The iPad as artistic tool is not without its flaws. Finger painting, effectively, on its screen is nowhere near as precise as using a dedicated digital stylus like a Wacom, and lacks tangible feedback (as actual finger painting would give you, delightfully). And as a digital tablet, conventional painting metaphors can feel stretched. That hasn’t stopped people from making extraordinary work, as has been widely publicized, but the tablet computer has yet to come into its own as a unique, new medium. That’s to be expected: it’s early days.

But that’s also why it’s so compelling to see the work of James Alliban. He looks for inspiration to Robert Rauschenberg, whose collages, while entirely tangible in form, predicted the kind of layered textural mash-up that digital media would later create. Rauschenberg’s work was, perhaps, proto-digital, imagining content in ways that could be fluidly combined into new forms.

Applied to the iPad in a new tool called Composite, that same metaphor suddenly starts to make the tablet make sense. Extending on a couple of decades of digital collage in tools like Photoshop, here the form factor of the tablet and the image-mixing capabilities of the computer fuse into something that begins to make an integrated, genuinely artistic tool. See the video demo at top.

Composite allows you to remix your surroundings to create artistic compositions. Inspired by the collages of Robert Rauschenberg, this iPad 2 app gives you the opportunity to paint pictures using the live front and back facing cameras. Simply point your device towards your subject and start painting to reveal it.

Concept & development – James Alliban
Design & illustration – Juliet Lall
Filming – Lee Daley and Steven Archer

On the developer blog:
New iPad app: Composite

CDM talks to James about the work.

CDM: How it was developed? Any stumbling blocks or challenges along the way?

James: I made it using openFrameworks. This meant I could use my existing skills without having to fiddle so much around with Objective-C. The main issue I encountered was building the interface which is always a bit of a pain when developing iOS apps. Integrating social media and email functionality took up a fair amount of my time. Also, having to optimise the application to run at a decent speed was a challenge. I had to be quite creative in masking the video footage to render the brush strokes

Any particular artistic inspiration, works you’ve been enjoying?

A great deal of my inspiration comes from the abstract art of the 20th century. In this case I was initially inspired by the of Robert Rauschenberg. He combined a range of media to create stunning collages that comment on contemporary society. I’ve recently been enjoying the work of Sergio Albiac who works in a similar space.

How you imagine folks using this?

I would like to see this being used by artists as a quick visual sketchbook. I would also love to see it being used in schools to teach children about art. Users are encouraged to submit their best work to submissions [at] to be featured in the Composite gallery –

See James’ equally-impressive previous creation, which created a kind of sculptural augmented reality on a phone, and similarly made the mobile platform as art tool enter a genuinely unique, digital space:

From Your Voice to Sculpture, Handheld Augmented Visuals [Create Digital Motion]