Guest Post: The Difference Between Documenting and Storytelling

In the early days of the Waterlogue launch, we were drawn to a great post about the app by Ciaran Blumenfeld, who writes at both Momfluential and When We Were There. We loved her take so much that we asked if she’d be willing to write a guest post—and she did! 

The Difference Between Documenting and Storytelling

I was recently sitting in the new Starbucks Café in Downtown Disney.

There’s a large-screen LCD in there, upon which they display scenes from their coffee plantations in Costa Rica. They are not merely documenting the process. They are  “telling the story” of the beans. The PR firm at the opening was careful in her choice of words. Everything about this new location is about story.  Fitting for Disney.

The images on the screen are not flat photographs. They are watercolors images.

It struck home again why, and how much, I love Waterlogue.

When I think of my favorite children’s books and illustrations, I think watercolors.

Photographs are fantastic for documentation. They can be very artistic and evocative. Photographs are art.

But paintings tell a story. It’s in the bleed of a color, the blur of a background, the subtle dissolve of details that force your imagination to work harder. Paintings make you flex your story muscles as your mind fills in the details.

This is what I love about Waterlogue. My favorite images now have two lives. Their first life, a moment in time captured, their second life, an illustration that begs for a compelling narrative.

Consider the difference between these two versions of a photo I shot while strolling in Laguna Beach. Which one would you want on a postcard sent to you. Which one begs the story of how we got there and what we did.  Which one sits with you a little longer?

IMG_8186 Painted in Waterlogue

To me the watercolor is more evocative. I want to retire in that watercolor.

Leave it to Disney and Starbucks to confirm what I’ve already instinctively known since childhood. Watercolors are better for telling a story.  I’m so grateful for Waterlogue for creating an app that converts my photos so quickly, easily, and convincingly into storytelling illustrations. I never dreamed it could be this easy for me to story tell with images, as I have always done with words.

Ciaran Blumenfeld


Since launching Waterlogue in December, we’ve gotten a whale-sized number of very passionate requests for an Android version of the app. We are sincerely thrilled that so many people would like to use Waterlogue on Android devices. If we could realistically make and adequately support an Android version, we absolutely would. But, alas, we can’t.

So many Android users have voiced disappointment at the iOS-only status of Waterlogue that we thought we would explain a little bit about what it means for a small, independent iOS developer to expand to Android, and why these obstacles make doing so prohibitive for us at the present time.

First, some background: Waterlogue was developed by two senior iOS developers (we have well over 15 years experience developing for Apple systems between us). It took over a year of (unpaid) work to make it. During that time, we both took a large financial risk, and made equally large investments of time and intellectual capital, in order to develop Waterlogue.

Here are the reasons why for us, at this time, it’s not realistic to develop an Android version of the Waterlogue app:

  • We are iOS experts. Neither of us knows much about Android, so we’d need to devote several months to learning the ins and outs of a new OS before we could even begin to develop the actual app. We don’t have anything against Android, we just don’t know the platform.
  • We would want to do it right. Android is sufficiently different from iOS that making an Android version would mean essentially starting from scratch. So, we would need to re-write the app from the ground up in order to make sure it works the same way and provides the same quality output for Android devices. As mentioned above, it took us a year to write Waterlogue for a platform we know very, very well; we believe it would take longer to develop a version of Waterlogue that would perform to our standards on Android.
  • We are committed to ensuring a stable, well-designed, and extremely high-quality user experience. The computation required by Waterlogue is on the very edge of what is possible with current devices. It takes a lot of care to ensure that the app runs well on the relatively small number of Apple devices that are in common use. Android is a much more fragmented situation, with several forks of the OS and a large number of devices all with different screen sizes and capabilities. Making sure that Waterlogue ran reliably on all of these devices is just not possible for us to do at this time.
  • We are 100% committed to supporting the apps we make. While ultimately the user experience might feel the same between the iOS version and any Android version we’d develop, practically speaking if we were to launch an Android version we would be supporting, maintaining, and updating two entirely separate apps. Given that we’re at our limits with supporting the iOS version of the app, we know that we can’t realistically sustain the extra work that an Android version would require.

Thank you, Android users, for being so passionate about and so interested in Waterlogue.  We hope you can understand where we’re coming from. Rest assured that if we ever are able to expand Waterlogue to Android, we’ll make it a great app!

