I recently succumbed to the pressure of the 21st century and got my first smart phone. It didn’t take long to find a free drawing app, so I’ve been playing, and thinking about the difference between drawing on a screen and drawing on paper.
I bought a cheap stylus in the hope of gaining more precision, but it turns out not to be any better than my finger, so my doodling involves a degree of randomness due to the fingertip obscuring the point of contact. This lack of control isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it may compensate for the lack of expressiveness of the digital line – constant in thickness and intensity (unless you use one of the pen options that have a programmed ‘angle’ of nib – these are still unexpressive of the artist’s gesture because the variation is determined by direction on the surface rather than any personal input).
The regularity of the line and of its perfect rounded end is uninteresting to the eye, and cannot show the speed or force of the drawing. So any liveliness in the image probably comes from inaccuracies and scribbliness in the drawing – you have to find the line by trial and error. This is compounded by zooming in and out to draw details like eyes – it’s hard to get them looking right when you can only see one at a time!
The contact with the screen is textureless – very different from drawing on paper – but that very slickness might be one of the things that make screens so seductive to interact with. They offer a sense of ease and power – all the things we can do with a swipe of the hand!
None of this is meant as criticism of the app – and there are probably other programs that don’t have these features. Rather it is making me think more about what is important in any drawing – the degree to which it can reveal the personal intention, thought or feeling of the artist in subtle (usually analogue) ways, in strong or faint marks, confident or tentative, forceful or delicate. (This is similar, though not identical, to the difference between a handwritten note and a typed one – no ‘handwriting’ font can convey what real handwriting can.) People sometimes talk about ‘mark-making’ – is this what they mean?
Anyway, here are some exploratory doodlings from my phone, restricting myself to the ‘pen’ and ‘pencil’ and eraser, and avoiding the complications of colour.