iPad Pro, Pencil and Pixelmator for Digital Collage Art: Review, Tutorial and Requests
I recently bought the first generation 12.9" iPad Pro to make some digital collage art. I’ll show you what I’ve done and how with an easy tutorial (and videos) and finish with a big list of requests for Apple, Pixelmator and others to make my life a bit easier — and hopefully yours too.
I‘ve been making analog (handmade) collages since 2004 using mostly national geographics and art books. I also did some digital collages with photoshop and wacom tablet but it wasn’t as fun. Now everything changed with the iPad Pro, Pencil and Pixelmator app. The experience is as fluid, meditative and therapeutic as cutting an analog image with scissors. I get into the same flow state as making handmade collages. So a tip for all analog collage artists and newbies, try it out…
The Digital Collage Art Toolkit
My current (2016) hardware/software looks like this:
- Apple iPad Pro 12.9" 2015 model (first generation)
- Apple Pencil (first generation)
- Pixelmator app (photoshop like image editor)
- [optional] Stop Motion Studio app w/ “add images” plugin (for timelapse videos)
And here’s where I look for images:
- Wikimedia Commons: that’s the coolest one because it shows you upfront the image sizes in pixels! Tip: the Google Art Project by Artist page, lists you the higher resolution pics (above 2.000 pixels).
- Google Image ‘Advanced’ Search: you can filter by size (like: larger then 4MP) and copyright. I haven’t used it much, but it will probably be my default search soon. Important tip: you have to open it in Google Chrome, click the options button (vertical ‘…’ button) and “Request Desktop Site” because Google disables the Size and Copyright options on the mobile site version.
- Met Museum
- Rijks Museum
- National Gallery of Art: nice images but unfortunately the highres image is a .zip download, which you can’t open in iOS… bummer.
- Any other you’d recommend? Please leave a comment HEEERE.
Digital Collage Tutorial
Now let me give you a step by step tutorial of my digital collaging process. Next you’ll see some timelapse videos of this algorithm in action.
Step -1) Ambience: Put on some good chilled music and prepare yourself for some time of art making in a nice ambient without big distractions. I highly recommend late night sessions.
Tip: Take your time. I made only 5 collages with the iPad until now, but one big difference I’m noticing with this setup is that I’m taking much more time to finish a collage. The analog ones I usually finished the same day in one straight 4h to 6h session and now it takes me 2 weeks in total. That said, its probably around the same 6h ~ 8h total (at least for my last 2 ones), but spread in smaller (1h) sessions. Maybe its the screen thing that, yes, gets a bit hard on the eyes after a while, but also leaving the artwork sitting for some days until I feel ready to continue is cool. I’m taking more time to think about it, even when I’m not in front of the image. So take your time…
About image size: I’m sticking with the 3200px til 3600px longest side size. Why?
A) Its printable to a nice size. Remember that printing resolution is 300dpi, so if you want a 30cm ~ 12 inch (size of a LP Vinyl Cover), create a 3600px x 3600px canvas. By the way I printed the ‘Mills’ collage (you’ll see it a bit later) at 12inch 300dpi and its awesome!
B) Anything bigger than 4000px you’ll struggle finding source images and also with Pixelmator’s limit of layers (only 15 for a 3600px^2 image), which is probably because of the iPad Pro’s (1st generation) limits of RAM or whatever.
C) Anything smaller will look terrible in big & future screens (imagine opening your collage in a 5k monitor)
Sorry for the digression, back to the tutorial…
Step 1) Go find some images online (see some links in the “Source Materials” section above).
Important: For later reference, list the selected images links into a note as you find them (its hard to remember afterwards). I use Safari and the easy ‘share’ button to send it into the Notes app.
Step 2) Copy the image from Safari browser (just long press the image and click ‘copy’) into Pixelmator (now click the + button on the upper right and the clipboard image is automagically there, press and it creates a new layer with the image).
Step 3) Cut out: Besides the background image you’ll probably want just some specific part of your newly imported image. So use Pixelmator’s Free Selection tool with the Pencil. And don’t forget that you can zoom in like crazy and use the lovely undo fuck-up button. Tip 1: you can redo by long pressing the undo button. Tip 2: duplicate the layer and move it to the background or hide to keep as backup if you need to cut out a bit more or reuse it somehow…
Step 4) Rearrange/reposition Layers: Now that’s very important, place your layers in some interesting way! Don’t just throw shit around and call it a collage. Think about lines, geometry, meanings, connections between subjects, rule of thirds, perspectives… This is where the magic happens!
Step 5) Fix minor issues in the image: That’s lovely in the digital universe, you can flip, resize (for perspective), adjust colors (so one layer doesn’t stand out), opacity/soften (to blend layers)… play around, but don’t go too crazy or you’ll never leave this step. Or go crazy and try some effects (like the Kaleidoscope effect).
Now repeat steps 1 til 5 until you know its done… what? … know? … yeah, don’t worry, you’ll know! (Tip: You don’t have to fill the whole canvas with different layers, sometimes just two or three layers above a background image makes a fucking awesome artwork. Just add the missing pieces!)
