But in the last few years he has turned to the iPad as his canvas. In a spectacular new show, opening at London's Royal Academy, he is exhibiting 51 drawings from his iPad, as well as a series of landscapes of his native Yorkshire.
You have to give him credit: At an age when most are technophobes, this 74-year-old embraced the iPhone. He started emailing pictures drawn from his window to his lucky friends on a daily basis. "I draw flowers every day," he said, "and I send them to my friends, so they get fresh blooms every morning. And my flowers last."
The show is called "A Bigger Picture" because he is looking at the landscape through a variety of media: oil, film, charcoal, and iPad.
The subject of his show is the East Yorkshire landscape where he lives. He depicts the seasonal changes over four years. The tree is a key motif; whether it be in full leaf in summer or bare branches in winter. One can see the quality of light and the density of the foliage at each time.
In these works, Hockney keeps going back to the same scenes, and themes and painting them again and again. It is fascinating to see the details and differences between the paintings.
Hockney started out with an iPhone and began to draw on it with his thumb, then graduated to the iPad, using the app Brushes; and things really got going. Then he began to print them out on a larger scale than the iPad screen.
As he says: "The more I got into the iPad, the more I realised what a fantastic medium it is for landscape. There are certain things that you can do very, very quickly using it." The artist can meet "nature's deadline". Obviously the iPad is faster than watercolour or charcoal, since nothing has to dry. When painting outdoors in a changing landscape, with clouds and rain coming quickly, speed is essential.
The 51 iPad drawings have been enlarged. All of them depict the arrival of spring along a local road--Woldgate, near where he lives. They show his vision of the small area in all seasons, with the grasses, buttercups, dandelions of spring depicted in different pictures. On one whole wall there is a massive 32 canvas painting which is very theatrical.
This picture is one of a series depicting a farm track, which he calls the tunnel, in the area. The trees enclose the road to create a sort of covered walkway in spring, and a bare branched vista in winter.
Hockney started drawing a particular tree in Woldgate that interested him. It was dead but stood out amongst the other trees and shrubs. He kept going back but then found that the tree had been cut down, leaving only a stump. He was heartbroken but kept painting it, even in its altered form.
Hockney has had a long and varied career--from England, to California and back to Yorkshire. This show is yet another piece of a brilliant oeuvre.