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The Skribl Story

skriblandinkpadYes, it’s true that Skribl was created upon much of the original source code of Inkpad.  But they are not the same.  (read on…)

FIRST A HISTORY LESSON

First a little history about me, Richard Shulman, the developer of Skribl.  I started out as a doodler, then I became a lawyer.  I always wished I’d become an artist instead. Now I am a coder.  Who would have ever thought that my life would take so many turns?  I surely didn’t.

In 2010, I bought an iPad.  My life as I knew it at the time, would forever be changed.

Immediately, I gravitated to every creative painting, drawing app I could find.  I started to teach myself to paint.

If you’d like to see my art, you can see it here.

And then, a couple months later I read somewhere online about a group that was meeting in New York.  The group was called IAMDA (International Association of Mobile Artists).  I was intrigued.  Something pulled me there.

IAMDA was formed by a small group of artists who were playing with apps on their iPhones around 2009.  The concept of creating digitally while waiting for the dentist, or while waiting in line at the grocery store was just bourgeoning (in fact, they even coined a word for it:  Wainting)

I realized at that moment that I’d stumbled upon something very special.  Walking into the Tisch School at NYU’s School of Performing Arts, I found a community of thinkers, artists, developers from every corner of the globe who had come together to discuss, teach and learn every nuance of mobile creativity.

Amongst the attendees at the time, were several developers of successful mobile apps and products, that at the time were in their infancy.  Talented artists, like Luis Peso, La Legra Negra, Mia Robinson, John Bavaro, David Leibovitz, Matthew Watkins, Corliss Blakely, Nini Tavarez, Helene Goldberg, David Kassan, Julia Kay, Benjamin Rabe, Steve Talkowski, just to name a few.  And there were developers too: Uwe Maurer, founder of Artrage, Christopher Cheung, from Autodesk and team leader who was responsible for bringing Sketchbook Pro and Sketchbook Ink to the iPad and Steve Sprang, the developer of the best selling app, Brushes were in attendance.

At the event, Steve Sprang presented for the very first time to the world, his creation, the very first vector app for the iPad:  Inkpad. It wasn’t released yet.  It was in development.  But he showed us, and there was a lot of excitement in the room at the time. I had no idea what a vector was, but it looked pretty cool.

Steve was sort of a legend to the other artists at the time.  Having worked for Apple as a software engineer, who left the company shortly before the iPhone was introduced, he was an early mover in the app development field, having created the best selling app, Brushes, the first mainstream drawing program for the iPhone, and only a few months before IAMDA, the iPad.  And Brushes had been used to create a cover or two for The New Yorker magazine by artist, Jorge Colombo.  David Hockney, perhaps England’s most famous living artist was also using Brushes.  Though, I wasn’t much of a Brushes user at the time, (I was a heavy Sketchbook Pro user at the time), Steve seemed like a nice guy and there was obvious excitement about the app, so I gave it a go.

I walked away from the three day event with a bit of knowledge, and a profound sense of purpose.   I set out to learn as much as I could about creating  upon my iPad.

The next year, I grew, I learned, I tinkered.  And as I  grew, so did the apps.

A few months later, when Inkpad was released with much anticipation, I eagerly downloaded it, and quickly set it on my iPad shelf, where it quickly collected dust.  It was a different kind of app, it felt intimidating and cold, and I felt that the instructions were difficult to grasp and the terms too technical.  I was having fun with my other apps, so why learn something new?

I did however, take to Brushes! I fell in love with the app, as did so many others.  I’m pretty sure that Brushes was the best selling iPad app at the time.  (Brushes 2, not 3! More on that in a moment)

One of my particular interests developed into figuring out how each art application worked with the next.  I wanted to know what integrated well and what didn’t.  This eventually led to creating videos, and figuring out how to capture content off the iPad and move it onto the desktop.  This eventually led me to the desktop applications to better understand from where these iPad applications were first conceived, and how far, they had yet to grow.  As a natural outgrowth of this learning, I decided to offer myself up to developers as a tester and consultant, if you will.

A year later, having a solid foundation, I returned to the second IAMDA Conference, this time as a presenter.  This time, I was filled with knowledge and ideas.  I gave Steve Sprang a big hug when I saw him, and eagerly shared some of my ideas that I thought would be useful in the next iteration of Brushes.  About a month later, I was asked to be a beta tester on his update to Brushes, Brushes 3.  I worked voraciously, identifying as many bugs as I could and giving my feedback.  Some of my ideas were utilized, and others were completely disregarded (hey, you can’t win them all!).  In the end, Brushes 3 did not get the reception that Steve had hoped to have,  and so for a period Steve Sprang  disappeared.

And the original beloved Brushes was taken down from the App Store.

Every once in a while, I’d send an encouraging email to Steve, but they would remain unanswered.  I noticed that users were left questioning how to download their creations from their iPad, as the companion desktop app, Brushes Viewer, was also removed from Taptrix’s webpage.  In fact, the webpage itself eventually disappeared.

Building upon my experience, I  started testing for other developers:  Procreate, Inspire Pro, Artrage, iDraw.  All best selling programs.  I became what I consider one of the best assets to any mobile art developer out there.  I was a power user and I had developed a deep understanding of how an app should operate, not only as a user of the program, but also with an eye on the big picture of how the app should behave within the larger framework of the device itself.

Which led me to an interest in how the apps were built, and the code that made them run.

I started reading as much code as I could find, books, videos, information online, courses, and started compiling simple drawing apps, sometime in early 2013.  I took a step away from creating art and working with other apps.  I started to build an art program from the ground up.  Around August of 2013,  I emailed Steve, asking for code to his original Brushes App, thinking that perhaps, I could play with it, and try to update it to modern standards, and restore it to it’s simple,  clean, well though-out user interface.  (I still think the world would love to see that app!) I never heard back.

