Multitools are great.  The fewer things you have to carry, the freer you are to move about and do the kind of work you do wherever you do it best.  I carry a Leatherman all the time: it comes in handy quite often for the occasional repair.  But, my kind of work is creative in nature, so a creative multitool is what I need.

Artists are often required to have at their disposal a wide variety of tools: the visual artist needs pencils, pens, brushes, paper and canvas; a writer needs notebooks, a keyboard, reference materials; musicians require instruments.  Needing to carry fewer tools means an artist can leave the confines of the studio.

The tool in question. (Banana for scale.)

The tool in question. (Banana for scale.)

My creative multitool is an iPad.

I’ve used an iPad for web surfing, playing games, watching video and other leisure activities for a couple years now, but it has only recently become my primary implement for writing, design, drawing and other creative expression.

A good Bluetooth keyboard makes an iPad perfectly adequate for simple, plaintext typing, which is the kind I do.  (Fully featured word processing, à la Microsoft Word, is harder to do on the small screen.)  I use one that doubles as a stand and triples as a magnetic cover, giving my iPad the form factor of a small netbook.

I recently bought the Adonit Touch Pro Bluetooth stylus, which enhances drawing with pressure sensitivity and palm detection.  It turns the iPad into a pretty good portable digital drawing platform.

Photo Oct 05, 4 18 08 PM

Board game design in iDraw

With these add-ons, I can work on almost anything, and I’m not tethered to my laptop or home.  My software kit consists of:

  • iDraw: my go-to vector design app.  I use it for all my game pieces and boards.
  • Procreate: a nice digital painting app with enough tools to work in most styles.  It doesn’t try to reproduce every natural medium, and has some great options for comic artists.
  • Concepts: a bridge between vector and natural media drawing.  It converts paint strokes to vectors.
  • iWriter: a good, cloud-backed, no-frills word processor.  Its minimalist interface reduces distraction and lets me focus on the words.
  • Scripts Pro: the best app for writing in screenplay format.  I use it for comic scripts.
  • Photo Oct 05, 4 18 36 PM

    A sketch in Procreate

    VoodooPad: a wiki-style note taking app.  The iOS version is very bare-bones (no rich text), but it syncs with my Dropbox files, and the full app (on Mac) has a rich variety of scripting, formatting and export options.  Because it now supports MultiMarkdown, I can create new pages in plaintext and import from other apps without headaches.

  • Dropbox: where I keep all my workfiles.  I like it because it’s ubiquitous and supports versioning, in case I overwrite something import (it’s happened).  It also lets me access my files from any device.
  • Evernote: my go-to notes and scanning app.  I’m in the process of digitizing all my paper notes, and Evernote’s handwriting recognition makes then searchable.  I tend to outline ideas in long lists, and Evernote makes it easy to edit and organize them.
  • Sheets: for tabular information.  Some data is easier to parse as a table.
  • Tabletop and Garageband: for the occasional musical experimentation.  It can be fun and therapeutic to exercise the musical side of the brain.  Sometimes I get a tune caught in my head, and one way to free up mental bandwidth is to bang it out on a virtual keyboard.

This is not to say my multitool is perfect.  I’m still looking for a good 3D modeling app for iOS; at some point, I’d like to work on some designs for space vessels I’ve dreamt up.  Blender hasn’t made it to iOS yet, and all the tools I’ve found so far are pretty primitive and gear mostly toward the 3D printing market.

Add to all this stuff Gmail, Facebook, Flipboard, HBO Go, Netflix, Kindle, and dozens of good games, and it’s kind of scary how important to my daily life this device has become.  But with all the potential at my (literal) fingertips, one thing in shorter and shorter supply is excuses not to be creative.

Which is a good thing, because it’s mostly what keeps me sane at this point.

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