There are a number of sketching apps available for the iPad, some of them quite impressive. I’m looking forward to exploring them in more detail over the holidays – just as soon as I learn to use my finger.

Here’s the deal: drawing apps for the iPad are tools that have been designed to function within their own sphere of intended use. An app designer for the iPad has every reason to assume that some one who downloads a sketching app will a) be interested in drawing, art, and graphic design on some level; and b) know that using the app will entail getting to know the particulars of drawing on/with an iPad.

The first assumption is not unreasonable – although as an education technologist, I can envision eager teachers and parents who download a sketching app with the hope that their children will some how learn how to draw. And yes, given enough time I’m sure people can learn to draw, and perhaps draw very well, using a tablet-style sketching/painting application. But I’m also finding out that these drawing applications have their own way of achieving your desired effects. In many ways, a sketching app like Procreate or OmniSketch is like using someone else’s hands to create something. Both apps have built-in algorithms and logic that set the rules for how they will be used – the way the brushes move, the types of patterns available, etc. It’s up to the user to adjust accordingly. Variables like pressure, speed, and motion – all important in brush and canvas painting – are still important for iPad sketching apps. These variables just get translated differently – and by the rules of the app designers themselves.

Just so you know, I’m not trained as an artist but I enjoy the odd doodle or so. In this way, it’s been interesting to see how these iPad sketch apps can take my odd doodle and make it look almost competent. But I’m under no illusion – I’m learning to draw with an app on my iPad, not learning to draw.

There is probably an important lesson in all of this for educational technology. Transfer is always the Holy Grail of any educational initiative with aspirations of generalizability but transfer from the digital to the traditional may be difficult to achieve. This may not be such a terrible thing – as long as we keep our devices handy. And there is nothing wrong with someone becoming very adept within a digital medium to the point where we can rightfully call them an artist. Just don’t expect this artistry to transfer very far if teaching and experience are taken out of the equation.

(Reposted from