Nothing really compares to the time spent in an art studio working with physical art supplies, but realistically there isn't always an array of materials (or even a pencil and paper) at hand when inspiration strikes away out in the world.
Luckily there are some apps out there for creating art that might surpass the pencil and paper and still others that offer additional methods of finding and sharing inspiration for artists and non-artists alike.
1. SketchBook MobileIf you are an artist, this is an essential on-the-go tool (and if you aren't, it's still really entertaining to play with all the cool effects). The SketchBook app is the technological version of its namesake on steroids. You can choose from a variety of art utensils (pencils, markers, brushes, etc.) and customize settings to get extremely precise results. Additionally, the zoom on this thing goes up to 2500 percent and you can create multiple layers.
There is also a professional version of the app that comes with even more features, but it's only available for iPad (which is to say, if you're buying for the iPad anyway, definitely spring for the fancier version). Cost: $1.99
Behance is half social network half personal porfolio. Once you sign up for a free account, you have access to tons of art collections organized by artist, topic, or even organization. As a non-artist it's fun to browse what's out there or create collections of your own (kinda like an art-specific pintrest). If you make art, the app can become a well-organized portfolio of your work that follows you where ever you go -- not to mention you're bound to get some exposure from other people using the app. Cost: Free
OK -- prepare yourselves because this one is nerdy. Art Authority is a searchable historical art database. There are allegedly 50,000+ pieces in the collection reaching from ancient times to the present. If you didn't know anything about art history, you could browse through periods and get a good feel for different art movements. On the other hand, if you are an art history aficionado, the app is perfect for those times when you are trying to reference art trends and no one knows what you are talking about -- pull the appropriate period up on the app and pass it around the table (though we can't guarantee this will actually make anyone stop giving you those weird looks). Cost: $4.99
4. Brushes 3
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Brushes got a lot of hype back in 2009, when artist Jorge Colombo used the app to create the cover of an issue of the New Yorker. The story was admittedly a little eye-roll-inducing initially, but as it turns out, the app is super powerful. Unlike SketchBook Mobile, Brushes is only for painting, but the texture of the strokes seems like it better mimics that of an actual paint brush. If you want to get serious, pair this app with a Nomad Brush (they sell a whole line of paint brushes for touch screen -- including a mini one for your iPhone). Or just experience the joy of mess-free fingerprinting for adults. Cost: Free
This last one is a little hokey but in the most awesome way. The Magic Tate Ball generates a piece of art, but the selection is not entirely randomized. You can enable settings which allow the app to take in information about your current situation: time of day, GPS location, outside weather, and even the noises of your surroundings. Then you shake the app like a magic 8 ball, but instead of a fortune, it presents you with an art piece that speaks to your specific place in space and time. If this isn't magic, we don't know what is. If you like this app, Tate makes lots of other fun art apps that are also worth checking out Cost: Free
Honorable Mention: ArtSpotter We wanted so badly to include this app in the main list, but it's a little under-developed for the Phoenix area right now. ArtSpotter uses your device's GPS to search for nearby galleries, museums, or even pieces of street art. The catch is that the content is user-driven. So that means if everyone gets this app and starts uploading content, it might actually become a really awesome resource for Phoenicians looking for art venues around town. Cost: Free