of the scene.

Don't be afraid to make a mess with your brushstrokes – Brushes has an Undo/Redo button in case you want to remove specific ones.

The application works extremely well with the iPhone's Pinch Zoom feature to zoom in and out when you want to add fine detail. Also remember to take the battery life of your iPhone into consideration: you don't want it unexpectedly turning off when you're in the middle of a masterpiece.

When your painting is finished, you'll have the option of exporting your image at high resolution using the Brushes Viewer (Mac only). Before you start you'll need to download this zip file of source images. Let's throw on some tunes and begin to paint on the iPhone!

1. Blue gradient

I begin by filling in the background with a medium shade of blue using the Paint Bucket tool. I then use a wide brush size and select the third Brush option. I make a gradient of dark-to-light transparent blues, gradually changing blue values with each brush stroke. It doesn't have to be perfect, so I don't worry if my values are slightly off. Then I tap Done at the top-right corner, click the icon in the bottom-left and select Duplicate Painting when prompted.

iPhone brushes step 1

2. Creating the robot

Starting with the head, I paint a sphere with a mid-sized brush, using a dark blue. I change my brush to the smallest size, and adjust the transparency setting to just past the halfway mark. I Pinch Zoom in to about 300 per cent and draw the basic shapes of the robot body with the blue I used for the head.

iPhone brushes step 2

3. Blocking colour

Since the scene takes place underwater, the colour scheme should be relative to the mood of the painting. So the colours for my underwater setting will consist of dark and light blue hues. I always start with my darkest values and work my way up to mid-tones, then highlights. I begin blocking in the arms and legs of the robot with a dark blue value, and then use the same dark blue to create the cave around the robot.

iPhone brushes step 3

4. Illusion of light

To sell the story of this underwater scene, the strongest light source should come from behind the robot. The robot appears to be entering the cave, so the light source shouldn't affect its frontal view. This can be achieved by selecting light blue values to paint the background. I'm not worried if my brushstrokes graze the edges of the robot, because I'll paint over them eventually. Using a small brush size and a bright blue tint, I zoom in and paint highlights just above the edge of the right arm and leg joints.

iPhone brushes step 4

5. Robot highlights

Using a small brush size, I apply a few more highlights onto the head of the robot, along with some on the left arm. My cave will also need highlights just around the edges of the entrance, to make its walls more distinct and to be consistent with the highlights on the robot, so I begin to apply those as well. My lines don't have to be perfect: I'm painting on my iPhone rather than a tablet, so clean brush strokes shouldn't matter. That's the beauty of working on this device. The workflow and thought process can be applied faster than when using desktop applications like Photoshop and Painter, so be sure to use this to your benefit, rather than thinking of it as a restriction.

iPhone brushes step 5

6. Light of the eye

Little detail is needed for the eye, short of the light it's emitting and the objects it affects. I first paint the ground with a small brush size and a tint of orange matching the eye colour. I paint the ground first to get an overall view of how the light will reflect on the robot. I zoom in to 800 per cent and apply my brushstrokes, changing transparency as I paint from the robot. I then apply a dark shade of orange to the right leg and joint.

iPhone brushes step 6

7. Blending colours

The Brush tool palette has no blending brush, but this doesn't stop me from creating smooth colour transitions with the tools provided. The blue hue is already on the robot, so I need an orange semitransparent shade to create a blend between both colours. I move the tint selection just below the halfway mark and zoom in before applying the orange brush strokes on the robot's foot. Using the same semitransparent tint selection in blue, I soften any sharp lines between both colours.

iPhone brushes step 8

8. Cave lighting

Now I work on shaping the cave edges that will be affected by the external light source. The inside of the cave will have to be darkened to make the background light source more intense. Zooming in to 800 per cent, I paint my highlights on the cave by selecting the smallest brush and applying strokes just above the outer cave edges. I then use the darkest blue value in the cave and increase the value slightly to create my midtones.

