As the model in front of us drops her dressing gown to reveal her naked body, we realise the enormity of what we are about to do. We've drawn before, the odd doodle here and there, but never at a life-drawing class, and certainly not in the famous Life Room at the Royal Academy in central London.

The room, which has seen the likes of Turner and Constable learn their trade, hasn't traditionally been open to anyone. When the Royal Academy was started almost 250 years ago by a group of artists, sculptors, and architects, it could take some students up to 10 years to be allowed in to the Life Room to draw a subject. Yet, there we were about to give it a "go".

Taking a class with the iPad Pro

We've been allowed to bypass the basic skill qualifications and years of learning (over 800 people applied for the 14 places in 2016) because we are here to learn how to draw using with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.

Teaching the class is Mark Hampson, head of fine art processes at the Royal Academy, and probably one of the bravest lecturers at the RA to allow a gaggle of amateurs into the building.

To capture the experience, we are using Procreate for iPad. The app (£4.49/$5.99), best described as Photoshop for drawing artists, even goes as far as describing itself as "the most advanced painting app ever designed for a mobile device".

The painting app allows you to sketch, paint, change brushes, work over multiple layers, create any colour, choose your canvas size, and that's just the start.


Layering your drawings

It is the layers feature that Hampson is most interested in to get us started. Working through a series of tasks to build up a drawing, it is one of the features of Procreate that we like the most.

We've never used the app before, but it's easy to get to grips with balancing a wide range of options with an interface that is simple and intuitive to use.

We first start by plotting key points of the body using the "6B pencil" brush. Once we've done with that, we move on to a new layer, which Hampson calls "energy". Here the task is to draw the model in front of us without taking the Pencil off the screen. It's much harder than it sounds, but certainly frees our creativity.

The next layer encourages us to express our abstract creativity. Procreate features 12 different brush collections, each with a further eight defined brushes within each collection. Beyond that you can take things further by changing the size and the opacity of the brush. Brushes range from charcoals to abstract to more traditional options that recreate watercolour or oil painting.

The abstract brushes are as abstract as you might expect. We opted for Polygons, Opticon, and Spicule for our drawing. It's an effect that to create on paper would have taken hours, and yet here we are in the Royal Academy creating (for better or worse) the effect in seconds. When we go wrong there is an undo button that goes back hundreds of steps, while a pinch to zoom feature allows us to work the image at close range.

One of the best ways to create a life-drawing, Hampson tells us, is to not only look at the shades and light on the body, but to look at the negative space around the body. That's our next layer before moving on to attempt the same trick for inside the body too.

Multiple layers and around an hour later and, unbeknown to us, we've created our first life drawing without picking up a piece of paper or a physical paint brush or piece of charcoal.



Mark Hampson's five tips for drawing like a master

1. Look at the model more than your paper

There is no point in having a figure in front of you if you don't learn from it. Take the time to familiarise yourself with its weights, proportions and pose.

2. Focus on the wood not the trees

Don't obsess about capturing isolated details and treat the drawing as a cohesive whole. Give equal attention to everything you draw.

3. Don't avoid the difficult bits

Fragments and close ups can be interesting but are often embraced as an excuse to avoid facing up to the challenges of drawing heads, faces, hands and feet.

4. Practice may make perfect, but…

… technical perfection rarely makes great art. Learn to develop the differences and imperfections in your drawing. Creative interpretation is more valuable than sedulous aping. Experimentation is essential in developing a unique style and approach.

5. Not every drawing you make will be a masterpiece

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Correcting, erasing, and on occasion abandoning a failing drawing is worthwhile. There is no shame in starting again sometimes.


Sharing made easy

When we've drawn things on paper sharing them has perhaps been the hardest part. You've got to be physically there. Here Procreate plays its digital card allowing you to not only export the drawing in a number of different formats, but also as a video that has silently recorded your drawing efforts from the moment you created the canvas.

The end result, which is automatically sped up by the app, is a fascinating insight into how you've journeyed through your creation, mistakes and all.  

Fit for exhibition

Ours probably isn't, but we've learnt a lot and found that for beginners the iPad Pro is a great place to start.

So can the iPad replace paper? That's a question we put to Hampson over a drink in the RA member's bar afterwards and the answer is, as you would expect, politically answered.

Hampson, who has only been using the iPad Pro for drawing for a couple of weeks, tells us that the freedom the iPad delivers is certainly welcomed and that it brings a wealth of different possibilities to the artist's arsenal.

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