I’ve noticed that most users of the Brushes application tend to trace out their brushstrokes with their pointer finger. (The screen measures changes in electrical charge, and can be operated only with a conductive object—like a finger—rather than a pen-like stylus.) As I discovered on a recent visit, Hockney limits his contact with the screen exclusively to the pad of his thumb. “The thing is,” Hockney explains, “if you are using your pointer or other fingers, you actually have to be working from your elbow. Only the thumb has the opposable joint which allows you to move over the screen with maximum speed and agility, and the screen is exactly the right size, you can easily reach every corner with your thumb.” He goes on to note how people used to worry that computers would one day render us “all thumbs,” but it’s incredible the dexterity, the expressive range, lodged in “these not-so-simple thumbs of ours.”
Hockney, who has carried small notebooks in his pockets since his student days, along with pencils, crayons, pastel sticks, ink pens, and watercolor bottles—and smudged clean-up rags—is used to working small, but he delights in the simplicity of this new medium:
It’s always there in my pocket, there’s no thrashing about, scrambling for the right color. One can set to work immediately, there’s this wonderful impromptu quality, this freshness, to the activity; and when it’s over, best of all, there’s no mess, no clean-up. You just turn off the machine. Or, even better, you hit Send, and your little cohort of friends around the world gets to experience a similar immediacy. There’s something, finally, very intimate about the whole process.