Learning How To Do Fine Art Painting Using Procreate And ArtRage

I’m finally learning how to do fine art painting using Procreate and ArtRage with the iPad Pro. I resisted getting an iPad for SO LONG and was one of those traditional snobs who thought “digital art wasn’t real art”. BUT, the world is changing and my mind is changing regarding the subject. Bottom line, I’m coming to realize there is a definitely a place for digital art in today’s world. 

Cheating or not cheating?

Using a reference photo in ArtRage

Using a reference photo inside Artrage

To me I thought it was too easy to cheat or difficult to do very “painterly” art digitally based on some of the work I’ve seen out there. However, there are a lot of ways to create whatever effect you want with the tools inside the programs.

There definitely is an opportunity to “cheat” by being able to trace images and color select right off reference photos, however, it’s still the artist that brings their unique skill set and interpretation of the subject to life using the tools in the program just like you would use paint and a brush.

Values and color

Selecting colors from the reference photo is helpful for learning values, but you need to have knowledge of what color to start with in order to create blended colors. Selecting a color from the reference photo may be the destination, but you still have to paint in the colors that get you there and simply selecting from the photo is of no help in that regard as far as I’m concerned.

Tracing and transferring

Many artists have traced or transferred images for centuries. Sometimes I’ve transferred drawings using a grid. Many times I do freehand drawings. It changes all the time based on the time frame I have and what I really want to accomplish with the work. Just like any physical painting, all of the reference lines get painted over unless you have them on a separate layer which I don’t like to do (it’s incredibly annoying to me). This means you will still be “drawing” and reestablishing your lines as you go even if you trace.

So is digital painting cheating? It’s really up to your idea of what cheating is. I think the focus should be on making art and not putting so many rules and judgements around what people are creating. Ultimately, I would rather people learn to draw and paint using these digital tools than not draw and paint at all.

Painting an eye study in Procreate on the iPad Pro

My first digital attempt at painting in Procreate referencing a work by Karen Offutt

Entering the digital fine art age

A coworker let me try out the program Procreate on his iPad and the lights started to turn on in my mind. First, the program doesn’t “paint” for you and second, it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. It was just like any other set of artist tools I use, just in a different form. I still had to bring my talent to the tablet.

I made the leap and got my own iPad Pro (which is way more awesome than I had anticipated!) and started playing around in Procreate. Above is my first attempt at painting in the program. 

I figured since I was learning something entirely new, I may as well double up on my learning by copying the work of an artist I really admire, Karen Offutt. Many artists throughout the ages copy master works to improve their skills. I can’t tell you how much fun this is for me to learn from those who inspire me the most!

Procreate vs. ArtRage

As a painter of “realism”, I quickly began to get frustrated with Procreate because I didn’t easily have my reference photo handy within the program. There may be a way to have the reference image available on the canvas, but I haven’t figured it out yet. 

If you are an artist that can draw from your head or have reference images handy nearby, this program may be exactly what you need. Also, if you do more comic book or storytelling types of drawing I think this program is excellent.

Procreate ended up being too “flat” for me. It just didn’t feel like paint and because of that, I stopped using the program. I had gotten an iPad for the sole purpose of practicing art and had already abandoned it entirely within a week. Realizing that perhaps this was more of a “user experience problem”, I began to research other painting programs and found there were many artists using ArtRage with results more in line with what I wanted to accomplish so I gave it a try.

Digital detail study of John Singer Sargent's "Ena and Betty Daughters of Wortheimer"

A digital study I did from a detail of John Singer Sargent’s “Ena and Betty Daughters of Wortheimer” using ArtRage

ArtRage wins for me

Above is a study I did after John Singer Sargent‘s detail of “Ena and Betty Daughters of Wortheimer” using ArtRage. In this program I was able to pin the reference image on my work surface which was a game changer for me. Also, I could smear the paint around easily for blending. This will sound weird, but I love painting “alla prima” in this program. You can do multiple layers, but I found it much more effective to paint all on one layer to blend the paint.

ArtRage was also more intuitive for me. I don’t know much about the program, but I already am getting results I like. This satisfies the impatient painter in me.

Having fun

At the end of the day, creating art is what it’s all about. Whatever the tool that you use consistently is the tool that works. While I love traditional painting, I don’t always have the time to get all my supplies out and paint. I also can’t take my art supplies with me when I travel – well I could, but I won’t – so digital painting is a great solution for me and keeps me making art. It’s also really fun and inspires me to try new techniques and methods.

Below is a study of a dog I met in Paola, Kansas last year. I loved her big goofy face and on a whim decided to do a quick study of her. I didn’t have to get out all my brushes and paints and if I’m being honest, if I had to do that I wouldn’t have painted it – ever. But I did paint it and all I had to do was open up the program and have fun!

Study of a dog using ArtRage

More efficient and less mess

The biggest benefits I’ve found so far to digital painting are:

  1. The ability to do quick studies for future “physical” paintings. 
  2. Not wasting paint. Oil paint and canvases are expensive so if you paint a “dud”– and we all do – no big deal!
  3. Not getting paint on my clothes, in my hair, on the dogs, etc. I am pretty clutzy and can tend to make a mess while I’m caught up in my creations, so having a less messy option available to me is a HUGE bonus.

It doesn’t replace the “real thing”

Don’t get me wrong – digital painting does not take the place of canvas paintings. There will always the desire along with a massive amount of satisfaction in creating a physical object you can hold in your hands and see hanging on the wall. It does make “real” painting more fun for me because now I can make all my mistakes digitally without any major consequences. It’s really been freeing which is a surprise. 

Go for it!

If you’ve been wondering whether to take the plunge into digital art, I’d say go for it. What do you have to lose by trying? If you already have an iPad Pro it’s really a no-brainer. The programs are between $5–$10 each. The desktop program of ArtRage has many more features and is around $80. I don’t have that, but wouldn’t hesitate to buy it if I had the set up for it.


As I said before, the whole point is to make art. Anything that allows you to do that and practice your craft should be included in your toolbox. Why not give it a try and see what happens?