Working with both digital vector art tools and real paints, Pete Fowler is best known for his Monsterism artworks and toys, and cover artworks for albums of Welsh indie popsters Super Furry Animals. The Cardiff-born artist held an exhibition of his work at the Millennium Centre in that city earlier this year.

The team at Digital Arts and TechAdvisor sent me a copy of hot new iPad art app Procreate 2 – alongside two other new tools: Wacom’s Intuos Creative Stylus and Octa’s Tablet Tail Monkey Kit easel/stand/oddity. I used them on an iPad 2 and an iPad 3 to create layered illustrations akin to the work I’ve been making with several other apps over the past few years.

Procreate 2 review

Procreate 2 has an instantly familiar layout, with controls over brush size and opacity instantly to hand and a no-nonsense colour picker, along with just over 20 colour swatches that can be easily customised. You have options over the canvas size and resolution – though on my iPad 2, I found the amount of layers are restricted the larger the canvas was.

I started to use this app and the Wacom Creative Stylus, but unfortunately I couldn’t get the pressure sensitivity to work as it relies on Bluetooth 4.0, which the iPad 2 doesn’t support. That would be a bit of a deal breaker if you didn’t have this version of Bluetooth on your tablet. So Digital Arts sent me over an iPad 3 – which does support Bluetooth 4.0 – and everything worked fine.

Back to the app. There are more options over layers than the other apps I’ve used so far, and working on medium-to-low sized images on the iPad 2 gives you more than enough layers for most compositions – alongside the ability to merge them, one layer at a time. I found no problem with the amount of layers available using the iPad 4 and once you become familiar with the options, it’s a powerful aspect of this app.

There are some great functions in the Adjustments menu – including opacity, blurring, noise reduction and Levels editing with Curves – that use a simple sliding motion to adjust each parameter. All these adjustments can be made and instantly previewed as you alter the controls.

Generally, I found very little lagging or latency problems with making marks when painting or drawing – or processing effects. Although the app unexpectedly quit once, the work I thought would be lost was auto-saved – that’s a really cool feature.

Also the masking feature is really handy and super easy to use – again not a feature I’ve seen on a painting app so far.

There’s a good range of drawing, inking and painting tools and each tool can be customised with the option of uploading an image to form the source shape and texture of a new tool. Some interesting brushes and the like can be created with this – and it makes it easy to use these instead of the built-in presets for a unique look.

The 6B pencil has a really nice feel to it and worked beautifully with the pressure sensitivity of the Creative Stylus (which I’ll get onto that later). The markers were really fun to use along with some of the wet and watercolour brushes. Blending colours with these two tools worked really well and the watercolour feature, with adjustments to the opacity, offers a whole other side to this app. You could really get lost for hours blending and layering and over-painting.

The airbrush is well stocked with the basic types and fully adjustable as with the other tools. Some of the more ‘out there’ tools are in the textures and abstract menus. I couldn’t see them working with my artwork but I saw some really interesting artworks using them online – so they’ll be a good feature for some artists.

I used an inexpensive non-pressure sensitive stylus alongside the Creative stylus and found it worked well with the app with no latency or lagging problems I’ve encountered with other apps.

It was simple to pair the stylus with the tablet in the Procreate 2 app’s settings.

Once I started using the Creative Stylus on the iPad 3, Procreate 2 really opened up enormously. The pencil tools really responded well with the pressure sensitivity giving you options from barely visible fine lines to chunky dense marks in one stroke. The same goes for the inking tools, although I found the pressure sensitivity worked better with the tools that didn’t have a fixed shape to them – for example with the flat marker – but then I rarely use those kind of tools in my work (again a personal choice).

The paintbrushes are a similar bunch but with the opacity option and lots of customisable options on each one, the pressure sensitivity has a lot to offer – possibly more than the inking and pencil tools.

There’s a real thrill to drawing with this stylus and app, a natural feel to each of them that is very easy to pick up and intuitive to use.

For the money, Procreate seems to be one of the best painting apps available at the moment – and if you are considering buying the Creative Stylus, it’s a perfect match.

Creative Stylus review

I’ve used a few different styluses over the last year or so and the Wacom Creative Stylus (above, image supplied by Wacom) immediately felt very different with its weight and chunkiness. It’s battery powered (AAAA) and comes with two replacement ‘nibs’ and a hard plastic case. This is handy, as I wouldn’t want this clanging around in a bag – especially considering it comes in at around £85.

Pairing the pen with the iPad4 was very easy using the settings in Procreate 2 but – as I mentioned before – I couldn’t get this running on the iPad 2 due to Bluetooth compatibility issues.

The pen has assignable buttons on the stylus’ barrel which are useful – I chose undo and erase which saved time rather than selecting the tools directly from the menus.

I started out with the 6B pencil tool to test the sensitivity and it worked like a treat. The subtlety of the line weight and pressure feels really natural, from a slight barely visible scratch to a heavy pencil mark that looked and felt like pencil on paper. The inking tools also worked really well and again I chose tools that I use everyday for drawing for comparison.

The round marker and the brush pen both had a really nice feel to them with the pressure sensitivity giving results akin to actual pen on paper. Broad inky strokes as well as fine detailed work can be achieved with no lag or latency issues.

Using the paintbrushes with the sensitivity features gives a huge range of choices with stroke, texture, opacity and blending and I particularly liked the watercolour brush. This gives a really interesting look and paint applied over and over apes the feel of watercolour with ability to blend and merge strokes and colours subtleties.

It was really tough going back and using a regular stylus after playing around with this and I would definitely use it in my day-to-day work to sketch up ideas to a finished stage and create stand-alone pieces with the app and stylus.

If you are looking for a budget version of the Cintiq’s abilities I think this is a really powerful tool to have in your arsenal. For a stylus, it’s definitely up there at the top end of the market price-wise, but it immediately feels like a well-designed, well-made stylus. Five minutes with this tool and you’ll be hooked.

In short, I can’t recommend this enough. Go on, treat yourself.

Octa Tablet Tail Monkey Kit review

I’ve had several cases/stands for my iPad and never really considered using them to ease art working with the tablet so using the Octa Tablet Tail Monkey Kit as an easel for my iPad interested me.

The Octa Tablet Tail Monkey Kit is made up of two parts with the suction cup that attaches to the back of the tablet and the flexible ‘tail’ clipping into the cup, leaving a bendable length that can be posed and coiled to find the perfect position to either work with or use as a player or book.

The stand has a very hefty construction – and it’s not something you’d carry around in your bag as it feels close in weight to a chunky bike lock – but in use this is a plus in terms of the stability of the Monkey.

Once attached the tablet can be rotated, which is great for art-working – but I did find I had to steady the tablet here and there when painting as there can be a slight wobble when applying pressure to the tablet with a stylus, or your finger.

I found it excellent for using the iPad to watch movies in bed or on the sofa where sometimes a normal case/stand would be wobbly or troublesome. The suction cup seems really strong and uses a pump feature to attach it and comes away from the tablet very easily when you want to pack it away.

Releasing the tail from the stand and just having the suction cup I found gave the tablet a solid angle of rest whilst using it with the stylus over using it with the tail.

At £50 this is pushing the upper price range of tablet stands and although I wouldn’t deem it an essential item to use with art working, it’s a really handy accessory for use around the home or keeping kids quiet on long car journeys.