iPhone brushes step 8

Adding more objects

9. Focal point

It's important that I don't take the focus away from the main character. In creating the foreground atmosphere, I paint objects that can be easily recognised without much attention being given to them. Placing numerous objects in the foreground can also clutter the painting and distract the viewer from the story being told.

iPhone brushes step 9

10. Foreground objects

I choose a rocky terrain as my foreground object to go along with my underwater theme. When painting objects in the foreground, I always remember that shades of any colour become much darker, while tints of any colour become brighter. My lines will also appear sharper with the detail I apply. I choose a medium brush and a dark brown (almost black) shade to paint my foreground structure. I choose a brown tint and zoom in to paint my mid-values on the rocks affected by the light. I apply the highlight to the edge of the rock using the colour of the eye.

iPhone brushes step 10

11. Rock diver

To draw the scuba diver, I use the smallest brush size and paint him hiding behind the rock. While I'm painting the diver, the zoom is at 800 per cent to enable me to paint small details such as the air tank and goggles. I then apply small brushstrokes with a bright blue tint around his face to give a sense that he's breathing underwater.

iPhone brushes step 11

12. Background detail

At this point in the painting, I stop brushing and look at which details I can expand on. I increase the intensity of the light source behind the robot by painting with a semi-transparent aqua tint. I then zoom in slightly and increase my brush size to paint around the robot. An ocean needs fish, right? I zoom in to 800 per cent and apply quick brushstrokes at the smallest brush size. I also apply bubbles to the arms and legs of the robot to get a sense of underwater movement.

iPhone brushes step 12

13. Export your painting

All of the hard work has been completed. I can either take the extra step to push the colours further, or add more detail later. My painting can be exported to a high-resolution image using the Brushes Viewer mentioned earlier. You can also export a movie of your painting process, stroke for stroke, in QuickTime format.

14. Post-production

Brushes was the only application I used to create this painting. To push the intensity of my colour values even further, though, I often use an iPhone application called CameraKit (iTunes link). This is a photography application that functions like a film camera. It has different methods of processing photos to appear vintage, black and white, colour or monochromatic. CameraKit works just like a mini version of Photoshop to adjust lighting in photography. In the Brushes application, I can export my painting to my photo gallery and use them in the CameraKit application.

iPhone camerakit

15. CameraKit features

I select my photo from the gallery and tap on the Configure option to view my selections. I use the Push/Pull feature to either intensify the colour values or dull them. I also apply a soft focus that helps create an attractive, subtle blend between colours. There are plenty of features for colour experimentation, so I play around with the options until I see something I like. Once I'm happy with my result, I choose my output resolution and upload the image to my blog. Creating and posting art doesn't get any faster than this!

iPhone camerakit features


This tutorial appears in the current issue of ImagineFX magazine, on sale at all good newsagents now. Also in issue 48: ImagineFX looks at the bigger picture, literally, with its very first gatefold cover, folding out to display the gloriously epic landscape painting of Daniel Dociu.

Within, Alex Broeckel's workshop creates an urban landscape from scratch, ImagineFX looks at the immersive forest and desert environments of film and game man John Dickenson, and takes a look at rising star Paul Chadeisson's futuristic cityscapes.

Javier Molina shows how to create a digital masterpiece on your iPhone, rock out with rock artist Tara McPherson, and Cris de Lara echoes the greats of the past in her contemporary-styled pin-up painting.

There are also useful tips on composition from Drazenka Kimpel, a walk on the dark side with Dave Kendall's sketchbook and Marshall Vandruff focusses his creature anatomy on the front legs and arms, plus $230 worth of software for free on the DVD, and more…

ImagineFX is the only magazine for fantasy and sci-fi digital artists. Each issue contains an eclectic mixture of in-depth workshops from the world's best artists, galleries and interviews, features, community news, software and hardware reviews, and the latest sci-fi and fantasy films and comics.

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