I’m no artist, but I like drawing my world's maps and sketching out the occasional bit of scenery for my novels. For years I’ve done so using drawing tablets and desktop software, namely Adobe Photoshop and Pixelmator. A couple of years ago, I bought an Ugee tablet from a Chinese online retailer. It was a fraction of the cost of the industry-standard Wacom tablets. At first, it worked well enough, but as I upgraded to subsequent versions of macOS and Windows, I ran into some driver issues which the developers never once updated. Then when I went to use it about three months ago, it stopped working. Given my experience, I was reluctant to buy into another cheap drawing tablet.
Meanwhile, Apple went and did something I thought they never would — release an iPad Mini that supported the Apple Pencil. You see, I’ve long flirted with the idea of buying an iPad Pro so that I could use the Pencil to draw. The problem was the size and cost of the Pro line. I prefer the Mini’s portable form factor, writing on it for long stretches with my Brydge Keyboard when I’m out of the house. I was reluctant to drop more than AUD 1000 on a drawing solution since, as I noted, I’m not an artist. To my thinking, the Pro was always the best choice for those on the vanguard of iOS adoption, and while I love iOS, I still rely on workflows that are much easier on a Mac1.
Anyway, I decided to take a chance, upgrading from my ageing Mini 4 to the Mini 5, using my Qantas Frequent Flyer points to get the Apple Pencil for ‘free’. What helped was I knew I could reuse my Brydge keyboard, as the form-factor is identical to the older Mini 4. I had also watched several videos on YouTube, where artists had reviewed the Mini 5 and concluded that while small, it was perfectly adequate — and even advantageous for portable sketching.
So far, I’m enjoying the device a great deal. For everyday tasks, the Mini 4 was more than adequate for my needs — writing, reading, browsing. However, the Mini 5’s spec boost is certainly welcome. The A12 CPU and 3GB of RAM should afford me a measure of future-proofing, along with the 256GB of storage I chose.
But this post isn’t about the regular stuff. How is the Mini 5 for drawing?
Well, I’m on a learning curve — but not as steep as I first thought. Nevertheless, I decided to start simple. My app of choice is Procreate, which is widely acclaimed among iPad artists. To familiarise myself with the app, and to practice with the Pencil, I decided to digitise a sketch I made a couple of weeks ago in an actual paper notebook. Here's a photo I snapped off with my iPhone of the original.
After a little doodling, here’s my first attempt at recreating it in Procreate.
That’s only the beginning though, and with a little texture here, and a little shading there, I managed to create something of which I’m rather pleased.
I really like Procreate. Coming from Photoshop and Pixelmator, I found the UI to be responsive and intuitive. I didn’t feel for a minute that my iPad was too small; in fact, it was nice being able to hold and easily manipulate it in one hand as I drew.
The performance was excellent. For the canvas size, I chose A4 (3598x2480px at 300dpi), which is a decent size for printing, ePub and web. Procreate maintains its performance by limiting the number of layers. My drawing used 11 layers out of a maximum of 26. That’s pretty good, and I honestly can’t see myself needing more than 20 for the sorts of maps I like to draw.
Oh, another thing I like is the ability to export a time-lapse video of the drawing. Here’s mine!
The day may come where I flip that relationship on its head. It’s getting closer by the day... ↩
I do a spot of world-building with my iPad, Apple Pencil and Procreate to map and flesh out an important setting in my current fantasy novel.
I review Affinity Photo as an Adobe Photoshop replacement, by putting the app through its pace using Ascension's Atlas Style fantasy map tutorial.
I finally answer a reader's question and follow up my popular review of three open-source overland map generators with a review of a great little Medieval City Map Generator for the web.