Drawing on an iPad smart cover: is it a smart idea?

Drawing on an iPad smart cover: is it a smart idea?

Ah, the grand plans I had for this week’s project: let’s draw on my pale gray iPad mini smart cover with Copic markers and Sharpie! It will look great! Sigh. Allow me to spoil the suspense immediately: it was not the smartest idea I ever had. All my projects have their “ugly phase”, but for a while, this one took the cake and I thought I’d have to find a new project for the week. And a new cover. A brand new surface to work on, only one available, so prototype and finished project all in one, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ll tell you what in a moment, but first, let’s mention something that should have aroused my suspicion from the start: how come no one seems to draw by hand on their iPad covers? So many people draw with their iPad, but never on the cover? Let’s consider a small sample of the world population who:

  • speaks English (I didn’t search in other languages, except very briefly in French and German),
  • likes to draw,
  • owns an iPad with a smart cover,
  • isn’t afraid to potentially ruin something that is, after all, pricier than a piece of paper,
  • tends to share online what they draw, especially if it’s on an unusual material.

Granted, it sounds like a small niche, but you can certainly find smaller niches of crazier or more ridiculous things online than people tempted to use their iPad cover as a blank canvas, right? Well, guess what. Unless I forgot obvious search terms that would have yielded more results, there’s a grand total of 3 people who posted about that subject (I thought it was 2, but I just found another). THREE PEOPLE. Which isn’t exactly “no one”, but still surprisingly low, in my opinion. Here they are:

  • My favorite: Bryan Ballinger doodled on his cover with a Sharpie during a one hour meeting. Which means it’s possible to do something great! If you’re him.
  • This one that uses zentangle-type stencils comes as a tutorial, which at least saved me the trouble to test all my pens (thank you for that, UKMaryanne).
  • I just found this one on DeviantArt, 00Quantize started drawing on a cover once it got dirty. A manga character I think?

Ok, let’s dig deeper into how the project unfolded.

Choosing what to draw with Photoshop mockups

I spent quite some time pondering what to draw, so I scanned my smart cover and made some quick tests by using drawings from the 365 Drawing Experiment to get an idea. Pattern? Big character? Portrait format? Landscape format? Something on the whole surface, or just in the 3 slightly raised areas? In the end I chose a non-directional pattern: I don’t have a dock, so I charge my iPad upside down, and I think it would drive me nuts to see an image upside down all the time.




The pattern is based on my drawing n°293, I kept the colors as is because the mockup is here mostly for the shapes.



Transferring the outline on the cover

I printed a real size version of the mockup to trace it. It was then very easy to transfer (see picture below, you don’t even have to re-draw on top of each line, rubbing over the whole surface is enough), too easy maybe, because there’s a lot of smudging happening, it’s hard to keep things clean. It is possible to erase to some extent, but things tend to get a little messy.




Here’s the finished outline and smear fest.



Testing pens and markers, and discovering it may be best to avoid colors

I used Sharpie and Copic markers. For the non US residents, the basic Sharpie are alcohol based markers and pens you find in every supermarket and the word Sharpie is almost used as a generic here. Copic are alcohol-based as well, but those are more widely available.

Since I only had one cover but still wanted to make some tests, I used the areas hidden on the back, and here’s where I did something really dumb. Take a look at the picture below: there are 2 different areas where you can test, the small one on top, and the slightly bigger one on the flexible part below. I remember trying on a Sharpie a long time ago (yes, I’ve had this idea in mind for a while) on the textured upper part, but for some reason, this time, I did all my tests on the smoother flexible part, like in this tutorial. Bad idea. A little voice at the back of my mind whispered that the texture was not exactly the same, but I didn’t think it would make such a dramatic difference. It does.

You can use that flexible area to see if a pen will smear, but NOT to see what the colors will look like. The colors on the flexible areas are subdued, even more so after a few hours, but they are bright and a little weird on the textured material. See the example of the green on the picture.








But when I started, I had only seen the subdued colors, so I attacked the drawing head-on with my Copic markers, and this is where it went really, really ugly.  Unless you manage to draw in in a single fluid gesture, every single stroke mark of the marker shows. Yuck. After a moment of “what have I done?!”, I took a deep breath, and since I had nothing left to loose, I tried to cover the ugly under a layer of black Sharpie. Fortunately, it worked.





The result is far from perfect, and you can definitely see stroke marks as well, but it’s not as terrible as the Copic version.





Doing the best I could with what I had

The best I could do from there was to fill all the shapes in black, but the result was really plain. Fortunately, I remembered I had a silver Sharpie, and a quick test showed me it didn’t smear, so I used it to add the little dotted accents. Better, but still not convinced. So I added lines on the background, and finally it looked more finished. My initial idea was to draw a grid, but after only a few lines, the black was no longer as black. Poor Sharpie didn’t like that surface. I switched between the 2 ultra-thin I had, but it wasn’t enough, so I stopped there.





Result (and recommendations)

In the end, the result is far from my grand plans, but it’s acceptable, if avoid inclining it in the light to see the stroke marks. Hem. I really don’t like when my stuff looks amateurish.




I like how the pattern is wrapped around the edge, though.





OK, I’ll keep it. We’ll see how well it resists!




If you ever think about drawing on an iPad cover yourself, I’d say your best bet is freehand line drawing, exactly like Bryan Ballinger did: no graphite pencil smearing, and not too many problems with visible stroke marks. Make sure you’re using an alcohol-based pencil and test it on the inside.

Would I ever do that again? No, I wouldn’t. If I ever want a decorated iPad cover again, I’ll create something in Photoshop and have it printed through an online service. Like everybody does. Lesson learned!