Artstudio iPad app review

First I would like to welcome Luke Lucas who is going to be writing a few iPad app reviews. You can see all of his info at the bottom of the post, welcome Luke!


I must confess, before I delve too much into this review, that I am not by trade a painter or an artist in the traditional sense. I’m a graphic designer who works 99% of the time with a mouse or a Wacom Tablet; my other job is as an assistant photographer. My hands are quite a bit clumsy and I’ve never been comfortable with a brush or pen in my hand. That said, I’ve enjoyed the numerous painting apps made available via the iTunes App Store, if for one simple reason: it’s a one-time purchase with no additional supplies (like paper, oils, watercolors, etc.) needed.

ArtStudio was a tough app for me to wrap my head around. I’ve dabbled (no pun intended) with other painting apps, like Brushes and Layers, but ArtStudio is a whole different beast. This is clear from the reviews on the App Store: a huge amount of 5 stars, mostly from actual, real-life, “yes, I actually do this for real” painters. The examples posted in the App Store screenshots are wonders to behold. I’m lucky to get two lines looking semi-straight most of the time (a product of me, not the app… mostly).

The app itself is about as plain jane as one can get. Hardly any frills or fancy graphical elements. Think the basic Photoshop toolsets from way early versions of that software, and you have, essentially, ArtStudio. Now imagine you perhaps borrowed that early version of Photoshop, sans manual, from a friend and you had no idea what to do next. This is what I felt like: thrown in to a world of what are clearly powerful tools, but no crystal clear idea of where to start.
artstudio ipad app review

The UI of ArtStudio is perhaps it’s Achilles heel. It’s not exceedingly user-friendly (from my standpoint), and the icons, while mostly clear as to their purpose, are a bit lacking in the descriptive department. I found myself just pressing random things to see what they did. A not altogether terrible way to learn a piece of software, but frustrating when you learn that inside each option is a whole world of different options, more advanced, granular controls. Tap and hold on a particular tool and a new menu pops up, giving you much more precise control over the tool you want to use, whether it’s the pencil or brush or color chooser. After a couple of days tooling around with things, figuring out how they worked, I finally became somewhat comfortable with my surroundings, enough to paint a picture of a rocket ship blasting off into space using different colors, tools, and opacities.

One feature I was particularly interested was photo painting. I, along with my wife, enjoy taking images of random things we’ve photographed, and playing with them in Brushes app. Attempts to draw from a picture are sometimes intriguing, oftentimes ridiculous (especially when we start to draw beards on people, a typical last resort). We just got an iPad in our house, so I was intrigued as to how well ArtStudio would handle different kinds of photos imported directly to the device via the Camera Connection kit. The results were genuinely kind of bad. Half the time, it would successfully import (slowly) a JPEG image we’d transferred from our little point & shoot Canon. The other half, it would just crash out. The real trouble came when I attempted to import a RAW-sized image we’d transferred from our Canon 5D Mark II (note: I’m fairly certain it’s not the actual RAW file I’m seeing, but I’m still not clear on the specifications). Every time one of the images we’d chosen to play with would begin to import, ArtStudio would crash and send me back to my home screen. I quit all other apps, then turned off and back on, my iPad, thinking perhaps it was a memory issue. Nope. My last test was to try the same 5D Mark II image in the Brushes app. No problem, whatsoever. I tried five other 5D Mark II images, and they all worked fine. Clearly, there is something ArtsStudio needs to fix.

One feature I stumbled upon was the tutorial function. There’s a little scholar’s hat in the bottom menu bar that when tapped, opens up a handful of teaching opportunities. I could learn how to draw animals, buildings, and people (cartoonish and realistic). Each lesson has an indicator specifying difficulty, ranging from Easy to Medium to Difficult. The lesson is simple enough to follow along with (you basically trace along with the tutorial), but there’s never an indication of what tool you may be using at any given point. For example, the building lesson is essentially a quick study on how to draw perspective. One of the key elements is drawing straight lines, using what is essentially a Line tool like you’d find in Photoshop. Trouble is, once I finished the lesson, I had zero luck finding that same line tool anywhere. I don’t think this is a minor quibble, either. If your app promises to teach you basics on how to use the app, you need to show the user how to find these tools instead of sending them on a wild goose chase.

My ultimate conclusion is this: if you are serious about painting in the real world, with actual brush & canvas, ArtStudio (judging by other reviewers) is a clear winner if only because of what seems to be a glut of power-user tools that provide for what must be a genuinely thorough iPad painting experience. If that’s your thing, definitely check it out. If you’re a layman (or in my case, lame) painter who wants or needs simplicity with graphical bells & whistles, check out something perhaps a bit less hardcore.
artstudio ipad app reviewartstudio ipad app review

Do you have a favorite app? Or an app you would like to see us review? Leave a comment below.

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Author: Luke

Luke Lucas is one half of the husband & wife photography team Little Acorn Photography in Montgomery, AL. His role as assistant includes duties such as book keeping, resident new-tech geek, lens defogger, giraffe wrangler, driver, and photographer

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