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5 Must-Have Apps for Painting

How did Monet do it? See all that light. And it's reflections. And it's transitions from hour to hour, minute to minute. I'm both overwhelmed and humbled by his talent and that of all the great Masters. Yet eternally grateful to be living in the most amazing age of known to all mankind, the Information Age.

We can only paint what we can see. And we must train ourselves to see with both our eyes and with our brains. But sometimes having someone point something out and bring it into focus helps us see even better. That is EXACTLY what these 5 Apps do for me.

Before we get started, first do me a favor. Look at your phone and delete every single app you don't use. For the ones you rarely use, move them to page 4 or 5 or put them in a folder so they don't clutter up the screen with the apps you find most vital.

Done? Now you are ready.

Whether you paint from photos or from life, you should always have a reference photo at your ready. When painting en plein air , inevitably someone will drive a truck up and park right in front of my scene or worse, jump in the truck I'm painting and drive away. Happen to you? It will. Photos help plan your composition, put borders to real life that doesn't have any, and can be manipulated with apps to see more clearly the things an artist needs to see to make a magical painting, not just a rendering.

The 5 Apps for Painters that You need to Download Today

1. See Value: To break photos down into Notan and Grayscale. When you paint with me, you'll learn my process consists of 5 Simple Steps, which are 1)underpainting, 2)block-in of shape and value, 3)scrub-in of basic color, 4)the magic stage, and 5)sign my name. (For more information on the process, please refer to my ebook, "Learn to Paint in 5 Steps and Unleash your Creative Spirit!) In life and in some photos, seeing the values, how light or dark shapes are, is easy. In others, it's not. the See Value App breaks down your photo into 2-, 3-, 4-, or a continuum of values. And it's free! If you choose to upgrade to the fancy version, it's a whopping 99 cents.

2. Painting Grid Maker: To apply a grid to your photo to better draw your basic shapes. The #1 complaint I hear from my students is that they are not comfortable with their drawing skills. (Remember, painters come to me, not sketchers, drawers, anime cartoonists, or illustrators.... just painters). And I get it. As a painter, I love color... how it feels going on the canvas, the magic it creates in combination with other colors, the enchanting lines it forms with different brushes and different strokes. Drawing is not my favorite part of the process, but it's not a chore either. I simply block-in the rendering in a very loose way using a paintbrush (not a pencil usually) and using the grid approach. I only use a plus sign (+) or a hashtag (#) dividing my canvas into either 4 or 9 equal blocks, but you can use more if needed. And I don't use a ruler or measure exactly. It's not necessary.

So instead of painting one big painting, you are in essence painting 4 or 9 and using the grid to monitor where lines cross. This helps you draw an accurate rendering of your subject. In time with practice, you won't even need the grid with simple subject shapes. And this app is also free.

3. Brushstroke: Turn Photos into Paintings. I've always heard mimicking is the ultimate form of flattery, and that may be true. But not in the Art world. Oh, I get it. You run across a painting that is so beautiful, so captivating, you want to paint it for yourself. You want to copy another artist's painting. I've been there. And yes, I've done it. But in my defense, let me add it was early in my painting career when it was merely a hobby and honestly I didn't know better. Hard to admit I was that dumb, but it's true. And I was threatened with a lawsuit. Social Media is the great equalizer. Nothing is done in secret. You will get caught. Luckily for me, I begged forgiveness and apologized profusely. The artist who threatened me was very gracious and forgiving, and I'm still a raving fan. And as far as I know there are no hard feelings. But what a lesson learned!! So I beg of you, learn from my mistakes. Do Not Copy other artists' works. Instead, note what it is about the painting you love. Is it the color or color combinations? Is it the subject matter? The edge work? The looseness? The brushstrokes? Take those mental notes and practice on your own painting with a photo you have taken and apply one of the many filters Brushstroke App can offer. It will help you see your photo as a painting, breaking down shapes, values, and colors. This app costs $3.99

4. Waterlogue: Turn Photos into Watercolor Paintings. For everything the Brushstroke App can do to a photo to make it look like an oil painting, Waterlogue can do to turn a photo into a watercolor painting. Even if you are not painting in watercolor, just breaking the photo down into it's watercolor parts helps the artist see his or her subject better. This app costs $4.99.

5. Unsplash: Copyright-free photography. When using photographs, make every effort possible to use photos you have taken yourself. In many art shows and organizations, this is a paramount rule. However, if you are painting on your own and you are looking to paint the Eiffel Tower and you live in Paris, Kentucky and not Paris, France, or you want to paint hydrangeas in December, you may choose to utilize this completely free, royalty-free, copyright-free photography sharing app. When using the photos, it is customary and polite to share the name of the photographer and give him or her credit for the reference photo. But word of warning, it can also enrage photographers who feel free photography devalues their art and they are not shy about expressing their displeasure on the web. Just saying.

Please know I receive no compensation for recommending these applications to you, and I take no responsibility on whether or not they work on your phone or with your process. And Unsplash was recently purchased by Getty Images, so if they remain copyright- and royalty-free remains to be seen. These are simply my personally used apps and my personal opinion. If you are an artist who would like to lecture me on the necessity of painting from life only, save your time and your breath. I've heard it before and can only respond with that is your opinion, and I simply don't agree. We are all artists and can pursue our creative endeavors any way we feel inclined, so long as it's not immoral, unethical or illegal.

More Art is a good thing for all of us, and if these apps can help you with your painting struggles and get you to paint more art, then bully for you for using them. And bully for the artists who choose not to. Can I get an Amen?!

Photo credits: Bundo Kim and Sonnie Hiles from Unsplash

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