How iPad fingerpainting classes are taking off

Kate Downie. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Kate Downie. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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AT first glance artist Kate Downie’s latest collection of works have been carefully crafted using tenderly applied brush strokes and laboriously mixed colours, each painstakingly created during hours in her studio.

There’s a pretty pastel scene of a Chinese cityscape dissected by a striking red arch, and a quirky portrait of commuters glued to their mobile phones. A tree with vibrant green leaves in the corner of a courtyard is captured in a flurry of strokes and there’s a portrait of the artist herself in a quirky cartoon-style image surrounded by cameras and with what could be her artist’s sketchbook tucked under her arm.

One of Downie's iPad creations. Picture: comp

One of Downie's iPad creations. Picture: comp

In fact, what she’s clutching is a world away from the paper, inks and charcoal she tends to use for her trademark gritty landscapes and industrial scenes – works that recently led to her being appointed Forth Road Bridge artist in residence.

For like celebrated fellow artist David Hockney, Edinburgh-based Kate, whose works often sell for several thousands of pounds, has turned to “fingerpainting”, using her iPad tablet, a £5 app and a swipe of her finger to create the perfect picture.

And starting next month, the former president of the Society of Scottish Artists and highly respected member of the Royal Scottish Academy will host a series of unique classes at Craigroyston Community High School, tutoring other iPad users in how to create exceptional art using just a swipe of their fingertips and a bit of imagination.

According to Kate, the iPad Mini typically used for checking e-mails and keeping up to date with news turned out to be a perfect tool in her artist’s armoury, helping her play with new ideas and record the passing world wherever she may be.

“Travelling these days involves a lot of waiting around in airports and train stations,” she explains. “My iPad and the new drawing apps that are available allow me to create and share new imagery in a way which I find very exciting.

“Artists take on new media all the time, whether they learn how to do screen printing or photography or filmmaking, there’s always new
mediums to use.

“This is still drawing and painting, it’s just another way of doing it. I love it.”

Kate, 55, who was born in the United States and raised in Aberdeen, usually works with large canvasses, creating striking, sometimes bleak, Scottish landscapes that are often inspired by the dark industrial landscape and street scenes.

And while she says that her iPad artworks are more for enjoyment and fun, she agrees that the results – created using hundreds of instantly available colours and choices of brushstrokes, applied using the tip of her finger – can be striking.

Incredibly though – and unusually for such an established artist – she has been known to simply “give away” her creations, instantly sharing them with someone who expresses an interest, rather than exhibiting them with a view to selling.

She says: “I’ve been an artist for so long that so much of what I do is bound by exhibition and value – everything has a price because you have to make a living.

“But if I draw someone on a train using the iPad and they happen to say they love it, then I’ll ask ‘do you want it?’ and send it to them. I can send the same image 1000 times and the quality of the image stays the same. I actually enjoy the fact that it has no monetary value attached.”

Her iPad workshops are the first in a new series of artist internships at the school over the next two years aimed at sharing experts’ skills with pupils and adults.

According to Monica Nall, community programme manager at the school, Kate’s advice on how to use her iPad as an artist’s canvas has already led to her creating her own works of art.

“I’d dabbled before, but never really knew how these apps could be used,” says Monica. “Kate suggested downloading Paper 53, which is the app she uses. Right away I thought it was amazing what I could do. I ended up using it to make my own Christmas cards which I would never have believed.”

The classes, part of the school’s adult community education programme, involve four two-hour sessions, starting Tuesday, February 4.

However, places are limited so organisers are asking applicants to apply with a 50 words or less statement explaining why they would like to take part. For further details, e-mail