Sketch Club – App Review

Mia Robinson

One of the coolest things about our online network of mobile digital artists is that it’s very unlikely for a good app—no matter how small or under the radar—to stay there for that long. If an artist sees potential, they’ll be more than willing to explore it and share feedback about it with others.  And if someone says “download it.” and nothing else.  Well, its a good sign, for sure. Fortunately for me, someone was nice enough to share a little app called Sketchclub with me.


Self portrait by MROB (sketchclub for iPhone)
Self portrait by MROB (sketchclub for iPhone)

When it comes to newer apps, I tend to start off small. I’ll do a quick test of tools by incorporating its use into my daily metro sketches. It’s an uncommitted and pain-free way of testing the waters. Thankfully, Sketchclub had both an iPhone and iPad version. So I downloaded it onto my iPhone for some quick exploration.

quick metro sketch using SketchClub

Impressive feature #1: Though this app carries quite a few “procedural” tools—once you find your groove—these tools can yield very natural and “non-digital” results. I find both the Sketchy and Smooth brushes to be quite nice for sketches—particularly when line quality is of mega importance to the artist. When you curve the line, it a creates a sort of shading as if you’re dragging a piece of charcoal on paper and begin to turn it on the diagonal. (what’s that called? :-) That alone makes this app perfect for sketching—testing out ideas with a clean base sketch or even doing more developed pieces that require shading.

The app is pretty intuitive—easy to navigate. All features line the top or bottom of your screen (depending on the device). The basic features and functions work as any of the other art apps work.  Which is something I appreciate very much.  (Note to developers:  if you can, don’t reinvent the wheel.) What makes it difficult to move from one app to the next are the often massive (and unnecessary) differences in navigation. So I appreciate when features run similar to other applications.  I also appreciate when all the settings are 1-2 taps away.  Your color wheel, brush selections and settings can all be accessed with a single tap.

 

sketchclub painting

Brush settings window for Sketchclub

 

Impressive Feature #2: A diverse range of tools—anywhere from Text (where you can customize the words and sizes), vector and brushes to  Pen, Sketchy and Smooth lines. There is also a pixel brush—which can be used to produce pixellated pieces.

Tool Settings window for SketchClub

Each brush type has a series of settings—some more vast than others. For instance, if you select the Smooth setting—you only have the option of width and opacity. However, if you select the Brush tool, there are 40 brush types and 5 settings to choose from. (All seemingly wacky in shape, by the way) Yet many of them do yield pretty traditional-feeling results—if that’s what you’re going for. You can control size, opacity, spacing and even the angle of the brushes. Needless to say, this range can accommodate many styles. But it also takes some getting used to and experimentation.

Impressive feature #3: The Sketch Club! There is an online “sketch club” that can be accessed from inside the app (through iPad, iPhone, iTouch or a regular desktop as well). You can immediately publish your to the Sketch Club, peruse the works of other club members, chat or enter club competitions.

The Sketch Club

The app is designed by a gaming architect from Seattle. He is known among the Sketch Club community as blackpawn and is one of the accessible developers out there. What does that mean? It means that this app undergoes constant upgrades and updates.

blackpawn also serves as host to a rapidly growing community website. He holds regular fun and friendly competitions (often soliciting compo ideas from club members.) Competitions have fun themes like “No Pads”, where all submissions have to be done on an iPhone or Touch, to more recent competitions like  “ordinary stuff” where club members are invited to depicting their favorite superhero doing regular ordinary things.  Artists have won anything from Amazon gift cards, an enormous amount of glops (points which contribute to art ratings on website) to just the pride of gaining “mad respect” from the other artists.

There is an open chat room (again, within the app) that stays full of interesting people—including blackpawn, himself—who tends to use the room as a means to connect with artists and gain feedback. And if he’s gone, it usually means he’s doing something to improve the “club”.

Impressive feature #4– The communal sketchpad. If you have the Sketchclub site open inside of the app, you should try scrolling down to the bottom of your screen. You’ll find find a tiny pi icon. If you tap that icon, it’ll take you to a community sketchpad and you’ll be able to leave your mark on a pad that’s shared by every member of the club! (a live mash-up, yes!) The tools are a bit limited—right now, you can only produce a line drawing. Nothing elaborate. But I like the concept and look forward to more development there.

Community Sketchpad in Sketch Club

As for the cons—and they’re always there–well, this is a stretch, but some of the controls can be a bit difficult to understand—again, it takes some experimentation. The opacity and size tools to range when it comes to each individual tool type. For instance, if you set “Sketchy” size to midwidth…and you set a “Brushes” size to midwidth—you should expect two entirely different results. I will say, the opacity and size features have improved quite a bit since my initial use of the application. They are a tad more consistent. The Sketch Club—though cool, tends to be a bit exclusive. But possibly that is intentional. The other con is layering—there are limitations here as well. Currently, the app only allows for two layers. And you cannot move them around. I know some will have a problem with that, especially when you’re used to developing your drawings in multiple layers. This is not a problem for me because I usually work in one layer, however, I understand the work-around has been to save your layers to your photo gallery, at each phase, and then upload it as the base layer for a new drawing. Keep doing that as you develop your piece. (You should also note, blackpawn advises that additional layers are coming.)

I asked blackpawn what other upgrades we can expect in the near future. He provided this list:

  • VGA-output support (which I have used, and its very cool to be able to link it up to a display screen)
  • A new smudge tool
  • More layers and layer tools
  • Becoming a fan of sketch club members – you be able to become a fan and subscribe to someone’s work
  • Updates to the secret multi-player sketchpad (the pi icon, remember?)

“That’s just the 1.5 [upgrade], of course. After that there’ll be even more.” says blackpawn.

All in all, I say its a really strong and well developed art app that will only get better.  And FAST.  If you’re still looking around for that perfect app or another to add to your roster of “faves”–you might want to try this one.  It could be the one. :-)

To peruse additional works done in Sketchclub, you can visit the website.  Or you can visit the procedural apps group on Flickr. Or both! The app can be downloaded on both iPad or iPhone/Touch for $1.99 in the iTunes store.


6 Responses to “Sketch Club – App Review”

  • Rebelpapa Says:

    Nice review of Sketch Club. I’ve been using it a bit myself and I like it a lot.

  • Susan Murtaugh Says:

    GREAT comprehensive review. You made me like the app even more, and excited for updates. I hope ha makes a desktop app as well. Yes it’s that good.

  • Mia Says:

    Thanks! Sketchclub was a pleasant surprise. And its always nice when the developer is accessible to the artists. His turnaround time on upgrades and changes is great! Chris, yes, I saw “rebelpapa” the last time I logged in and went “HEYYYY, Chris is here!!!! whoop! :-)” Susan, yes, desktop would be really nice and interesting to play around with. Though, I seem to have pulled away from desktops entirely now. :-/

  • Rebelpapa Says:

    I’m always around Mia. I often check in, but I’m the quiet type :)

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