this thing's incredible

This $25 Digital Paintbrush Lets Me Pretend I’m David Hockney

Photo: Courtesy of the author

I needed to kick a habit. A few years ago, I bought a set of beautiful paintbrushes in Tbilisi, Georgia, in a bid to stop flicking my eyes between my iPhone and a TV set at night. I imagined spending evenings back in London painting watercolors, and I told colleagues and family members about my new hobby. Within weeks, when they asked how it was going, I felt embarrassed to admit that the brushes were already gathering dust at the end of my kitchen table. Not long after, I listed the brushes on eBay and resolved to never paint again.

Then, this summer, I saw some pictures online of brightly colored digital landscapes by octogenarian painter David Hockney that were captioned “iPad drawings.” He’d used an app to recast the English countryside as a carpet of neon grass, trees hanging with orange leaves blowing in the wind. I tracked down both the digital Butouch paintbrush and the app he uses, called Brushes. Quickly, I started to imagine an easier way to paint in the evenings than pulling out canvas, watercolors, and my cursed (sold) brushes. Maybe I’d been too ambitious. This felt more like a baby step, letting me set aside the endless scroll in favor of an iPad in one hand and a digital paintbrush in the other.

It worked. The Butouch transformed my summer evenings, and over the last few weeks — as the weather has turned — it’s given me a rush of back-to-school nostalgia. Using the brush feels meditative. Hockney may use the Brushes app, but I saw that the Ibis Paint app would work just as well with the brush, and it was more straightforward. After downloading it on my iPad and phone, I’ve painted still lifes, gardens I hope to have in the future, and even my favorite red wine. Plus, the paintbrush looks sleek and techy in my pen pot.

Now, instead of coming home and turning on the TV after dinner, I’ll fire up the Butouch and paint. I’m using a lowbrow canvas — my 2014 iPad with a 13-cm screen — so the pressure’s off. I pick my colours, maybe a saturated midnight sky blue or a creamy purple, and start gliding the brush over the screen. Hockney said he preferred living “in color,” and like any hobby artist, I’m happy to follow his lead. It’s fun to lose myself in the app on long train journeys, in dead time between meetings, and on fall weekend breaks. There was no way I was going to carry around a set of paints and a brush to these places. I consider my TV habit kicked.

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This Digital Paintbrush Turns My Old iPad Into a Canvas