Bonus Step: make a timelapse video to remember the process for posterity. Basically take loads of screenshots (sleep + home buttons) every time you do something cool you want to remember (and in between). Later open them in Stop Motion Studio app, its free, but buy the ‘add images’ in-app purchase (U$2) so you can import the screenshots. Its a no brainer: import screenshot, invert selection (select first and last frame and click revert) and export as HD.
Here are 3 timelapse videos and the final collages so you can understand the tutorial a bit better:
Greco, El Giant Collage: In this timelapse (at 1fps) you can see all the tutorial steps (finding source, importing, cutting, rearranging) and some issues (like the damned 15 layers limit):
The Maracuja collage timelapse below (specially made for Maracuja Records, which I’m part of ;-) is a bit faster paced 5min video. Interesting note about mobility: I started this one in Germany, made some bits in the airplane and finished it in Brazil.
Rembrandt’s Mills, a 15s ultra fast video, but you get the idea. Here I also tried Pixelmator’s Kaleidoscope effect (that’s how I made the Mills legs):
I wrote all of this bla bla above so you understand a bit better why I’m asking for some little things to improve my collage, photography and music listening workflow:
Requests for Pixelmator iOS app
Reviewing version 2.2 — http://www.pixelmator.com/ios/
- Mask: So i can erase and unerase parts of a layer! Because many many times I erase too much and the undo button just can’t go back the whole process or I have to keep trying until I reach a final decision on what need to be erased and the opacity.
- In the ‘Adjust Colors’ tool, add an icon to show the before/after image that while clicked shows the before, unaltered. Or even better, while I’m tapping the image it shows the before (untapping, the after), just how Google’s Snapseed works.
- More Layers (I know this one must be hard, but its very much needed): at 3600 x 3600 px I get only 15 layers. There’s really no way to enable 20 or 25 layers? (and no… merging layers isn’t an option, I need them separated ;-) Maybe you can ‘freeze a layer’ or don’t count if its hidden (That’s because I leave many copies of layers as backup, as you can see in the Greco, El Giant timelapse above, they can stay as hidden layers).
- Layer’s Original Size: I need to know the original’s layer size so I don’t blow it > 100%. For example: I imported a 5000px square image into a 3600px square canvas, it show’s me 3600px in the format info — but in theory I could blow it up to 5000px again (100% of the original import) outside the canvas. There is some kind of smart layer going on, because I shrinked an 4000px layer to 20px and blew it up again to 100% and I didn’t lose quality, so somehow Pixelmator still has the original 100% image. I just want an option to blow it up to 100% again so I know the maximum (because above that i’d pixelate this layer and it won’t be nice).
- Lock Position: For each layer, give me a lock position feature. So I can place the image where I want, lock position so I don’t accidentally move it (which happens a lot with the iPad while trying to zoom) and still be able to erase, change colors, etc. You can place it in the Tools > Format > Arrange, near the lock and lock alpha features.
- Kaleidoscope effect, when I move the center, it should create the kaleidoscope outside the canvas border too, so that when I apply the effect and re-center, the image is not cut by the canvas border.
- Lock all layers or Lock File. Lock Layers: once i finish a collage, i’d like to lock all layers, so when I open it later on I don’t accidentally move a layer, erase or whatever. Lock File: On the main menu, when i long-press a file and it gives me the options to: Duplicate, Delete, and now: Lock File/Unlock File.
- Adjust Colors (again): Anyway I can change the settings (like brightness) of all layers at once? Why? My “Greco, El Giant” collage above was too dark, which I noticed only after sending it to the laptop (side-request: histogram of the ‘master image’). Would love to bump the brightness and color of all layers at once (but without merging layers). By the way: I grouped a layer and when I clicked the ‘Adjust Colors’ it merged into one layer (I think you should at least give a warning before merging, glad the undo worked, but I wasn’t expecting this).
- Video Timelapse: Option to save a time lapse video of the whole process (similar to Procreate app’s video feature). [I’d still make my screenshot timelapses to see where i’m getting the images, but it could be cool to have both videos]
- In the Share > ‘copy to photos’: let me optionally choose an album (or create a new album feature) (if iOS allows it). So I can send my finished collage directly to my ‘Collages 2016’ iOS Photos album.
Reviewing iOS 9.3.1:
- iOS Screenshot (that’s how I make my collage timelapse videos): Apple, please don’t blink the whole screen white (I’m not taking a selfie), its hard on the eyes at night with the huge 12.9" screen. Suggestion: just blink some thin white frame on the borders. And check the brightness: less light, thinner border — Or give me some other (much easier) way to make these timelapse videos.
- From apps like Stop Motion Studio I should be able to access the ‘Screenshots’ Photo Album. This would be very useful to easily select all screenshots I took of the collage session.
