5 Helpful Phone Apps for the Freelancer (and everyone else, too)

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Guest Author:  Lili Payne

For almost the entire 15 years of my working career, I have been a freelance Scenic Artist and Muralist. The freedom of self-employment is both the greatest benefit of this type of work, and also the biggest source of uncertainty. I’m free to work wherever the work takes me, on whichever job I choose to take on, but the responsibility to find, administer, and execute those jobs lies entirely on my own shoulders. So, when a useful tool emerges, I’m going to take advantage of it.

Enter the smartphone in all it’s blue-screened, worldwide connectivity, social-media-induced-depression glory. We all have one. (Well, we all know someone who DOESN’T have one, bless their hearts.) But beyond the smart phone’s ability to throw cultural psychology for a loop, it should also be seen as a viable tool for the working artist. Here’s a list of the four most useful apps and tools that I use on my phone when I’m painting:

Your phone’s camera: Not just for selfies

It isn’t a ground-breaking tip to tell you to take pictures of your work. Instead, make a point to actively view your painting through your phone’s camera. Being one more “step” away from your work always helps to highlight trouble spots. It’s like when you’re in a horse barn- it smells when you walk in, but the longer you stay there, the less you notice the smell. I’m no scientist, but I feel like it’s the same thing with our eyes. The longer you look at your project, the more accustomed you become to the parts that look a little wonky. Viewing your work through your phone’s camera is like stepping out of that horse barn and taking a deep breath of fresh air.

Snap a few photos and then in your photo editor, or other application,  turn the image to black and white. This reveals the overall value composition of your painting. Are your darks dark enough? Lights light enough? Is there enough overall contrast? Fiddle with the photo in your photo editor- does your painting look better with more contrast? Use that data and improve where you can. It’s on-the-go feedback.
This image is from a mural depicting some buffalo in a field- I was concerned that the head of this buffalo was looking like a big jumble. I took a quick pic, desaturated the colors, and it confirmed my suspicions. I went back and added some deeper shadowy areas to form a more definite shape to the head. Sometimes removing one element like color reduces your visual “noise” so you can see where to improve.

Art Pose 3D

Recently, I worked with a colleague on a series of murals for an interpretive center that was representing a scene from a Native American settlement many centuries ago. My colleague composed the mural in a loose painterly rendering that while effective for its initial purpose with the client, didn’t provide much when it came to detail. We knew where the figures needed to be, but it was up to us to fill out the forms with appropriate lighting and such.

Now, I don’t know about you all, but I have never been the type that could just imagine and paint-improvise what a man lying on his side with directional lighting looks like. Perhaps that is a marker of a lack of artistic education on my part, which I can humbly admit I don’t have much of, and should probably set out to improve. However, I can’t exactly fit a degree’s worth of art education into the week between when I’ve been given the project and when I start painting it. But hey- it turns out there’s an app for that.

For a total of $6, I downloaded both Art Pose Male, and Art Pose Female. With this app I was able to arrange a 3D figure entirely into the pose I needed to paint, move the viewpoint around on both axes, and place the lighting in the necessary spot. Additionally, you can change the figure’s proportions and you have multiple choices for hand gestures. After about 5 minutes of fiddling in the app I had a printable “map” from which I could work. I did this all while sitting on a 5-gallon bucket. Here are the app’s saved images that I used to paint a group of figures from the mural, along with the finished figures:

There are quite a few artist’s reference apps out there, the Handy Art Reference Tool ($3) being a great one. It models hands, feet, heads, and faces with entirely customizable variables like gestures, lighting, color of lighting, and skin tone. I think back to previous murals in my earlier years of painting and grimace at the knuckles that I know were NOT in the right place. If only I had that app!

Invoice and Estimate on the Go

After many years of creating PDFs of invoices in Word, I have since upgraded to creating and sending my invoices using Invoice And Estimate on the Go ($5/mo for the phone app, $3/mo for the web app). This application lets you customize an invoice or estimate, fill in the client information and costs, and facilitate payments through paypal, credit cards (for a small fee), bank transfers, and regular checks. It emails the invoice automatically as a PDF (sends you a copy for confirmation), and then you have a nice database on your phone of your previous projects, client information, and prices to which you can refer when needed.

Decibel Meter

We at the Guild are trying to bring safety concerns to the forefront of the Scenic’s mind. Hearing is no exception! A simple app called Decibel Meter (free) gives you an easy display of the current ambient decibels. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Do you know what 85 decibels sounds like off hand? I don’t either, which is why I got the app. I also invested $15 in a nice set of filtered earplugs that protect from loud noises but still allow me to have a conversation without talking awkwardly loud.


We’ve got an actively bubbling forum going here at the Guild, which is one of the things we’re most proud of having built. It’s a great resource to us all, whether you’re an active participant or a friendly lurker who prefers to view conversations from a distance. Tapatalk (free, $3 to upgrade and do away with advertisements) makes it really easy to access the Guild forum while you’re out on the job. You can choose to view everything in a timeline format, so all the new stuff is right on the top. You can take photos and insert them directly in your post. You can chat with other forum members on a platform that isn’t overtly public and recording all of your personal data. If you’re already a member, download Tapatalk and search for ‘Guild of Scenic Artists’ to get access. If you’re not yet a member, you’ll need to become one to access our forum. You can do that here.

There’s a bazillion apps out there, and I know I’m only just scraping the surface of usefulness when it comes to the computing power I’m tossing into my pocket everyday. So help me out- what are you using on the job?


Lili Payne is the Guild’s Vice President. Her murals and scenic work can be seen across the country in museums, theatres, various commercial venues, and film. www.gildedlili.com

Lili Payne

One comment

  1. Andy Goretski

    Great article, Lili! Thanks for helping me get out of the dark ages of technology! It is going to be a project with me… Your work is great, and it is so good to see your group at Walldogs!

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