—John and Bob




Cover [IMG_7290]

Welcome to the first installment of Stuff We Like, a series that we hope to add to regularly here at the Waterlogue blog. To kick things off, we’re featuring a book devoted to the artist’s journal, a major inspiration for Waterlogue.

An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators, and Designers  by Danny Gregory, has a delightful range of examples of how artists use their journals when they are traveling.

Through reproductions  of actual pages from the journals of the 30 artists included in the book, An Illustrated Journey  is a great way to get inspired—each approach  is so different and personal, from medium used to level of detail, to what the artist pays attention to in the environment and on the page.

Boat [IMG_7307]

Short personal essays from each artist  give details about how each one thinks about traveling and the artist’s journal: why and how they do it, and what they get out of the process of sketching in new (or at least not just not the same old) places.

Travel [IMG_7295]

Flipping through the book, it’s great to see the sheer range of approaches taken by the artists towards their subjects and locations. Check it out—and let us know if it gives you any ideas for how to use Waterlogue to document your own journeys!

New York [IMG_7298]


EDIT: Hey, check out this beautiful use of Waterlogue in a scrapbook/journal-type application: Keeping With the Times!


In our first blog post, we talked about how artists’ journals were a big inspiration for Waterlogue. While looking at this great work, we were very excited to discover how traveling artists made customized, pocket-sized watercolor palettes out of repurposed Altoids mint tins:

20110322-046.jpg(Image by Flickr user Melanie Narish, used with permission.)

If you do a search for them online, you’ll see the level of personalization that can go into these entirely customizable and eminently portable watercolor sets.

Here is one made from a vintage German cigarette tin that also includes a few small, useful tools:

Watercolor Box(Image by Flickr user paperboatcaptain, used with permission.)

Nifty, right?

We want Waterlogue to serve as your portable watercolor kit—always at the ready whenever you want to capture something in a delightfully watery way.

Our Whale, on a Tin


Have you found cool ways to take your art tools on the road with you?


Cats look amazing in Waterlogue, don’t you think?


Waterlogue is great when you want a speedy way to remove the “photograph” from a photograph. With just a couple taps, you can change the fundamental nature of an image, opening up a bunch of different imaginative directions. It’s fun, fast, and often improves the creative possibilities of a quickly snapped photo.

Here’s how I used Waterlogue for a series of pulp-inspired images:

First, I posed plastic toys against colored paper backgrounds and then captured the scenes with an iPhone 5s. I didn’t use any elaborate lighting, lenses, or staging, and each initial image only took a few minutes to shoot.


Because I wanted the images to ultimately have the feel of illustrations, I first fed them into Waterlogue, which gave me a variety of non-photographic looks to work with. With some of the images, I applied a post effect in another iOS app, like Instagram or Afterlight.

In the image above, I erased the figures’ bases and replaced them with the ground paper texture using TouchRetouch for iOS.


The blue and purple glows are light leak effects, added with Afterlight for iOS.

Here’s the actual set-up for this image. The hardest part was not accidentally knocking the figures over.


Finally, here are a few other images from my Waterlogue session:



How do You Use Waterlogue?

Have you used Waterlogue to transform your photographs into illustrations? Tell us in the comments!

Waterlogue was inspired by the images that painters, architects, and sketchers make while out and about. We especially responded to the quick, spontaneous feel of the watercolor paintings and drawings in Moleskine notebooks that people were using as artists’ journals.

Yongle Market (Images by Flickr user Valter Wei, used under Creative Commons license)

This work felt immediate, spontaneous, and interpretive. You really sense the person behind the sketches, and how the purpose of these kinds of journals isn’t to present images that slavishly document reality, but to distill an experience, or to express only what is visually essential. These qualities are inherently missing from photographs.

(¡PINTANDO DE NUEVO!) ---> "Antes de la tormenta. Hotel Ritz, desde el Museo del Prado" [apunte Moleskine](Images by Flickr user Juan Blanco, used under Creative Commons license)

Figuring out how to get Waterlogue to make these kinds of expressive and spontaneous images turned out to be quite a challenge, but we’re very pleased with where we ended up with version 1.0. We hope you are, too, and we’re looking forward to seeing what you do with Waterlogue!