- Safari should give me an option to ‘open in photos / send to iCloud’ for high resolution images like this 225MB Bosch painting. Or any other way to download and chop the image to use some parts, since Pixelmator can’t handle it. Probably easier to make an standalone app for this right?
- iCloud Photos — Easy Secondary Online and Offline Backups: I need an easy way to backup my photos into other online services (like crashplan) and into my external hard drives. For now I’ve enabled in my laptop’s Photos app (Preferences > iCloud Photo Library) the option: Download Originals to Mac, so I think I’m fine backing up the Photos Library (right?). But soon I won’t have space for all photos and I’d like to enable the ‘optimize storage’ option. So how can I import the original images (from my iPhone and iPad) into my USB HD for offline backup and also send them from iCloud to crashplan? (I’d like to do this at least once a month, knowing I can download all original photos that are now supposed to be stored only on iCloud servers). Call me paranoid, but I don’t want to leave them only with Apple.
Photos app iOS
Reviewing iOS 9.3.1:
- Image info: sizes in pixels (original, stored in this device & cropped), location map and specially the edit IPTC tags like Title and Description (so I can add the collage title and in the description, the collage sources and this, when shared, would automatically be added as title and descriptions to instagram, facebook, pinterest, etc…). All of this hidden in a “i” info button (and synced to the Photos OS X app).
- In the galleries and album views, show which photos I favorited (this could be enabled/disabled). So when I take many photos of the same thing, I favorite one and want to easily delete the non-favorites. Or something like what you have on the burst mode, to leave only the favorites from a certain selection, deleting the rest.
Photos or some other App for iOS
- I need an app where I can store some images I find online (high resolution of course), with all their info (or at least source url with a small description note) and categorize them (maybe an improved mix of Notes and Photos app? Maybe Evernote?). It needs to store offline on the iPad, because i’d love to do a collage in the woods… Any ideas? For now, as you can see in the timelapse videos I’m always online searching in wikimedia… It needs import the image in high resolution and keep track of title, author, url, etc. I should categorize it (human, background, etc) but this could be simply folders in the app (but accessed via the iOS share link feature, like evernote’s tags). It could/should also be the digital floor I was talking in the digital cons above, where i can see the all images, maybe even place images near each other to find some connections… (yes, VR would be cool here).
Music iOS app
Reviewing iOS 9.3.1:
- Please please please show me my Ratings (Stars) & Loves on all playlists, browsing and searches (even if only in landscape mode). Why? Today I can only see the rating and love if I’m actually playing the song. Every time I use the Music app, I’m browsing an artist, and would like to play that song I rated 4 or 5 stars or loved it, while browsing. No, I have to play each song to see their rating…. so what’s the point in rating it? please… (that’s my main musical issue with mobile Apple since the iPod)
Requests for the next iPad Pro and Pencil
Based on the first 2015 versions of iPad 12.9" and Pencil:
- More RAM, much more RAM, please… I’d love to make a 4k x 4k pixels 50 layer collage in Pixelmator (now the limit is only 15 layers).
- Pencil should be attached more firmly to the iPad’s magnets or to a smarter cover, so it doesn’t fall and i can attach it so it becomes one thing only i have to worry about. Or some other genius solution where i don’t worry i’ll loose it. As a side note: anyone else holding the Pencil (a U$100 hardware gadget) in their mouth while browsing around the iPad? (its awesome!) Maybe that’s what Apple wanted us to do since there isn’t any better place to store it temporarily?
- Pencil should be charged wirelessly, its too easy to loose that cap and the lightning plug will break inside the iPad someday soon…
Request for Stop Motion Studio, iMovie or any video iOS app
- Is there any iOS app where I can make my timelapse videos synced to the bpm of a song? For now, I use Stop Motion Studio app for timelapse, which gives me only integer Frames per Second (slowest being 1fps). And I add the music afterwards in iMovie, which has video speed but you can’t fine tune it (or can you?). I’d love to have one app where I can import the images and already set the FPS (which is the song’s BPM), but not only that, its very very important that the frame changes exactly with the beat, so zooming visually in the audio wave and choosing where to start (something like Ableton Live’s Warp markers). Anyways, the current 2016 videos are audioless because youtube’s copyright license blabla, but I’ll soon have some songs to sync…
Requests for Google, OpenAI, Wolfram or some other A.I. team
- Please make a search tool where I can find images with this kind of criteria: “Painting from a famous artist of a crouched down woman (whole body) reaching for something on the ground”. From what I’m reading, this actually doesn’t look so far away from becoming real deal. So lets go crazy:
- Have an A.I. learn my timelapses and make art like me. Need more data points? Just message me! I’d still do my collages, because I like the whole process, but that’s where we are heading, right? I’m totally cool with that and wanna help make it happen. I think of this like AlphaGO’s making the human opponent a better player.
Requests for Artists and Agencies
- Dear Magnum, National Geographic, National Gallery of Art, Met, Rijks and all amazing photographers and visual artists out there: please share some high resolution (4k x 4k pixels and higher) awesome images for us to remix and tell us upfront the image size.
That’s all for now, thanks…