Scene Sketcher
Scene Sketcher logo

an Android app to help you draw and paint what you see

Southwest Harbor, Maine USA - 33cm x 24cm
Reference photo
Simplified 'palette view' (upgrade feature)
Values view - lights in color
What it's for:

Scene Sketcher is a free Android app that helps you draw and paint from life or reference photo. It is a toolkit for artists to compose, measure proportions, simplify shapes, see values, and choose palette colors. Use it as an aid to sketch on location, or to make photo references for studio work. On a smartphone or tablet, it makes an ideal tool to help establish a rough-in for plein air or alla prima painting. In the studio, sceencast it to a TV.

What it does:

Take a picture.

The app loads photos of any resolution from your phone or tablet's camera, your cloud galleries, or local files.

Simplify the picture as big shapes.

Scene Sketcher is a versatile gray-scale viewer. You can select from a wide range of value levels and blurring to get the degree of abstraction you want. With the upgrade feature, Palette View , you can simplify the colors and shapes of an image before viewing it in gray-scale.

Compose it.

Size the image frame to the dimensions of your canvas. Use touch enabled zoom and pan to position the image in the frame. A rotation slider lets you straighten your camera shots. You can lock or unlock your selection repeatedly until you have what you want.

Choose a palette

The app has a color picker that fills a floating palette. Use screen touch to pick photo colors, then use sliders to adjust selected colors for your palette. The palette can be sorted by hue, saturation, value, and temperature. An upgrade feature shows a poster of your photo reference in the colors of your palette. This can be a big help in developing a color block-in of your subject.

Look at color as value.

Scene Sketcher has a unique touch feature that helps you see your composition as bands of colored value. Touching any point on the screen "turns on" the color for all parts of the image with the same value. Touch anywhere in that value again and it toggles back to gray. This can help you mix sub-palettes for your darks, mids, and lights. If you want to draw or paint one value band at a time, this is a great way to isolate regions of the image. If you've made a palette, it automatically filters to show just its colors in the value bands you've selected.

Measure it.

The app has a measuring tool that works like the traditional "sight method" of judging proportions. You can mark one feature of the image as a "landmark" against which other measurements can be taken. Based on the dimensions of your canvas, the app gives the length of the landmark in centimeters or inches. You can then use this length as a basis for freehand drawing, or to make a ruler to transfer measurements. Lines are shown with a readout of their length relative to the landmark, or optionally in actual measures for rapid markup of your canvas. Unlike a grid transfer system, which tends to lock you into a photo reproduction, this approach better preserves your proportional judgement and makes it easier to adjust a layout to suit your composition. Measure lines can be cleared, and the landmark and its view are automatically saved within a session so you can return for additional measurement as needed.

Save it.

At any time in using the app, you can save the screen display as a high quality .jpg file. The app can make gallery folders and set filename prefixes to organize your work for later reference.


With the upgrade feature, LAYOUTS , you can save all settings including the pan, zoom, and rotation of your image, as well as your landmark and measurement lines. The save is specific to the photo's file name, so you can save a unique layout for each photo. When you re-open a photo with a saved layout, it automatically resumes just as it was. You can also pan and zoom an image and then apply its saved layout to pop the view back to your saved composition.


This app can use quite a bit of memory and needs a pretty good screen. It also uses advanced photo processing that requires OS 4.4 (KitKat) or newer. If your device has at least 1 GB of RAM and one screen dimension of at least 720 pixels, the app should run ok, although it's better suited to larger phones and tablets. A generic 7 inch tablet with a 1024 x 600 screen is well suited for field use and widely available for under $100 USD.

The app has a memory monitor screen to help select image size and cache preferences appropriate to your device.


If you have any questions, suggestions, or issues, please contact me at Thanks and happy painting!! - Robert