Four art-making apps for kids

Published 21 February 2019

Smartphones and tablets are becoming canvases for creativity, thanks to new apps. Charlotte Mullins tries some out with her family.

  • The most frequent family battles in my house are around screen time. It is hard for kids to comprehend life without a portable screen to hand despite their short history – my daughter was born the year the smartphone was launched and both children are not much older than a first-generation iPad. Like it or not, screens and tablets are an integral part of their lives, so introducing creative apps in the hope that they may choose them over YouTube or Plants vs Zombies seems a good idea. With this in mind Malachy (14) and Saskia (11) tested four iPad art apps currently on the market.

    • Purepaint Kids (£2.99, also available via Android) turns your screen into a canvas. It offers only five colours (the three primaries, plus black and white) and there are no tools to select – you just get stuck in as if you were finger painting. Saskia painted some test pictures and saved them to the app’s gallery. “I think this app works best with your finger,” she says (she had also tried it with an Apple Pencil). Colours have to be mixed directly on the paper as there is no palette; I would find this annoying but Saskia adapted quickly. “I like being able to blend the colours myself,” she says. The app apes the experience of painting as far as possible and the painted line responds to pressure, so a delicate lemon wash can be beefed up into a thick egg-yolk impasto. Great for young children and mess-averse parents.

      , Purepaint Kids app screenshot
    • , Mixerpiece app screenshot

      Mixerpiece (£2.99, also via Android) allows children to collage component parts from historical paintings and create their own scenes. It is simple to use and Saskia’s first attempt was a portrait with Cranach ears and a Hieronymus Bosch nose. Holding your finger or Apple Pencil on the collage piece brings up the whole painting with caption details. Sadly the upload (save) function didn’t work and pop-up alerts appeared in Italian, the language of the app’s designer. This could be great fun if the glitches were ironed out, but we found it frustrating.

    • Malachy, who is studying GCSE Art, took a look at Morpholio Trace, a CAD sketch app that is free to download with subscription options (up to £17.99 per year). A week’s free trial gives you access to premium subscription tools and Malachy was particularly impressed with the app’s stencils. “I liked being able to pull in aerial photo maps from anywhere in the world and draw and stencil over them to make my own layered collages,” he says. While Malachy used this app to make art it feels more like a go-to tool for aspiring architecture students. For £17.99 per year you can access scale rulers, protractors, perspective tools, stencils and maps, and save as many projects as you like.

      , Morpholio Trace app screenshot
    • , Tayasui Sketches app screenshot

      By far the family’s favourite app was Tayasui Sketches School (free), a child-friendly version of the successful Sketches app which turns your screen into a sketchbook. It features a wide range of tools, from fine-liners to airbrushes and a ready-mixed palette of over 30 colours, with the option of making thousands more. Backgrounds can be coloured and filled, shapes can be “cut out” and collaged and all works can be saved to your own personalised album. Great on an iPad with the Apple Pencil but equally fun to have on your phone so you can sketch while on the move.

  • Charlotte Mullins is an art critic, writer and broadcaster. Her book A Feminist Little History of Art is published by Tate in September.