Paper, Figure, and the New Casual Creativity of iOS

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Jared Newman /

I’m a terrible at drawing (see above), but that didn’t stop me from having some fun with Paper, a new drawing app for Apple’s iPad.

Paper isn’t even close to being the first iPad drawing app, nor is it the most comprehensive. What makes Paper special is how it gives ordinary people the tools to look like competent artists. Its brush strokes are automatically stylized, so even a single swipe looks gorgeous, and its interface is so clutter-free that the risk of being overwhelmed is minimal.

(MORE: Paper: Beautiful, Basic Drawing for the iPad)

As GigaOM’s Erica Ogg points out, a new wave of creativity apps are helping debunk the idea that the iPad is strictly a consumption device, but that trend has been growing for a while now. Paper is something different: It’s an example of how a well-designed, simple app can provide a muse even when the user lacks technical chops.

Paper is not alone in the genre of easy-breezy creativity apps for iOS. This week, Propellerhead Software launched a music creation app called Figure. For $1, it lets you throw together entrancing techno beats with little effort. Just hold a finger over the instrument you want to play, and the grooves lay themselves down. A small set of parameters lets you futz with the beats and melodies to create seemingly endless variations.

Just as Paper does with drawing, Figure lets you create respectable tunes even if you’re not a practicing musician. You needn’t have played an instrument to use Figure, or have studied painting to use Paper, and both apps are so simple that you don’t have to spend hours learning the software. You just open the apps and start making stuff.

(LIST: 30 Best Apps for Apple’s New iPad)

I imagine some serious artists are scoffing at the notion. After all, Paper and Figure are essentially Painting and Songwriting for Dummies. It might be dismaying to see a cheap mobile app accomplish what once took hours or days of careful craftsmanship. (I’m recalling MacProVideo’s clever satire of how Apple’s GarageBand essentially writes its own music.)

But who cares? Creativity doesn’t have to be an exclusive club. If simple, low-cost software allows more people to indulge their muses, that’s a good thing. Besides, neither Paper nor Figure put creation on autopilot. It’s still very much possible to make terrible things in either app. (Again, see above.)

For some users, simple creation apps may even serve as a gateway drug. Tired of Paper’s rigid brush sizes and lack of advanced editing techniques? Sketchbook Pro is waiting, with its layers and its customizable brushes galore. Need more room to compose beyond Figure’s eight bars and preset instruments? Propellerhead will sell you a full-blown $15 iPad app called ReBirth.

Or, users can stick with casual creativity. Just as simple, casual games like Angry Birds brought gaming to a wider audience, Paper and Figure can do the same for art and music.

MORE: Drawsome: The Draw Something App is Awesome