My father is an architect and can easily draw wonderful pictures. When I was a Freshman in High School, I thought that I might want to become an architect too, so I signed up when my school offered an architecture course as an art elective. It didn't take long for me to realize that I have no skills as an artist, and now instead of using a drafting table I draft briefs. Perhaps if I had a different skill set, this site would be iPhone AIA instead of iPhone J.D.
Thanks to a wonderful new app called Paper from FiftyThree, however, I can now pretend that I actually have some skills as an artist. Drawing apps for the iPad are nothing new. Indeed, just yesterday you heard me talk about Noteshelf, Note Taker HD and Notes Plus, three apps that let you draw on virtual paper with virtual pens and markers. But there is something really special about this Paper app. It only includes a few simple drawing tools, but they are so brilliant that they make it easy to create wonderful drawings on an iPad — especially if you are using a stylus, but you can use the app with just your fingers if you want.
When you start the app you are presented with a series of journals, each of which contains multiple pages. When you create a new journal, you can give it a name and either choose one of the 11 included covers or create your own cover with a photo in your Photos app.
Tap a journal to see the pages within, presented in a fan-like fashion. Pick a page with a prior drawing, tap an empty page to get a blank canvas, or tap the plus button to create a new blank page in the journal.
Swipe up from the bottom to see the six drawing tools. The app itself is free and includes the eraser and the fountain pen. For a $7.99 in app purchase you can buy the other four drawing tools (or buy them individually for $1.99 each). I wasn't long after I downloaded the app that I decided that I was going to want to purchase all four of the tools, but let me start by talking about the free tool, the fountain pen, because it is simply amazing. I've never seen a drawing tool like this on the iPad before. The tool draws a dark line, the thickness of which changes based on the speed of your movement. It really does create the illusion that you have written something with a fountain pen, and I encourage you to download the app right now just to play around with this fun and free tool.
The other amazing tool in Paper is the Color tool. As you draw with this tool, you get beautiful strokes that appear to have been created by watercolor. Watercolor is a fun way to add color because it masks your lack of talent. Watercolor is never really supposed to be "perfect" and instead is just intended to create a sense of color. It doesn't much matter if you stay within the lines and there is no need to fill to the edges.
The app also includes a Sketch tool (like a nice lead pencil), an Outline tool (a marker) and a Write tool (a pen). For each of the tools you can select one of nine colors that complement each other very well.
Swipe down on the tools palate to make them go away and use the entire iPad screen for your drawing. To bring the tools back, just swipe up from the bottom of your iPad screen.
Instead of an undo button, the app introduces a gesture that FiftyThree calls Rewind. Place two fingers on the screen and then move your hand in a counter-clockwise circle to undo strokes one at a time, or move clockwise to bring them back. The gesture is simple, intuitive, and actually fun enough to make you almost want to make mistakes that you have to undo.
What is interesting about this app is what it doesn't do. You only get the nine preset colors, so you cannot select another color (except that if you use the Color tool you can blend different watercolors). You cannot zoom in to be more precise in your drawing. You cannot make the canvas any larger than the iPad screen itself, although if you have a third generation iPad the app uses the full Retina screen of 2048 x 1536 pixels. The creators of the app say that many of these ideas are under consideration, but their goal was to encourage creativity without getting people bogged down in so many options that they don't know where to start. I do hope that the app adds more features in the future, but I understand the dilemma; you don't want the app to become confusing and bloated. As Steve Jobs famously said: "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do."
After you are done with your masterpiece, you can swipe to browse between pages in your journal. You can share a page by sending it to your Photos library, by e-mailing it, or by posting it to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. As you can see on this page, lots of folks have made some truly amazing pictures using Paper. Or you can stay right here and see the streetcar picture that I created after spending five minutes channelling my inner Bob Ross:
Try not to laugh too much at my streetcar, and I promise to think twice before exhibiting any more of my artwork here on iPhone J.D. But even if I'm not going to impress anyone other than perhaps my two young kids, I find it really enjoyable to make quick sketches and pictures with this app. The next time that I'm having a brain freeze while trying to draft a compelling argument in a brief, I can see myself spending a few minutes playing around with this app to get my creative juices flowing again. And whenever I have a need to quickly sketch a simple diagram, this will be the first app I open on my iPad.
Paper is a beautifully designed and executed app. The sophisticated fountain pen and watercolor tools let you pretend that you have some artistic talent even if you really don't. And even if you are just trying to quickly sketch something, you'll get a lot more enjoyment using this app then writing on the back of that cocktail napkin.