The Traditional Artist’s iPad: a guide after 12 years of experience

This post is not sponsored or affiliated and I don’t get any money if you buy an iPad.

My experience with the iPad as a (mostly) traditional artist

I’ve been using an iPad for over 12 years and love it as a “sidekick” to my art endeavors. I know MANY artists who do digital painting for a living and their #1 tool is the iPad. But I’m more of a hybrid artist. Over the years I’ve shifted between doing digital and traditional painting. In fact I painted my first children’s book exclusively on the iPad. Although now my main materials are traditional, the digital component of my business is extremely important.

Drawing Tree Girl, for my first book

Yes, there are cheaper portable touch-screen devices out there, but the iPad is special, and you don’t have to be a dedicated Apple follower to feel it (I’m not brand-loyal, but I use the best device for the job).

So, why use an iPad if there are cheaper options? Above all, it’s the responsiveness of the pen/screen. I’ve tried many other devices and nothing feels as natural to me. We’ll get into the pros/cons in a moment.

I currently have the new iPad Air (10.9-inch) Wi-Fi 256GB and absolutely love it. My previous iPad was the iPad Pro (12.9-inch) 2015 version with 32GB (this is NOT enough space which I’ll explain later!) I used that one for 6 years, and it still works!

First of all, why does a traditional artist need an iPad?

The iPad has become an indispensable part of my art business. So much so that I’ve been using it almost daily for 12 years. If I didn’t have an iPad, I’d still be in business. But it definitely improves my daily life as a small independent business owner who is always on the move.

The iPad plays an important role during the commissions process. I will explain that below.

Lastly, it’s the convenience. When I’m working on larger paintings, I prefer to be outside in my courtyard, so I set the iPad next to me. I often have reference photos displayed on the iPad, music playing in the background, and can quickly research something online if I need to. I also use it to watch online artist workshops or tutorials on the rare occasion. I use it for zoom call business meetings and communication. The ability to do all these things from any room of the house or while traveling is ideal.

Pros & Cons of the iPad

Before I dive deeper into how I use the iPad, Let’s look at the pros/cons:

Pros of the iPad

  • Best pen/screen quality on the portable screen market (without going into the Wacom world)
  • Super easy to use…you don’t have to be tech-savvy
  • Reliable functioning, no viruses, crashes are extremely rare
  • Built to last (sturdy construction)
  • New version uses a standard USB C chargers (finally!)
  • Extremely fast (no lag when painting)
  • Portable high-functioning computer, does everything I need

Cons of the iPad

  • Expensive compared to other brands
  • Cannot upgrade internal storage later
  • Older versions use the apple-exclusive thunderbolt chargers (annoying!)
  • Cannot customize the home screen as much as I’d like (you can only move app icons within their standard grid setup)
  • Must buy the Apple Pencil – third party brands can’t compare (I wasted a lot of money trying).

How do I use the iPad within my art business?

As I said, I’m a hybrid artist. Years ago, I painted my first book on my iPad. Over the years I’ve made detailed digital paintings and sold those designs as prints (I still do that now and then). These days, I paint less full-fledged paintings, but use it more to make graphics for my website, blog, signs, business cards, etc.

Example of some of my digital paintings, which are still “best sellers”

I suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome which makes using a mouse painful after a while. The convenience and precision of drawing directly on the screen makes it all so easy and less painful.

My iPad use looks like this:

30% draw/paint | 70% typing/admin/business

You may wonder if it was worth buying an iPad if I only paint on it 30% of the time.
Abso-freaking-lutely. The experience of painting on an iPad is 100% worth that 30%.

The other HUGE advantage to it is the portability. I’m not stuck in the office all day. I often use it while on the couch, in bed, at a coffee shop, in the park, in a hotel, on the train…you get the idea. Having a robust painting program AND easily switching between emails, blog posts, spreadsheets, accounting and internet research from literally anywhere is crucial to my business.

