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“I love drawing”: David Hockney on iPad painting and finding joy in Spring

Published 18 May 2021

David Hockney spent lockdown capturing Spring arriving in Normandy. Here, he reflects on how technology has transformed his practice.

  • From the Spring 2020 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    This is an excerpt from a text written by David Hockney in July 2020

    What does the world look like? I don’t think it looks like photographs. You have to find out yourself, you have to draw it. There have been great periods of drawing. The 19th century in France was a great period of it. Ingres, Delacroix, Daumier, Manet and Monet, and then Renoir and Degas, who was a superb draughtsman, and paving the way for Van Gogh, Bonnard, Matisse and Picasso, a fantastic artist who drew in many different ways, always depicting something in the world. Why have people stopped drawing? It’s ridiculous to think photographs are the ultimate realist picture. They are a little blip on an endless search to see what the world is like.

    I am at the moment drawing, or painting really, on an iPad. I have been working this year, 2020, to depict the arrival of spring in Normandy. This takes about three months, and I think it’s the most exciting thing nature has to offer in this part of the world.

  • David Hockney , No. 147

    David Hockney, No. 147, 5th April 2020.

    iPad painting. © David Hockney.

  • The app I used in 2011 was called Brushes. It was a new medium and I enjoyed finding out about it. I tried a few other apps but settled on Brushes as being the best for me. It was quite simple, as all the brushes were labelled with a mark, just a mark, no names, so you didn’t have an oil painting brush or a watercolour brush, just the mark it made on the canvas. This is all it can be, so I thought it the most honest one. But then in 2016 they altered it, to improve it they said. Well, I thought they had ruined it, and then the new iPads wouldn’t take it, but I had let them know about it, so in 2018 my assistant Jonathan Wilkinson told me that we could do another Brushes with a mathematician in Leeds, so this is what we did. And it got me quite excited by the iPad again. I must also point out that there is no cleaning up needed even if you have drawn all day.

    So when the lockdown came, I didn’t mind. We were in a house in the middle of a four-acre field full of fruit trees. I could concentrate on one thing. I did at least one drawing a day, with the constant changes going on all around the house. We managed. I was with Jonathan and J.P., and they went shopping and looked after me. They printed them out from the iPad and we began to put them up in the studio.

  • David Hockney, No. 340

    David Hockney, No. 340, 21st May 2020.

    iPad painting. © David Hockney.

  • I kept drawing the winter trees, and then the small buds that became the blossom, and then the full blossom. Then the leaves started, and eventually the blossom fell off, leaving a small fruit and leaves. This process took about two weeks, and all the time I was getting better at my mark making on the screen, eventually doing, à la Monet, the water lilies in the pond (No. 340, 21st May 2020; pictured). Everything was drawn by my looking at the motif, and photographs were not used. I always wanted to see things as spatial, which photographs never allow. Another interesting thing about the iPad is that after a while the picture becomes your palette. You can pick up any colour you have put down.

    It is a new medium. With pluses and minuses like any medium. It was when I was talking to Jonathan about one of the minuses, that one is drawing on a glass surface, that he suggested we get a thin film that lays on the surface and offers a resistance like paper. This I thought was a big improvement. Once, when we were just sitting outside the house, we put all the lights off in the house to see the moonlight more clearly. The moon could then be seen to cast shadows of the trees on the grass, so with my backlit iPad I could draw it. This would have been virtually impossible without it.

    I love drawing.

    David Hockney’s upcoming exhibition ‘The Arrival of Spring’ will run in the RA’s Main Galleries from 23 May until 1 August; Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries from 11 August until 26 September. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR).


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