Oil on canvas? No, finger on iPad

Painter draws fingertip portrait on Apple device.

David Kassan portrait 311 (photo credit: David Kassan)
David Kassan portrait 311
(photo credit: David Kassan)
The art of painting is now at one’s fingertips - literally. The 21st century has ushered in a new wave of digital artworks reflective of our modern times, with the LCD screen slowly gaining on the easel.
Realist painter David Kassan is one such pioneer exploring new methods of artistic expression through digital media. Recently, he gained worldwide attention with his striking portrait created on his iPad through a $5 iPad application called Brushes. Using his fingertips, Kassan “painted” a portrait of a man in a mere three hours, then displayed the time-lapsed video of his creation on YouTube. The eight-minute video has already surpassed 720,000 views and counting since it was published on June 27th, bringing Kassan’s latest work – as well as the iPad – under the spotlight.
Kassan, who works mainly with traditional media, says the iPad helps him in his artistic quest to present the world around him honestly. “Basically I’m always learning how to see more accurately,” he explained, “I’m always looking for tools that can aid in that goal…the iPad has been an amazing color sketchbook for me.” The iPad Brushes app offers an alternative to the traditional artist’s sketchbook, with a wide palette of colors that Kassan says are “cleaner” than many other mediums. “It’s really easy to do color sketch studies in museums, which have helped me to understand more about how different artists approach color as well as compositions. Before the iPad, I would use a basic sketchbook…I couldn't really explore a full palette when studying.”
Another artist, British illustrator Kyle Lambert, also made headlines with his iPad portrait of hip-hop superstar Beyonce. Lambert was drawn to the iPad because of its portability and the size of the display screen, making it easier to work with. “I first used the app on the iPhone and produced a couple of interesting pieces, but due to the size of the display the possibilities were capped. With the launch of the iPad and the demo of the Brushes iPad app I really began to see the potential in this platform. There are a couple of good painting apps around, but for me Brushes has the perfect balance between powerful features and an easy to use interface.” Both artists agree the tool allows more freedom to modify and edit compared to traditional mediums.
Even acclaimed UK artist, David Hockney has raved about using the iPhone, and later the iPad in his art. “The iPad is far more subtle, in fact it really is like a drawing pad. They will sell by the million. It will change the way we look at everything from reading newspapers to the drawing pad…It can be anything you want it to be. This is the nearest we have got to seeing what I would call a universal machine,” he told the Evening Standard.
These new forms of artistic expression are not free from criticism. According to Lambert, people have questioned why he and others work digitally, “but when they look at the end results, the technology disappears and it is the quality of the artwork that shines through.” Kassan says that those who are critical of his work do so because they misunderstand that the iPad is not the end, but rather a means to make his physical paintings stronger.
Fans of the artist's traditional works can rest assured – Kassan enjoys working with the iPad but won’t relinquish his paintbrush anytime soon. “I like the one off quality of an original oil painting, as well as the texture, surface and luminosity that you can capture with traditional oil paint.” Lambert agrees, “There is no digital equivalent of splashing paint at a canvas, the gamble of letting water-colors run into each other and the resulting 'unique' physical work of art that you get when working in traditional media.”
Still, the advent of applications like Brushes puts a whole new spin on art, alluding to the possibility that the use of traditional media may be rivaled as technology evolves. Lambert explains, “As an illustrator working in a digital age, the need for physical media is declining…the flexibility to change a digital piece at any stage gives the artist and the client much more control over the final outcome.”
What does this say for the future of art? Media, like the art world, is continuously evolving, and artists are forever finding new and innovative ways to experiment with forms of expression. As technology sweeps across society in ever-blazing speed, it is only natural that an audience of such art will follow suit. Will iPad artworks ever grace museum halls or the auction block at Christie’s or Sotheby’s? Time will tell.
What does the future have in store? The future is already here.
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