Learn to Draw on iPad

Learn to draw on iPad by creating a cute alien creature step-by-step – even if you’re a complete beginner! By .

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It’s a pretty safe bet that most developers outsource most of the art for their apps – programmer art is often said with a laugh for a reason!

But with a little bit of know-how, a good software package, and some decent instruction, there’s no reason that you can’t learn to draw some of your own art for your apps.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn to draw on iPad by making a cute alien creature. Along the way, you’ll learn:

  • Some great tips on creating a rough guide sketch
  • Choosing and manipulating your drawing tools
  • Adding shading and highlights to your drawing
  • And even sharing your masterpieces with the rest of the world!

By the time you finish this tutorial, your skills in programmer art will level up. So let’s get started!

Getting Started

In this tutorial, you will be using an iPad app called Sketchbook Pro.

You might be asking, “What’s the reason for using Sketchbook Pro? Why not use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or even Flash?”

Good question. But unless you’re a hardcore illustrator, you don’t really need to invest a lot of money in graphics software. Sketchbook Pro is really affordable, and is available on all of the major platforms (it also has a free version, which I’ll get to in a minute):

Another great feature is that any Sketchbook Pro files created on one device can be opened on any other device that has Sketchbook Pro installed. For instance, you can start a sketch on your iPad and open it later on your MacBook to add the finishing touches.

If you’re not sure you want to pay for the app just yet, you can use Sketchbook Express. It’s free, but it limits the number of features, layers and tools that you can use. Its user interface is also laid out just a little differently.

You’ll see why upgrading is worth the price, but you can definitely use the free version to follow along with almost everything in this tutorial and see how great drawing with Sketchbook is. I will point out the cases where Sketchbook Express is different so that free users can still follow along.

Choosing Your Drawing Instrument

Finger vs Stylus

To draw in SketchBook, you can either use a stylus or just your finger. For this tutorial, you will be using your finger, since I suspect that most of you budding artists don’t have a stylus yet!

If you do eventually decide to get a stylus, know that there are a lot of styli for mobile devices that range in price from $1 to $100.

In my experience, you tend to get what you pay for when it comes to styli. I use a Wacom Bamboo stylus; it has a substantial feel and a decent length.

There are even pressure-sensitive styli that vary the brush stroke width by the amount of pressure you apply as you draw on the screen. Personally, I can’t justify the high cost for these — I’d probably just lose it anyway.

All right, then! Is your drawing finger all warmed up? Great – it’s time to create your first rough sketch.

Creating Your Rough Sketch

Open up Sketchbook Pro on your device, and tap the “+” symbol in the upper-left to add a new drawing. Choose 768×1024 from the list of stage sizes displayed, as shown in the screenshot below. If you are using Sketchbook Express, you won’t have a choice of sizes – it will just open a new drawing.


You’ll notice that each stage size selection displays a number in a circle. This refers to the number of layers that you can have in your image. The larger the stage, the fewer layers the device can handle. Not sure what layers are in Sketchbook Pro? You’ll get to that soon enough — for now you’ll start by creating a rough guide sketch.

Sketchbook Express users won’t see the tools on the left, or the palette on the right. You will only see the toolbar on the top. The extra toolbars are really handy, but don’t worry – you can get by without them!

When many people see a great illustration, they often imagine the artist drew complex shapes and lines from the start. However, this is rarely the case. All objects in a drawing can be broken down into simple shapes, which is how you’ll start creating your alien.

To start, select the pencil tool on the left (in Sketchbook Express you’ll find it by tapping the brush icon at the top, then choosing the pencil image) and draw an oval in the middle of your canvas. It doesn’t have to be a perfect oval; just loosely sketch a rough oval about the same size as one shown in the screenshot below:


If you’re not satisfied with your oval on your first try, simply tap the undo button and try again. You’re not looking for professional quality here; you’re just creating a rough guideline to represent the body of your creature.

Now draw three rough circles above the oval to represent the eyes. Your drawing will look a little like a paw print, as shown below:


Again, don’t worry about making it look great; these guidelines won’t be in the finished product anyway.

Now connect the circles to the oval with some vertical lines. Straight lines in drawings convey a serious industrial mood. There’s nothing serious about this alien, so join the shapes with curved lines instead to give your drawing a playful, cartoon-like feeling, as shown below:


Now draw two circles below the oval to represent your alien’s hands. Again, connect them to the oval using curved lines, as so:


This alien looks to be in need of a tail. Draw a big, swooping curve off the left side of the alien’s body, as demonstrated in the following screenshot:


Feel free to make the tail a little wiggly if you like. This is art, after all — there’s no hard and fast rule about what an alien tail should look like! :]

Inside the oval, draw a rectangular banana-like shape for the alien’s mouth, as shown below:


The banana shape should take up about half of the space in the oval. You’ll be adding some details inside the alien’s mouth later, so leave plenty of room to work in there.

Now add some smaller ovals to the two rough hand shapes at the bottom of the drawing, as demonstrated below:


These ovals will serve as the alien’s fingers — assuming that aliens have fingers.

Now finish off your initial sketch by using some rough circles and curved lines to give the alien some pupils, teeth, a tongue and some cartoonish eyebrows. Your sketch should resemble the image below:


That does it for the rough sketch of your alien. Now it’s time to build up the image by using different layers.