How to Use the Brushes 3 iPad App to Teach Painting - dummies

How to Use the Brushes 3 iPad App to Teach Painting

By Sam Gliksman

The brilliant thing about the Brushes 3 iPad app is that it’s used by artists all over the world, and yet it’s still simple enough for beginners. It’s a powerful tool for creating original artwork on the iPad, and paintings created with Brushes have been shown on the web and in galleries, and have illustrated the cover of New Yorker magazine.

The app features an advanced color picker, several realistic brushes, layers, and zooming to 32x — all in an uncomplicated but comprehensive interface.

Brushes has multiple layers that you can work on separately and that can be used with or without a stylus, which is a bonus in an educational setting. Another unique feature is that it has a Playback function that allows you to see any art redrawn onscreen. Its quick results certainly make it a hit with kids.

[Credit: Copyright 2012, Debbie Azar]
Credit: Copyright 2012, Debbie Azar

The main steps in using the Brushes app are as follows:

  1. Tap the + button on the Gallery page to create a new blank painting.

    Select the size and orientation of your canvas and tap Create.

  2. Choose your color, brush size, and shape, and begin painting with your finger or stylus.

    Paint by moving your finger across the screen. It’s as simple as that. If you want more detail, you can pinch to zoom up to 64x.

    Brushes creates a painting on multiple layers. Each layer is independent of the others, so you can work on a layer without disturbing the contents of the other layers.

  3. When you’re finished, tap the Gallery button to return to Gallery.

    Your painting is automatically saved. Brushes also enables you to share and export your paintings.

  4. Title your painting.

    To name your masterpiece, tap the text under the image in the Gallery and replace it with your title.

The painting interface offers the following set of tools (along the bottom toolbar):

[Credit: Copyright 2012, Benny Ferdman]
Credit: Copyright 2012, Benny Ferdman
  • Color palette: Tap the rectangle in the lower-left corner to bring up an RGB color wheel. Select a color from the boxes, or mix your own individualized palette by using the hue/saturation color wheel on the left. Note that you can also change the opacity by using the slider underneath the wheel.


    If your fingers are a bit clumsy, you can use a stylus for writing and drawing.

    Sometimes you’ll want to blend colors in your painting. Use the transparency slider to make any color more transparent and easier to blend.

  • Eyedropper: Most paint programs have an Eyedropper tool that allows you to click or tap in an image to pick up a color. Brushes uses a simple shortcut. Tap and hold anywhere onscreen to activate the Eyedropper. It reads the color under your touch and makes it the active color. Note that after you use the Eyedropper, the active tool automatically reverts to the Paintbrush.

  • Paintbrush: Select this tool to start painting.

  • Brush Settings: Tap the Brush Settings to bring up the Settings menu. There’s a sliding selection of brushes in a column. Swipe through and tap to select a brush type. When you tap a brush, a small “edit” icon appears on it. If you edit the brush, you can change its density, spacing, angle, and more. Tap the + icon and you can even create your own brush type.


    Although the iPad is not pressure-sensitive, you can make lines with varying thickness that will give you the tapered look of a natural paintbrush stroke. Tap the Brush Settings icon and edit a brush to change Dynamic Weight, Dynamic Intensity, and Dynamic Angle. This enables you to create truly organic-looking lines.

  • Eraser: This tool uses the same features as the Paintbrush except that it removes color instead of adding it. Use the Brush Settings to control the quality of the eraser. Just make sure you’re on the right layer when you’re using it.

  • Undo: Use the Undo tool to step back through the actions you’ve taken. This feature is for all your “Ugh!” moments.

  • Redo: It looked better before, didn’t it? Press Redo to reverse your Undo.

  • Layers: Brushes allows you to create individual layers that can be separately manipulated and worked on. Work on any one layer without disturbing the contents of other layers. This feature gives you a lot more control over the final result, and layers can be rearranged, duplicated, locked, or discarded as needed. You can also adjust the opacity of each layer.

    How would you use layers? You could have a colored layer as a background, do your drawing in a dark outline on the top layer, and color it in on the middle layer. You can change the background at any time without altering any other layer.

    Tap the Layers icon to display the Layers menu. Your layers appear as thumbnails with the base layer to the far left. Some things you can do with layers include the following:

    • To add a new layer, tap the + icon on the top right.

    • To delete a layer, select it by tapping; then tap the Trash icon.

    • Use the slider on the bottom to change the opacity/transparency of a selected layer.

    • Tap any layer to make it the active layer. The selected layer has a blue highlight around it.

    • Change the order of your layers by tapping and dragging the lined icon to the right and dropping it in a new position.


Layers has many other cool features. Half the fun is playing with all the different features and seeing how they affect your image.

Paint a little blob of your favorite colors on a separate layer of your painting. That way, using the Eyedropper tool, you can quickly select colors from your palette by tapping and holding the blobs.