Watercolors to iPad, Day 1: Limiting my options

This morning, I went into my regular routine of just picking a portrait on either Sktchy, my Instagram feed, or RedditGetsDrawn and picked up where I left off with my traditional media. After all the wonderful comments and thoughts about using digital in addition to my traditional mediums made me realize learning a new tool isn’t going to hurt my watercolor practice. If anything, I’ve already figured out a few areas I could improve in my traditional practice.

Digital painting of a person with short blue hair and a pink shirt by Wayne Smith of SmithandFritzy
Using the standard ink and paint technique I do with many of my portraits, I used the same idea with Procreate brushes on my iPad Pro to get a similar look.

After a few sketch pages, getting used to the different brushes and pens available on Procreate, I picked two that I liked the most and just went with it. One pen for the outlining (Studio Pen) and one brush for the painting (Flat Brush). I thought that after all of my whining about too many tools yesterday, focusing on two would be fine since I don’t use much more in my regular practice.

I know a few people commented about being overwhelmed with a digital studio set up because they haven’t used programs like Photoshop. You know what, though? Procreate is pretty instinctive in its user interface and other than a few ideas a new user might be unfamiliar with, you can easily get in and start drawing pretty easily.

One of the benefits of using a digital art studio like this is being able to draw on separate layers. The easiest way for me to describe layers is to imagine a few pages of laminate sheets and you can draw and paint on the different layers but each of them is translucent so when you combine them together, the images will stack on top of each other but with transparent backgrounds.

A question you might have is why use layers instead of doing everything on one canvas? Easy editing! Below, you’ll see the different layers I used while making this portrait. One layer was my initial pencil sketch that isn’t even in this image (no more need for eraser or accidental pencil marks left in your painted pieces). The next layer I created was the inked layer that basically solidified my pencil sketch into a opaque inked lines the same way I normally do with my India ink and brush. Next came painting the subject’s skin tones and facial features. Using the flat brush, I used a very basic palette using only about three colors and adding layers to increase value where needed—the same as with watercolors. And lastly, I created a layer for the hair. The reason I didn’t paint the hair on the same layer as the skin is because the brushes aren’t as maneuverable as a normal round brush, going from a thin tip to a broad wash. Basically, I’m sloppy with my lines and so I can go in and erase where I went outside the lines without destroying everything I did on the skin layer.

Layers in Procreate to make the portrait of a young woman by Wayne Smith at SmithandFritzy
Here are the three layers I used to create this portrait using Procreate on the iPad Pro. Layer 1: Ink outline using Studio Pen, Layer 2: Painted area with Flat Brush, Layer 3: Additional detail layer painted with Flat Brush and the flourishing with the Dry Pastel, and Layer 4: Composite of all three layers together.

Well, as you can tell, I’m less overwhelmed with using the iPad. Some of my friends noted today that they can see it’s still “me” in the digital painting (which is pretty neat). Limiting some of my choices helped me from trying to use too many tools or colors. I’m excited to see what else I can make in the future. I don’t plan on quitting portraits, but I really want to explore some new territory this year.

What are some of your biggest frustrations with using the iPad to sketch, draw, or paint with?


  • This is beautiful! I’ve never had much success using my tablet to do art, but perhaps that’s just because I haven’t put enough time into it to figure it out – thanks for putting pictures of each layer, it’s really great to see the depth ❤

    • Thanks Janine! It feels like a whole new beast at first because of the amount of things you can do with it, but sticking with what you know in traditional media and trying to do that with the tools they have is an easier way to get acquainted with it (in my opinion). My process is almost identical to what I do with my normal watercolor pieces—sketch, ink, then color. When I was playing around with it before that, I was going back and forth between tools which made the process much more complicated.

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