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With fingertips and thumb as brushes, creating art on an iPad
By Associated Press, adapted by Newsela staff
Oct. 30, 2013 4:00 AM

A man walks between a pair of 12-foot high views of Yosemite National Park, made by British artist David Hockney using an iPad, at an exhibit in San Francisco on Oct. 24, 2013. A sweeping new exhibit of his work, including many iPad images, has opened in the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

SAN FRANCISCO—David Hockney is Britain’s most famous living artist. These days, he is pioneering in the art world again: He is using his index finger like a paintbrush to create colorful pictures on his iPad’s touch screen.

“It’s a very new medium,” said Hockney. So new, in fact, he wasn’t sure at first what he was creating. Then a few years ago he began printing his digital images. “I was pretty amazed by them actually,” he said, laughing. “I’m still amazed.”

A new exhibit of Hockney’s work opened Saturday in San Francisco’s de Young Museum. It includes many of his iPad pictures.

The show is billed as the museum’s largest ever. It fills two floors of the de Young with a survey of works from 1999 to the present. There are watercolors, charcoal sketches and even videos. But it was the iPad pieces that drew gasps. And especially the 12-foot-high majestic views of Yosemite National Park.

Veiled In Heavy Mist

Yosemite has already been captured by famed photographer Ansel Adams. And it has been painted by such well-known artists as Thomas Hill and Albert Bierstadt. This makes Hockney’s iPad images of its rocks, rivers and trees seem comfortingly familiar. But they are also entirely new.

In one picture, scrubby, bright green pines sparkle in sunlight. Behind them, Bridalveil Fall tumbles lightly down a cliff. In the background, the distinct granite crest of Half Dome looms.

In another piece, giant sequoia trees are veiled in a heavy mist.
“He has such command of space, atmosphere and light,” said museum director Colin Bailey.

Other iPad images are overlaid, so viewers can see the different stages of a drawing. He tackles faces and flowers, and everyday objects: a human foot, scissors, an electric plug.

Some of the iPad drawings are displayed on digital screens. Others, like the Yosemite works, were printed on large panels.

Thumbing Through iPad App

Hockney’s new exhibit may help make the idea of digital artwork more accepted. Currently, computer-tablet art shows are rare.

“I’m grateful he’s doing this because it opens people’s mind to the technology in a new way,” said art historian Maureen Nappi.

But Nappi isn’t so sure about iPad art itself. Yes, using iPads to make art is new, she says. But there’s nothing new about painting with your fingers.

“These gestures are as old as humans are,” she said. “Go back to cave paintings, they’re using finger movements.”

Hockney, 76, started drawing on his iPhone with his thumb about five years ago. Soon, he began emailing his works to dozens of friends at a time.

“People from the village come up and tease me: ‘We hear you’ve started drawing on your telephone.’ And I tell them, ‘Well, no, actually, it’s just that occasionally I speak on my sketch pad,’” he said.

Hockney creates his work with an app called Brushes. This was built by former Apple software engineer Steve Sprang. Along with dozens of other programs, the app is being snapped up by artists.

New Ways Of Creating Art

Together, the artists are developing new methods, with Hockney in the lead.

“David Hockney is one of the living masters of oil painting,” said art historian Kevin Hatch. But oil painting is a “nearly 600-year-old technology,” with its own problems and limitations. So Hockney has “thought long and hard about the advantages of painting with a digital device like the iPad.”

Hatch said artists first became interested in digital art about 25 years ago. The Internet was just in its infancy. Today, he said, most artists use a device in some way as they create art.

A similar shift happened almost 100 years ago with the dawn of photography, he said. At that time, new inventions such as small photograph cards and the stereoscope captured the art world’s imagination.

But there are some drawbacks to the shift to tablet art, Hatch added.

“A certain almost magical quality of oil paint,” its look and feel, is lost when a painting becomes “a piece of code” on a screen, he said.

In any case Hockney isn’t giving up painting or drawing any time soon. Nor does he plan on giving up tablets. When asked where he sees the art world going, he shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know where it’s going, really, who does?” he said. “But art will be there.”

Context Clues Quiz

Read the following questions and circle the correct answer.

  1. Hockney says that his iPad paintings are a part of a very new medium. What does the word “medium” mean in this context?

(a) size (b) color (c) format (d) display

  1. Read the sentence: The Internet was just in its infancy. What does the word “infancy” mean?

(a) very early in development (b) late in development

(c) early childhood (d) at its peak

  1. Read the sentence: Other iPad images are overlaid, so viewers can see the different stages of a drawing. What does the word “stages” mean here?

(a) paint colors (b) presentations (c) steps in progress (d) raised floors or platforms

  1. Read the following sentence: Behind them, Bridalveil Fall tumbles lightly down a cliff.

What is an antonym to the word “tumbles”?

(a) rolls (b) skips (c) stumbles (d) rises

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