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The iPad Air Made Me an Artist, Almost

Apple's newest iPad Air democratizes some of the iPad Pro's best features.

ipad air
Tucker Bowe

Kyle Webster is a professional illustrator and a master of the art. He teaches Masterclass courses for aspiring professionals as well as entry-level "Draw Along with Kyle" courses, and he uses an iPad.

I am definitely not a professional illustrator. I took a single Art class in college to fill a requirement and, after some slightly imperfect pottery bowls and couple paintings, I managed to scrape a B+. But with the same tools, an iPad Air and Fresco, Adobe's free drawing and painting app, and I've managed to impress myself.

And that's the whole point of the new iPad Air. Apple's newest tablet is meant to look, feel and perform like an iPad Pro, but not be as expensive.

One of the main reasons the fourth-generation iPad Air is able to perform similar to an iPad Pro is that it uses the same Apple Pencil 2 — unlike the entry-level iPad and iPad mini, which still use the first generation Apple Pencil — and that comes with some key advantages.

The Apple Pencil 2 has better battery life, a shorter length and a flat edge so it's easier to hold. Most importantly, however, the Apple Pencil 2 is way more precise with much less latency, both of which are vital for drawing.

the new iPad Air brings more advanced features to more people at a lower price

Adobe Fresco is one of the apps taking full advantage of this. It combines a nearly infinite selection of emulated pencils and pens with all the various paint brushes from Photoshop plus a new class of brushes called live brushes, which emulate oil paint or real watercolor; you can see the paints bleed in real time, just like real watercolors on paper.

Now, I'm not going to try to convince you that using the new iPad Air turned me into some kind of real artist, and in my two weeks of testing I didn't come close to unlocking the full potential of Adobe Fresco — but I can see the how much potential there'd be if I really applied myself.

One of the smaller projects that I had the most success (and the most fun) with was turning a photo that I'd taken into a painting by using Fresco's live brushes to play with the colors of a photo I'd already taken. It wasn't simple; I had to really work hard to get the brush strokes correct, especially in the more detailed sections. But the result, which even includes actual height, in the form of layers of emulated paint, is something I have to say I'm fairly proud of.

ipad air
Tucker Bowe

Above: This is a photo of sunset that I turned into a oil painting with Fresco. I think it's pretty good, considering!

While the new iPad Air does bring some more advanced features to more people at a lower price, there are still places where the iPad Pro is king. The iPad Pro has a Face ID and a superior rear camera system, but the biggest thing that will impact artists is the display, a 120Hz refresh rate panel (which Apple calls its "ProMotion" technology), while the iPad Air only has a display with a 60Hz refresh rate, same as all the new iPhones. That high refresh rate enables the iPad Pro to be more responsive and have smoother motion, which has a big impact when scrolling as well as drawing with the Apple Pencil. Essentially, the iPad Air's 60Hz display means there will be more lag when drawing. The average person might not notice, but a pro likely will.

No matter which you choose, an the iPad Air or an iPad Pro, both will be able to take full advantage of Fresco. And now that Photoshop is on the iPad — although it's a more limited version than the one you'll find on desktop— Adobe is running a promotion where you get both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fresco Premium (which adds some new brushes) for one price of $10/month.

The 10.9-inch iPad Air starts at $599, and that entry-level model comes with 64GB of storage. The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799, and that entry-level comes with 128GB of storage. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999. The second-generation Apple Pencil costs an extra $129.

Price: $599+


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