Advice for choosing your iPad

I have to admit I miss my 12.9 inch screen when I’m using two applications at once (You can do split-screen which is awesome). But the portability of my 11 inch is just so fabulous! But here is some advice in choosing yours:

  • If you plan on using it primarily for painting, you will probably want the 12.9inch screen (I think that’s the largest). It might not seem like much, but that extra 1-2 inches of space makes such a difference while painting, especially if you also have a reference photo loaded.
  • If you only use it a few times per month to draw on, and prefer portability, the 11inch is a good compromise. However, if you ever plan on painting on it, I would not recommend the smallest size.
  • You can try an experiment to decide what size to get. Cut a few pieces of paper to the various iPad sizes. Practice drawing on them. Which one feels more comfortable?
  • If you plan on painting on it, you’ll have to get the Apple Pencil. Don’t get a third-party cheap version, you WILL regret it (I tried 4 and wasted more $ than if I had just purchased the Apple Pencil first off). Nothing, so far, compares to the precision and sensitivity of the Apple Pencil.
  • Since I type so often on the iPad, I also got the Magic Keyboard and WOW it was a gamechanger. It makes the experience of working on the iPad 1000x better. Worth every penny!
  • Despite how tiny they are, iPads are robust computers. Be prepared to care for it like you would any computer/laptop. You’ll need a case and even a screen protector if you’re clumsy. Avoiding scratching the screen is of the utmost importance for artists.
  • I found that I hated the “slippery” feeling of drawing on glass. Finding a screen protector was a little tricky but eventually I used Paperlike. True to its name, it makes it feel like you’re drawing on paper.
  • Lastly, whichever model you get, choose AT LEAST 256gb storage space. Depending how many apps you use, 30-50gb is gone in an instant. My old iPad only had 32gb storage, and I ran into storage issues constantly. The apps alone took up 25gb of space. This left very little to save paint files. I had to back up my files and delete off the iPad weekly. I had to constantly delete/load apps when I needed them just because they took up space. This is very inconvenient if I was working on many files at once. It meant I had to constantly add/remove files and pick and choose which ones to work on. Splurge on the extra space. You’ll never regret it 5 years from now.

Using the iPad for quick concepts before a larger painting

Now THIS was a game-changer for me. A long time ago I would spend hours on concept paintings for commissions. Using up precious resources along the way.

One of my favorite things about painting digitally is that I can do lots of quick concepts and send them to the client before starting a larger painting.

I will often do 1-3 digital concepts and let them choose their favorite. These are often rough, not detailed. 30-60 minutes max. Their purpose is to get us on the same page, so I know which direction to take the final commission. Sometimes I’ll do multiple revisions of the digital concept until it satisfies the client. The best part? No materials were used. Just pixels.

Digital concept painting
Digital concept
final oil painting of beach
Final oil painting

In these examples, the clients told me their initial ideas, I did a quick digital concept, and they gave me lots of feedback which led to the final paintings.

Digital concept painting
Digital concept painting
Final oil painting

Using the iPad for teaching

Another excellent use of the iPad for artists is teaching. Painting and drawing on the screen, broadcasting the screen to the audience, and real-time instruction is a breeze on the iPad.

You can share your screen within Zoom, which is probably the easiest method. But I often need to record my demos and create class videos, so my main method is this (sorry if it sounds too technical, it’s easier than you might think):

  • Download OBS on my computer (A free video streaming/recording application)
  • Download ApowerMirror app on both iPad and computer. This allows you to capture your iPad screen onto your computer within OBS (uses Bluetooth).
  • Then you can record or live-stream with OBS. This shows your iPad screen and everything you do on it.
  • You can paint, draw, explain everything in real time.
  • As a bonus, within OBS you can add a face-cam, and a reference photo
How it looks when I record my iPad screen

Best Painting Apps for the iPad

I’ve used several painting apps over the years, and my favorite by far is Procreate.


I find Procreate to be the most intuitive and offers the best features. I recommend it for beginners! But even seasoned professionals use it. You can also download brushes that imitate real paint. I recommend Gouache Pro Set for Procreate from Creative Market.

I hope this has helped you in your decision making process. Let me know if you have any questions!

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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

2 thoughts on “The Traditional Artist’s iPad: a guide after 12 years of experience

  1. Hi Sarah. Great tips and will keep notes as a reference (as a total non-techie, I have to ask my offspring who are your age, to explain everything). I have the IPAD Pro and keyboard which is super for all the reasons you listed, although haven’t yet tried doing digital art (have the Apple Pencil) or making video recordings of my own art demos for teaching purposes. Also have only tried teaching Zoom classes using a laptop connected to a webcam positioned over my art table. Love your digital art mockups! I’m impressed with what you and artists like ‘Sasgouache’ can do digitally. Question: Is it possible to manage website (WordPress) using just my IPAD or is that only possible with a laptop? My website really needs updating.

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