And then, in October, Steve reappeared, at just the  moment I needed that extra boost in my own development.  And he gave the world his source to Brushes 3 and Inkpad, both apps, which in my opinion sorely needed updating.  Both Inkpad and Brushes were released under Mozilla Public License 2.0, and Steve included language upon the release that simply stated, in part:

” Though not strictly forbidden by the license, please do not submit unmodified (or trivially modified) versions of this application to the App Store.”

I like to call it the “But, Please Statement”.  Steve has since changed the language to a more forceful “Please do not submit unmodified (or trivially modified) version of this application to the App Store…”

He also started answering my emails again.  He graciously answered a few of my questions about coding, and source code management.  He even suggested that one could use the code to create art project in itself, for example creating a children’s app, that used the code to Brushes 3, but was perhaps simplified in its user interface.

So Skribl started out as a learning tool.  I started going throughout the code and thought about what made sense to me, and what didn’t.

I’d even considered just posting my contributions to the source project, but determined in my own experience that the changes that foresaw, weren’t the type of changes that Steve was looking for.  I could see that the suggestions that people were making, at the time, were dismissed one after another.  Steve wanted his app, Inkpad, to look and feel how he wanted it to look and feel, which is well and good.

I asked myself why I didn’t like Inkpad, and how could the user experience be made more intuitive.  I cast aside my knowledge as a user for a moment, and tried to approach the program as if I was just using it for the first time.  I thought about the type of work one would be creating on an iPad in 2014 versus the work that one might have been doing in 2010, when the original Inkpad was first introduced.  As a user of ALL the programs, raster programs included, I thought about not only how I’d use a vector app to create vectors, but also how other creations or photos, might be imported into Skribl.

In it’s essence, I thought about Skribl as one of many tools in the bigger toolbox, the iPad, and further a tool for productivity with all other programs that demand graphics: film editing , word processing , presentation and obviously other graphics programs as well.

As the app evolved, I really liked what I saw.  I also determined that if I was to build an app that I released, it would only be if the modifications were not trivial, and I could design a larger purpose to the app.

I enlisted the input and support of my fellow artists and knowledgable users, and took their input to heart.  I also put the app through several rounds of beta testing.  I considered myself one of the best testers out there, and so, I wasn’t gong to release an app until it met my high standards.

After several months of work, and only at such time that the app reached my standards,  and wasn’t trivial in it’s modifications, did I decide to release the app.

SO WHO’S CLONING WHO?

In mid-December, when Skribl was released there were several features to Skribl that clearly delineated the two programs.

Here’s just a few notable differences:

  • A more user friendly, intuitive format
  • Skribl created at 4096 x 4096 while Inkpad created a max canvas size of 2048 x 2048
  • Skribl introduced a closed looping brush (the Skribrush, as we affectionally like to call it)
  • Skribltips, which we believed was a vast improvement over the technical instructions of Inkpad
  • Larger Stroke Size
  • Overall improved user interface completely rebuilt with menus that try not to obscure the underlying artwork
  • A smooth scaling feature when sizing path sizes (this is the feature we are most proud of!)
  • The ability to import art and photos at true resolution from other apps and the photo library
  • Completely redesigned and more intuitive buttons customized to make more sense
  • A quick delete key on the toolbar, for those Oops! moments
  • Overall settings were customized in order to make everything work within the larger framework

Over the past couple months many of Skribl’s obvious changes made their way into the Inkpad App.  That’s great, and we don’t mind.  We feel that it only demonstrates that our ideas were good!  And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

We support the Inkpad Open Source Project.  You can get involved here:

github/inkpad/sprang

In fact, I encourage you to do so, even if you don’t know how to code, but just wish to learn something new!  Heck, you can even try to make Inkpad better than Skribl, if you wish.

I have many  more ideas for the future of Skribl, which I intend to implement as my knowledge continues to expand, and my time becomes available.

THE FUTURE OF SKRIBL AND OUR DEDICATION TO LEARNING AND TEACHING

In this world of increasing screen resolutions, learning how to create in vectors is more and more essential.  Vectors are:

  • Scalabe.  Anything you create with a vector app, whether it be for a thumbtack or the size of a building, can be created without losing resolution.
  • Editable.  You are limited only by your imagination.  You can create on graphic a thousand different ways, if you have the time, patience and creativity!
  • Portable.  Vector files are lightweight.  You can import 20 vector files created in Skribl format either in or out of Skribl in a matter of seconds.
  • Fun.  We think so, and you will too.  We hope.  If you don’t, then we aren’t doing our job right.  Let us know how we can be better at it!
  • Useful.  We think you will agree, that a compelling portable graphic in Skribl will be useful for many other uses, such as word processing and presentations.

Both, as a developer and an individual user of these apps, I am extremely mindful that Skribl is a paid application, while Inkpad is free, and so I am extremely focused on continuing to create something of lasting value and uniqueness to the world of mobile creativity, as well as the world at large.

One of the projects that I am currently deeply involved in, is creating user tutorial videos, called Skribltips, which will be free to users of Skribl (and all others, including those faithful to Inkpad!), which will help people create with Vectors.  I can only justify my existence as a developer and creator, if I continue to generate income which allows me to further this endeavor.  I have been encouraged by the feedback that I have received thus far, that my efforts have been received in a positive manner.  Thank you for your support and I look forward to your comments.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more, and if you’d like to download Skribl, please visit the App Store.

 

With warmest regards,

Richard

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